The NFL Draft is never easy to project, but 2021 seems to be more difficult than normal. Part of the reason might be that last year’s draft happened amidst the early stages of the pandemic, so I was able to focus much more of my time on it. But outside of an early run on quarterbacks, this draft could go in any number of directions. I have a feeling a handful of trades will completely shake up the top 10, but with each team holding firm (aside from one trade I’m throwing in for fun), here’s my guess at how the top of the draft breaks down.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)
A no-brainer here, with the Jags hoping to turn a new page in franchise history. Lawrence has elite upside and will work with Urban Meyer toward transitioning two very successful college football careers into NFL success.
2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson (QB, BYU)
I am not as 100% sold as most seem to be on Wilson being the second-best QB in this class, but he is a very solid prospect. The Jets pulled the plug on Sam Darnold to hand the franchise to Wilson, so we’ll see how that goes.
3. San Francisco 49ers — Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)
I was ready to put Justin Fields here, who I feel is the second-best QB prospect in this draft. But with reports that the Niners are down to Lance or Mac Jones from Alabama, I’m slotting Lance in as the pick. For starters, the Jones hype this high in the draft has never made sense to me. Of course, it could happen, but I’m not convinced Jones isn’t just a decent QB that was able to put up monster numbers behind some of the best linemen and with some of the best pass-catchers in the country. San Fran says it is genuinely interested in keeping Jimmy Garoppolo because the player they have their eye on is a project. Therefore, it makes much more sense that the Niners would be going after the high-upside play that might take more time, which is Lance.
4. Atlanta Falcons — Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
Atlanta has a lot of options here. I’m not convinced it keeps the pick, but I do think Pitts is the best non-QB prospect in this draft. Replacing Matt Ryan with someone like Fields is appealing, but let’s also remember that Julio Jones’ name has come up in trade rumors. Bringing in another generational pass-catcher will help Matty Ice and this offense now, and will provide an elite target for the QB of the future when the Falcons do land that player.
5. Cincinnati Bengals — Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
This is another really tough pick in my mind. Joe Burrow is coming off a serious knee injury, and the Bengals could use help on the offensive line. At the same time, would Cincy be smarter to give Burrow an elite weapon and former college teammate in Chase? I’d probably go offensive line, but something tells me the franchise will give Burrow what he wants.
6. Miami Dolphins — Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State — pick will be traded)
The Dolphins have been linked to receivers here, but they had some pretty good weapons last season and just added Will Fuller to the mix. If the team is committing to Tua Tagovailoa, going offensive line makes more sense to me. But I also said I think this could be a wild draft for trades, and if Fields makes it out of the top five, teams will really look to jump up and grab him. New England, Chicago, Washington, Denver or even Carolina could look to jump up here and grab the decorated Ohio State prospect.
7. Detroit Lions — Penei Sewell (OL, Oregon)
Sewell is the top OL prospect in the draft and could wind up being the Bengals’ pick at No. 5. If he makes it past Cincy, his floor is going somewhere in the next few picks. Detroit has so many needs and could go WR following the departure of Kenny Golladay. Jaylen Waddle would be an option here in my mind, but with Sewell falling, I could see Detroit taking him to protect Jared Goff in his first year with the team. Given how many needs the Lions have, this pick could easily be moved.
8. Carolina Panthers — Jaycee Horn (CB, South Carolina)
The Panthers are making noise to also be in the market for a WR and still sneakily involved in the QB landscape. When it comes down to it, they seem to have a capable offense and someone in Christian McCaffrey that they want to touch the ball 25-plus times per game. Going defense with this pick should help Carolina the most, and you’d expect the Panthers to be familiar with a local product. The Panthers clearly missed James Bradberry after he signed with the Giants, and this pick gives them a high-upside corner to finally replace him.
9. Denver Broncos — Rashawn Slater (OL, Northwestern)
I think the Broncos would move on from Drew Lock if the opportunity was there. Maybe they wind up swapping with Miami, and OL would make sense with this pick. There are still some great receivers on the board at this stage, but Denver invested heavily there in last year’s draft. I have no idea which direction the Broncos go, but getting healthy after a down year, this defense should be pretty good already. If forced to make the pick at this stage, maybe Denver buys some protection for Lock, or whoever winds up at QB.
10. Dallas Cowboys — Patrick Surtain II (CB, Alabama)
The Cowboys were supposed to invest in defense last year, but then CeeDee Lamb slid to them in the middle of the first round, and they just added onto their weapons. This time around, it’s tough to see Dallas passing on a shutdown corner, especially since it’s a desperate need. I’ll just say, don’t be surprised if Jerry Jones tries his best to move into the top five for Pitts.
All views expressed are my own. I am an employee of DraftKings and am ineligible to play in public DFS or DKSB contests.
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