INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday kicks off the 2021 NFL Draft, providing hope to 32 teams, a dream job to 259 rookies and a weekend of sports entertainment to millions of fans.
Teams will make decisions that influence the trajectory of their franchise years into the future, and each player’s career success will largely depend on where they’re drafted and how suitable that environment is to that unique individual.
For the amount of time and effort spent studying prospects, even Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard will tell you it’s “not an exact science.”
“Let’s be real here,” Ballard said Friday during a Zoom call. “I think we’re pretty good at what we do, but there needs to be a little luck involved.”
In spite of the erratic nature of the draft, one can’t help but speculate. In this mock draft, FOX59’s Joe Hopkins attempts to predict the first two rounds by weighing team needs and team-building philosophy against the best player available.
1 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence – QB – Clemson
NFL Comparison – Andrew Luck
Lawrence has been a projected first-overall pick since his freshman year and is the most highly-regarded quarterback to come out since Andrew Luck in 2012. Jacksonville hopes to finally land a franchise quarterback with this can’t-miss prospect.
Other Considerations – Zach Wilson (QB), Justin Fields (QB), Trey Lance (QB)
2 – New York Jets: Zach Wilson – QB – BYU
NFL Comparison – Aaron Rodgers
R-E-L-A-X as Rodgers would say. Wilson’s pro comparison is a reflection of body type and playstyle, not so much a prediction of career success. With that said, New York moves on from Sam Darnold for a quarterback with Rodgers-like tools.
Other Considerations – Justin Fields (QB), Trey Lance (QB), Penei Sewell (OT)
3 – San Fransisco 49ers: Mac Jones – QB – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Matt Ryan
Since paying a ransom to move up nine spots, all indications have been that coach Kyle Shanahan has his sights set on Mac Jones. The Alabama distributor isn’t wowing anyone with his physical ability, but the 49ers are betting on Jones’ accuracy, anticipation and intangibles.
Other Considerations – Trey Lance (QB), Justin Fields (QB), Ja’Marr Chase (WR)
4 – Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields – QB – Ohio State
NFL Comparison – Robert Griffin III
Quarterbacks go one, two, three, four as Atlanta selects their heir apparent to the aging Matt Ryan. Fields can adjust to the pro game while he sits behind the veteran, that is if his talent doesn’t get him on the field sooner than expected.
Other Considerations – Trey Lance (QB), Kyle Pitts (TE), Penei Sewell (OT)
5 – Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts – TE – Florida
NFL Comparison – Darren Waller
Pitts appears to be the next cheat-code tight end in the mold of a Travis Kelce or Darren Waller. The Bengals provide Joe Burrow a freakish talent who some consider to be the second best player in the draft.
Other Considerations – Penei Sewell (OT), Ja’Marr Chase (WR), Rashawn Slater (OT)
6 – Miami Dolphins: Ja’Marr Chase – WR – LSU
NFL Comparison – A.J. Brown
The Dolphins surround Tua Tagovailoa with weapons in an effort to help the young quarterback succeed. Chase has all the makings of a dominant, number one receiver who can beat you in just about every way imaginable.
Other Considerations – DeVonta Smith (WR), Penei Sewell (OT), Rashawn Slater (OT)
7 – Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell – OT – Oregon
NFL Comparison – Ronnie Stanley
While wide receiver is a glaring need, the Lions want to be a hard-nosed, kneecap-biting team under new coach Dan Campbell. Don’t be surprised if they invest in the trenches, especially after trading for QB Jared Goff, who struggles to create off script.
Other Considerations – DeVonta Smith (WR), Rashawn Slater (OT), Jaylen Waddle (WR)
8 – Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater – OT – Northwestern
NFL Comparison – Tristan Wirfs
Investing in the offensive line is a smart way to ensure the Sam Darnold trade works out. Despite being slightly undersized, there is a legitimate debate between Slater and Sewell for the draft’s top offensive tackle.
Other Considerations – Patrick Surtain II (CB), DeVonta Smith (WR), Micah Parsons (LB)
9 – Denver Broncos: Trey Lance – QB – North Dakota State
NFL Comparison – Dak Prescott
Denver quietly has one of the league’s most talented rosters but is doomed for mediocrity unless able to solve the riddle of quarterback. The Broncos take a chance on Lance, who is as physically gifted as any QB in this draft but still in development with just 318 collegiate pass attempts.
Other Considerations – Micah Parsons (LB), Patrick Surtain II (CB), Kwity Paye (EDGE)
10 – Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II – CB – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Xavier Rhodes
Defense was an issue last year for the Cowboys, who gave up the fifth most points in the league (29.6 PPG). Surtain II fills a need and teams up with Trevon Diggs to give Dallas an exciting, young duo in the secondary.
Other Considerations – Jaycee Horn (CB), Kwity Paye (EDGE), Caleb Farley (CB)
11 – New York Giants: Kwity Paye – EDGE – Michigan
NFL Comparison – Melvin Ingram
The Kenny Golladay signing frees New York up to use their first pick on a pass rusher, a move more in line with general manager Dave Gettleman’s team-building philosophy. While he’s yet to put it all together, Paye is an explosive athlete with the tools to develop into a double-digit sack artist.
Other Considerations – DeVonta Smith (WR), Azeez Ojulari (EDGE), Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL)
12 – Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith – WR – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Stefon Diggs
Despite trading down, the Eagles still land a top-tier prospect thanks to the run on quarterbacks. Don’t let Smith’s slender frame fool you. The Heisman Trophy winner is a nightmare to cover with elite route running ability, hands and play speed.
Other Considerations – Jaylen Waddle (WR), Jaycee Horn (CB), Caleb Farley (CB)
13 – Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw – OT – Virginia Tech
NFL Comparison – Eric Fisher
Protecting Justin Herbert should be Chargers’ top priority after his record-setting rookie campaign. Darrisaw was as reliable as they come for the Hokies in 2020, and his length, power and awareness should translate well to the next level.
Other Considerations – Jaylen Waddle (WR), Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL), Jaycee Horn (CB)
14 – Minnesota Vikings: Jaelan Phillips – DE – Miami
NFL Comparison – Montez Sweat
Whether to pair with Danielle Hunter or replace the disgruntled star, the Vikings are in need of a pass rusher after finishing in the bottom five in sacks (23). One could argue Phillips is the best edge rusher in the class based on his 2020 production and pro day performance, but an injury history that prompted him to temporarily medically retire after the 2018 season will give teams pause.
Other Considerations – Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL), Christian Barmore (DT), Jayson Oweh (DE)
15 – New England Patriots: Jaylen Waddle – WR – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Tyreek Hill
With the top quarterback prospects off the board, New England upgrades its offense in the form of a playmaker. Waddle moves at a different pace than everyone else on the field, and his otherworldly speed brings an element the Patriots were missing in 2020.
Other Considerations – Micah Parsons (LB), Jaycee Horn (CB), Caleb Farley (CB)
16 – Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn – CB – South Carolina
NFL Comparison – Marshon Lattimore
Need and value align for the Cardinals as they select the physically gifted Gamecock. Horn is a tremendous athlete with excellent size, ball-skills and a physical playstyle.
Other Considerations – Caleb Farley (CB), Micah Parsons (LB), Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL)
17 – Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons – LB – Penn State
NFL Comparison – Tremaine Edmunds
It seems like every April the Raiders enter the draft in need of defensive help. Such is the case again this year after Las Vegas allowed a ghastly 29.9 points per game. Parsons is a blue chip prospect with an elite combination of size, athleticism and versatility.
Other Considerations – Caleb Farley (CB), Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL), Greg Newsome II (CB)
18 – Miami Dolphins: Azeez Ojulari – EDGE – Georgia
NFL Comparison – Yannick Ngakoue
A Dolphin hasn’t recorded double-digit sacks since Cameron Wake met the milestone in 2017. Ojulari, who is Pro Football Focus’ highest graded pass rusher in the draft, brings some much-needed juice off the edge.
Other Considerations – Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL), Najee Harris (RB), Travis Etienne (RB)
19 – Washington Football Team: Alijah Vera-Tucker – OL – USC
NFL Comparison – Zack Martin
Upgrading the offensive line is a must for a Washington team that surrendered 50 sacks last season, tied for second most in the league. Vera-Tucker is one of the cleaner prospects in this draft and excelled at both guard and tackle at Southern California.
Other Considerations – Tevin Jenkins (OT), Caleb Farley (CB), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB)
20 – Chicago Bears: Caleb Farley – CB – Virginia Tech
NFL Comparison – Jalen Ramsey
Farley was arguably the draft’s top cornerback prospect before back surgery caused him to miss his pro day. Still, Farley is expected to be ready for training camp, and the Bears could have a steal on their hands as they aim to replace Kyle Fuller with another gifted Virginia Tech corner.
Other Considerations – Tevin Jenkins (OT), Greg Newsome II (CB), Elijah Moore (WR)
21 – Indianapolis Colts: Teven Jenkins – OT – Oklahoma State
NFL Comparison – Orlando Brown
Anthony Castonzo’s retirement left a canyon-sized void at left tackle that cannot be filled with low-level veteran signings. Jenkins is a bulldozer of a lineman whose nasty demeanor would fit the identity of an offensive line highlighted by Quenton Nelson.
Other Considerations – Alex Leatherwood (OT), Liam Eichenberg (OT), Jayson Oweh (DE)
22 – Tennessee Titans: Elijah Moore – WR – Ole Miss
NFL Comparison – Tyler Lockett
Tennessee needs to restock their weapons cabinet after WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith found new homes in free agency. Moore is a dynamic playmaker who can beat you deep, underneath and even out of the backfield.
Other Considerations – Rashod Bateman (WR), Greg Newsome II (CB), Kadarius Toney (WR)
23 – New York Jets: Greg Newsome II – CB – Northwestern
NFL Comparison – Darius Slay
Have you seen New York’s depth chart lately? Even the most avid Jets fan would struggle to identify the team’s anonymous group of cornerbacks. As a prospect, Newsome II checks a lot of boxes and has all the tools to be a reliable NFL cover man.
Other Considerations – Travis Etienne (RB), Najee Harris (RB), Jayson Oweh (DE)
24 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris – RB – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Matt Forte
A recommitment to the run is needed in Pittsburgh after their pass-heavy attack lost steam down the stretch in 2020. Harris’ size, vision and pass-catching ability may remind some of a former Steelers back who had quite a run with the Black and Gold.
Other Considerations – Travis Etienne (RB), Landon Dickerson (C), Liam Eichenberg (OT)
25 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Barmore – DT – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Chris Jones
After finishing in the bottom three in both sacks (18) and rushing yards allowed (153.3 YPG), it doesn’t take a Hall of Fame general manager to realize the Jaguars need help along the defensive line. Not many men his size can move the way Barmore does. He has the tools to develop into a difference maker.
Other Considerations – Trevon Moehrig (S), Landon Dickerson (C), Liam Eichenberg (OT)
26 – Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – LB – Notre Dame
NFL Comparison – Telvin Smith
Owusu-Koramoah is the latest new-age, hybrid linebacker that’s trending around the NFL as teams opt to sacrifice size for players who can run and cover. In a division with Lamar Jackson, adding explosive athletes to second level of the defense is a must.
Other Considerations – Jamin Davis (LB), Jayson Oweh (DE), Gregory Rousseau (DE)
27 – Baltimore Ravens: Landon Dickerson – C – Alabama
NFL Comparison – Frank Ragnow
The center position was an absolute mess last year in Baltimore. Dickerson is a massive, mauling lineman who fits the Ravens’ smash-mouth mentality. His talent sneaks him into the first round despite an ACL tear in December.
Other Considerations – Rashod Bateman (WR), Jayson Oweh (DE), Liam Eichenberg (OT)
28 – New Orleans Saints: Kadarius Toney – WR – Florida
NFL Comparison – Percy Harvin
Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill aren’t capable of elevating those around them like Drew Brees was, and thus need more playmakers to lean on. Toney is an elite athlete whose burst, agility and contact balance make him deadly with the ball in his hands.
Other Considerations – Rashod Bateman (WR), Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR), Asante Samuel Jr. (CB)
29 – Green Bay Packers: Asante Samuel Jr. – CB – Northwestern
NFL Comparison – Joe Haden
Green Bay could go in several directions here but opts for a cornerback to pair with Jaire Alexander. Samuel Jr. makes up for his lack of size with quick feet and outstanding route recognition and awareness.
Other Considerations – Jamin Davis (LB), Jalen Mayfield (OT), Liam Eichenberg (OT)
30 – Buffalo Bills: Travis Etienne – RB – Clemson
NFL Comparison – Jamaal Charles
When your roster is as well rounded as Buffalo’s, you can afford to simply take the best player available. The Bills add a difference-maker at running back who has game-changing ability as both a runner and receiver.
Other Considerations – Jayson Oweh (DE), Gregory Rousseau (DE), Kelvin Joseph (CB)
31 – Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman – WR – Minnesota
NFL Comparison – Calvin Ridley
Receiver is clearly a priority for the Ravens who were reportedly interested in several of this year’s top free agent wideouts. Baltimore uses the first rounder acquired in the Orlando Brown trade to draft Bateman, who has an enticing blend of production and traits.
Other Considerations – Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR), Jayson Oweh (DE), Gregory Rousseau (DE)
32 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trevon Moehrig – S – TCU
NFL Comparison – Jessie Bates
The Buccaneers appear to be locked and loaded for another championship run as they return all 22 starters. With no immediate needs, Tampa selects the best player available. Moehrig is a versatile cover safety who pairs with Antoine Winfield Jr. to give the Bucs an exciting, young safety duo.
Other Considerations – Jayson Oweh (DE), Gregory Rousseau (DE), Javonte Williams (RB)
33 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Alex Leatherwood – OT – Alabama
34 – New York Jets: Javonte Williams – RB – North Carolina
35 – Atlanta Falcons: Jayson Oweh – DE – Penn State
36 – Miami Dolphins: Liam Eichenberg – OT – Notre Dame
37 – Philadelphia Eagles: Jamin Davis – LB – Kentucky
38 – Cincinnati Bengals: Sam Cosmi – OT – Texas
39 – Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Joseph – CB – Kentucky
40 – Denver Broncos: Gregory Rousseau – DE – Miami
41 – Detroit Lions: Terrace Marshall Jr. – WR – LSU
42 – New York Giants: Creed Humphrey – C – Oklahoma
43 – San Fransisco 49ers: Joe Tryon – DE – Washington
44 – Dallas Cowboys: Carlos Basham Jr. – DE – Wake Forest
45 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Pat Freiermuth – TE – Penn State
46 – New England Patriots: Davis Mills – QB – Stanford
47 – Los Angeles Chargers: Eric Stokes – CB – Georgia
48 – Las Vegas Raiders: Ifeatu Melifonwu – CB – Syracuse
49 – Arizona Cardinals: Rondale Moore – WR – Purdue
50 – Miami Dolphins: Zaven Collins – LB – Tulsa
51 – Washington Football Team: Dillon Radunz – OT – North Dakota State
52 – Chicago Bears: Joseph Ossai – EDGE – Texas
53 – Tennessee Titans: Aaron Robinson – CB – UCF
54 – Indianapolis Colts: Payton Turner – DE – Houston
55 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Walker Little – OT – Stanford
56 – Seattle Seahawks: Levi Onwuzurike – DT – Washington
57 – Los Angeles Rams: Jevon Holland – S – Oregon
58 – Kanas City Chiefs: Ronnie Perkins – DE – Oklahoma
59 – Cleveland Brown: Alim McNeill – DT – North Carolina State
60 – New Orleans Saints: Nick Bolton – LB – Missouri
61 – Buffalo Bills: Elijah Molden – DB – Washington
62 – Green Bay Packers: Jabril Cox – LB – LSU
63 – Kansas City Chiefs: Nico Collins – WR – Michigan
64 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kellen Mond – QB – Texas A&M