Mike Tagliere’s 2021 NFL Mock Draft (1.0)
While some tune out for the NFL “off-season”, others – like myself – look forward to it. If every team had the same players on the roster every year, it’d get boring really fast. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that, as there are players who retire, players who are traded, players who leave via free agency, and players who are entering the league.
This year, the off-season should have more activity than maybe any year before. Why is that? Well, based on the NFL’s revenue sharing model, the salary cap will be dropping for the first time since 2011, when the NFL had their lockout. With the escalating contracts, teams were counting on that cap room to field a team. Now that the cap will drop more than 10 percent, teams will be forced to get creative, or cut some high-priced talent.
That will change the landscape of the NFL as we know it, but based on what we’re seeing now, it’s time to look at the NFL Draft to see what your favorite team might be thinking based on their current roster. This is my first stab at a mock draft this off-season, and it certainly won’t be my last. As we hear about players traded, cut, and signed, there are updates to be made. But for now, let’s talk about how their rosters sit as of right now, and what I’m currently expecting them to do.
The Jaguars need a franchise quarterback and they’re getting him here. This is a lock. No need to overthink it. Lawrence is regarded as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and for good reason. This pick increases the stock for every player in the offense, particularly D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault.
This isn’t what I’d do as the Jets GM, but it’s what I believe they’ll do if they stay at the No. 2 pick. While I believe Sam Darnold is a competent quarterback, it’s now been three years and Jets fans are getting restless. Fields will bring some excitement to the offense and knowing the way mobile quarterbacks have been valued as of late, Fields is practically a lock to be a top-five pick. In the end, I’m expecting the Jets to trade out of this pick, but we’ll save that for a future mock (don’t do trades in early mocks).
The Dolphins showed last year that they’re dedicated to improving the offensive line. While they certainly took a step forward, they still allowed 34 sacks. By taking Sewell, they can slide Austin Jackson over to right tackle, move Robert Hunt to guard, and have depth at the most important position behind quarterback.
By taking the Falcons head coaching job, Arthur Smith had to be given some sort of leash, as the team is far away from contending for a Super Bowl. Where there’s smoke, there’s typically fire, and Wilson has been getting talked about as the No. 2 quarterback behind Trevor Lawrence. I believe Trey Lance would be the better pick to sit behind Matt Ryan for a year or two to develop.
We’ve seen what Travis Kelce and George Kittle can do for their offenses, right? Well, Pitts is the next tight end in line. He’s a tight end who can be used all over the field, and he would help fill the void left by A.J. Green. He’s a matchup nightmare, especially when you pair him with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. There are other clear needs the Bengals have, but it’d be a reach for an offensive lineman here, as Penei Sewell is already off the board.
I know, I know… the Eagles don’t use high draft picks on linebackers. How’s that worked out for their defense recently? Parsons isn’t your average linebacker, either. He’s my top-rated defensive player in this draft who swarms all over the field. He’s excellent against the run, is quick enough to drop back in coverage, and has the great ability to find the quarterback on blitzes. He’d immediately upgrade the middle of the Eagles defense.
There are a lot of things to be determined with the Lions roster but know that five of their top six wide receivers are slated to hit free agency, including Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. The only receivers left under contract are Quintez Cephus and Geronimo Allison. Drafting a wide receiver here makes sense, as they’ll have a player who’ll hit his prime around the time they finish their rebuild. He’ll make Jared Goff‘s life a lot easier.
Wait, the Panthers select an offensive player? It’s no secret that the Panthers were interested in both Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, so they’re certainly in the market for a quarterback. Lance isn’t someone who’ll start right away, but the Panthers do have Teddy Bridgewater under contract through 2022, and they can cut him after the 2021 season with just a $5 million cap hit, provided Lance is ready to roll at that point.
If there’s one clear weakness on the Broncos defense, it’s the cornerback position, and they were tested more than ever in 2020. Just one year after trading for A.J. Bouye, the Broncos recently released him, making the need for a cornerback even more obvious. Farley is my top cornerback in this draft class because he makes fewer mistakes than Patrick Surtain.
The Cowboys are slated to lose Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis in free agency, and their cornerback unit wasn’t very good to begin with. Pairing Surtain with his old teammate Trevon Diggs makes some sense, as they can send Anthony Brown into the slot. If they really like an offensive tackle, we could see them go that route.
It seems the Giants are all-in on Daniel Jones, so they’re going to continue to give him weapons. Worst case scenario is that he doesn’t work out, while the new quarterback would walk into a bevy of weapons. The knock on Smith is his size (6-foot-1, 175 pounds), but if you simply watch him play, he’s the most polished wide receiver in this draft. By selecting him, they can have Sterling Shepard move back to the slot, where he excelled earlier in his career.
Based on the players that are hitting free agency for the 49ers, this pick might change a lot in the coming weeks/months. They want to retain left tackle Trent Williams, but will they be able to? If not, that’s a massive need. They have cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, and Dontae Johnson all hitting the open market.
Every time I look at the Chargers offensive line from last year, I’m stunned at how well Justin Herbert played. In all honesty, they could use four new starters on that line. Vera-Tucker gives them flexibility, as he’s played well at both tackle and guard, though he’d likely start at left tackle right out of the gate for them. He’s one of the best pass-blockers in this draft class.
It’s no secret that the Vikings missed Danielle Hunter‘s presence last year, but even when he returns, they’re lacking potency on the edge. Rousseau is considered raw and has a small body of work, but based on what we’ve seen, he’s a high-upside pick worth a first-round selection.
The Patriots aren’t going to reach for a quarterback, and they’ve shown that time and time again. Mac Jones will be a popular guy that goes to them in mock drafts, but I don’t see it. Instead, they start adding to the weaponry, as they don’t have “that guy” who can take the ball to the house at any given point. Waddle would change that and give them the flexibility they like with receivers, moving him all over the field, including the slot.
There are a few positions the Cardinals need to attack on defense, including cornerback, where three of their top five players are headed to free agency. But the top three have already come off the board and they need to address the defensive line. Paye’s not my favorite prospect to be taken right here, but he seems to be valued more than guys like Jayson Oweh and Jaelen Phillips.
The Raiders have needs at linebacker, cornerback, and safety. Fortunately for them, Owusu-Koramoah can play all three if needed. He used to play safety, has the agility to cover the slot if needed, and has a nose for the ball at linebacker. He’s one of my favorite prospects in this draft class.
Do the Dolphins re-sign Davon Godchaux? If they don’t, they have a big need on the interior of their defensive line, but it seems like they’d like to. They’ve invested in both Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis in recent drafts, so they move to the offensive side of the ball and select Harris, who’ll immediately take some pressure off Tua Tagovailoa. By selecting Harris in the first round, they’ll get that fifth-year option with him.
There are a few directions that Washington can take here, though seeing them opt for the most important position on the field makes a lot of sense. Jones is a risky pick in the first round, but it makes the pill easier to swallow knowing they’re outside the top half of the round. Their defense is good enough to the point where they’ll be competitive, so they need to find their long-term answer at the position.
It doesn’t seem like Allen Robinson is going to be coming back, but the Bears can try to make it work by releasing a few players in order to franchise tag him, one of which would including starting right tackle Bobby Massie. That would create an obvious need on the offensive line, and they can already use help on the interior of the line. Mayfield is someone I enjoyed watching, as he gives max effort all the time and has the right mentality for offensive line play.
The sudden retirement of Anthony Castonzo is going to hurt the Colts offensive line, so they need to find his replacement at left tackle. Slater has a good thick build to him and was one of the only tackles in the game who was able to keep Chase Young in check last year. He would be one of the shorter left tackles in the league at just 6-foot-3, but his play suggests he’ll be okay.
The Titans need some help in the pass rush department and they know it. They tried to solve it by signing Jadeveon Clowney last year, but we know how that ended. Phillips flashed top-10 upside last year while Gregory Rosseau sat out and would be a welcomed addition to their defense.
With Robert Saleh now the head coach, look for him to add big potential on the edge. Oweh is a bit small right now but hearing rumors that he has 4.3 speed will move him up draft boards, as he can add weight this offseason with the right training. When Oweh is selected, it’ll be because of his potential reward.
It’s been rumored that the Steelers won’t re-sign Alejandro Villanueva, which creates a big void at left tackle. It seems likely they’d move Chukwuma Okorafor from right tackle over to left tackle, which is a big question mark. On top of that, Zach Banner is a free agent, creating a void at right tackle. Cosmi is one of the stronger tackles in this draft class who rarely lets a defender out of his grasp, though there is some inconsistency.
After snagging Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars need to start attacking the needs on the defensive side of the ball. Moehrig is my top safety in the draft who can play deep in coverage or up in the box. My favorite part about watching him on film was his ability to tackle in the open field in one-on-one situations. He’s a great start to a rebuilding defense.
If it weren’t for Myles Garrett, the Browns pass rush would essentially be non-existent. Larry Ogunjobi has his flashes but was a disappointment in 2020 and is now heading to free agency. Barmore is far from a finished product against the run, but he’s a great pass-rusher who’ll be a disruption almost immediately.
We all know the Ravens need to add some wide receiver help, right? If Bateman falls to them at No. 27, they should run to the podium to select him. Bateman is a highly intelligent wide receiver who is one of the best at manipulating defenders throughout his routes and can be a possession-style receiver while freeing up Marquise Brown to work down the field. Bateman reminds me of Keenan Allen, which is obviously a good thing.
The Saints are going to be in salary cap hell this year, as they’re going to be $50 million over the cap, and that’s including getting rid of Drew Brees‘ contract. Because of that, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to re-sign pending free agents, like Sheldon Rankins. They could go with an interior defensive lineman here (like Daviyon Nixon), but linebacker is also a need, and Collins isn’t expected to fall outside of the first round.
There will be pitchforks out for the Packers not selecting a wide receiver here, but they need help on defense and Nixon would be a great option up front on their 3-4 defense. Nixon is my top defensive tackle in this draft from an “NFL ready” standpoint, and knowing the Packers have now been to back-to-back NFC Championship games, they need someone who’ll make an impact immediately. If they let Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams walk in free agency, we could see them select Travis Etienne with this pick.
The Bills have three starters on the offensive line heading to free agency, including right tackle Daryl Williams, so we should expect them to address the line with this pick. Darrisaw is a much better pass protector than he is a run blocker, which fits what the Bills do on offense. They need to protect Josh Allen, and Darrisaw should be able to help with that right away.
The Chiefs have been sticking with Anthony Hitchens at middle linebacker due to the contract they gave him back in 2018, but he hasn’t really lived up to expectations. Selecting Bolton would give him some competition, at the very least. Bolton is a high-effort linebacker who never takes a play off and is a favorite of some in draft circles.
If the Bucs want to keep some of their pending free agents on the defensive side of the ball, they’re not going to be able to re-sign someone like Leonard Fournette. While Ronald Jones is a solid one-two down back (who has just one year left on his contract), they need someone who can catch passes out of the backfield with consistency, and Etienne proved that he can do just that in 2020 while racking up 48 receptions for 588 yards and two touchdowns in just 12 games. I could also see them going cornerback here, as Asante Samuel Jr. would make sense. Free agency is going to determine a lot with the Bucs, because as of now, there are at least three starters on defense hitting the open market.