With NFL free agency arriving with the new league year, what teams are doing with signings, re-signings, non-signings and releases early are taking their cumulative effect on their 2021 NFL Draft plans. While some team needs are being filled, others remain and new ones are emerging.
Figuring out one piece of the offseason puzzle is helpful to know what direction each team might be going vs. another when they’re on the clock. That’s definitely caused more shakeup in Sporting News’ latest mock draft, with some big pro days (see Alabama, Ohio State) ahead.
For now, how SN sees the picks playing out from No. 1 through No. 32 on April 29:
NFL mock draft 2021
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
- Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (6-6, 220 pounds)
Lawrence lived up to expectations of being a generational talent at the position, the second in a row after Joe Burrow. He’s a great leader and winner on top of being a strong-armed passer and capable tough runner. Lawrence will clean up the Jaguars QB mess, attached to a new coach, big college winner Urban Meyer. Lawrence can have success right away with the Jaguars having a decent line and solid skill players such as James Robinson, Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault. Forget that talk about Meyer taking someone else, especially another QB.
2. New York Jets (2-14)
- Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (6-3, 210 pounds)
Wilson had an exceptional season with his accuracy and downfield passing to emerge as the draft class’ second-best QB prospect after Lawrence. Wilson would be a strong, cerebral fit for Mike LaFleur’s offense replacing Sam Darnold as the face of the franchise. Darnold should still be considered firmly on the trading block and it’s looking less likely the Jets will be aggressive enough to make a trade for Deshaun Watson. Why would they, when they can get a high-upside passer without sacrificing any extra first-rounders?
3. Miami Dolphins (from Texans for Laremy Tunsil)
- Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU (6-1, 208 pounds)
The Dolphins took a flier on Will Fuller to be their outside deep threat opposite DeVante Parker but they still could use a more reliable all-around receiver who can dominate running routes inside or outside. Chase posted 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 TDs during the national championship season and can join former teammate Justin Jefferson in lighting up the NFL as a versatile playmaker. He can quickly emerge as Tua Tagovailoa’s true go-to guy.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
- Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (6-4, 226 pounds)
Lance has climbed back up boards with his massive upside. As more teams look back on his fine pro day and see tapes of his statistically brilliant lone season as a starter (2,786 yards passing, 28 TDs, no INTs, 1,100 yards rushing, 14 TDs) it’s harder to ignore the impressive physical and athletic skills, including blazing speed. Lance is raw and inexperienced and needs some polish in many areas, but the dual-threat tools can be blended together nicely. It’s no accident that Lance incorporated elements of the Falcons’ playbook under Arthur Smith during his workout. Matt Ryan isn’t going anywhere in 2021, but Atlanta can make a great stash for his near-future successor.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
- Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (6-5, 325 pounds)
The Bengals went after Joe Thuney for offensive line help in free agency but weren’t competitive enough to sign the new Chief. Getting Joe Burrow another big-time playmaker at wide receiver or tight end will be tempting but upgrading the pass protection is vital and the run blocking for Joe Mixon could use a big boost, too. Sewell still is the best all-around tackle in this class with his smooth agility for pass protection and rock-like stature for the running game.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
- DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (6-1, 170 pounds)
The Eagles have been quiet in free agency in helping Jalen Hurts but they can hit a home run by reuniting him with one of his best Alabama targets to be the No. 1 “X” and let Jalen Reagor settle into more of the “Z” outside deep threat mode. Smith is seen more as the No. 2 or No. 3 wideout in this class because of concern about his frame, but it’s hard to ignore his Heisman Trophy-worthy dominant production, especially when it peaked during the College Football Playoff games. He can have the same big impact as Chase and former teammate Jaylen Waddle.
7. Detroit Lions (5-11)
- Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (5-10, 182 pounds)
Waddle is a highly skilled all-around natural pass-catcher. He can run all the routes at a high level, from flashing as a deep threat to finishing well in the red zone. The Lions need to overhaul at wide receiver with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola all not re-signed. Former Jet Breshad Perriman for the outside isn’t enough. Here’s the No. 1 option they need for new quarterback Jared Goff as Waddle can play well off the receiving skills of running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
8. Carolina Panthers (5-11)
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (6-3, 233 pounds)
The Panthers can think about offensive line and other offensive skill positions here, but there’s a strong indication coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady want a more dynamic, younger upgrade to Teddy Bridgewater. Fields wasn’t having the most standout second season for the Buckeyes in Big Ten play, but with his immense physical talent, he saved his absolute NFL-loving best for lighting up Clemson and outplaying Lawrence with a dazzling all-around performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Lance also would get consideration here should he fall; less so for Alabama’s Mac Jones.
9. Denver Broncos (5-11)
- Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207 pounds)
The Broncos will think about quarterback if either Lance or Fields drops, but their other big need lines up close with the best player available value. Denver did spend to land former Washington starter Ronald Darby, but could use a strong second option on the back end of Vic Fangio’s defense. Farley was one of the first top prospects to opt out for his final college season. He has great size and solid all-around coverage skills to the point he can develop into a sound shutdown player.
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (6-6, 246 pounds)
Jerry Jones can’t help himself sometimes with luxury picks. He just did go that route in the 2020 draft by taking wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who was rolling to a big rookie season mostly working out of the slot until Dak Prescott went down. The Cowboys have all kinds of needs, from offensive line to defensive line to secondary. But Pitts could make their passing offense devastating with Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup. Remember the Buccaneers just won a Super Bowl by being loaded at the skill positions with top QB play.
11. New York Giants (6-10)
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern (6-4, 315 pounds)
The Giants did draft Andrew Thomas last year, but he’s better suited for right tackle and they need to think about replacing aging left tackle Nate Solder sooner rather than later. Slater, who opted out of his final season with the Wildcats, is quickly rising up the boards again with his all-around skill set getting more attention. He held more than his own vs. Washington defensive rookie of the year Chase Young in a college matchup. He backed that up with an impressive pro day showing off fine speed and quickness for his frame.
12. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (6-3, 217 pounds)
The 49ers haven’t indicated they are moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021, but they still have an easy out from his contract this year and next to make the change for a younger QB with higher upside and winning pedigree who can handle all the mental and physical aspects of their diverse, balanced offense. Jones’ strong pocket passing, quick decision-making and ample athleticism should have great appeal to Kyle Shanahan as a long-term solution. He has Matt Ryan MVP-like potential in the scheme.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Alijah Vera-Tucker, G/OT, USC (6-4, 300 pounds)
The Chargers have made offensive line upgrades a priority in front of Justin Herbert by signing center Corey Linsley and right guard Matt Feiler. There’s more indication that Vera-Tucker can handle playing left tackle in the NFL full-time because of his potential to round out as a nimble all-around blocker. He can be a huge upgrade for Los Angeles there opposite former Packers right tackle Bryan Bulage.
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
- Micah Parsons, ILB, Penn State (6-3, 245 pounds)
Parsons’ stock isn’t falling; it’s the fact the teams picking ahead of the Vikings aren’t totally comfortable going for this position over other needs. He remains a hard-tackling and well-covering cleanup man, a rangy playmaker in the Luke Kuechly game-changing mold. Minnesota could go in other directions, including offensive line and pass rush, but they ultimately go for the best player available who can keep up the defensive youth movement and star inside or outside, especially with an Anthony Barr out in 2022.
15. New England Patriots (7-9)
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (6-2, 203 pounds)
The Patriots won’t be reaching for a quarterback and addressed several offensive and defensive positions in free agency. With Stephon Gilmore getting older, J.C Jackson becoming an unrestricted free agent and not much depth at at cornerback, this pick would make sneaky good sense if Surtain is available from Bill Belichick’s favorite college defense of good friend Nick Saban. Surtain, with his pedigree, size and ball-hawking skills, has the potential to be a true shutdown player.
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (6-6, 260 pounds)
The Cardinals lost breakout pass rusher Haason Reddick in free agency to the Panthers so they need to get a new young complement to Chandler Jones. Rousseau, who opted out of the Hurricanes season, didn’t really need to play to boost his stock after posting 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his lone significant and final season under defensive-minded head coach Manny Diaz. He would be a great fit with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
- Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama (6-3, 310 pounds)
The Raiders invested more on the edge with Yannick Ngakoue and also added former Seahawk Quinton Jefferson to their defensive line rotation. But they still could use a beefy space-eater in the interior who can disrupt the backfield and put their linebackers in better position to make big plays upfield. Barmore combines strength and power with great technique. His late-season surge makes him worthy of a back-half first-rounder.
18. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
- Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia (6-3, 240 pounds)
The Dolphins have a pass-rushing void in their hybrid scheme after Kyle Van Noy was around for only one season. Ojulari has jumped into first-round consideration because he’s a unique pass-rusher who can fit a variety of schemes and alignments and has potential both in stopping the run and in coverage. Brian Flores would love his style of play.
19. Washington Football Team (7-9)
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (6-5, 314 pounds)
Washington is going with Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bridge QB and added a playmaking wideout to complement Terry McLaurin in Curtis Samuel. So they can focus, if Jones isn’t available, on shoring up pass protection, a couple seasons removed from Trent Williams, who is playing and earning at an elite level for the 49ers. Darrisaw has standout athleticism that can help him develop into a smooth and nimble long-term pass protector in the NFL.
20. Chicago Bears (8-8)
- Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida (5-11, 190 pounds)
The Bears are disappointed in Anthony Miller and look intent to upgrade the slot between Allen Robinson and speedy second-year player Darnell Mooney, which is also a key position to help new starting QB Andy Dalton have success. Toney is dynamic after the catch and also has some middle of the field-stretching ability.
21. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
- Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas (6-6, 314 pounds)
Now that the Colts have landed Wentz as their new starting quarterback, they can focus first on replacing 32-year-old retiree Anthony Castonzo with another potential rock at left tackle. Cosmi has great athleticism for his size and teams are starting to be comfortable that he is nimble enough to handle pass protection well on the left side at the next level.
22. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (6-1, 205 pounds)
Horn, the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, is getting the due he deserves as a big-time corner. His big two-interception game against Auburn fueled an upset as he was the best player on the field. This Horn has good size, length, athleticism and physicality to contain wideouts.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
- Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan (6-4, 272 pounds)
The Jets got one sturdy all-around edge presence in signing former Bengal Carl Lawson in free agency, but that’s not enough for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich as they try to overhaul the defense into a solid front four that can better get after the quarterback.They should like the outside-inside versatility of this prospect. Paye is a freak of nature athletically and just needs some polish to be a consistently backfield-disrupting chess piece.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State (6-5, 310 pounds)
Jenkins seemed a bit raw early in the process to many, but his natural hands, strength and footwork have shown he has a good blend of agility and power for the NFL. The Steelers have tabbed Zach Banner to replace aging free agent Alejandro Villanueva on the left side but are desperately hurting on the right side, which is Jenkins’ ideal position for his pass protection and run blocking skills.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame (6-2, 216 pounds)
The Jaguars made some defensive investments in free agency with Roy Robertson-Harris for their defensive line and Shaquill Griffin for cornerback. They also have untapped edge pass-rush promise in past first-rounders Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson. Now they need to focus on cleaning up better on the second level in their defensive rebuild. Owusu-Koramoah covers like a defensive back and has room to grow into a physical run stopper.
26. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington (6-3, 290 pounds)
Onwuzurike has emerged as the second-best defensive tackle in this class for similar backfield-disrupting attributes as Barmore. He has great quickness and athleticism for his size but he also maintains his big-body strength against the run. The Browns could use him inside for both an improved pass rush and run-stuffing.
27. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
- Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State (6-5, 257 pounds)
The Ravens lost both Matthew Judon and Ngakoue in free agency, leaving their edge pass rush gutted. They need to elevate Jaylon Ferguson into a more regular role and get him help, stat. Oweh is the classic freakish athlete in the Jason Pierre-Paul mode who has the potential to be an explosive and productive rusher for a long time, even if he must produce situationally at first.
28. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
- Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (6-5, 226 pounds)
The Saints need to replace breakout pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, wo signed with the the Bengals, with a good complementary force for Cameron Jordan. Phillips leaped into first-round consideration along with former teammate Rousseau as more teams have been impressed with his standout athleticism for the position. He has a nice wingspan and gets after it against both run and pass.
29. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
- Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (6-4, 260 pounds)
Collins can play inside or outside and the Packers need more second-level ground coverage against pass and run in their 3-4. He explodes as an athlete and can make a lot of plays with his agility, quickness and range.
30. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
- Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern (6-0, 192 pounds)
Newsome is a smart, instinctual corner with natural ballhawk skills who’s getting more buzz for a terrific combination of size and speed that can allow him to be consistent in outside coverage, especially in a defense with zone concepts. The Bills still have Levi Wallace opposite Tre’Davious White, but he’s a shaky picked-on presence. Newsome would be a seamless upgrade with immediate starting potential.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
- Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (6-5, 319 pounds)
The Chiefs are overhauling their offensive line with tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz gone and Joe Thuney and Kyle Long signed. This is the next step, landing someone who blossom protecting Patrick Mahomes’ blind side in little time.. Mayfield has stood out on film with his size, length and strength and can develop into a smooth blocker a la the Broncos’ Garett Bolles.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
- Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (5-10, 205 pounds).
The Buccaneers haven’t re-signed Leonard Fournette or signed James White, leaving a key void for a dynamic receiver out of the backfield to complement the hard early-down running of Ronald Jones. Etienne was a surprise return to Clemson but boosted his stock as an all-around back with 1,506 scrimmage yards and 16 TDs. He would be a massive extra asset in the passing game for Tom Brady. He can get taken ahead of the better all-around Najee Harris because of receiving skills in relation to specific team need.