NFL

2021 NFL Mock Draft: Justin Fields avoids slide as Lions & Patriots land franchise quarterbacks

By Sports Desk April 28, 2021

After months and months of speculation and dissecting the tape of this year's crop of pro hopefuls, the 2021 NFL Draft is finally here.

There will be no surprises with how the draft gets off and running, the number one pick has seemingly been locked in since the end of the 2020 season, but there is no shortage of intrigue in this first round, which will start at the third overall pick when the San Francisco 49ers make their quarterback choice following a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins.

From there it is set to be a fascinating opening night in Cleveland, where five quarterbacks are anticipated to come off the board in one of the best draft classes at the position in recent years.

How will the top 32 picks shake out? Using Stats Perform data, we have taken our best shot at answering that question.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

The worst kept secret in the NFL Draft. Lawrence has effectively been a Jaguar for a few months now, but it will be made official on Thursday. Are the Jaguars getting a 'generational' quarterback as so many believe? Well, there are a plethora of numbers to support that claim. No quarterback in the Power 5 last season had a higher well-thrown percentage than Lawrence's 84.31 in 2020. His red-zone completion percentage since 2018 of 68.5 is second in the FBS.

2. New York Jets - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU 

It's no secret who the Jets are interested in at the second slot. After a mediocre first two seasons in Provo, Wilson burst onto the season last year with 3,692 yards and a 33/3 TD/INT ratio en route to an 11-1 season. He'll bring big-play potential to New York; among all FBS QBs, he was the fourth-most accurate on throws of 20 or more air yards with a 72.7 well-thrown percentage (min. 20 attempts). He made 55 of those throws last season, and didn't throw a single pickable pass, making him the only QB with more than 27 such attempts to keep the ball completely out of danger.

3. San Francisco 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

All the noise continues to surround Alabama's Mac Jones, though there is also increasing buzz around Trey Lance of North Dakota State. However, if the 49ers want a pro-ready quarterback who can take their offense to the next level, the answer should be Fields. His completion percentage on throws of 20-plus yards in the air of 47.9 was sixth among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts since 2018. Of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts who averaged 10 or more air yards per attempt last season, Fields' well-thrown percentage (80.18) was second only to North Carolina's Sam Howell (81.31).

4. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida 

Pitts gives the Falcons a potential superstar playmaker at the tight end position. His versatility makes him a complete nightmare for defenses, with the ability to line up in-line, out wide as a receiver, or in the slot. He averaged 3.93 burn yards per route, third-best among tight ends, and he was one of three Power 5 receivers to not drop a single pass on 65 or more targets.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Sewell will still only be 20 years old entering the league having been nothing short of a rock for the Ducks in his brief Pac-12 career. Before opting out of the 2020 season, Sewell produced a stellar 2019 campaign in which he allowed only 13 pressures on 285 pass protection snaps. With an adjusted sack percentage allowed of only 1.1 in 2019, Sewell should immediately step in and provide a massive upgrade in protection from what Joe Burrow had to endure last season as a rookie.

6. Miami Dolphins - Ja'Marr Chase WR, LSU 

Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but clearly it didn't hurt his draft stock. In a record-setting LSU offense loaded with weapons, Chase was arguably the most explosive of them all. He racked up 23 burn-adjusted TDs in 2019, the only player other than his team-mate Justin Jefferson to have more than 17 on the season. Chase gives the Dolphins another desperately needed weapon for their offense.

7. Detroit Lions – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The Lions likely will not even try to pretend Jared Goff is a long-term answer under center and, should one of the top-five guys drop to this point, they must give serious consideration to drafting their quarterback of the future. Lance may only have one full year of college seasoning at the FCS level to his name, but an enticing dual-threat skill set that saw him account for 42 touchdowns and zero, yes zero, interceptions in 2019 should be enough to convince the Lions he is the man to whom they should eventually hand the keys to the offense.

8. Carolina Panthers - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern 

Most of the talk on the offensive line is about Sewell, but Slater was incredible in 2019. The Northwestern junior gave up just six pressures in 220 pass protection opportunities, making him the single best Power 5 tackle in preventing pressures on a per-snap basis. He isn't quite the physical freak that Sewell is, but if the Panthers grab him here he should immediately fill a gaping hole on their offensive line.

9. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Will the lure of Mac Jones be enough to swing Denver away from sticking with Drew Lock for the time being? Not in this instance. The Broncos have a very talented roster on both sides of the ball and add to their defense by giving Vic Fangio, who has worked with a plethora of great linebackers over the years, another one to develop. Parsons would bring athleticism and versatility, having frequently been used at both inside and outside linebacker as well as off the edge. Parsons was eighth in the Power 5 in run disruption percentage (14.2) among players with at least 200 linebacker snaps in his last college season in 2019.

10. Dallas Cowboys - Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The first of three cornerbacks with NFL fathers, Surtain II feels like a great fit for the Cowboys. You may be concerned by just one interception last year (and four total in his career), but he was targeted on just 12.2 per cent of his coverage snaps, sixth-lowest among all Power 5 cornerbacks. He has the skill set to adapt quickly to the Cowboys' new Dan Quinn-led defense, which plays a lot of Cover 3-mable, with a single corner in press coverage on an island.

11. New York Giants – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Regardless of whether Vera-Tucker is a tackle or a guard, the Giants could use what he brings to the offensive line. He allowed 16 pressures on 204 pass protection snaps playing at left tackle in 2020. However, playing as a guard in 2019, he gave up only five in 387 such snaps for a pressure rate of 1.3 per cent that was the best among Power 5 players with at least 200 guard snaps.

12. Philadelphia Eagles - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama 

The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner had a season unlike any we've ever seen from a college wide receiver. He racked up 111 burns on the season, which was more than any other Power 5 receiver even had targets. He also had 12 more burn-adjusted TDs and 619 more burn yards than anyone else, while also being third in burn yards per route and ninth-best in burn percentage, while forcing seven defensive penalties as well. Last year the Eagles grabbed their speed guy in Jalen Reagor; Smith gives them an elite route runner from anywhere on the field to go with him.

13. Los Angeles Chargers – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

An ideal fit for the zone-heavy defense Brandon Staley will run with the Chargers, Newsome possesses an incredible blend of athleticism and instincts and should be an impact starter from day one. No cornerback in the Power 5 with at least 100 snaps and 25 targets had a better big plays allowed percentage than Newsome's 4.9 last season. His burns allowed percentage of 13.9 also put him top of the charts and he allowed the fewest burn yards per target (3.16). Receivers were open on 38.9 per cent of targets against Newsome, the third-lowest rate in the Power 5.

14. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech 

A three-year starter for Virginia Tech, Darrisaw should be a plug-and-play option at left tackle. He was an elite blocker in both the pass game and run game, allowing just 5.2 per cent pressures and 5.4 per cent disruptions (first and third, respectively, in the ACC). The Vikings haven't had a tackle make the Pro Bowl since Bryant McKinnie in 2009, but Darrisaw would have the potential to change that in a couple years.

15. New England Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

The man many expect to head to the Bay Area actually ends up in New England, where he can learn at the feet of one of Nick Saban's great friends in Bill Belichick. After Cam Newton's struggles throwing the ball last season, Jones may be a welcome tonic whose numbers suggest he could quickly challenge for the starting role. Jones' completion percentage of 79.1 was the best in the Power 5 last season as he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship while his well-thrown percentage (83.21) was third.

16. Arizona Cardinals - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Son of former New Orleans Saint and cell phone enthusiast Joe Horn, Jaycee was an elite cover corner this past year at South Carolina. No cornerback in the Power 5 had a lower open-against percentage than Horn at 36 per cent, and his burns-against rate of 40 per cent puts him seventh-best among this year's cornerback draft class.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Would Jon Gruden take another deep threat from Alabama in the first round after admitting disappointment with how Henry Ruggs III performed in his rookie season? Of course he would. His frightening combination of speed and agility would be near-impossible for Gruden to pass up, with Waddle third in the Power 5 in burn yards per target (19.96) and fifth in open percentage (90.6) while having an average depth of target of 11.5 yards.

18. Miami Dolphins - Azeez Ojulari EDGE, Georgia

With their first pick giving them a new offensive weapon, the Dolphins can turn to the defensive side of the ball at 18. Ojulari can be an immediate impact pass rusher for Miami; his 28.8 pressure percentage was tops in the SEC and fourth-best among Power 5 edge rushers.

19. Washington Football Team – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

It may not be clear where Owusu-Koramoah's best position is, but he is a versatile chess piece who could thrive behind Washington's beastly front four. Owusu-Koramoah can play as a linebacker, on the edge and in the slot, and in a league where linebackers are asked to frequently coved athletic tight ends from the latter position, he can provide excellent value. His big plays allowed percentage of 11 was 12th among all Power 5 defenders with at least 50 snaps and 10 targets in the slot.

20. Chicago Bears - Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State 

With their quarterback woes being solved (?) by the Andy Dalton acquisition, the Bears can go get some help to shore up their offensive line. Enter Teven Jenkins, the top offensive tackle in the Big 12 over the past two seasons. He was elite both as a pass and run blocker at right tackle and has experience at left tackle as well, making him an ideal fit in Chicago.

21. Indianapolis Colts – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Paye's production – he only had two sacks in 2020 – is a cause for concern but his tremendous athleticism and his ability to create disruption should be of significant appeal to a Colts team that has struggled for success drafting edge rushers in recent times. Paye's pressure rate of 33.3 per cent was second among Power 5 players with a minimum of 100 edge snaps last year. Playing on the same defensive front as DeForest Buckner, he should produce early in the pros.

22. Tennessee Titans - Christian Barmore, IDL, Alabama

Barmore is pretty clearly the best option in a down year for interior defensive linemen. He is a three-down defender with success both rushing the passer (18.2 PR%) and defending the run (16.5 RD%).

23. New York Jets – Landon Dickerson, IOL, Alabama

Mekhi Becton is a foundational piece at left tackle and, while there are rightfully some doubts about his torn ACL, Dickerson can fill the same role for the Jets at center, one of the most important positions in the Kyle Shanahan offense Mike LaFleur will run under Robert Saleh in New York. Last season, Dickerson gave up seven pressures on 252 pass-blocking snaps and did not concede a single adjusted sack.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL) 

If not for a shaky concussion history that saw him retire from football for a short period, Phillips could easily be a top-10 pick. He is an extremely well-rounded talent on the edge that can impact the game in a wide variety of ways with his pass rush and run defending abilities. The Steelers love hard-nosed players like Phillips and he could be a great option to replace the departed Bud Dupree.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

It's time to get Lawrence a potentially elite weapon at the receiver position. A criminally underrated wideout, Bateman is a steal at this point in the draft. He can create separation with his route-running, is an excellent downfield threat and has the speed and elusiveness to make things happen after the catch. In 2019, Bateman was sixth in burn yards per target (16.15) in the Power 5 while Chris Olave (84) was the only receiver with a higher open percentage among receivers with an average depth of target of 15 yards or more than Bateman (70.2 per cent on an average depth of 16.2 yards).

26. Cleveland Browns - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Davis was an elite tackler this past year at Kentucky, recording 102 tackles (fifth-most in the FBS) while missing on just six attempts the whole year. The Browns don't have many holes on the field to fill, but Davis can quickly join their linebacker rotation.

27. Baltimore Ravens – Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

The wild card of an uninspiring edge class, Oweh did not have a sack in 2020 but a team is sure to fall in love with the untapped potential offered by his monstrous athletic traits. His pressure rate of 25 per cent was 11th in the Power 5 among players with 100 edge snaps and 75 pass-rush snaps. Baltimore is the ideal team to develop his skill set and, even if he takes time to blossom as a pass rusher, he could still find early work on run downs, having logged a run disruption rate of 20.6 per cent.

28. New Orleans Saints - Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

But for multiple back surgeries, Farley would probably be our first cornerback off the board. The medicals are obviously very concerning, but if he's right in saying this latest procedure won't affect his ability to get on the field this fall, the Saints could be getting a steal here. Farley was arguably the top cover corner in college football in 2019, holding opposing receivers to absurdly low burn (26.7 per cent) and open (28.9 per cent).

29. Green Bay Packers – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

The Packers cannot ignore the wide receiver position as they so infamously did a year ago. Moore would be a gift to Aaron Rodgers as a receiver who can start day one in the NFL from the slot and has the versatility to potentially take snaps as an outside receiver. A superb ball tracker who is extremely dependable at the catch point, Moore's catch rating of 0.985 was second on the list for Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets from the slot. His open percentage of 83.5 was sixth among the 22 receivers in that group.

30. Buffalo Bills - Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL) 

Rousseau comes with his fair share of concerns, which include his pass-rushing success coming disproportionately from the interior despite being an edge player by trade. That said, his upside is obvious (his 19 pressures that resulted in sacks in 2019 were second to last year's number two pick Chase Young), and with their depth up front, the Bills could be a perfect landing spot for him.

31. Baltimore Ravens – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

A replacement for Orlando Brown Jr. became a clear need for the Ravens following last week's blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. In a talented tackle class, his successor should not be difficult to identify. Credited with just two adjusted sacks allowed in 251 pass protection snaps playing at left tackle for the Longhorns last year, Jones may take time to adapt to playing on the opposite side at a higher level but his talent, physical gifts and numbers indicate he has what it takes to make the transition.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Collins is an incredibly intriguing linebacker prospect that could do well to learn from the elite Devin White-Lavonte David tandem in Tampa. Collins is a versatile defender that had 18 run stuffs, seven pressures (on 35 pass rush attempts) and four interceptions (three of which came on plays where he wasn't even the defensive target). Collins wouldn't play right away in this scenario, but he could come along slowly watching White and David while being a sub-package player for the Bucs.

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