It’s the best time of year again. It’s officially shorts and sunglasses weather, the pandemic is (slowly but surely) starting to dwindle as everyone gets vaccinated, but most importantly – it’s NFL Draft season.
In a year where the salary cap defied all recent trends and plummeted, we saw a free agency like no other. Talented players on every team had to be released or traded for franchises to get below the NFL’s allotted salary cap and the free agent pool was (is!) as talented as ever.
After a rather large shuffle of talent all across the league, it is more important than ever for a lot of teams to nail the draft if they plan on both short and long-term success.
Without further ado, let’s get into how I see the first-round of the NFL Draft shaping up in April.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Trevor Lawrence | Clemson
This pick should come as no surprise to anyone. Lawrence is regarded as one of the best quarterback prospects to come out since Andrew Luck. He has the size, accuracy, arm talent and football IQ necessary to be a franchise quarterback for the next decade. No brainer for Urban Meyer and company with Lawrence.
2) New York Jets
QB Zach Wilson | BYU
The Jets likely were offered the same compensation for pick #2 from the 49ers as the Dolphins got, which implies to me that they are taking a quarterback. Zach Wilson was one of the most electrifying players in college football last year and has all the traits to become a franchise signal-caller in the NFL. The draft for me REALLY starts at pick #3, I would take Lawrence then Wilson and not think twice about it.
3) San Francisco 49ers (Via MIA/HOU)
QB Trey Lance | North Dakota State
After a blockbuster trade that gave the Dolphins two first-rounders to move back to pick #12, the 49ers slide up to pick #3 to select their QB of the future. They reportedly are looking to draft a QB to redshirt behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a year, and Lance makes the most sense for that scenario. Lance only had one season of production in 2019 before COVID-19 took away North Dakota State’s 2020 season but his physical tools rival anyone in this class. Lance is one of those guys that with a year as the understudy in a Kyle Shanahan offense can blossom into one of the best QBs in the league for years to come.
4) (TRADE) New England Patriots (Via ATL)
QB Justin Fields | Ohio State
Patriots get: Pick #4 | Falcons get: Pick #15, 2021 3rd-rounder, 2022 1st-rounder, 2023 first-rounder
The Patriots made it very clear that they are going QB-hunting in the draft this year with all of their offseason acquisitions. Given the way the board has shaken out with the top three QBs going, they are going to have to make a move to jump ahead of some other QB-needy teams. The Panthers are one of those teams, but I don’t think that the Falcons would want to help their division rival find a franchise QB. The Patriots are hoping they won’t be picking as high as 15 anytime in the near future, and they have to do everything they can to grab a signal-caller that can be a staple for that franchise for years to come. Fields isn’t a finished product yet, but a year behind Cam Newton could do wonders for him.
5) Cincinatti Bengals
OT Penei Sewell | Oregon
The Bengals are another team that is in an ideal trade-back scenario, but I don’t see how they can pass up on Sewell if he’s there at five. Protecting Joe Burrow needs to be the Bengals first, second and third priority. Sewell is arguably the best OT prospect the league has seen in years and if needed can play any position along the offensive line. Don’t see how the Bengals can pass up the opportunity to keep Burrow upright for years to come, especially with him coming off that devastating knee injury.
6) Miami Dolphins (Via PHI)
TE Kyle Pitts | Florida
The Dolphins could teach a masters class in how to manipulate a draft board, essentially turning former first-round OT Laremy Tunsil into four first round picks. Not to mention they are also staying in the top-six this year to grab some outside help for QB Tua Tagovailoa. Pitts lit college football on fire the past two years and may end up being my highest graded prospect regardless of position in this draft. The Dolphins get an extra first rounder next year while still adding arguably the best pass-catcher in the draft for Tua. Homerun for Miami.
7) Detroit Lions
WR Ja’Marr Chase | LSU
The Lions never thought that they would end up in this spot, but with the way the board fell, they can rejoice. After an offseason where they lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, they have a need at receiver in a big way. Being able to sit pretty at pick #7 and land the best all-around receiver in the draft will put a big smile on that front office’s face.
8) Carolina Panthers
WR Jaylen Waddle | Alabama
The Panthers will not be too excited that they missed out on the QB sweepstakes, but they will be more than happy to land a talent like Waddle at this spot. After losing Curtis Samuel this offseason, Waddle can step in and replace him right away and potentially be even better. I have Waddle as my highest graded wide receiver in the class, and Joe Brady and Matt Rhule will absolutely get the most out of his unique skillset.
9) Denver Broncos
OT Rashawn Slater | Northwestern
A lot of people want to see the Broncos try and trade up for a QB this year, but I think they want to give Drew Lock a fair shot in 2021. That offensive line had issues last season, which clearly had a negative impact on Lock’s performance. Adding who I believe to be the best OT prospect in this class to help protect Lock is the Broncos’ best course of action.
10) Dallas Cowboys
CB Patrick Surtain II | Alabama
It would be an understatement to say the Cowboys couldn’t cover anyone last year. They were on pace to have one of the worst statistical years a defense has ever had in 2020. They need to bolster up all levels of that side of the ball, but after losing Byron Jones last offseason and Chidobe Awuzie this offseason, Dallas needs someone to play opposite Trevon Diggs. Surtain is arguably the top CB in this class and fits right in on that defense. They need help everywhere, but pairing the former Alabama teammates together again is a great start.
11) New York Giants
LB Micah Parsons | Penn State
After an offseason adding depth to the secondary, the Giants need to get more help from their front seven. Adding someone as athletic and scheme-versatile as Parsons who can play at inside and outside linebacker will be crucial to fortifying Joe Judge’s defense.
12) Philadelphia Eagles (Via MIA/SF)
WR DeVonta Smith | Alabama
The Eagles have committed to building around Jalen Hurts for at least this year, and what better way to do that than to add last years Heisman Trophy winner. Smith can play from any alignment and can win against coverage in any way possible. The Eagles need receiver help after last season and Smith makes an immense difference right away.
13) Los Angeles Chargers
CB Caleb Farley | Virginia Tech
New Head Coach Brandon Staley is a defensive-minded guy, and after addressing the offensive line through free agency it would shock me if they didn’t go defense with their first pick. Their secondary needs an injection of youth and Farley is the best option to do that. The question with Farley is how he recovers from that back surgery, but when healthy he is arguably the best CB in this class.
14) Minnesota Vikings
OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | USC
Vera-Tucker jumped out to me on tape as one of the best tackles in the class. He has the agility and natural athleticism to be one of the best zone blockers in the league, and his long arms make him stout in pass protection. The Vikings need help at the tackle spot after losing Riley Reiff in free agency, and Vera-Tucker slides in perfectly and they won’t miss a beat.
15) Atlanta Falcons (Via NE)
EDGE Kwity Paye | Michigan
The Falcons need help at all levels of their defense, but with Surtain and Farley off the board I can see them taking the best player available on defense, and that would be Kwity Paye. Paye is a freak of nature that can play multiple positions along the defensive line for Atlanta and could very easily develop into one of the best EDGE’s in the NFL.
16) Arizona Cardinals
CB Jaycee Horn | South Carolina
There may not be a team that needs to address the secondary more than the Arizona Cardinals in this draft after letting Patrick Peterson walk, and having the best press-man corner in the class fall in their laps will be music to their ears. Horn can step in and be their main cover guy in an NFC West division that’s loaded with talent on the outside.
17) (TRADE) Chicago Bears (Via LVR)
QB Mac Jones | Alabama
Bears get: Pick #17+2021 6th-rounder | Raiders get: Pick #20, 2021 4th-rounder, 2022 2nd+4th-rounder
GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy have to pull out all the stops this year if they want to keep their jobs. They signed Andy Dalton, but everyone knows that’s not their long-term plan at QB. While I don’t think Jones is worth what they (hypothetically) gave up for him, they need an answer at the QB position this year or they’re both getting the boot. With Washington in front of them potentially going QB-hunting, they have to pull out the stops to move up and get Jones. If they can get average QB play from him, they can easily be a playoff team next year behind that astute defense. It’s Nagy and Pace’s last-ditch effort to save their jobs, and they go with the Alabama signal-caller to be their saving grace.
18) Miami Dolphins
EDGE Jaelan Phillips | Miami
The Dolphins’ defense was one of the best in the league in 2020, but could still use some help getting to the quarterback from the edge position especially after losing Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy this offseason. Phillips is the best pure pass-rusher in this class and if he can stay healthy, could easily become an all-pro talent in Miami for years to come. Very well may end up being the steal of the draft for whatever team has the stones to take him.
19) Washington Football Team
WR Rashod Bateman | Minnesota
The Football Team could very easily be in the QB market, but at pick #19 it looks like a long-shot for them to get into position to get one. The offensive line depth in this class is good enough for them to get serviceable guys later in the draft, but if Rashod Bateman falls into their lap they shouldn’t think twice about it. Bateman is being severely underrated and has the tools to become the best receiver in this class. If you can boast an offense with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson and Rashod Bateman, it won’t quite matter who the QB is next year. (They should trade for Sam Darnold).
20) Las Vegas Raiders (Via CHI)
OT Alex Leatherwood | Alabama
Raiders get: Pick #20, 2021 4th-rounder, 2022 2nd+4th-rounder | Bears get: Pick #17+2021 6th-rounder
After trading Trent Brown in what was a failed stint with him and the Raiders, they need to replace him if they plan on keeping Derek Carr upright. Leatherwood is a perfect fit for the scheme that Jon Gruden likes to run. He’s a big mauler that brings an attitude to a line that needs it desperately. Acquiring assets and still getting your guy is a win in my book for the Raiders.
21) Indianapolis Colts
OT Teven Jenkins | Oklahoma State
The Colts don’t have many needs and probably will trade back, but I think putting Teven Jenkins at left tackle next to Quenton Nelson would be so much fun to watch. Jenkins is an extremely physical blocker that always plays through the whistle, much like Nelson. Carson Wentz isn’t the greatest QB in the league, but if kept clean the Colts could get the most out of him next year, that should be their goal in the draft.
22) Tennessee Titans
CB Greg Newsome III | Northwestern
After an offseason where they lost both Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson to free agency, the Titans have a huge need in that secondary. They couldn’t cover anyone with those guys rostered to begin with, which shows just how bad it could be that the guys behind them weren’t any better. Newsome is an athletic specimen that can be molded into a top corner at the next level. Mike Vrabel will do his best to help Newsome reach his full potential.
23) New York Jets (Via SEA)
IOL Landon Dickerson | Alabama
Dickerson is a stud all around. He is the most physical center in the class and tries to humiliate whoever is in front of him on a snap-to-snap basis. He will fit in perfectly on an offensive line with Mekhi Becton and can go a long way in helping to protect Zach Wilson for years to come.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers
OT Liam Eichenberg | Notre Dame
I don’t have Eichenberg ranked higher than some of the other guys still on the board, but I think he is a guy that the Steelers could absolutely use. I’m not sure his best fit is at OT in the NFL, but I can easily see him being an above-average guard. He has great technique and wins with power against defenders, something the Steelers love out of their offensive lineman. Pittsburgh needs help all around that line, and having Eichenberg who has position versatility will prove to be a great asset to them.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (Via LAR)
WR Elijah Moore | Ole Miss
The Jaguars could very easily go defense here, but the only player I think is worth taking this high would be LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah and the Jaguars don’t have a glaring need at his position. Moore exploded to me when I watched him on tape and has potential to be an elite receiver at the next level. His size definitely raises some slight concerns, but he was able to create easy separation against all types of competition last year. The Jaguars first priority should be to make life as easy as possible for Trevor Lawrence, and Moore does that for them.
26) Cleveland Browns
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah | Notre Dame
The Browns are in a great spot where they realistically can just take best player available, and with JOK falling this far they should run the card in as fast as possible. JOK is extremely athletic for a linebacker and can play multiple positions on the defensive front or even at safety to cover TE’s and RB’s. Has the athletic profile to become a great talent in this league for years to come.
27) Baltimore Ravens
LB Zaven Collins | Tulsa
While I am not in love with Zaven Collins in the first round, if there is one team that is going to get the most out of him it’s the Ravens. Their multiple-front and blitzing defensive scheme fits Collins’ athletic profile to a tee. I don’t see him as a true off the ball linebacker, but he can slide in nicely at the edge and John Harbaugh can get creative with his usage.
28) New Orleans Saints
WR Kadarius Toney | Florida
Similar to the Ravens pick, I am not a huge fan of Toney in the first round but for someone who has Toney’s speed and shiftiness, he is worth the flier late in the first round especially being coached by Sean Payton. Jameis Winston looks to be the starter for 2021 and he needs more options on the outside than just Michael Thomas. Toney could develop very nicely into another chess-piece for Sean Payton in a Saints offense that is filled with them.
29) Green Bay Packers
IOL Creed Humphrey | Oklahoma
After losing all-pro center Corey Linsley to free agency, the Packers should look to find his long-term replacement in the draft. Humphrey is a great center that has plenty of experience setting protections for Oklahoma over the past couple of years. He has great foot speed and hand usage, a perfect combination for Matt LaFleur’s zone-run heavy offense.
30) Buffalo Bills
EDGE Azeez Ojulari | Georgia
The Bills don’t have many holes, but their ability to rush the passer was non-existent at times last season. Ojulari is a bit undersized for a traditional edge, but his ability to rush the passer is up there with the best in the class. If the Bills want to upgrade any part of their roster, it should start with rushing the passer. Ojulari is a great fit.
31) Kansas City Chiefs
OT Samuel Cosmi | Texas
The Chiefs badly need tackle help after cutting both Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher this offseason. Cosmi isn’t a finished product but his athletic profile and technique show enough promise to make him worth a first round pick. While drafting another offensive weapon would be exciting, protecting the 500M dollar man, Patrick Mahomes, is what they need to focus on in the draft.
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Travis Etienne | Clemson
The Super Bowl Champions have officially re-signed all of their free agents from their championship run, meaning they don’t have a need at any position realistically. Their biggest area of concern last year was at running back. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were fine, but they don’t offer the versatility that Etienne does. He reminds me a lot of Alvin Kamara and can both run and catch at an elite level. He would add another dimension to that already insane offense in Tampa.