If you’ve been of the mindset that NFL Mock Drafts are a fun exercise, but ones that are very much a crapshoot, things are about to get even more wild in the lead-up the 2021 NFL Draft.
Both the Big 10 and Pac 12 have elected not to participate in the fall 2020 season because of COVID-19. A slew of other notable 2021 NFL Draft prospects have opted out of the 2020 NCAA season, even if their respective schools will attempt to play. Translation: It’s probably the least enviable year ever to be part of an NFL scouting department.
Clearly, some players may still shoot up or down the draft board between now and next April – assuming that’s when the draft is. However, with so many top prospects either playing at a university that won’t participate in the 2020 NCAA season or having elected to opt out on their own, perhaps the projected draft board seven months out will prove to be more accurate than it typically does.
Certainly, as we prepare for the first weekend of the 2020 NFL season, the draft order will change. However, based on the bottom 10 in our latest RADIO.COM Sports NFL Power Rankings, here is what we are currently projecting for the top 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft:
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10. Atlanta Falcons: Carlos Basham Jr. – Edge Rusher, Wake Forest
Remember in the lead-up to the NFL Draft when Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that the Falcons were attempting to move all the way up from pick No. 16 to pick No. 2 to select Chase Young? That ultimately proved to be too ambitious, but the need for edge production remains.
In his junior season at Wake Forest, Basham Jr. exploded for 18 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. The ACC is moving forward with their 2020 season, so Basham Jr. will have a chance to build on that production and secure his spot among the top 15 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Given that Matt Ryan will play the 2020 season at age 35, it would be interesting to see if the Falcons would be tempted should North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance fall to them at pick 10. In many senses, that may be dependent on whether Dan Quinn is still coaching the team in 2021.
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9. Chicago Bears: Trey Lance – Quarterback, North Dakota State
It’s difficult to know if Lance is hurt or helped by the 1-AA season being cancelled.
On one hand, you’d like more than one year of a track record if you’re going to select a quarterback with a top-10 pick. On the other hand, Lance tossed 28 touchdowns to zero interceptions, while rushing for 1,100 yards in 2019. It would have been hard for him to top that season in 2020.
Mitchell Trubisky will be a free agent after the 2020 season, and even though he’s going to open the year as the starter, it’s tough to imagine what he would have to do for the Bears to offer him a contract extension. Nick Foles is under contract for 2021, but unless he replaces Trubisky at some point this year and recaptures some of the magic he had in Philadelphia, it’s hard to think that the Bears would move forward with him as their starter after this season.
Whether general manager Ryan Pace should get the chance to select another quarterback after trading up and picking Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson is a fair question. However, if he hit on Lance, that could help to rectify his legacy to some degree.
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8. Las Vegas Raiders: Dylan Moses – Inside Linebacker, Alabama
If the Raiders don’t exit 2020 with the feeling that either Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota is their franchise quarterback, they’ll seemingly be at a crossroads at the position.
That said, especially in a year where the college season has been decimated, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock may not be inclined to turn to the college ranks to find their next franchise quarterback. Maybe Gruden will fall in love with a 1-AA quarterback like Trey Lance, who will only have one season of truly starting. His history suggests that’s unlikely, and he’s more likely to target a veteran castoff looking to rebound after a difficult season.
If not a quarterback, Moses, assuming he bounces back after missing the 2019 season with a knee injury, could fill a need. Moses had 10 tackles for a loss, three-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble in 2018. If selected, Moses would make it three straight years that the Raiders selected a former Alabama star in the first round, joining Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs III.
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7. New York Giants: Patrick Surtain II – Cornerback, Alabama
Patrick Surtain Sr. was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins, and some believe that his son has a chance to be an even better pro.
Surtain II has started for Nick Saban at cornerback for two seasons, and would immediately improve a Giants’ defense that was a bottom-five unit against the pass in 2019.
With general manager Dave Gettleman getting his “hog molly” in the 2020 NFL Draft in the form of Andrew Thomas, getting a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver remains on the forefront for the Giants. That said, the Giants aren’t devoid of talent at the position, like the other team that plays in MetLife Stadium is. Darius Slayton flashed electric potential during his rookie season, Sterling Shepard is a very effective player when healthy and Golden Tate is under contract for 2021.
If they are in position to select LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, the Giants may very well go wide receiver with their first pick. If not, they’ll be happy to fill another position of need with the selection of Surtain II.
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6. Miami Dolphins: Gregory Rousseau – Edge Rusher, Miami
Is it possible that Rousseau – a native of Miami-Dade county that’s played his college ball at Miami – is drafted by the NFL team in the 305? It would make a hell of a story.
Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season, but had a staggering 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in his redshirt freshman season at Miami. He could still choose to return to college for another season, though that feels unlikely when he’s seen as a consensus top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Dolphins had a league-worst 1.4 sacks per game in 2019, meaning that if Rousseau made it to them on the draft board in 2021, his local ties would be pretty far down on the list of things that would make him enticing to head coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier.
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5. Cincinnati Bengals: Micah Parsons – Outside Linebacker, Penn State
Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus calls Parsons “a generational talent” at the linebacker position, adding that the 94.8 grade that he posted against the run in 2019 is the second-highest mark in the history of the site.
In 2019, the Bengals allowed opponents to rush for 4.7 yards per carry. Parsons would seemingly help to alleviate the team’s struggles against the run, in what will likely be a crucial season for head coach Zac Taylor to prove that the organization is headed in the right direction.
It may prove that the Bengals are so desperate for an offensive tackle to protect Joe Burrow that this selection is used to address that position, even if it means taking a lesser player. However, if you drafted Burrow and Parsons in consecutive seasons, you’d start to feel pretty good about your future in Cincinnati.
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4. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell – Offensive Tackle, Oregon
Even after opting out of his junior season at Oregon, Sewell feels like a lock to be picked among the first five selections in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Panthers acquired two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung from the Los Angeles Chargers in a trade this past offseason, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old is likely just a short-term fix at the blindside. He’s in the final year of a four-year/$53 million deal, so there’s a chance he’s one-and-done in Carolina.
If the Panthers are bad enough in 2020 that they end up with one of the top two picks in next year’s draft, they’ll almost certainly take one of Trevor Lawrence of Justin Fields. However, the feeling here is they are unlikely to struggle to that degree, putting them in no-man’s land. With so much contractual security and Teddy Bridgewater under contract through the 2022 season, Matt Rhule and company feel like they would be less inclined to reach for a quarterback here. Instead, they’ll land their long-term left tackle, who will protect their eventual franchise quarterback, whoever that may end up being.
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3. New York Jets – Ja’Marr Chase – Wide Receiver, LSU
If the Jets were to obtain the No. 3 pick, they project as the first team that would seriously consider moving their pick.
Should the Jets be bad enough to secure the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, they’ll likely have a new head coach, which would mark the third in Sam Darnold’s rookie contract. Would that head coach want to pick his own quarterback? It’s possible, and considering they have multiple first-round picks in each of the next two drafts because of the Jamal Adams trade, Joe Douglas and company may have the ammo to pull off a trade into the top two picks. Still, it would take a willing participant, and any team that’s been bad enough to get one of the top two picks may be unwilling to part with the chance to select a franchise quarterback themselves.
The flip side is that the Jets elected to draft former Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton with the No. 11 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, rather than Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb. That may very well prove to be a wise selection, but after letting Robby Anderson walk in free agency, the Jets’ receiving corps consists of Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder, Chris Hogan and Denzel Mims, a pretty underwhelming group.
No. 3 may be a bit high to take a wide receiver, but the Jets may also feel desperate to give Darnold a legitimate No. 1 target ahead of the 2021 season. Chase has opted out of the 2020 NCAA season, but had a staggering 1,780 receiving yards in LSU’s National Championship season. Whether it means taking him at No. 3 or moving back a few picks, Chase would drastically change the outlook on the Jets’ skill-position talent.
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2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields – Quarterback, Ohio State
As we’ll say in a moment with Washington, Jacksonville has a young quarterback in Gardner Minshew that some think will play well enough to keep them from obtaining such a high draft pick. Head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell probably hope that’s the case, because it’s possible neither would survive a 4-12 season.
Still, the worst nightmare for Jacksonville’s long-term future would be for Minshew to have three or four really good games, enough to push Jacksonville out of having a chance to select Fields or Lawrence, but not enough to sniff the playoffs. The hope for 2020 is that you know definitively one way or another when you believe Minshew is capable of one day leading your franchise to a Super Bowl title, even if you acknowledge that he doesn’t currently have the supporting cast to compete for one.
At the time of publication, it doesn’t appear that Fields will have a chance to play in 2020, as the Big 10 has elected not to play this fall. That probably eliminates any small chance that he would leapfrog Lawrence and be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Theoretically he could return for another season at Ohio State, but that would be an extremely poor business decision. In his sophomore season, Fields tossed 41 touches and ran for just shy of 500 yards. He’s shown enough already to be a top-five pick – and probably top two – in the 2021 NFL Draft.
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1. Washington Football Team: Trevor Lawrence – Quarterback, Clemson
If the Washington Football Team ends up with the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, the guess here is they’ll have a new name to go with the top selection.
Dwayne Haskins had such a turbulent rookie year – including being initially coached by a head coach that didn’t really want to draft him in the first place – that you almost have to throw out what you saw in 2019.
The reality is, any team that’s bad enough to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is almost certainly going to select Lawrence, whose viewed as the top quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. If teams like the New York Jets or Giants end up with the top pick, they’ll take Lawrence, even if it means bailing on a former top pick that has demonstrated some potential. Washington is no different.
Ron Rivera has no ties to Haskins. If he breaks out in his second NFL season, Washington will play their way out of having a chance to select Lawrence or Justin Fields. If they secure one of the top two picks in next year’s draft, though, it would be malpractice not to select one of these two quarterbacks.