Apart from the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft might be the most anticipated event on the professional football calendar every year. The choices made during the week of the draft could fundamentally change the future of the league’s franchises, especially those who have high picks because of the terrible seasons they just endured.
After a fraught season, the 2021 NFL Draft is finally ready to kick off on April 29. Here’s how we expect every pick in the first round to go.
UPDATED: April 13, 2021
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
Position: QB | College: Clemson
While there were many unknowns heading into the 2020 NFL season, one thing pretty much every expert agreed on was that Trevor Lawrence would be the top prize in the following draft. Standing at 6 feet, 6 inches tall with a frame that looks made for the pros and a remarkable record of winning at Clemson, Lawrence seems like a no-brainer to go No. 1 overall to Jacksonville, even with the entire crop at their disposal. The Jaguars, who will be coached by Urban Meyer this season, outdid all the teams that were potentially “tanking for Trevor” and finished with the league’s worst record at 1-15.
2. New York Jets: Justin Fields
Position: QB | College: Ohio State
Many people were wondering if the Jets were finished with Sam Darnold, whom the team had drafted at No. 3 overall in 2018, and that question was answered emphatically when he was traded to the Panthers this offseason. With New York’s most inept football franchise once again looking for its starting quarterback, they’ve got a handful of great options in this class. Many experts are predicting that the team will take BYU’s Zach Wilson but it seems foolish to pass on Ohio State’s Justin Fields. This guy put up video game-like numbers and showed himself to be one of the deadliest passers in college football history in his tenure with the Buckeyes.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami Dolphins): Zach Wilson
Position: QB | College: BYU
A month before the draft was set to start, the 49ers and Dolphins agreed to a huge trade that shook up the entire order of the first round. The 49ers went from the No. 12 pick to a selection in the top three, which is a massive opportunity for a franchise that was just in the Super Bowl two years ago. That kind of trade usually means a team is hunting for its franchise quarterback and Zach Wilson has been one of the hottest names on mock draft boards across the media this year. He had an impressive pro day and was one of the best passers in the nation this season at BYU, finishing third in total passing yards and second in passer rating across all of college football.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Patrick Surtain II
Position: CB | College: Alabama
We’ve got the first of several members of Alabama’s national championship team, Patrick Surtain, going to Atlanta at No. 4. Some pundits are expecting the Falcons to either trade down or draft a quarterback of the future, given former MVP Matt Ryan’s age, but he’s as prolific as ever and led the team to a top-five finish in passing offense this year. On the other hand, the team’s defense was dreadful, especially against the pass, where they ranked dead last in the NFL. That’s where a gifted cornerback like Surtain could immediately elevate them, as he ranked among the nation’s leaders in pass deflections this season.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell
Position: OT | College: Oregon
Draft-day needs can be debated endlessly, but it’s obvious what the Bengals need this year. Their offensive line was atrocious in 2020, leading star quarterback Joe Burrow to spend many downs on his back and the end of the season at home with a bad knee injury. There are some great options in this year’s class, but Penei Sewell seems to be the top offensive line pick across the board, despite opting out of his junior season at Oregon due to COVID-19 concerns. In 2019, the 6-foot-6-inch prospect was a unanimous All-American and won the prestigious Outland Trophy, given to the best offensive lineman in the nation.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles): DeVonta Smith
Position: WR | College: Alabama
The Dolphins made a couple of draft-shaking trades weeks before the event that sent them from No. 3 overall to No. 12, thanks to a deal with the 49ers, and then back up to No. 6, thanks to a deal with the Eagles. Miami came so close to a playoff spot last season and the team’s fanbase is as excited as it’s been in years, thanks to burgeoning star Tua Tagovailoa being under center. If the franchise wants to help him out in a major way, it will boost his confidence by adding his former Alabama teammate — and reigning Heisman Trophy winner — DeVonta Smith to his arsenal with its first of two picks in the opening round.
7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase
Position: WR | College: LSU
We initially thought the Lions would be one of the many teams hunting for a quarterback during this draft but the big trade to swap Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff in March made that obsolete. Instead, the long-suffering franchise would do well to pad Goff’s currently limited options with a truly gifted wide receiver in Ja’Marr Chase. He sat out the 2020-21 season at LSU — which was part of the reason the team stunk — but what he accomplished during the 2019-2020 national title run should be fresh in the minds of NFL scouts.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater
Position: OL | College: Northwestern
We had the Panthers looking to boost the defense initially but after the trade for Sam Darnold to be the team’s new starting quarterback, bolstering the line would be a great call. If Northwestern star lineman Rashawn Slater — yet another top prospect who opted out of the 2020 college football season — is still available at No. 8, the Panthers would be smart to add him to their payroll. He’s been called the most versatile lineman in this year’s class, which would be great for an offensive line that ranked in the bottom half of the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
9. Denver Broncos: Mac Jones
Position: QB | College: Alabama
The Broncos employed a revolving door of starting quarterbacks last season and it earned them the distinction of being the most-intercepted offense in the NFL. Due to all that, the team should be looking at this talent-rich class of quarterbacks and salivating, even trading up if they need to get one. If Heisman finalist Mac Jones is still there at No. 9, they’d have to take him. In leading Alabama to the national title, Jones was the leading passer in college football and had the best passer rating in the nation, which should really excite the franchise.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Trevon Moehrig
Position: S | College: TCU
This isn’t a prediction many pundits are making but we’re willing to go out on a limb because the Cowboys have a chance to grab arguably the best safety in college football with this pick. At TCU, just a few miles away from AT&T Stadium, Moehrig was a two-time All-Big 12 first-team pick and won the 2020 Jim Thorpe award for the best defensive back in the nation. One NFC scout told Tribune Publishing that he considered Moehrig better than either of his team’s starting safeties. The Cowboys ranked near the bottom of the league at generating interceptions this season, and this young local could be the answer to making them more fearsome.
11. New York Giants: Kwity Paye
Position: DE | College: Michigan
Much of the cultural legacy of the Giants as a franchise is built into their defense, and that’s why 2020 was an embarrassing season for many of their loyal fans. The G-Men had the worst pass rush in the league, according to an analysis done by ESPN, succeeding on less than one-third of their attempts at disrupting the quarterback. Pro Football Focus recently called Michigan’s Kwity Paye the best edge rusher in the 2021 draft class, which is full of good ones. His massive size and the explosiveness he showed at Michigan’s pro day made him a first-round lock to many experts.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins): Jaylen Waddle
Position: WR | College: Alabama
In a national championship roster loaded with talent, Jaylen Waddle was Alabama’s best deep-ball threat and was one of only a handful of players in the nation averaging more than 21 yards per catch. That sounds like a dream roster addition for fellow former Crimson Tide star Jalen Hurts, who is now starting in Philadelphia. A recent breakdown of Hurts done by The Philly Blitz found that his best throws last season were his deep ones and Waddle is a legitimate field-stretcher who could help him air it out more regularly.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Alijah Vera-Tucker
Position: OL | College: USC
USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker was named the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12 in 2020, and the Chargers would be fools to pass on this hometown product if he’s still sitting at No. 13. Despite playing tackle for the Trojans this season, Vera-Tucker is expected to shift to the interior of the line in the NFL, where the Chargers need help. In fact, they need help across the entire line, as Pro Football Focus wrote that the Chargers had the worst offensive line in the NFL last season. That makes what rookie quarterback Justin Herbert accomplished under center even more impressive.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Wyatt Davis
Position: OT | College: Ohio State
The Vikings are another team looking to shore up a weak offensive line this offseason and the draft provides a few great options. While Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw could make a strong pick, we like Minnesota taking Big Ten powerhouse Wyatt Davis. With Davis moving in as a definitive starting right guard, last year’s second-round pick, Ezra Cleveland, can settle into a tackle role. Davis was named the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten this season and could go a long way in improving the team’s pitiful grades on the o-line from Pro Football Focus.
15. New England Patriots: Trey Lance
Position: QB | College: North Dakota State
After a challenging season all-around for the Patriots — especially when they had to watch Tom Brady hoist the Lombardi Trophy with another franchise — they are in full-on rebuilding mode. The team re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal but looking ahead to the future, a gifted passer like Trey Lance could be a perfect pick. He’s been viewed as a bit of a project by many draft experts, which is exactly the kind of thing New England and Bill Belichick specialize in. Lance had a remarkable 2019 season at North Dakota State that saw him throw nearly 300 passes without an interception, but COVID-19 nixed his team’s 2020 season after just one game, leaving him with a long offseason.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Pitts
Position: TE | College: Florida
It might seem far-fetched for a player as glaringly talented as Kyle Pitts to slip this far but we see it as a possibility because of the pressing needs of the teams ahead of this spot. If he does fall to No. 16, the Cardinals would surely bolster what is already one of the league’s best offenses by securing his skills. Pitts is a can’t-miss prospect similar in size to the legendary Rob Gronkowski, and his output at Florida this season was remarkable.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons
Position: LB | College: Penn State
Micah Parsons was another college star who skipped the 2020 season to focus on getting ready for the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s one of the most exciting players in the defensive crop this year. That’s exactly what the Raiders need, as the defense was the only thing holding them back from what should’ve been a playoff run last season. Pro Football Focus even went so far as to call Parsons the best linebacker prospect in nearly a decade.
18. Miami Dolphins: Najee Harris
Position: RB | College: Alabama
Running back Myles Gaskin put together a few great games at the end of the season for Miami, but the sample size was still too small to know if he’s a true featured back. We’ve seen enough of Najee Harris in the last few seasons at Alabama to know that he’s a potential star at the NFL level. The senior won the Doak Walker Award for the best running back in college football for his work in 2020 and since this would be the second pick of the first round for the Dolphins, using a selection on the riskiest position in the sport makes sense.
19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Position: LB | College: Notre Dame
Notre Dame standout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has the makings of a day-one star at the next level because of his explosiveness and versatility. It just so happens that linebacker and safety are two positions that the Football Team needs immediate help and NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter has predicted he could be a great hybrid, capable of playing both spots. Owusu-Koramoah was the 2020 Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in the nation and was named the ACC’s defensive player of the year.
20. Chicago Bears: Elijah Moore
Position: WR | College: Mississippi
Since the Bears went all-in on Andy Dalton this offseason, it doesn’t look like the front office will be trading up to grab another quarterback. The team’s entire offense needs an overhaul after it brought up the rear in terms of output across the NFL for much of 2020. That’s where a top slot receiver like Ole Miss star Elijah Moore would help. Moore put together an incredible season last year, ranking behind only Heisman winner DeVonta Smith in total receiving yards and catches across college football while leading the nation in both of those categories on a per-game basis.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Caleb Farley
Position: CB | College: Virginia Tech
By and large, the Colts defense is very stout but the secondary was seen as the obvious weak spot by Pro Football Focus, who ranked them near the bottom of the league. That’s where Caleb Farley comes in and immediately elevates that unit to help cover for what will be an offense in flux this year. He’s the second-ranked cornerback on ESPN’s 2021 draft board and finished the 2019 season, his most recent, as a first-team All-ACC selection partly because of his abilities in coverage and creating turnovers. Offseason back surgery has made Farley a topic of debate but he’d be hard to pass this late in the first round.
22. Tennessee Titans: Daviyon Nixon
Position: DT | College: Iowa
The Titans have nearly all the pieces in place for a potential Super Bowl run — but the pass rush is suspect. Adding a star defensive lineman like Daviyon Nixon, who was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year last season, would be a day-one improvement to what they can accomplish. It’s tough to see fellow Big Ten defensive icon Mike Vrabel overlooking a guy with this combination of size and power up front.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks): Rashod Bateman
Position: WR | College: Minnesota
After cutting their losses with Sam Darnold and presumably moving ahead with a rookie starter this season, beefing up his options would be a wise choice for the Jets. With their second pick of the first round, we like New York taking Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, who proved to be one of the best route runners in college football last season. Anything the front office can do to add some life to arguably the NFL’s worst offense from 2020 would be welcome to fans … although they might still look miserable while watching the draft.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Travis Etienne
Position: RB | College: Clemson
The Steelers have plenty of soul searching to do after their epic collapse during the 2020 season. Ben Roethlisberger really started showing his age, and the team’s entire offense looked hopeless down the stretch. While their needs include a new quarterback and offensive line anchors, landing Clemson veteran Travis Etienne would be a strong take. Running backs remain a gamble on the first night of the draft, but Travis Etienne was the definition of reliable in his four-year, record-shattering rushing career at Clemson.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams): Christian Darrisaw
Position: OT | College: Virginia Tech
The most talented quarterback is only as good as their offensive line, and the Jaguars could immediately protect their investment in Trevor Lawrence with this pick late in the first round. Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw is a top-tier tackle prospect and only a guy with Lawrence’s build could even see over him to make a throw. The 6-foot-5-inch bruiser was first-team All-ACC last season and was a major reason the Hokies had one of the nation’s top-10 rushing attacks.
For reference on his height, the player that Darrisaw is so easily lifting up in this picture, Hendon Hooker, stands at 6 feet 4 inches himself!
26. Cleveland Browns: Nick Bolton
Position: LB | College: Missouri
The Browns proved in 2020 that they’ve got one of the NFL’s most balanced offenses, but they could use another star on defense. Missouri standout Nick Bolton could fill the hole at linebacker left by Joe Schobert and make the team’s pass rush even more dangerous. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the third-best linebacker of the 2021 draft class and wrote that he has “all the intangibles you could ask for.” Averaging about 100 tackles per season over the past two years doesn’t hurt his stock, either.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Jayson Oweh
Position: DE | College: Penn State
The Ravens looked like a lock to take a wide receiver late in the first round but the signing of Sammy Watkins this offseason makes that less likely. Drafting an impressive defensive end seems more probable and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh has the potential to be a star. Despite earning no sacks last season, Oweh showed enough on the field to earn Pro Football Focus’s ranking as the second-best edge rusher of the 2021 class.
28. New Orleans Saints: Christian Barmore
Position: DT | College: Alabama
Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore was already considered a top NFL prospect as a redshirt sophomore, but his performance in the national championship game elevated his stock even more. He was named the game’s defensive MVP for a night that included five tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack. While Drew Brees’ retirement has put the offense of the Saints in flux, adding a stud like Barmore to the defensive line would address a major need for the franchise.
29. Green Bay Packers: Creed Humphrey
Position: C | College: Oklahoma
Losing Corey Linsley, one of the best centers in the game, to free agency this offseason was the biggest blow the Packers endured. While Alabama’s Landon Dickerson could be a great choice here, his knee injury late in the season makes us a little nervous about him being a first-round pick, so Creed Humphrey is the next logical option. He was at the forefront of an offensive line at Oklahoma that racked up some of the most points in college football history over the past couple of years. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in each of the past two seasons and was named the conference’s best offensive lineman in 2019.
30. Buffalo Bills: Pat Freiermuth
Position: TE | College: Penn State
The 2020 season was a dream come true for Bills fans, who waited nearly 30 years to see their team return to the AFC Championship Game. There’s plenty of optimism surrounding this team on both sides of the ball, and they don’t have any desperate needs in the 2021 draft, but giving Josh Allen a top tight end and another good blocker wouldn’t hurt.
Pat Freiermuth is slightly bigger than current Bills tight end Dawson Knox and was named the best player at that position in the Big Ten for his performance last season. Personality-wise, Freiermuth also seems like the kind of player who would fit in perfectly in Buffalo’s unique football culture.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Samuel Cosmi
Position: OT | College: Texas
The Chiefs could use some extra help on the offensive line and Samuel Cosmi could be a great addition to the red wall in front of Patrick Mahomes. The Texas standout was first-team All-Big 12 in 2020, helping sustain one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Towering at 6 feet, 7 inches and weighing more than 300 pounds, Cosmi has the kind of build and skills that any quarterback would love to have in front of him.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Terrace Marshall Jr.
Position: WR | College: LSU
After stunning many and winning the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers are returning almost everyone from a very balanced team. Wide receiver Antonio Brown will be a noticeable exception and that’s where a young player like Terrace Marshall Jr. comes in. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, Marshall offers more size than many receivers on the block this year and would immediately add another option to Tom Brady’s wealth of weapons in Tampa.