We are officially nine weeks into the 2020 NFL regular season, and the pretenders have slowly begun to weed themselves out of contention.
The teams who will be fighting for the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft are apparent at this point, while the strong Super Bowl contenders are starting to become more clear by the week.
One such team who falls in that dreaded middle ground is the Bears, who at 5-4 are currently on track to miss the playoffs, but aren’t picking high enough to secure a top-tier quarterback in the first round.
Though there’s still plenty of games left to be played this year, we have been running draft coverage throughout the course of this season, throughout the good times and the bad. With that latter period taking place at this time of the year, now is as good of a time as any to take an early look at how the first round of the 2021 draft could play out.
For the sake of this mock, I will not be projecting trades yet. There will certainly be deals taking place in the first round when next April comes around, but this mock draft is meant to provide more of a standing of how the draft class is shaping up, as well as where NFL teams currently stand in the draft order, for which Tankathon is to be thanked for tracking.
A lot will change between now and Draft Day, but for the time being, let’s take a shot at how the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft might play out.
1. New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick. The Jets have massive holes at almost every position, but securing a quarterback with the physical tools and the resumé as good as Lawrence’s is a great start for their rebuild.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
While Gardner Minshew has surpassed expectations as a sixth-round pick in 2019, that shouldn’t stop the Jaguars from taking Fields, an accurate, athletic and productive quarterback who can grow into a top-10 signal-caller in the league.
3. Dallas Cowboys: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Taking Penei Sewell here was an incredibly tempting move, and while he is likely the better player than Rousseau, the Cowboys have a dreadful defense, and they will still have Tyron Smith and La’el Collins at tackle. Rousseau’s athleticism and massive ceiling could give Dallas a fantastic pass-rusher alongside DeMarcus Lawrence.
4. New York Giants: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Drafting Andrew Thomas in the first round in 2020 shouldn’t stop the Giants from drafting Sewell if he’s available. A nearly flawless offensive line prospect, Sewell could likely slide right in as a left tackle and play at a near-Pro Bowl level from Day 1, while moving Thomas to his natural right tackle position.
5. Washington Football Team: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The biggest rising star in the 2021 draft, Wilson has quickly catapulted into being one of the best prospects in the class. His accuracy, arm talent, quick release, and athleticism are all the marks of a franchise quarterback, and it’s clear that Dwayne Haskins isn’t the answer in Washington. Sorry, Bears fans.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Chargers need help along their offensive line, but there aren’t any tackles worth taking this early with Sewell gone. Chase is a fluid and physical receiver with top-notch ball skills, and even though wide receiver isn’t Los Angeles’ biggest need, it would be smart to take the player who might be the best available at this point of the draft.
7. Miami Dolphins (via Texans): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Miami’s defense has already looked impressive in 2020, but adding a linebacker like Parsons, who is big, explosive and versatile, could help the Dolphins put together an even stronger unit. A wide receiver is tempting here, but the drop-off at the linebacker position after the top of the class is much larger.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Like the Chargers, the Bengals need an overhaul along the offensive line, but the value doesn’t work out here. Pitts is as good of a tight end prospect as there has been in many years, and his combination of athleticism, physicality, and route-running savvy would give Joe Burrow a potential All-Pro as a security blanket.
9. Carolina Panthers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
An offensive lineman could make sense here for the Panthers, but Carolina’s secondary could use some beefing up, and with James Bradberry gone, they need a reliable press cornerback. Surtain is a long and fluid corner with impressive ball skills and sharp instincts.
10. Atlanta Falcons: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Falcons can’t move on from Matt Ryan until after the 2021 season, which lines up perfectly with the philosophy of drafting a quarterback this year and having him sit under the former MVP for a year. Lance isn’t pro-ready yet, but his arm strength and athleticism are top-notch, and placing him in an offense with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley would be a perfect landing spot for him.
11. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Kenny Golladay is a free agent after the 2020 season, but whether or not the Lions bring him back, they could use a reliable speed demon in their offense. Waddle would have been a top-10 pick if not for an ankle injury: his athleticism, route-running IQ and agility make him one of the best overall players in this draft.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Wyatt Davis, iOL, Ohio State
The Vikings have made some additions to their offensive line in the draft in recent years, but they could still use some help along the interior. Davis would be a great addition with his powerful and intelligent style of play at guard.
13. New England Patriots: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
If the Patriots pick high enough to take a quarterback, they will likely do so. However, they have a massive need at the wide receiver position, and Smith is a fluid athlete and a polished route runner who would step in right away and succeed for Bill Belichick and Co.
14. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Cornerback isn’t the biggest need on the Broncos’ roster, but it is a need, and with Farley still being available at this stage of the first round, adding the fluid ballhawk to their secondary could be a smart move here.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Creed Humphrey, iOL, Oklahoma
The 49ers could be interested in a quarterback here, but with their massive need along the interior offensive line, Humphrey makes sense with his mauler mentality, sound use of pads and high football IQ.
16. Chicago Bears: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The temptation of drafting a quarterback here is a strong one, but since this mock draft has no trades, the Bears likely won’t find good value at the position without moving up. A potential star at offensive tackle is a strong consolation prize, though, as Cosmi’s length, athleticism and intelligence would allow him to instantly boost Chicago’s rough offensive line.
17. Cleveland Browns: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Cleveland can save over $15 million by trading Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason, a move that appears likely with the dysfunction between the two sides. Bateman would be a good replacement, as he is a physical, fluid and intelligent wideout with a high ceiling at the next level.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
The Colts have fewer needs than the Bears and an abundance of cap space, so they are in a much better position to draft a quarterback in Round 1, even if it is a reach. Trask has improved greatly in 2020 and has the accuracy and pocket presence to be a real threat behind the Colts’ dominant offensive line.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
While the Eagles could go in several different directions here, they would be smart to just secure the best player available. Moses is not only tremendous value here, but he fills a big need, and his athleticism and reliable tackling ability makes him a great value at this stage in the first round.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Rashawn Slater, iOL, Northwestern
The Cardinals’ offense has looked great this year, but they could still use some help along the offensive line. Slater is an athletic and intelligent player who can play at just about any offensive line spot, which would give him plenty of versatility.
21. Miami Dolphins: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Moore may fall a little bit since he barely played in 2019 and hasn’t played in 2020 as of this writing, but his tremendous athleticism and big-play ability could make him a fantastic addition for the Dolphins, who would be wise to stack up more weapons for Tua Tagovailoa.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Grabbing Leatherwood this late would be really good value for the Jaguars, who would likely love to add the athletic and polished tackle as a blind-side replacement for Cam Robinson to protect Fields.
23. Las Vegas Raiders: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Maxx Crosby has been a reliable force for the Raiders’ defense, but is it too early to give up on Clelin Ferrell? With an explosive, well-built and powerful pass-rusher like Paye available here, Las Vegas may consider pulling the trigger.
24. Tennessee Titans: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
There’s a chance the Titans could re-sign Jonnu Smith, but with several key contributors also heading into free agency after the year, tight end could be a need for them going forward. Getting Freiermuth this late is a steal, as he is essentially everything you’d want in a prototypical ‘Y’ tight end and more.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
What to get for a Buccaneers team that doesn’t have too many needs? An understudy for Tom Brady would make sense if the value wasn’t bad here, but adding the explosive and versatile Etienne to their backfield would give them a potential Pro Bowl back to complement their stellar receiving corp.
26. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
The Jets appear to have a stud along the offensive line in Mekhi Becton, but there’s no such thing as too much protection for your new franchise quarterback. Radunz is an athletic and coordinated tackle prospect with good raw strength and a polished use of his hands.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Trey Smith, iOL, Tennessee
Baltimore has a need along the interior offensive line, and considering they like to target big-bodied blockers, the 6-foot-6, 336-pound Smith would give them a nasty brute at the guard position.
28. Buffalo Bills: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Bills have an incredibly talented defense, but the outside cornerback spot alongside Tre’Davious White is a massive hole for them. Horn is an intelligent and physical defender with NFL bloodlines—his dad is Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn—and has played really well in 2020.
29. Green Bay Packers: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
Yes, the Packers skip on drafting a wide receiver in the first round again here. The value will be better in Round 2 at the position than there is here, and with Kevin King slated to hit free agency, a fluid, smart, and physical cornerback like Adebo would be a nice addition to Green Bay’s secondary.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
Eichenberg has been picking up plenty of steam as a first-round prospect since the start of the 2020 season. His intelligence, strength, and length would make him a great addition up front for the Chiefs to help protect Patrick Mahomes.
31. New Orleans Saints: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
With how deep in cap hell the Saints are, they will likely have to create several holes on their roster in order to free up money. They could go in several different directions here, but Drew Brees is clearly near the end of his run, and Jones is an accurate thrower of the football who can read the field and hit a pretty deep ball. Even if six quarterbacks in the first round seems absurd, with the massive need at the position around the league, it’s possible.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina
What do the Steelers even do here? They’re a well-rounded team who has almost everything, but they could still use an upgrade at linebacker alongside Devin Bush. There are a handful of linebackers who could be a solid choice here, but Surratt is an athletic and reliable tackler with a high motor and plenty of potential.