Apr. 29—A best guess at who goes where in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft that starts tonight in Cleveland:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
This is the pretty clear starting point, with quarterbacks coming off the board because of the financial value of finding “your guy” at the top of the first round. Lawrence had a historic career at Clemson and would be the No. 1 guy taken in most years, and the Jets will be happy to restart the clock on their QB position with a passer as polished as Wilson.
The 49ers didn’t trade into the top three picks last month to not take a QB, but this will be the first really intriguing pick. There’s much more upside with North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, but teams love Jones’ accuracy and leadership. Whoever this pick is has to be able to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo this season; it’s the only reason to make that trade.
4. Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
5. Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
6. Miami Dolphins: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
These are the first three picks where we can be kind of, sort of certain the selecting team won’t take a quarterback. Still, there’s only one of these picks I feel good about.
Atlanta will surely try to trade down, and Denver might be a team willing to make it happen if they love Lance or Fields. But if the Falcons plan to stick with Matt Ryan for now, and it appears they do, Pitts is a transformational tight end in that offense.
Chase is the best true wideout available, and he played with Bengals QB Joe Burrow in the Bayou. That pick makes plenty of sense. But it will leave Miami with a conundrum. They want a playmaking receiver, and there are a few available from Alabama. They also need a tackle.
7. New England Patriots (predicted trade with Detroit): QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
8. Carolina Panthers: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
9. Denver Broncos: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
There are two potential hot zones for trades in this draft, and 7-10 is one of them, as teams look to get QBs and make the most of a stockpile of picks.
The Pats can wind up anywhere in this range to make a run at Lance or Fields, and it will be difficult to turn down a competitive offer they might make to move up from 15 because it will take so many picks. There’s chatter Miami could move up again, looking to maximize the No. 18 pick and multiple early second rounders. I think anyone looking for defensive help might be longing for that No. 10 pick, because there’s a chance you’ll get your pick of all eligible defenders, especially if the Broncos, who traded for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday, decide Fields has fallen too far.
Surtain is the most certain player in this draft to have a really good, long NFL career.
11. New York Giants: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
12. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
Two very interesting players available to, and likely targets for, these clubs with local interest.
There was no more dynamic a player in college football last season than Smith, and the Eagles need weapons there after Jalen Reagor struggled to make a major impact last season. They shouldn’t hesitate to take receivers in the first round two seasons in a row. Parsons and the Giants seem like a perfect fit, but it is fair to wonder if the late rumors that Parsons’ off-field issues from high school and the allegations he sexually harassed a former player at Penn State. Nittany Lions coaches swear by his character, though. He’s the most talented defensive player available, and he shouldn’t fall far.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
14. Minnesota Vikings: OT Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
15. Detroit Lions (predicted trade with New England): WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
16. Arizona Cardinals: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
17. Las Vegas Raiders: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
18. Miami Dolphins: DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
19. Washington Football Team: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Interesting pick here could be the super-productive Bateman, who would be a useful player for the Lions, and as good as you can expect at receiver if you trade out of the top 10 for extra picks. Barmore is maybe the most debated player in mock drafts this year. Some have him going in the top 15, others in the top couple of picks on the second day. But he’s by far the best interior defensive line prospect available, and he’d help the Cowboys.
20. Cleveland Browns (trade with Chicago): LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
21. Indianapolis Colts: DE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
22. Buffalo Bills (trade with Tennessee): RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
23. New York Jets: DE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
This is the other hot zone for potential trades. There are just three running backs in this draft that look like difference-makers, and everyone figures the Steelers will be happy to take either Etienne or Harris. If a team like the Bills feels like it can get over the top in the AFC by adding that kind of offensive weapon, they know they’ll have to jump past 24 to have a guaranteed crack at their preferred choice.
The Steelers have an interesting decision. While running back is a need, and they won’t likely get one of the top three in the second round, they also have needs at offensive tackle, center and even cornerback. If they opt not to go with a running back, it’s a pick that will shape the rest of the round.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
26. Chicago Bears (trade with Cleveland): LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
27. Baltimore Ravens: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
28. New Orleans Saints: WR Elijah Moore, Mississippi
29. Green Bay Packers: OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
30. Tennessee Titans (trade with Buffalo): CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
31. Baltimore Ravens: DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
At this point in the draft, anything can happen. Any of these guys can fall out of the first round, easily. But it’s also a prime opportunity to take chances on premiere athletes who fell for one reason or another.
Farley would be this draft’s top cornerback prospect, but he has the worst injury history of any player any team will even consider taking in the first round. He had two back surgeries since he last played in 2019. So, he’s a calculated risk.
Despite his tremendous athletic displays at Penn State, Oweh wasn’t a very productive player. But the Buccaneers are clearly a good enough team to roll the dice on a potential dominant edge rusher who still needs plenty of development.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.