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.
Now that the fraught 2020 season is just about over, we know where most teams will be picking when the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off on April 29. Here’s how we expect every pick in the first round to go.
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 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. The Jaguars, who will be coached by Urban Meyer next 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
Three years after the Jets drafted Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick, they appear to be in the market for another franchise quarterback, and that’s where Justin Fields comes in. In two seasons as the starter at Ohio State, Fields put up video game-like numbers and established himself as one of the most dangerous passers in college football. The Jets would frankly be foolish to pass on him after they missed the chance to take Trevor Lawrence by winning two games in 2020.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans): DeVonta Smith
Position: WR | College: Alabama
The Dolphins are an exciting looking team that came so close to a playoff spot in 2020. The fact that they have two picks in the first round, including this gift in the top three that came from a 2019 trade with the Texans, means they have a real chance of becoming one of the NFL’s best young teams this year.
Drafting this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, wide receiver DeVonta Smith, would certainly add to Tua Tagovailoa’s tool box. The fact that Smith and Tagovailoa were teammates together at Alabama in 2017 and 2018 is just a nice little bonus.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Patrick Surtain II
Position: CB | College: Alabama
We’ve got another member of the 2020-21 college football national champions, Patrick Surtain, going to Atlanta at No. 4. Some pundits are expecting the Falcons to 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 often 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 pick across the board, despite opting out of his junior season 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. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase
Position: WR | College: LSU
Ja’Marr Chase also sat out the 2020 season, but the memories of what he did during LSU’s national title run should be fresh in the minds of all NFL scouts. The Eagles could use some help shoring up a defense that was terrible against the run last year, but we think the prospect of taking a true No. 1 wide receiver will be too tantalizing to pass up. He’s a bit bulkier than DeVonta Smith, which could put him higher on some draft boards, and could be very dangerous when paired with Jalen Hurts, who will likely take over as Philadelphia’s starting passer.
7. Detroit Lions: Mac Jones
Position: QB | College: Alabama
With longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford being traded away for the up-and-down Jared Goff, the Lions may be looking to shore up their QB stock in the 2021 draft. It would be tough to overlook Heisman finalist Mac Jones for that role, given what he accomplished in taking Alabama to the national championship. Not only was Jones the leading passer in college football in 2020, he had the best passer rating in the nation as well. Nick Saban’s quarterbacks at Alabama have been so-so NFL prospects, but Jones has the makings of a great one.
8. Carolina Panthers: 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 his stock is sky-high. He’s arguably the most exciting defensive player on the board this year, and the Panthers are in need of someone to fill the massive shoes of the retired Luke Kuechly. It just so happens that he’s exactly who Parsons has been compared to by Pro Football Focus, who called him the best linebacker prospect in nearly a decade.
9. Denver Broncos: Zach Wilson
Position: QB | College: BYU
The Broncos are a bit of a mess right now and could honestly go in about 10 directions with their first pick, but it’s tough to see them passing up on a top-tier quarterback prospect if he’s available. Zach Wilson 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. The revolving door of starting quarterbacks that the Broncos employed in 2020 combined to throw the most interceptions of any offense in the league, which would make an accurate gunner like Wilson a dream for fans.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Trevon Moehrig
Position: S | College: TCU
While geography is of little importance when it comes to making first-round selections, native Texan Trevon Moehrig feels like a great fit for the Cowboys. At TCU, which is 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. 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: Gregory Rousseau
Position: DE | College: Miami
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. Miami’s Gregory Rousseau could be an immediate improvement to that unit, despite sitting out the 2020 season. In 2019, Rousseau was the second-leading sack earner in the nation.
12. San Francisco 49ers: Rashawn Slater
Position: OL | College: Northwestern
Injuries decimated the 49ers in 2020, but they’ve got a talented roster if their luck can improve this year. If Northwestern star lineman Rashawn Slater — yet another top prospect who opted out of the 2020 college football season — is still available at No. 12, the 49ers would be smart to add him to their payroll. Slater has been described as a versatile athlete who could start at guard or center at the next level, the latter of which is a position the 49ers need to cement. Adding him would give them one of the best lines in the game.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Wyatt Davis
Position: OT | College: Ohio State
According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers had the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2020. That makes what rookie quarterback Justin Herbert accomplished under center even more impressive. The Chargers would love to lock up Rashawn Slater, but we don’t see him being available at No. 13, so they’d be best suited to take Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis. The right side of L.A.’s line was especially porous, per PFF, so Davis, who was named the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year for his work protecting Justin Fields on the right side this season, would be massive.
14. Minnesota Vikings: 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 Vikings would be fools to pass him up if he’s available at No. 14. Despite playing tackle for the Trojans this season, Vera-Tucker is expected to shift to the interior of the line in the NFL, which is exactly where the Vikings need help most. Pro Football Focus gave the team’s offensive line dreadful grades this season, especially in the interior.
15. New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts
Position: TE | College: Florida
The quarterback position will be a glaring need for the Patriots to address this offseason, but we feel like they could do that by trading for an established, gifted passer like Matthew Stafford or Deshaun Watson. If they indeed go that route, offensive weaponry will be next on the agenda, and Kyle Pitts is a can’t-miss prospect. He’s similar in size to legendary Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and his output at Florida this season was remarkable.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Caleb Farley
Position: CB | College: Virginia Tech
The Cardinals could find themselves in the market for a new featured running back if they don’t re-sign Kenyan Drake out of free agency, but their defense could use some help regardless. That’s why Caleb Farley, the second-ranked cornerback on ESPN’s 2021 draft board, would be a great fit. Farley improved his figures in both of his seasons at Virginia Tech, finishing the 2019 season as a first-team All-ACC selection partly because of his abilities in coverage and creating turnovers.
He was yet another major prospect who skipped the 2020 college football season and opted to prepare for the NFL Draft, giving scouts a little less game film on him than they’d probably prefer.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Daviyon Nixon
Position: DT | College: Iowa
The Raiders are right on the edge of being a great team. They have plenty of good weapons in place and probably should’ve been a playoff team in 2020, but their defense held them back. Adding a star pass rusher like Daviyon Nixon, who was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year this season, would be an immediate elevation of what they can do. Nixon is a little bit bigger than another famous pass rusher from a Jon Gruden-coached team: Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.
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: Trey Lance
Position: QB | College: North Dakota State
After the unfortunate end of the Dwayne Haskins experiment in Washington, the Football Team finds itself again in need of a quarterback of the future. The franchise has Alex Smith as its veteran leader right now, which would make Trey Lance an attractive draft option since he’s viewed as a project by many experts. 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.
20. Chicago Bears: Elijah Moore
Position: WR | College: Mississippi
If the Bears don’t trade up to take a quarterback early in the first round, we don’t see them using the No. 20 pick on that position. 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 wide 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 receiving yards and catches across college football.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Jaylen Waddle
Position: WR | College: Alabama
After the retirement of Philip Rivers, the Colts also find themselves in need of a quarterback but drafting low in the first round because of their playoff appearance in 2020. Indianapolis could be a prime landing spot for one of the high-profile quarterbacks that have requested a trade — namely Matthew Stafford or Aaron Rodgers, because it’s unlikely Houston would trade Deshaun Watson inside their division — which is why we’ve got them taking a top wide receiver at No. 21. Jaylen Waddle was Alabama’s best deep-ball threat this season and was one of only a handful of players in the nation averaging more than 21 yards per catch.
22. Tennessee Titans: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Position: LB | College: Notre Dame
The Titans have almost every piece in place for a potential championship run, but their pass rush is weak. Notre Dame standout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has the makings of a day-one star at the next level because of his explosiveness and versatility. He was the 2020 Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in the nation and was named the ACC’s defensive player of the year. It’s tough to imagine a fellow linebacker like Titans coach Mike Vrabel wanting to pass on a guy that’s this talented if he’s available.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks): Travis Etienne
Position: RB | College: Clemson
While the Jets likely lost the sweepstakes to get Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, they could be in position to take his right-hand man late in the first round, thanks to this pick that came from a trade with the Seahawks. 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. The Jets had the worst offense in football this season and this two-time ACC player of the year is the kind of guy who can make a difference as a running back and receiver right from the jump.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Christian Darrisaw
Position: OT | College: Virginia Tech
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. Adding a new quarterback and running back should be high on their priority list, but by the time pick No. 24 comes around, the best choices will likely be gone. That’s why we see them snagging a top-tier offensive tackle instead, in Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw.
The 6-foot-5-inch bruiser was first-team All-ACC this season and was a major reason the Hokies had one of the nation’s top-10 rushing attacks. For reference, the player that Darrisaw is so easily lifting up here, Hendon Hooker, stands at 6 feet, 4 inches himself.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams): Samuel Cosmi
Position: OT | College: Texas
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. Texas standout Samuel Cosmi 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.
26. Cleveland Browns: Chazz Surratt
Position: LB | College: North Carolina
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. Chazz Surratt could fill the hole at linebacker left by Joe Schobert and make the team’s pass rush even more dangerous. Surratt was a two-time first-team All-ACC pick and currently sits second in ESPN’s inside linebacker positional rankings ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Terrace Marshall Jr.
Position: WR | College: LSU
Like their AFC North rivals in Cleveland, the Ravens have most of the pieces there to be a deep playoff contender but their most glaring weakness comes at the wide receiver position. The franchise has always been excellent at making smart draft picks and LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. looks like a great new weapon for former MVP Lamar Jackson. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Marshall offers more size than many receivers on the block this year and would immediately add another dimension to the league’s most run-heavy offense.
28. New Orleans Saints: Nick Bolton
Position: LB | College: Missouri
The Saints had one of the best defenses in football last season, but it never hurts to bolster that side of the ball. The Saints haven’t had a Pro-Bowl linebacker since Jonathan Vilma more than a decade ago, so going all-in on that position in the first round could be great for the franchise. At Missouri, Nick Bolton was a first-team All-SEC pick in the last two seasons and was a Butkus Award finalist in 2020. He averaged 10 tackles per game as a junior and would make a nice addition to a roster that’s already loaded with talent.
29. Green Bay Packers: 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. Barmore was named the game’s defensive MVP for a night that included five tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack. The Packers face a lot of uncertainty now that it looks like Aaron Rodgers may have played his final game there, but the defensive front is where they could use some immediate help, and Barmore seems like a no-brainer.
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 this season. Personality-wise, Freiermuth also seems like the kind of player who would fit in perfectly in Buffalo’s unique football culture.
*31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jay Tufele
Position: DT | College: USC
The last two positions in the first round will be decided by the outcome of the Super Bowl. But for now, we’ve got Tampa Bay and Kansas City sorted by their finishes in the regular season. The Bucs had an aggressive pass rush all season, and USC’s Jay Tufele could make them even tougher in 2021. Tufele was an All-Pac-12 pick in 2018 and 2019 but sat out the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. His performance in the two seasons he did play should offer more than enough evidence that he has first-round potential.
*32. Kansas City Chiefs: Creed Humphrey
Position: C | College: Oklahoma
The Chiefs will need to shore up their interior offensive line positions this offseason, and drafting a center should be at the top of their priority list. While Alabama’s Landon Dickerson could be a great choice, 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 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.