By Austin Medina
With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching on April 29th, my annual mock draft is here with full descriptions for every pick in the first round as well as many surprise picks. Are there any picks that surprise you? Is there a better option for a particular team?
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1) Jacksonville Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence
Ever since the regular season concluded, the New York Jets were always first on the clock for the NFL Draft starting with the 2nd overall pick. Lawrence to the Jaguars has been a foregone conclusion and the easiest #1 selection since Andrew Luck in 2012. Lawrence is a transcendent talent and a proven leader. At 6’6, 220 pounds and the ability beat team inside and outside the pocket, Lawrence is an elite quarterback prospect. As it happens every year, the unfortunate reality remains that the best prospect goes to the worst team. The Jaguars have a ton of holes and an unproven NFL head coach in Urban Meyer. Yet with a ton of draft capital (picks) that includes the 25th overall, Jacksonville can secure another weapon for Lawrence, or draft some protection for the former 2018 National Champion.
2) New York Jets- Zach Wilson
We can argue the Jets’ decision to trade Sam Darnold for a bag of skittles, and I still would. With the damage already done and decision made, drafting a quarterback is paramount and the ties between Gang Green and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson make this pick somewhat obvious. Wilson has an incredible skillset, with the ability to throw pinpoint passes on the run as well as use his feet to extend drives. Drafting Wilson will reset the rookie contract situation for the Jets and give the Jets faithful another quarterback to wrap their arms around. Wilson can become a true franchise quarterback, so long as the Jets surround him with appropriate protection and a #1 weapon. The signing of Corey Davis, alongside Jamison Crowder and second-year receiver Denzel Mims is a start. With an additional first rounder (#23 overall), the Jets have their options to either give more protection or add a security blanket for the 21-year old prospect.
3) San Francisco 49ers (from HOU through MIA)- Justin Fields
When the 49ers traded up to the 3rd overall, two things were obvious. Firstly, the health of Jimmy Garoppolo is a serious concern for San Fran. Secondly, the Niners were clearly going to take a quarterback after surrendering three first round picks to move up. Tons of smokescreens and reports link Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to San Francisco. Simply, I don’t see GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan giving up that much draft capital for Jones, a quarterback with an average arm and little-to-no athleticism. The Niners should take Justin Fields, for all the things that Jones is not.
Fields has incredible athleticism with a live arm. Although games against Indiana are cause for pause, his performance in playoff games the previous two seasons give me the confidence in his ability at the next level. In his two seasons as the Buckeyes’ starter, Fields led the Power-5 in yards produced through the air. Fields didn’t rely on receivers to create after the catch, rather he challenged defenders down field and his aggressive precision will translate well to the NFL.
With Fields, the Shanahan offense secures a dual-threat quarterback to cause nightmares for opposing run defenses. The two-time Big-10 Player of the Year would give Shanahan a true 11-on-11 faceoff every Sunday; a showdown Shanahan will win more times than not.
4) Atlanta Falcons- Kyle Pitts
The Falcons will need to find Matt Ryan’s heir apparent sooner than later. But with a cap hit of $48 million coming in 2022, the Falcons will need to add surrounding talent as soon as possible. Although Trey Lance and Mac Jones should be considered, the Falcons would be wise to take the best receiving option in the draft: Kyle Pitts. Pitts is a 6’6 mismatch with soft hands and impressive burst. Pitts would give Atlanta two of the biggest mismatches in modern-day NFL history, lining up alongside Julio Jones. Pitts has the ability to be a suped-up Darren Waller and a pivotal piece to the future of the Falcons.
5) Cincinnati Bengals- Penei Sewell
As intriguing as reuniting Jamarr Chase with Joe Burrow sounds, his protection and safety are the greatest concern in Cincy. Landing Sewell at five is a steal considering his upside. Sewell is an athletic run blocker with the physical ability to maul defenders. Although an above average pass blocker, Sewell’s footwork has room to grow as he heads to the NFL. After sitting out the 2020 season due to Covid-19, it’s amazing to point out that much of his 2019 tape showed his dominance at just 19 years old. Some pass plays, Sewell seemingly plays a bit high but it’s nothing that can’t be coached at the next level. The most polished lineman in the draft has worked out at both tackle positions, allowing the Bengals to decide which position he’d play along with Jonah Williams.
6) Miami Dolphins (from PHI)- Jamarr Chase
After landing three additional first round picks from San Francisco, Miami made another splashy trade as they surrendered the 12th overall and an additional 1st for the sixth overall. With more draft capital to add offensive linemen and linebackers, the Dolphins can land the best wide receiver in the draft here. Chase has been pro-ready since his National Champion campaign with Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers in 2019. Chase hauled in 20 touchdowns that season, piling up 1,780 yards on 84 catches. Chase projects to be as dominant as Julio Jones with an impressive combination of route running, speed, and ability to create space. Brian Flores and Tua Tagovailoa should be pinching themselves if Chase falls to them at #6.
7) Detroit Lions- Rashawn Slater
The Lions new regime without Matthew Stafford starts in 2021 under new head coach Dan Campbell. While Jaylen Waddle will be enticing, protecting Jared Goff is the main priority for Detroit. Slater would a massive upgrade over Tyrell Crosby and can play on the inside to start his career, if Detroit wishes. Slater is a flexible, patient pass blocker with an incredible ceiling. Slater will wow scouts with his athletic superiority, but it’s his tape stands out the most. Look no further then his date with Chase Young at Ohio State in 2019. His footwork and body control are impressive to watch and his IQ in the run game, along with smart, timely cutoff blocks, will transfer well to the NFL.
8) Carolina Panthers – Micah Parsons
I’ll start by saying I don’t think the Panthers will be selecting here on Draft Night. Perhaps the Patriots or the Washington Football Team trade up to select a quarterback. Perhaps Dallas trades up to secure Patrick Surtain III. With all that said if Carolina ends up taking a player eighth, the pick is Micah Parsons. Carolina just traded for Sam Darnold and with less draft capital, drafting elite talent is a must for Matt Rhule and company. Parsons is a rangy, sideline-to-sideline linebacker fit for the modern-day game. Could you imagine adding Parsons to a Carolina defense that already includes Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, and Yetur Gross-Matos? Talk about a young defense with an uncanny amount of talent and athleticism. Carolina can eventually trade Teddy Bridgewater for a Day 2 pick to add back some draft capital to give Darnold more immediate help. If Rashawn Slater or Penei Sewell were available, Carolina would be wise to take either of them over Parsons.
9) Denver Broncos- Trey Lance
The Denver Broncos have been scrambling to replace Peyton Manning for nearly six years and after failed experiments with Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and most recently Drew Lock, the Broncos can wrap their arms around Trey Lance. Lance is a raw prospect that has the upside to become a franchise quarterback. Lance is a big-bodied (6’3, 225 pounds), dual threat quarterback with a big arm and impressive quickness. Lance’s ability to extend plays with his feet and move the sticks would give Denver an added level of pop to their offense. In 2019, Lance completed nearly 67% of his passes while posting an incredible 28:0 touchdown-to-INT ratio. Perhaps Lock plays in 2021, but the Broncos would be a team to watch in 2022 with Lance as the starter alongside Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton, Noah Fant, and KJ Hamler.
10) Dallas Cowboys- Patrick Surtain III
Perhaps the Cowboys were wise not to trade up with Carolina after all? Dallas has a ton of issues to be weeded out. Their aging offensive line is a massive concern. The ability to cover in the passing game may be a more urgent need. Patrick Surtain III is the most pro-ready cornerback in the class. His technique, discipline, and length would give the Cowboys’ defense more time to get after the quarterbacks in the NFC East. Surtain III is the son of former Chiefs corner back Patrick Surtain and his deep football roots and IQ is immeasurable for any prospect coming out of the draft.
11) New York Giants- Kwity Paye
With the Giants adding a #1 target in Kenny Golladay for Daniel Jones, the decision for Big Blue at #11 is relatively simple. The G-Men need to add a defensive playmaker, particularly on the defensive front. After losing run stuffer Dalvin Tomlinson, the Giants should be thrilled to get a talent such as Paye at this pick. At 6’4, 275 pounds, Paye is an energetic pass rusher that is not only incredible in space but can also line up inside or outside. Paye’s greatest attribute is his run-stuffing ability and with a relentless motor, this selection would pay dividends quickly alongside Leonard Williams.
12) Philadelphia Eagles (from SF through MIA)- Jaylen Waddle
The Eagles should protect Jalen Hurts with a draft selection of guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Perhaps they’d be better drafting a cornerback such as Jaycee Horn to pair with Derwin James. Yet something tells me the Eagles will look to add another weapon on their offense under new head coach Nick Sirianni. Waddle would be a #1 receiver for most teams coming out of the draft. Waddle possesses a ridiculous amount of speed, shiftiness, and skill to rip-up opposing defensive game plans. Waddle can line up outside or in the slot and would give Hurts an added level of confidence every Sunday.
13) Los Angeles Chargers- Alijah Vera-Tucker
With Justin Herbert under center, the Chargers need to plan his protecting for the long-term. Adding an elite offensive lineman at #13 is a strike of good fortune for Los Angeles. Vera-Tucker played at an absurd level the past two seasons up the road in Pasadena. After playing in all 13 games at left guard in 2019 and earning the team’s Best Offensive Lineman, Vera-Tucker started every game at left tackle in 2020. Vera-Tucker is sound against pass rushers, possessing great body control and impressive athleticism. On the ground, Vera-Tucker is a mauler who positions himself well against any defensive style. With an upgraded offensive line including the signings of Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler, the Chargers could use Vera-Tucker’s versatility to fill any weakness along the offensive line.
14) Minnesota Vikings- Jaycee Horn
Vera-Tucker would have been a great prospect for the Vikings in their zone-run scheme but there are more glaring needs in Minnesota. The Vikings defense ranked in the bottom-six in points allowed, yards allowed, and time of possession in 2020. Adding a defensive playmaker is key and the best available would be Jaycee Horn. The fast-rising Horn is a physical, press corner that would be beneficial in a division against Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. Horn, like Surtain III, is the son of a former NFL player. The son of four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee is at his best when he’s enabled to press receivers at the line of scrimmage and allow edge rushers to pressure the opposing quarterbacks. Horn can certainly improve his tackling and play recognition, but the signing of Patrick Peterson would help ease his transition at the next level.
15) New England Patriots- Devonta Smith
The Mac Jones link to New England doesn’t make much sense to me. The Patriots surely need to secure a quarterback for the future, but Jones isn’t it at #15. Adding a weapon such as Devonta Smith could help propel the New England offense to the next level in 2021. The 2020 Heisman Award winner is a mismatch nightmare for any cornerback and his route running and skills after the catch would provide easy first downs for a team that desperately needs it. With the sudden retirement of Julian Edelman, Smith can come in and immediately replace that need. With the Niners drafting Fields in this mock, the availability of Jimmy Garoppolo for New England down the road makes more sense in a year or two than drafting Jones now.
16) Arizona Cardinals- Caleb Farley
The Cardinals have quietly added an immense amount of talent to their roster the previous two seasons. With a defense headed by Chandler Jones, JJ Watt, and Budda Baker, the Cardinals should draft Farley here as the replacement of Patrick Peterson. Farley’s physical attributes are jaw-dropping, yet it’s his fluidity and ball skills that have front office’s buzzing. Unfortunately, Farley has a history of injury concerns, including a torn ACL in 2017. After sitting out 2020 due to Covid-19, Farley should be as fresh as he’s ever been heading into 2021.
17) Las Vegas Raiders- Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah
The Raiders defense has been a train wreck the previous two seasons, ranking in the bottom-four in points allowed, sacks, and turnovers. There’s no denying they need a ton of help on the defensive front, after waiving Arden Key and Maurice Hurst. Although their secondary is in shambles, Las Vegas has invested a ton of draft capital in recent years to that unit. Adding Owusu-Karamoah would provide Jon Gruden a defensive powerhouse with explosiveness unmatched in this draft. Owusu-Karamoah has scary upside, but landing in the right scheme and to a team that knows how to utilize him will impact his presence on Sundays. His range and versatility would give the defense many options and will help contain the high-octane Kansas City offense.
18) Miami Dolphins- Gregory Rousseau
Rousseau stays in Miami, as the Dolphins add an elite edge-rushing prospect to Brian Flores’ scheme. At 6’5, 260 pounds, Rousseau has tremendous length with great hands and the ability to finish off the edge. The edge rushing class in this year’s draft is based highly on upside and potential, making it obvious that Rousseau is second off the board behind Kwity Paye.
19) Washington Football Team- Mac Jones
The Washington Football team stay put, keep their draft capital, and are still able to get a quarterback prospect for the future. We all know what Mac Jones was surrounded by last year at Alabama. Two #1 receivers, a stacked offensive line with potentially three top-40 linemen, and a bell cow running back in Najee Harris. If we simply look at Jones’ production in the pocket, he produced a great 2020 campaign. Jones threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns while only throwing four interceptions. His 77% completion percentage pops off the screen and Jones’ IQ was second-to-none last season. Washington can afford to let Jones sit a year and allow Ron Rivera to have his guy waiting in the wings after the failed Dwayne Haskins experiment.
20) Chicago Bears- Rashod Bateman
Landing the quarterback of the future is paramount for Chicago. Yet with the top-five prospects already off the board, Chicago should look to add a receiver opposite Allen Robinson and perhaps replace Robinson when his franchise tag expires after the 2021 season. Bateman has the potential to become a #1 target in the league. He possesses soft hands, quick movement in his routes, and uncanny burst after the catch. Chicago needs to add more weapons to their dry offense and under new quarterback Andy Dalton, adding the 2019 Big Ten MVP that will compete for every inch is a step in the right direction.
21) Indianapolis Colts- Christian Darrisaw
Following the retirement of Phillip Rivers, the Colts landed their franchise quarterback by acquiring Carson Wentz from Philadelphia. While that hole was filled, another hole opened with the retirement of left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Plug in Darrisaw at left tackle alongside Quenton Nelson and the Colts will be running the damn ball all 2021. Darrisaw is an elite zone-run blocker that has the intangibles to become the second-best tackle of the group. His nose for defenders makes him a dominating force along the offensive front. He could become an All-Pro tackle soon enough. Darrisaw could utilize more of his devastating power on a down-to-down basis, but there’s no doubt his quickness is up to par with his strength.
22) Tennessee Titans- Jaelen Phillips
The Titans defense ranked worst in the league on third down and 30th in total sacks. There is no denying they need edge rushing help and landing Phillips at 22 would do just that. Phillips is a skilled, shifty pass rusher. His quick burst and high motor remind me of Yannick Ngakoue and if the Titans can add even half of that production, it would be a massive upgrade for the defense. Phillips is my third ranked edge rusher, behind Michigan Kwity Paye and fellow Canes teammates Gregory Rousseau.
23) New York Jets (from SEA)- Teven Jenkins
After the Jets landed their franchise quarterback by selecting Zach Wilson at #2, they should look to beef up the offensive line which has been notoriously bad in recent memory. With one staple already on board in left tackle Mekhi Becton, the Jets add a starting right tackle in Teven Jenkins. Jenkins is a versatile, durable lineman with a mean streak to finish defenders. During his time at Oklahoma State, he played across the line in a career that featured 35 starts. His sheer size and strength make him a nightmare for opposing defenders. Jenkins’ quickness and athleticism is average at best as quicker defenders who get passed his initial punch can beat Jenkins off the edge, so footwork and quickness will have to be improved to make a difference on the next level.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers- Travis Etienne
The Steelers, like the Bears mentioned earlier, are in need of securing a franchise quarterback. There’s no reason (or logic) to believe they would reach for Kyle Trask or Kellen Mond here at #24. The Steelers possessed the worst rushing attack in football in 2020, ranking 28th overall in rushing attempts. Surely Pittsburgh could use an interior lineman to replace Maukrice Pouncey and Matt Feiler, but they could address those needs on Day 2 and Day 3 respectively. By drafting Etienne, the Steelers upgrade from James Conner with a true game changer at running back. Etienne has been a star at Clemson alongside Trevor Lawrence for some time, racking up a total of 78 touchdowns over four seasons.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR)- Kadarius Toney
Jacksonville gets Trevor Lawrence another weapon by adding Kadarius Toney, an elite slot-receiver who applies pressure on opposing secondaries by sheer presence. A strong Senior Bowl and sharp Pro Day has Toney flying up the draft boards and with his instinctive speed after the catch, the Jaguars should be thrilled to land Toney at #25.
26) Cleveland Browns- Greg Newsome II
The Browns have added another edge rusher by signing Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal. The offense is loaded up around Baker Mayfield, making this a clear defensive selection. The Browns could consider linebackers Zaven Collins or Jamin Brown here but passing up on Greg Newsome II here would be a mistake. Newsome II is a natural corner with fluid technique. Although his numbers may not have shown it at Northwestern, Newsome’s aggressive style make him a disrupter in the backend and his quickness will translate well to the pros.
27) Baltimore Ravens- Trevon Moehrig
Baltimore has an interesting decision to make here. For a team that typically draft offensive linemen well on Day 2, do they reach to fill an obvious need? Are Azeez Ojulari or Jayson Oweh proven enough for Eric DeCosta to use a first round pick on them? The Ravens should go with the best player available and that would be safety Trevon Moehrig.
Moehrig is a starting free safety in the NFL once his name is called. His ability to play centerfield and create takeaways (seven career interceptions) should have the Baltimore front office celebrating if he drops to #27. With the Ravens defensive scheme utilizing five defensive backs, adding Moehrig to an elite unit is a no-brainer. A secondary already constructed of with players such as Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Chuck Clark, the Ravens ability to cover would make it easier for their unproven edge rushers to create havoc.
28) New Orleans Saints- Terrace Marshall Jr.
A new era in the Big Easy is upon us, as future Hall of Famer Drew Brees announced his retirement earlier this year. With the replacement plan already in place with the duo of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, the Saints need to prioritize bringing in more weapons to open an offense with a currently low ceiling. Keeping Terrace Marshall Jr. in the Bayou makes too much sense and his big frame (6’3) would allow either quarterback to take smart shots down the field. With Marshall Jr. opposite of Michael Thomas as well as Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, the Saints offense can rely heavily on yards after the catch and provide easy opportunities for their defense to play with a lead.
29) Green Bay Packers- Christian Barmore
The Packers can always use run defensive help and if it weren’t for their 3-4 scheme, the pick here would be Levi Onwuzurike out of Washington. A better fit for the Packers is Christian Barmore, a raw defensive tackle with elite strength and subtle quickness. His ability to play above the center or as a defensive end gives Green Bay more flexibility to a unit that needs it. Barmore will need more reps to become a pro starter, but there’s no doubt he could be a rotational force along the defensive front. Playing along side Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry would pay dividends in his progress and if drafted to Titletown, Barmore could be a breakout star by season’s end.
30) Buffalo Bills- Azeez Ojulari
The Bills inability to get after the quarterback came back to bite them in the AFC Championship. With the resigning of Matt Milano, the Bills can focus their attention on edge rushing by adding Ojulari. Ojulari has an explosive, quick first step with good use of hands. His high motor would add well to a culture brewing with the like of Ed Oliver and Tremaine Edmunds. His ability to bend and limited arsenal of weapons concern me, but with proper development the Bills could have a diamond in the rough.
31) Kansas City Chiefs- Jayson Oweh
The Chiefs have huge needs along their offensive line, but they can always address them on Day 2 and Day 3 respectively. Near the end of the first round, the Chiefs would be wise not to pass up on Oweh. The Penn State edge rusher showed an insane blend of explosiveness, length, and bend around the edge. As a wide-9 edge rusher, Oweh could create havoc opposite of Frank Clark. His incredible showing at the Pro Day was capped off by displaying his freakish athleticism, running a 4.36 40-yard dash and posting up a 34.5 inch arm length.
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Kyle Trask
The surprise of the first round comes at the last pick, where the Buccaneers land their future quarterback while also securing a fifth-year option. Of course, the flashier pick would be wide receiver Elijah Moore or Rondale Moore to replace the absence of Antonio Brown. Tampa could elect to add another incredible linebacker in Zaven Collins, the 2020 Bronco Nagurski award winner for nation’s best defender.
With Trask playing in Gainesville the previous three seasons, Trask tallied 69 touchdown passes and steadily improved his completion percentage. Trask’s ability to execute a game plan would mesh well with Bruce Arians in Tampa, and the ability to learn behind Tom Brady for perhaps two more seasons could help the Bucs land their quarterback of the future.