Unlike last year, there are a lot of unknowns leading up to the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. While the Jaguars taking Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick is pretty much a given, each of the other 31 first-round picks could go a myriad of different directions. While that has decreased the odds of having a largely accurate mock draft, it should lead to one of the most exciting and entertaining first rounds in recent memory.
The fun will start shortly after Lawrence puts on his Jaguars cap. The Jets, owners of the No. 2 overall pick, are expected to choose either former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson or former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Wilson is the presumptive No. 2 pick, but don't fall asleep on Fields, who will showcase his talents one more time before the start of the draft.
Along with Lawrence, Wilson and Fields, Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance are also expected to hear their names called in the first round. Assuming the 49ers select either Wilson or Fields at No. 3, the frontrunners to land Jones and Lance include the Panthers, Broncos, and Patriots.
In the spirit of this year's draft, I decided to make some unconventional picks in this mock. While some of my predictions won't come to fruition, I hope to catch lightning in a bottle on more than one of them.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Clemson • 6'6" / 220 lbs
Urban Meyer follows the script and takes the top-ranked player in the draft. Meyer is surely hoping that Lawrence can parlay his 34-2 record at Clemson into further success at the NFL level. Beyond his gaudy college record, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Lawrence has the physical tools that quarterbacks need to have to flourish in today's NFL. Whether or not Lawrence and the Jaguars can capitalize on that talent is the big question.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Ohio State • 6'3" / 227 lbs
Yes, the general consensus is that Zach Wilson will be the Jets' pick. But Robert Saleh is a blue collar, defensive coach who probably loved watching Fields' gutsy performance in Ohio State's win over Clemson in this year's Sugar Bowl. Along with being a strong, durable quarterback, Fields was excellent at taking care of the football during his time in college, a trait that every first-year head coach wants from their quarterback.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 3
Zach Wilson QB
BYU • 6'3" / 210 lbs
The 49ers pounce on the chance to select Wilson, who backed up his stellar final season at BYU with an equally impressive pro day. Unlike the quarterbacks picked ahead of him, Wilson may get the chance to sit and watch as a rookie assuming the 49ers don't trade Jimmy Garoppolo.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Kyle Pitts TE
Florida • 6'6" / 239 lbs
The top-rated tight end in the draft is heading to Atlanta to join quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. In Pitts, the Falcons are getting a 6-foot-5, 245-pound athlete who is essentially a receiver in a tight end's body. Pitts should quickly help improve a Falcons offense that was just 25th in the NFL in red zone efficiency last season.
Round 1 - Pick 5
LSU • 6'1" / 200 lbs
With A.J. Green gone, the Bengals replenish their receiving corps while also reuniting Joe Burrow with his college teammate. During the Tigers' 2019 season, Burrow and Chase connected 84 times for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Bengals are certainly hoping this duo goes down in the history books alongside Montana and Rice, Aikman and Irvin and Manning and Harrison. Look for Cincinnati to address its offensive line in the coming rounds.
From Philadelphia Eagles
Round 1 - Pick 6
Alabama • 6'1" / 175 lbs
Seeing a trend here? Like Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa is reunited with his former college receiver. Similar to former Panthers All-Pro Steve Smith, Chase is an explosive receiver who more than makes up for his small-ish stature. He caught 37 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Alabama while taking home the Heisman Trophy last season. Smith would help complete an impressive Miami receiving corps that also includes DeVante Parker and Will Fuller.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Alabama • 5'10" / 182 lbs
The Lions are thrilled to acquire Waddle, who "falls" to them at No. 7. While injuries held him back last season, Waddle still managed to average 21.1 yards per catch while helping Alabama win the national title. An extremely explosive receiver, Waddle will look to replace Kenny Golladay as the Lions' No. 1 receiver.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Trey Lance QB
North Dakota State • 6'4" / 226 lbs
In Lance, the Panthers get a quarterback who may eventually go down as the steal of the 2021 draft (see Patrick Mahomes, 2017 draft). An extremely gifted player with tremendous upside, Lance will get the chance to work with offensive-minded head coach Matt Rhule while also getting the chance to play with All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. Given his lack of experience (he started just one season at the FCS level), Lance would likely start the season behind Sam Darnold.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Penn State • 6'3" / 245 lbs
The Broncos eschew taking a quarterback and instead get themselves the top-rated linebacker in the draft. An explosive player, Parsons will strengthen a Broncos defense that boasted the league's top-ranked red zone defense in 2020. Parsons will get the chance to work alongside Von Miller, one of the league's best linebackers over the past decade.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Alabama • 6'2" / 202 lbs
Dallas pounces on the chance to acquire Surtain, the top-rated cornerback in the draft. An exceptional man coverage defender at Alabama, Surtain joins a Cowboys defensive backfield that also includes Trevon Diggs, Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Wilson and Keanu Neal.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Penei Sewell OL
Oregon • 6'6" / 325 lbs
Sewell slides out of the top 10, but he lands on a Giants team in need of offensive line help. A left tackle by trade, Sewell is also capable of starting at guard. The 2019 Outland Trophy winner, Sewell will look to protect Daniel Jones' blindside for years to come.
From Miami Dolphins
Round 1 - Pick 12
Northwestern • 6'3" / 305 lbs
With the top-rated receivers off of the board, the Eagles address another need with the selection of Slater, a versatile lineman who could be used at tackle, guard or center. Slater allowed no sacks and just one quarterback hit during his final season at Northwestern.
Round 1 - Pick 13
USC • 6'4" / 315 lbs
The Chargers add a significant piece to their offensive line with Vera-Tucker, who moved from guard to left tackle for USC after Austin Jackson departed for the NFL. The versatile lineman will now look to keep Justin Herbert clean while also providing running lanes for Austin Ekeler.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Virginia Tech • 6'5" / 314 lbs
After seeing no offensive linemen come off the board early, four straight linemen are taken between picks 11-14. In Darrisaw, the Vikings are getting a left tackle who started for three straight years at Virginia Tech. Darrisaw should make life easier for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Kwity Paye EDGE
Michigan • 6'4" / 272 lbs
For whatever reason, I don't see the Patriots taking Mac Jones with the 15th pick. I instead see Bill Belichick using the pick to further strengthen his defense. Arguably the most complete defensive lineman in the draft, Paye consistently found himself in the opponent's backfield during his time at the University of Michigan.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Jaycee Horn CB
South Carolina • 6'1" / 205 lbs
With Patrick Peterson gone, the Cardinals will try to replace him with one of the top-ranked corners in the draft. The son of former Saints receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee Horn spent his college career covering the best receivers the SEC had to offer.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Azeez Ojulari EDGE
Georgia • 6'3" / 240 lbs
Rest assured, the Raiders will use this pick to address their defense. I have Mike Mayock and the Raiders taking Ojulari, a gifted pass rusher who tallied three sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety during Georgia's win over Cincinnati in this year's Peach Bowl.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Clemson • 5'10" / 205 lbs
Look for the Dolphins to go either lineman or running back with this pick. For this mock, I have the Dolphins using the pick on Etienne, CBS Sports' top-ranked running back in the draft. Etienne should be a nice complement for Myles Gaskin, who tallied nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards as a rookie in 2020.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Mac Jones QB
Alabama • 6'3" / 214 lbs
Washington, without moving up at all, lands one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the draft. Like Wilson, Jones will get the luxury of playing behind a veteran (Ryan Fitzpatrick) until Ron Rivera deems him ready to take over Washington's offense.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Oklahoma State • 6'6" / 320 lbs
The Bears prioritize offensive line over receiver with their first pick. Before sitting out the 2020 season, Jenkins saw time at right guard and both tackle positions during his sophomore and junior seasons at Oklahoma State. New Bears quarterback Andy Dalton will surely approve of this pick.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Jaelan Phillips EDGE
Miami (FL) • 6'5" / 266 lbs
The Colts choose to address their pass rush over their offensive line with their first pick. While he has injury concerns, there's a lot of like about Phillips. A complete defensive player, Phillips showcased his ability to sack the quarterback and stop the run (he had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss) during his final season at Miami.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Florida • 5'11" / 194 lbs
Before addressing their needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Titans address the loss of Corey Davis with the addition of Toney. While he didn't breakout until his final season at Florida, Toney nevertheless showed his potential after catching 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Toney finished his college career with a bang; he caught 25 passes for 443 yards and three touchdowns during his last three games. In his final college game, caught eight passes for 153 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
From Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 - Pick 23
Caleb Farley CB
Virginia Tech • 6'2" / 207 lbs
The Jets could go running back here, but I suspect Robert Saleh is going to use the pick to strengthen his defense. A standout defender during his time at Virginia Tech, Farley was a projected top-10 pick before undergoing a back procedure. If he can avoid further injury setbacks, Farley has the ball skills and athleticism to be a force at the next level.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Najee Harris RB
Alabama • 6'2" / 230 lbs
Determined to improve what was the league's worst rushing attack in 2020, the Steelers take a running back in the first round for the sixth time since 1972. That year, the Steelers selected Franco Harris, who helped change the fortunes of the franchise. The Steelers are hoping this Harris can do similar magic in Pittsburgh. Harris did plenty of damage for Alabama, where he rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns during the 2020 season.
From Los Angeles Rams
Round 1 - Pick 25
TCU • 6'2" / 208 lbs
Known for his offensive mastery in college, Urban Meyer surprises many by taking a defensive player with this pick. Arguably the best safety in this year's draft, Moehrig will be a nice addition to a Jaguars defense that already includes Josh Allen, Jihad Ward, Myles Jack, Tre Herndon and C.J. Henderson.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Gregory Rousseau EDGE
Miami (FL) • 6'7" / 265 lbs
The Browns need a little more bite in their defense entering 2021. In Rousseau, the Browns are getting a player who tallied 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss during his final season with the Hurricanes. Rousseau would help replace Olivier Vernon, who finished second behind Myles Garrett for the team lead in sacks last season.
Round 1 - Pick 27
LSU • 6'4" / 200 lbs
With the draft's top-rated pass rushers off the board, the Ravens give Lamar Jackson a much-needed weapon with the 27th pick. After catching 13 touchdowns during LSU's national championship season, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Marshall caught 10 touchdowns in just seven games for the Tigers in 2020.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Zaven Collins EDGE
Tulsa • 6'4" / 260 lbs
Collins brings a much-needed boost to the Saints' defense. A very versatile player, Collins filled the stat sheet in 2020. During his final season at Tulsa, Collins returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns. He also forced two fumbles, recorded four sacks, made 7.5 sacks for loss and made 54 tackles in just eight games.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Jamin Davis LB
Kentucky • 6'4" / 234 lbs
The Buccaneers exposed the Packers' need for defensive reinforcements during last year's NFC title game. In Davis, the Packers are filling a crucial need in the middle of their defense. While his game speed has been questioned, Davis was an outstanding run defender at Kentucky. He was also solid in pass coverage while showing a keen ability to quickly diagnose the opposition's play.
Round 1 - Pick 30
North Carolina • 5'10" / 220 lbs
The Bills use their first pick to add to their stable of running backs. A bruising runner who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season, Williams joins forces with current Buffalo backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss.
Round 1 - Pick 31
Alabama • 6'5" / 310 lbs
After getting run over in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs add an interior stud with their first pick. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive tackle has freakish athleticism that he will likely lean on during the early stages of his NFL career. Along with being a solid run stopper, Barmore tallied six sacks during his final season at Alabama.
Round 1 - Pick 32
Washington • 6'3" / 293 lbs
The first round ends with the defending champions adding some depth to their defensive line. A college teammate of current Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vae, Onwuzurike performed well at this year's Senior Bowl after sitting out the 2020 season. While his pass-rushing skills could use some refinement, Onwuzurike was an elite run stopper at Washington, helping the Huskies capture a Rose Bowl berth in 2018.