One strategy that could come into play for many of these NFL teams is managing a salary cap in decline. It is a short-lived problem but one that will have to be navigated in 2021. Some teams are already over the salary cap, while others will look to create some flexibility to make additional moves. It would not be a surprise to see several teams move on from high-priced veterans in favor of first-round talents on a rookie contract. In the latest mock draft below, some of those moves are foreshadowed.
The official draft order was determined by current record and strength of schedule as it stands heading into Week 12.
Without further ado, let's kick this off! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Round 1 - Pick 1
Clemson • Jr • 6'6" / 213 lbs
Trevor Lawrence is the quarterback that can get the Jets back on track if they protect him. Joe Douglas wants to invest in the offensive line as evidenced by the selection of Mekhi Becton last year.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Ohio State • Jr • 6'3" / 227 lbs
Justin Fields and Zach Wilson are battling to become the second quarterback off the board. Fields has conceded very little ground on the path to that title. The modern day NFL quarterback needs to be mobile, and both check the box.
Round 1 - Pick 3
Penei Sewell OL
Oregon • Jr • 6'5" / 335 lbs
Cincinnati would be in a prime position to trade down with Zach Wilson and Trey Lance still on the board. As it stands, they are presented with the opportunity to select the draft's top left tackle, which would allow them to move Jonah Williams inside.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Zach Wilson QB
BYU • Jr • 6'2" / 214 lbs
Although not the second quarterback selected, Zach Wilson did not have to wait long to hear his name called. Wilson offers size, arm strength and mobility. Washington obviously does not like what it has seen from Dwayne Haskins so they move on.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Greg Rousseau EDGE
Miami (FL) • Jr • 6'6" / 266 lbs
Melvin Ingram is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. In a year where the salary cap is expected to plummet, Los Angeles has the chance to add a young talent while creating some breathing room.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Kwity Paye DL
Michigan • Jr • 6'2" / 261 lbs
The Giants have found a productive defensive tackle rotation that works for them, but the unit lacks the threat of rushing the passer. New York could truly become one of the best in the NFL if it were to supplement the pass rush.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Alabama • Jr • 6'2" / 202 lbs
Atlanta needs some pass rush but two of the best just flew off the board. The team drafted A.J. Terrell in the first round in 2019 but Patrick Surtain II would give them a true lockdown cornerback.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Caleb Farley CB
Virginia Tech • Jr • 6'2" / 197 lbs
Dallas has several needs but cornerback is near the top of the list. Following the loss of Byron Jones, the Cowboys were void of a cornerback capable of instilling fear in the opponent.
From Houston Texans
Round 1 - Pick 9
LSU • Jr • 6'0" / 201 lbs
Tua Tagovailoa thrived in Tuscaloosa when he got the ball out of his hands quickly with wide receivers that shot off the line like a gold medal race in the Olympics. Miami has Jakeem Grant but Ja'Marr Chase offers more nuanced route-running and footwork.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Kyle Pitts TE
Florida • Jr • 6'6" / 245 lbs
Carolina appears content with Teddy Bridgewater for now, so quarterback is not an immediate need. Joe Brady is expected to minimally interview for vacant head coaching positions this offseason. If he leaves, would the Panthers be satisfied being left at the altar with a quarterback who was not their choice? I'm banking on Brady needing another year before getting his ideal coaching offer. The team adds Kyle Pitts to make the offense even more dynamic.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Penn State • Jr • 6'3" / 245 lbs
Detroit's embarrassing loss to Carolina likely sealed Matt Patricia's fate. The Lions are surrendering the third most rushing yards per game this season, so it would behoove them to get stronger up the middle. Micah Parsons is a rangy player that would fulfill the off-ball role.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Trey Lance QB
NFL Draft • Jr • 6'4" / 224 lbs
I don't think San Francisco has been satisfied with the play of Jimmy Garoppolo even without the injury. I could envision Kyle Shanahan wanting a more mobile quarterback to make his offense even more difficult to defend. Trey Lance is a passer first but more than capable of getting yardage on the ground.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Alabama • Jr • 5'10" / 182 lbs
New England has an opportunity to select a truly game-changing wide receiver in the first round. They have a lot of problems to sort out on offense but salary cap flexibility gives them the opportunity to address some of that in free agency. Jaylen Waddle would help spread opposing defenses.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Virginia Tech • Jr • 6'5" / 315 lbs
Minnesota is not happy with the play they have received at left tackle. Christian Darrisaw is a rising prospect that has shown the moment is never too big for him.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Clemson • Soph • 6'0" / 190 lbs
Denver has a handful of guys but none are certified starters long-term. A.J. Bouye, Michael Ojemudia and Bryce Callahan haven't done enough to solidify their roles so Derion Kendrick is brought in to feast on pressure created by Bradley Chubb and, maybe, Von Miller.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Wyatt Davis OL
Ohio State • Jr • 6'4" / 315 lbs
Chicago's offensive line is a microcosm of the offense's issues in entirety. The Bears need to bolster the interior offensive line and Wyatt Davis is arguably the best available. The team likely has some bigger decisions to make this offseason regarding coaching and its quarterback play.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Oklahoma • Jr • 6'4" / 302 lbs
Ted Karras has had his moments this season but his play has been up-and-down. Miami told us what they thought of Karras this offseason when they signed him to just a one-year deal. The emphasis has been building a young, sustainable offensive line to protect Tua Tagovailoa and Creed Humphrey would be another piece to the puzzle.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Alabama • Jr • 6'0" / 170 lbs
Devonta Smith does not have Henry Ruggs or Jaylen Waddle speed, nor does he have size. Some wide receivers have a natural ability to get open and make plays. Smith falls into this category.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Notre Dame • Jr • 6'2" / 221 lbs
It would not be a surprise to see Philadelphia address the offensive line. In fact, it is likely. Howie Roseman has shown his belief in strong offensive line play through significant contract extensions and selecting an offensive tackle in the first round before Jason Peters was ready to relinquish his starting spot. With that being said, linebacker is also a big need for the NFC East franchise. Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah is an active player that can clean up some of the damage done by that wrecking ball of a defensive line.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Penn State • Jr • 6'5" / 258 lbs
Arizona has been using Dan Arnold more than the team would like to use Dan Arnold. He has made the most of his opportunities but adding a tight end that presents mismatch issues, like Pat Freiermuth, would help spread the field for Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Northwestern • Jr • 6'4" / 315 lbs
Las Vegas has an opportunity to create some salary cap space by parting with Trent Brown this offseason. Brown has battled multiple injuries -- not all were his fault -- and has seen the field very little this season. Money saved releasing the lineman would allow the team to fill other areas of need. Rashawn Slater is the type of player that would get Jon Gruden excited.
Round 1 - Pick 22
NFL Draft • Jr • 6'6" / 301 lbs
Donovan Smith has done nothing to inspire confidence on the left side of the offensive line. Tampa Bay has all of the weapons it could possibly need on offense so the priority becomes shoring up Tom Brady's protection. Dillon Radunz has great movement skills but needs some of the refinement Tristan Wirfs found in 2020.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Joseph Ossai LB
Texas • Jr • 6'4" / 263 lbs
The Indianapolis defense has been very impressive. Each player knows his role and makes the sound play when called upon. Justin Houston is not getting any younger and the Colts will need some pass rush assistance. Joseph Ossai has shown good shoulder dip around the edge this season and a propensity to target the football when flat.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Dylan Moses LB
Alabama • Fr • 6'3" / 240 lbs
Green Bay's defense has softened this season. They need some of that edge back and Dylan Moses is a well-coached player that may be able to provide it.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Odafe Oweh EDGE
Penn State • Jr • 6'5" / 257 lbs
Jayson Oweh is still a bit raw but Cleveland can not expect to find a polished and productive pass rusher late in the first round. Oweh gives them a high upside talent opposite arguably the NFL's best pass rusher.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 26
Alabama • Jr • 6'5" / 310 lbs
Jacksonville already added Justin Fields in the first round so the team adds Christian Barmore in an attempt to make their defense less porous up front. Barmore is not explosive off the snap but he uses his hands well and displays brute strength.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. EDGE
Oregon State • Fr • 6'2" / 251 lbs
I can probably copy and paste my explanation for Tennessee's pick from each version of the mock draft over the past month. The Titans need pass rush help; that is no secret. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. was incredibly productive last season and offers superior athletic traits with which Mike Vrabel can work.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Ohio State • Jr • 6'3" / 240 lbs
Baron Browning is rising as expected. He is an active, rangy linebacker that will provide Buffalo with some of the coverage help they have lacked.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 29
Jaycee Horn LB
South Carolina • Jr • 6'1" / 200 lbs
Joe Douglas has cycled out Pierre Desir, Trumaine Johnson and other cornerbacks since he arrived on the scene in New York. The team lacks a shutdown cornerback and Jaycee Horn gives them that potential. The Jets could also look to add some offensive line or pass rush help if the right players are available.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Eric Stokes CB
Georgia • Jr • 6'0" / 194 lbs
Kansas City gets L'Jarius Sneed back so it could become less of a need if he continues his development. Counting on Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton long-term seems like a house of cards.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Florida State • Jr • 5'10" / 180 lbs
New Orleans is the most interesting team this offseason. They will inevitably need to resolve their quarterback situation, assuming Drew Brees retires. However, they are way over the salary cap threshold and will need to create space. The team could move on from some high-priced veterans, which would create a roster need. In the meantime, they need another cornerback opposite Marshon Lattimore long-term and Eric Stokes could fill the role.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Shaun Wade CB
Ohio State • Jr • 6'1" / 191 lbs
Shaun Wade had been slipping in draft projections because of a slow start to the season. However, he broke hard on a ball against Indiana and returned it for a touchdown over the weekend. It was essential in the Buckeyes staving off the upstart Hoosiers. Pittsburgh will need to replace Joe Haden and Steven Nelson soon. Wade can step in from Day 1 and start.