Draft King NFL Mock Draft exclusive insight decades of experience insider pro football college prospects

January 2021

NFL Draft Analysis
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

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2021 NFL Mock Draft

January 14, 2021
7:12 p.m. CST

With the latest mock update now complete, here are some thoughts:

The draft is very heavy on offense at the top. Entirely possible that four quarterbacks will be gone in the top eight spots, likely Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, Ohio State's Justin Fields, and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

Trevor Lawrence to Jacksonville at #1 overall is all but a lock. Biggest no-brainer since Andrew Luck in 2012 with the Colts.

The Jets at #2 have a variety of options, but the prevailing thought at this point seems to be a quarterback.

#3 overall is high for a wide receiver, and I anticipate Miami potentially trading back for a team like Detroit or Carolina that might want one specific QB.

But I could also see the Dolphins sticking at the three spot and drafting Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, a standout receiver at Alabama who had a tremendous first half in the BCS College Football Championship game.

If the end is near for Matt Ryan in Atlanta, the Falcons could look for their QB for the future at #4 overall. Ryan had a 65% completion rate in 2020 so it's not like he's out of gas, but there seems to be a strong belief by some that Ryan will be playing elsewhere next season.

As it is now, the Falcons are about to decide on a new general manager. Rather tough to accurately predict what a team will do when the team has a GM vacancy, but there have been strong arguments made supporting the idea of Atlanta going QB at #4.

Thus, for now, that's where I'm leaning in my prediction. But at this point much of the projecting process is highly speculative, even by usual mock draft standards. So many unknowns right now.

The favorite to be the first lineman drafted is Oregon OL Penei Sewell. He would seem like an ideal fit in Cincinnati at #5.

If you're looking for a top-tier, can't miss EDGE pass rushing standout, this isn't the draft for you. There's no Chase Young or Myles Garrett or Bosa brother that you can expect to see go in the first couple of picks.

There is plenty of talent at 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB aka EDGE available though, just not top-of-the-chart from a perception standpoint. That's relevant for teams that might go EDGE in early round two rather than stretch for a pass rusher early.

The way I have it now, the first defensive player to be drafted would be Miami EDGE Gregory Rousseau, who was a 2020 opt-out. While I have Rousseau connected to the Lions at #7 overall at the moment, it's also possible that the Lions and incumbent QB Matthew Stafford could part ways. And that would change things.

There is plenty of chatter about Lance to the Carolina Panthers at #8 overall. In my current mock that would mean passing up on their choice from the entire cornerback class, but you need an ace QB to win in the NFL.

On a general level, to be a first-round selection in the modern NFL, you need to get a yes for one of these:

-Can you make a demonstratively positive difference for our passing game?
-Can you make a demonstratively positive difference for our pass defense?
-Do you have ultra high-end speed?
-Do you have special ability/talent that allows you to play your position in ways most others simply can't?

That last stipulation applies for a pair of elite ILB prospects: Penn State's Micah Parsons and Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoa. I have Parsons going #9 to Denver and Owusu-Koramoah going #17 to Las Vegas in my latest mock.

Florida TE Kyle Pitts to New England at #15 feels low. A top-flight prospect with physical gifts most 6'5" people don't have, Pitts is a matchup nightmare. If the Pats want Pitts, they'll likely need to trade up to get him.

January 3, 2021
11:51 p.m. CST

They did it. An entire NFL regular season held in the midst of a pandemic and they played every game, even if it took some creative rescheduling at times.

The top 18 order is set for the 2021 NFL Draft.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. New York Jets
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans)
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Philadelphia Eagles
7. Detroit Lions
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Denver Broncos
10. Dallas Cowboys
11. New York Giants
12. San Francisco 49ers
13. Los Angeles Chargers
14. Minnesota Vikings
15. Arizona Cardinals
16. New England Patriots
17. Las Vegas Raiders
18. Miami Dolphins

The remainder of the draft order will be determined by playoff results. Keep in mind that the Jaguars are in possession of the Rams' 2021 first-round pick, while the Jets have Seattle's 2021 first-rounder.

The Dolphins are in a rather unique spot with a franchise QB in Tua Tagovailoa and two of the top 18 picks, including #3 overall from Houston. Miami has options.

Talent evaluation over the next several months is going to be a unique and challenging process.

How much can you rely on 2019 tape and interviews and workouts and such for players unable to play in 2020 due to COVID-19? When you are very limited in sit-down meetings, how much can you trust your gut instinct when you've never met a given prospect in person?

Tomorrow is going to be an unpleasant day in the NFL. A lot of hard-working, high-quality people will face the ax. Often it will be through no fault of their own. It's nothing to celebrate, but at least it coincides with the hype going into wild card weekend.

As much as I questioned fixing something that wasn't broken with the NFL playoffs, the extra wild card spot seems to be a positive. There was always a strange disparity between the #2 and #3 seeds relative to #1 and #2.

Now it really means something to be the top seed in your conference.

Interesting turn of events with 7-9 Washington FT (using soccer lingo, which I support) hosting Tom Brady and the Bucs at a no-fans allowed playoff game at FedEx Field. Brady vs. NFC East, and you can imagine how happy NBC was to land that.

I figure the quicker Washington FT's season ends, the better in the mind of the NFL. Get a new nickname that isn't a racial slur, then sell a ton of new merch and make the old Redskins nickname disappear as quickly as possible. Not unlike when the WWF became WWE.

Speaking of WWE, the big sports media story many of you are missing is what Tony Khan, son of Jaguars owner Shad Khan, has done with his upstart All Elite Wrestling promotion. WWE has been unwatchable for some time now due to horrible creative, and 75-year-old Vince McMahon's legacy will be how he managed to squander a near-total domestic monopoly.

Meanwhile, AEW has been killing it in the key P18-49 demo on Wednesday nights on TNT in spite of the inherent complications caused by the pandemic. It's proof that, if you can produce a quality product that is in demand and not being sufficiently provided in the current marketplace, you can build a new brand quickly.

As for the Jaguars, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is a near-lock to go #1 overall. Nothing is certain until it happens in this process, but it's hard to see the Jaguars passing up on Lawrence.

At #2 it's the New York Jets, and they've got plenty of changes to handle in-house first before any serious consideration can be made on the second overall selection.

Adam Gase is out the door and the question is whether QB Sam Darnold will be far behind. Three years in and a career sub 60% completion rate is not encouraging with a new regime forthcoming.

There is nothing quite so valuable as a successful franchise QB on a rookie contract. Ohio State QB Justin Fields would seem to be the favorite to go #2 at the moment, though there may be other options like BYU QB Zach Wilson or North Dakota State QB Trey Lance.

January 1, 2021
1:41 p.m. CST

Trying something different here. Thoughts in reverse chronological order, sorted by month.

Cincinnati is beating Georgia in the Peach Bowl as I type this. The Bearcats went unbeaten in 2020, but because college football has such a horrible postseason, we're stuck watching them vs. Georgia in a glorified exhibition.

They're both wearing dark-colored jerseys and it drives me crazy. It used to be that, at a glance, you could tell who the home team was, designated or otherwise, absent exceptions like LSU or the Dallas Cowboys.

Now it really does look like an exhibition, albeit more like something from the world of college intramural sports.

That is not a compliment.

Meanwhile, because of the conference musical chairs with universities chasing big TV money, Cincinnati went from being in the cool kids club (Big East) to stuck with schools like Memphis arbitrarily on the outside looking into what was deemed the Power 5.

The mini-playoff math never made sense with only four playoff spots for five conferences. It still doesn't. Until college football has a true real postseason, beyond a mini-playoff, I won't be happy.

A team should not be able to go unbeaten and be arbitrarily snubbed from competing for a national championship. And yet that's the reality. Always has been, and it actually used to be much worse. Change takes time.

We'll get to eight teams relatively soon for the FBS playoffs. The loathsome bowl fat cats are becoming increasingly less powerful. Pasadena getting $2M to give up the Rose Bowl name for a year was quite the trick, but that's par for the course.

Everybody gets a cut. Or at least that's how it feels sometimes. And it's a human commodity, removed just enough from the cash flow to preserve the system as-is. For now.

College sports amateurism is a sham. I've been writing about that here for nearly 18 years. But the exploited "revenue sport" student-athletes of the NCAA will soon be able to profit from their own Name, Image, and Likeness.

The universities wanted the alumni donating to the schools, not paying players for endorsements and licensing. That's how you end up with these opulent facilities that costs tens of millions of dollars in some cases.

Spend it like Brewster's Millions, lest you end up well under budget. But that is a fight against a strawman, the notion that the schools would pay players. That was never tenable with Title IX rules among other things.

It's about control of the money coming in, as usual. Don't be hoodwinked by the hustlers saying otherwise.

There is a better way. And we're on the right path.

A few thoughts on the 2021 NFL Draft. Jacksonville has the #1 overall selection and is all but a lock to select Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. The fact Lawrence was arbitrarily prevented from declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft, where he likely would've gone #1 overall, to play another season for a team with a head coach that makes $9M+ annually, is not lost on me.

Tell me again how this isn't an exploitative system. And that's not a knock on Coach Swinney at Clemson. He has an exceptionally difficult job. But it's a knock on a system that desperately needs to be fixed.

For the NFL, Lawrence and the Jags are a great fit in theory, with Clemson just 400 miles north of Jacksonville.

Lawrence was born in Knoxville and played his high school ball in the state of Georgia. There is a regional appeal bonus for the Jags, particularly with Atlanta and Charlotte's teams being in the other conference.

The Jets are locked in for the #2 overall selection, where there are decisions to be made. If this is it for incumbent QB Sam Darnold, and signs seem to be pointing in that direction, the Jets would have their choice from everyone not named Trevor Lawrence.

Plenty to discuss, and plenty of time to do it. Enjoy the two FBS semifinal games this afternoon/evening. Here's hoping for a better 2021 for us all.

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