The 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner, so now is the perfect time to get into the 2021 mock draft discussion with my first look at next year's class. In this mock, I have four teams grabbing new quarterbacks, and while three might not come as a surprise, Washington giving up on Dwayne Haskins after just two years might cause some people to scratch their heads.
However, if Washington does pick in the top two or three again this year, upgrading at the most important position in football has to be on the table. And if they are picking at No. 3, like we have in our projections below, that likely means Haskins failed to take a big step forward in 2020, which further opens the door for a change. After all, there was some conversation about whether they should take Tua Tagovailoa this year; the nay-sayers will only grow in volume if Washington endures another down year.
This is all dependent on the right quarterback being available to Washington; I'm not saying the team should zero in on taking the best quarterback available at all costs. If Washington picks slightly lower and misses out on Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, I'd likely come down on the side of moving forward with Haskins for one more year.
The draft order below was determined using SportsLine's season win projections coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft, with considerations made to allow for the playoffs (i.e., one AFC and NFC team each in the last two picks).
Let's kick this off!
Round 1 - Pick 1
Clemson • Soph • 6'6" / 213 lbs
It's hard to project anything but a quarterback for the Jaguars if they play poorly enough to land the No. 1 pick, and right now Lawrence gets the nod for me over Justin Fields. That choice could come down to who's coaching this team in 2021, which is impossible to predict.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Penei Sewell OL
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 331 lbs
The Bengals are getting Jonah Williams back to play left tackle this year after an injury wiped out his rookie campaign, but Sewell is too good of a franchise left tackle to pass up. Williams was projected by many to kick inside at the next level anyway, or he could stick on the right side.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Ohio State • Soph • 6'3" / 227 lbs
This pick depends on whether Dwayne Haskins takes a sizable step forward in Year 2, but if Washington is picking here, they'll have to seriously consider upgrading to the more dynamic Fields, especially if the Buckeye posts a big follow-up to his incredible 2019 season.
Round 1 - Pick 4
LSU • Soph • 6'0" / 201 lbs
The Dolphins have several bigger needs than at receiver, but this is a case where Chase is one of four clear standouts in the top tier of this class, so you have to take him. Snapping Chase up raises the ceiling for Tua Tagovailoa's development.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Florida State • Fr • 6'4" / 303 lbs
This pick assumes the Giants can't work out a long-term deal with Leonard Williams, and if that's the case and Dave Gettleman's in charge, he could dip back into the well for the best interior defender in this class.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Shaun Wade CB
Ohio State • Soph • 6'1" / 191 lbs
The Jets could have taken a corner at No. 11 in this year's draft had one of the top two options slipped outside the top 10, and it doesn't seem likely the position group will be any better in 11 months. Wade is a versatile defensive back who could go higher if he proves himself on the outside this year.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Penn State • Soph • 6'3" / 245 lbs
The Panthers drafted nothing but defense in 2020, so now is the time to pivot to offense, right? Well, they still don't have a long-term replacement for Luke Kuechly, and Parsons has the upside to be that type of player at the next level.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Miami (FL) • Soph • 6'6" / 266 lbs
Despite his high sack total in 2019, I'm not ready to put Rousseau in the same class as the top edge rushers of the last few drafts like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers. But he should still earn a spot in the top 10, and Detroit makes sense after the Lions missed out on Young in 2020.
From Houston Texans
Round 1 - Pick 9
Samuel Cosmi OL
Texas • Soph • 6'6" / 309 lbs
The Dolphins picked up a potential left tackle in Austin Jackson in the 2020 draft, but there's no harm in adding more talent at the position and having the luxury of figuring out where everyone will play later on. Protecting Tagovailoa is paramount.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Alabama • Soph • 6'2" / 202 lbs
Patrick Peterson's contract is up after 2020, and even if he's brought back, the team has to consider the future at the position. Surtain would make a great running mate for 2019 draft pick Byron Murphy in the Arizona secondary.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Florida State • Soph • 6'3" / 215 lbs
Will the Falcons wind up signing Keanu Neal to an extension after he barely saw the field in 2018 and 2019? If not, Nasirildeen is a similar player who can shine in the box, and if he improves his coverage skills in 2020, he should be highly coveted in this draft.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Trey Lance QB
North Dakota State • Soph • 6'4" / 226 lbs
Lance has the potential to work his way into the conversation at the top of the draft, much like fellow NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz did a few years ago. But Lance brings a massive upside on the ground as well, and he could have a lot of appeal to Jon Gruden as a high-upside, dynamic threat at QB.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Justyn Ross WR
Clemson • 6'4" / 205 lbs
The receiver run could certainly happen earlier than this, considering the talent of the players who could be in this draft class. Ross would be a great addition for a Chargers team that has Keenan Allen scheduled to hit free agency in 2021 while Mike Williams plays on an expensive fifth-year option.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Stanford • Soph • 6'1" / 192 lbs
The Colts get a big, physical corner to pair with Rock Ya-Sin on the outside while Kenny Moore locks down the slot. I also wouldn't rule the Colts out for a receiver with T.Y. Hilton scheduled for free agency, but that could depend on how effective Michael Pittman is as a rookie.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Dylan Moses LB
Alabama • Fr • 6'3" / 240 lbs
Receiver is certainly another option for the Patriots, but Moses would be hard to pass up if he can put his torn ACL behind him in 2020, particularly with Dont'a Hightower hitting free agency next offseason as he enters his 30s.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Jamie Newman QB
Georgia • 6'4" / 230 lbs
Mitchell Trubisky didn't work out at the quarterback position, so it's time to go back to the well with a dual-threat weapon at the position in Newman, who has a chance to raise his stock after his transfer to Georgia.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Alabama • Soph • 6'0" / 170 lbs
The Packers have consistently devalued the receiver position in the draft, leaving Aaron Rodgers a bit handcuffed in terms of weapons over recent years. Smith would be a big step toward correcting that as a complement to Davante Adams.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 18
Stanford • Soph • 6'7" / 309 lbs
The Jaguars get their blindside protector for Trevor Lawrence in Little, who was projected to be a high pick in the 2020 draft before he suffered an injury and chose to return to school. Jacksonville focused on defense in 2020 but now set their offense up for success under whoever the new coach will be.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Jay Tufele DL
USC • Soph • 6'3" / 305 lbs
Larry Ogunjobi is scheduled for free agency after 2020, and even if they retain him, that might make Sheldon Richardson a cap casualty. Tufele is an improving talent inside who will bring some versatility to his role at the next level.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Clemson • Soph • 5'10" / 215 lbs
Will the Titans pony up and give Derrick Henry a huge extension? It makes more sense to use that money elsewhere and find another feature back at this part of the draft, and Etienne could have competed for the top RB taken in 2020 had he declared.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Alabama • Soph • 6'5" / 312 lbs
It's time to find an upgrade to Garett Bolles on the blind side, and while Leatherwood's role at the next level is still up in the air, he has the chance to prove in 2020 that he deserves a shot at playing left tackle for a team in the back half of the first round.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Oklahoma • Soph • 6'5" / 309 lbs
The Cowboys have a plan at center for 2020, but if the position isn't settled by next offseason, which includes Tyler Biadasz not proving he can be the long-term option, Humphrey would make plenty of sense as next year's top prospect at the position.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Alabama • Soph • 5'10" / 182 lbs
Can the Buccaneers afford to give both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin big money? If not, receiver could be an option in the first round in 2021. Waddle has the potential to be one of the top two or three receivers taken, so he could be long gone by the time the Bucs are on the clock. If not, he's a great value.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Wyatt Davis OL
Ohio State • Soph • 6'4" / 315 lbs
The Vikings added a potential left tackle in 2020 in Ezra Cleveland, but they still have work to do on the interior. Davis is the best guard prospect in next year's class, so he'd be a nice find here.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Michigan • Soph • 6'5" / 320 lbs
Mayfield showed some upside on the right side for Michigan last year, and he seems likely to be headed for the first round in 2021 with a quality follow-up performance.
Round 1 - Pick 26
LSU • Soph • 6'3" / 346 lbs
The Seahawks still need to upgrade up front on the defense, and Shelvin is a massive player who excels defending the run, though he could also help free pass rushers with his ability to draw double-teams.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Kyle Pitts TE
Florida • Soph • 6'6" / 245 lbs
This tight end class could have a few first-round talents, and it would actually be a bit surprising not to see one go in the top 25. The Bills seem to be a great fit for one if they're selecting at this point of the first round, and Pitts has the receiving chops to take the passing game to the next level.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Oregon • Soph • 6'1" / 196 lbs
Holland is a well-rounded safety prospect who can also contribute on special teams, and he has a shot of working his way into the first-round conversation with a productive 2020 season.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Penn State • Soph • 6'5" / 258 lbs
The Saints traded four Day 3 picks to land Adam Trautman in this year's draft, but that shouldn't prevent them from taking Freiermuth if he's the best player available. The Penn State product is well-rounded at the tight end position and should contribute in both the passing and rushing game.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Carlos Basham Jr. EDGE
Wake Forest • Soph • 6'3" / 281 lbs
Baltimore committed a heist by landing Calais Campbell for a late pick, but the veteran is nearing the end of his career. Drafting Basham and allowing him to learn under Campbell for a year while filling a rotational role makes plenty of sense.
Round 1 - Pick 31
South Carolina • Soph • 6'4" / 205 lbs
All three of the 49ers' top cornerbacks are set to hit free agency next offseason, so the position should be a priority unless they find a way to bring all three back (and even in that case, it's time to plan for the post-Richard Sherman future). Mukuamu provides a big impediment to opposing receivers at 6-foot-4.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Eric Stokes DB
Georgia • Soph • 6'0" / 194 lbs
The Chiefs still have massive question marks at the cornerback position long-term. Stokes is coming off a big 2019 season; another could place him in the top half of Round 1.