Millions are watching. Waiting. Anticipating. Speculating. Booing. Cheering. One decision can change the spirit of an entire city. Strategy and unpredictability encapsulate the night. Lifelong dreams are achieved. Of course, for football executives, prospects, and fans, this all refers to the first night of the NFL Draft.
Nothing changes the trajectory of a team quite like draft night. With five quarterbacks expected to be taken in the top-10 picks, this notion is especially true. Some teams may make a luxury pick. Others must manage their roster’s needs. Thursday will be filled with twists and turns, all while shaping the league’s future.
Here’s how Round 1 could play out:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This is a no-brainer, as Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect in years. NFL Network reported that he is already learning the team’s playbook. His unique combination of height, athleticism, decision-making, and accuracy can transform his new team. New head coach Urban Meyer will bring out the best in Lawrence.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Jets moved on from Sam Darnold and are now counting on Wilson to navigate the team. After an explosive pro day by Wilson, this pick is pretty set in stone. He is the most dynamic quarterback in this year’s draft, but will still need the proper weapons and protection to succeed in a challenging AFC East.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan has proven time and time again that he has a type at the quarterback position (see: Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan). After moving up from pick 12 to 3, the Niners take the quarterback that fits the Shanahan offense best. Sure, NDSU’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields may have a higher ceiling, but Jones also had a great season at Alabama on the way to a National Championship. Jones showcased strong awareness and pocket presence all season.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Falcons’ pick will shape the direction of the first round. They could pick Matt Ryan’s successor here, but they recently restructured his contract. Instead, they decide to strengthen their receiving corps alongside Julio Jones (?) and Calvin Ridley. This is an especially important decision with Jones reportedly on the trade block. Pitts is a rare talent at tight end that can extend an offense to new heights.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The main priority for the Bengals is improving the offensive line, but Chase was Joe Burrow’s top target in college. Their familiarity and proven success on the field can guide this difficult decision. The team lost longtime star receiver A.J. Green in free agency and must replace him. In the end, the Bengals pass on Oregon tackle Penei Sewell for Chase’s impressive speed and size.
6. Miami Dolphins (from PHI): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Dolphins would have loved to land Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase at this pick, but Smith is a great addition as well. Despite concerns about his size, Smith had a historic season at Alabama and was the Heisman Trophy winner. His quickness and precise route-running will be utilized well with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leading the offense.
7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
New head coach Dan Campbell preached toughness and passion in his introductory press conference in January. The Lions are in the process of rebuilding a roster with needs across the board. In this case, they go with the best available player. Sewell, the best tackle prospect in several years, will be an elite pass protector for Jared Goff.
8. (MOCK TRADE) New England Patriots (from CAR): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Mock Trade: Patriots send picks #15, #120, and CB Stephon Gilmore to Panthers for #8
After a disappointing 2020 season, Bill Belichick paid many top-tier free agents and holds a much higher draft pick than in recent years. For the Patriots, if there was ever a year to identify and trade up for your quarterback of the future, this would be the one. Fields has ties with Cam Newton and can develop under him for a season, which would be a small move to develop his promising skillset.
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
General manager George Paton recently indicated that the team will be looking for competition with Drew Lock at the quarterback position, so they brought in Teddy Bridgewater via trade. However, that cannot stop them from developing their quarterback of the future. Ultimately, Lance’s playmaking ability will make up for his lack of quality and quantity of experience at NDSU. His incredibly high NFL ceiling is often compared to that of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Cowboys have shared clips of their pre-draft interviews on social media. One of which was Horn’s, where he confidently described why he was the draft’s number-one cornerback to Stephen and Jerry Jones. His character and confidence are a perfect fit for the team and their culture. Most evaluators consider Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II to be the better cornerback, but Horn brings tremendous physicality to a position of need for Dallas.
11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
General manager Dave Gettleman added Kenny Golladay in free agency, but he needs to continue to improve the receiving corps to put Daniel Jones in a position to win games. Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater will be heavily considered at this pick, but Waddle’s playmaking ability after the catch is unmatched in this draft.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from SF via MIA): Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Historically, the Eagles have not selected pass-catchers in consecutive drafts. Although finding weapons for Jalen Hurts is an area of need, it would be inexcusable to pass on Surtain in this spot. Pairing Surtain with veteran Darius Slay would instantly improve a secondary that has to face Dallas’ explosive offense twice a year. His anticipation and ball skills stand out among many other top corners in the draft.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Chargers struck gold with Justin Herbert in last year’s draft, but were lucky to keep him healthy with such an underwhelming offensive line. The Bengals were in a similar situation, but it did not turn out as great for Joe Burrow (torn ACL). Under new head coach Brandon Staley, the Chargers have a chance to be fringe contenders, contingent on Herbert’s availability. Slater’s versatility will translate well to the NFL.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
If Darrisaw wasn’t available, the Vikings could look to add to a depleted pass rush. However, the team lost tackle Riley Reiff to the Bengals in free agency and must prioritize protecting Kirk Cousins with Darrisaw’s athleticism. He is an elite run blocker as well, which will benefit Dalvin Cook significantly.
15. (MOCK TRADE) Carolina Panthers (from NE): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Mock Trade: Patriots send picks #15, #120, and CB Stephon Gilmore to Panthers for #8
Sam Darnold is on his way to Charlotte with the hope that he outperforms Teddy Bridgewater’s 2020 numbers. The team only selected defensive players in the 2020 draft, but the departure of veteran tackle Russell Okung leaves a big hole on the offensive line. In this mock trade, the Panthers move back and are still able to address their top need. Vera-Tucker can play both tackle and guard for Matt Rhule’s offense.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Now without Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, the Cardinals must cement the cornerback position for the future. They could consider Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley in this spot, but his back injury history makes him a risky pick. Newsome is a good leader for the team’s young secondary. His coverage skills will set Vance Joseph’s defense up for immediate success in a tough NFC West.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Throughout their time in Vegas, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have been known to take players from big-name schools. Enter Micah Parsons. If the Raiders can get past the character concerns that have been brought up during the draft process, they are getting a top-five talent. Parsons’ blazing speed and elite tackling ability will instantly improve a defense coming off a lackluster 2020 season.
18. Miami Dolphins: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
Successful management in recent years has given the Dolphins the luxury of four picks in the top-50 this year. First, they addressed a need at receiver. Now, they land the draft’s best pass rusher. Paye came to the United States from Guinea when he was six months old, making for one of the most interesting player backgrounds in the draft. As an edge rusher, his quick first step off the line of scrimmage poses a threat to offenses.
19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Washington has drastically improved their front-seven in the early rounds of recent drafts (see: Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young), but they have yet to find a dynamic middle linebacker. Owusu-Koramoah is one of the most versatile players in the entire draft, as he can extend out to safety in certain sets. In an NFC East that is once again up for grabs, Washington is sure to have the division’s top defense come September.
20. Chicago Bears: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
The Bears barely made the playoffs last season with Mitchell Trubisky. Ultimately, it cost them a realistic chance at drafting his replacement. As a result, 33-year-old Andy Dalton is expected to start in September. They have to get him some protection. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie is no longer in the equation. Jenkins’ main experience at Oklahoma State was at right tackle, where he was highly productive. He could be a great successor to Massie.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The Colts benefited significantly from Carson Wentz’s disastrous season last year, as they acquired him at a low cost if he plays well. However, they cannot afford to make the same mistakes Philadelphia did. Wentz was sacked a career-high 50 times despite only playing in 12 games last season. After longtime blindside tackle Anthony Castonzo announced his retirement, Cosmi can immediately step in to protect Indy’s new franchise QB.
22. Tennessee Titans: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
General manager Jon Robinson got the chance to observe Bateman firsthand at his pro day a few weeks ago. The team lost Corey Davis to the Jets in free agency and released Adam Humphries, creating a need at the position. Bateman is talented enough to go much higher in this draft, though the many other top receivers will prevent that from happening. He is everything the Titans need opposite A.J. Brown and is sure to have some highlight plays along the way.
23. New York Jets (from SEA): Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami
Phillips’ extensive injury history, particularly involving concussions, holds him back from being a top pick. He could be well worth the risk for Robert Saleh and his new defense. Phillips is one of the best edge rushers in this class and will fit will in an already talented front-seven. This is a great scenario for the Jets with their second first-rounder.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Steelers will be watching closely when the Dolphins pick at #18 and the Jets pick at #23, as both teams must address running back at some point in this draft. As a result, this makes Pittsburgh a potential trade-up candidate. In this case, Harris is available for the team to replace James Conner. Harris played a pivotal role in Alabama’s title run last season, both as a rushing and receiving threat.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR): Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
After taking Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars shift their focus to the secondary in back-to-back first rounds. The team took Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson ninth overall in 2020 and can now add Moehrig with the pick they acquired in the Jalen Ramsey trade. Moehrig brings great awareness and presence in both the run and pass game.
26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Originally, the Browns had a glaring need at edge rusher opposite Myles Garrett entering this draft. They temporarily addressed it two weeks ago by signing Jadeveon Clowney. Collins’ skillset precisely fits what Cleveland is looking for to further improve the defense. Not only can he play edge rusher at times, but he provides the pass coverage abilities needed at middle linebacker.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
The Ravens enter the draft with receiver, edge rusher, and offensive line being their most critical needs. With two first-round picks, they can fill two of those gaps early on in the draft. They will be ecstatic to see Oweh be available, as the Ravens are known for benefiting from the best available players falling. His speed and overall upside fit Baltimore’s style of play defensively.
28. New Orleans Saints: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Top corner Marshon Lattimore’s status is uncertain and the team lacks much depth behind him. Their chances of beating Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in both regular season matchups are much slimmer this year, but improving the secondary will put them on a better track. Farley’s stock dropped when he recently had a medical procedure on his back. However, his success at Virginia Tech will instantly translate to the NFL if he stays healthy. His size will be a threat in stopping opposing offenses.
29. Green Bay Packers: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
It’s no secret that Aaron Rodgers is unhappy with how the Packers have treated him in recent years. The team shockingly moved up to select quarterback Jordan Love in the first round last year. In return, Rodgers went and won league MVP. If they are looking to please him with this year’s draft class, they will take a wide receiver first. In this case, Moore has risen up draft boards in the last month and is the best available fit at the position in Green Bay.
30. Buffalo Bills: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
The Bills have only minor needs on each side of the ball, including running back. However, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss do not have the same explosiveness as some of their fellow offensive skill players. Etienne’s range of skills fit well in Buffalo’s backfield. He could be the factor that puts in Buffalo over the top in a competitive AFC East.
31. Baltimore Ravens (from KC): Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
The Ravens moved tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs just days before the draft. They acquired the #31 pick, among others. After addressing their need at edge rusher a few picks earlier, they can add a tall, physical receiver in Marshall. Led by Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and Marshall, this receiving corps is much improved from last season.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Azeez Ojulari, DE, Georgia
The Buccaneers are a trade-back candidate, but it is likely that several quality edge rushers will be available at the end of the first round. Jason Pierre-Paul could depart next free agency cycle, so Ojulari would have a year to develop before replacing him in the starting lineup. This is a luxury, best-available player pick for a team that has very few needs on both sides of the ball. He is a talented pass rusher with a lot of potential for growth.