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Mel Kiper’s final predictions for top 32 picks, including surprise quarterback fits and three trades

One more mock draft, with the first round of the 2021 NFL draft beginning later tonight. This is one of the most mysterious drafts I’ve covered in my 43 years of doing this. The disrupted and delayed college football season, the prospects who opted out, no combine, scarce medical reports — it all makes for what could be a wild Round 1 and trade-happy Days 2 and 3.

I’m ready, though. My updated Big Board — top 150 prospects overall — and position rankings went up on Wednesday. I’ve graded nearly 500 prospects for this class. Live coverage of Round 1 starts at 7 p.m. ET Thursday on ABC, ESPN and the ESPN App, and I’ll be on for all seven rounds through Saturday night. And, of course, you’ll be able to find my draft grades once it’s all over.

Let’s get into my final 2021 mock draft, projecting all 32 first-round picks based on what I’m hearing and where I think prospects could come off the board. There could be a few sleeper Round 1 picks. I projected three trades, as deals will almost certainly shake up the order. But this is how I see Round 1 as of now:

More draft coverage:
McShay’s final mock draft
Best available prospects
Full draft order: Nos. 1-259
Jump to a trade: 7 | 16 | 31

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

No drama here. New Jaguars coach Urban Meyer will start his tenure off by adding a franchise quarterback.

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

There’s really no drama with this pick, either. The Jets clearly view Wilson as their guy, even if I like Justin Fields a little bit more.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

I’m going to stick with Jones here, though there continues to be considerable buzz around the Niners’ interest in Trey Lance.

1 Related

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

I don’t see the Falcons going quarterback here. Pitts is the No. 2 prospect on my board, a rare talent and dynamic weapon for new coach Arthur Smith to scheme the offense around.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

The Bengals can’t go wrong with Chase or offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Quarterback Joe Burrow already has great chemistry with Chase, however, and this offense will be fun to watch.

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

I thought about offensive line, especially with Penei Sewell still on the board. But let’s reunite Smith with his former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa, who needs to make a leap in Year 2.

Projected trade: Patriots move up eight spots for a QB

This is going to take at least the No. 15 overall pick and New England’s 2022 first-rounder, but the Patriots need to move up if they want to get the fourth quarterback on the board. Detroit, which is at the beginning of a rebuild, has needs all along its roster and should try to add more premium picks.

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Lance is one of the most fascinating prospects I’ve ever studied, and I love his potential. He might sit behind Cam Newton for some of the 2021 season, but he can be the Patriots’ long-term answer.

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Is Sam Darnold the undisputed starting quarterback? The Panthers don’t necessarily have to decide now. But they should get him some help with Sewell, an elite left tackle.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Does the trade for Teddy Bridgewater take the Broncos out of the quarterback discussion? It shouldn’t, not with the team easily being able to move on from Bridgewater and Drew Lock in 2022. I’m a huge fan of Fields, and Denver should pounce if he’s still on the board.

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Unless the Cowboys can trade back a few spots, it has to be a corner here, either Surtain or Jaycee Horn.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Waddle just makes too much sense as a weapon who can take Daniel Jones to the next level. He is an elite playmaker.

Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Philadelphia can get an instant starter for a secondary that really struggled last season. If Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith make it to No. 12, they could be tough to pass up.

Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Does any team have as big of a need as the Chargers do at left tackle? Slater can be Justin Herbert’s blindside protector.

Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Vikings would be thrilled with one of the tackles here. They gave Dalvin Cook a big extension, which means they need to make sure he has some running lanes. I also thought about edge rusher Kwity Paye.

15. Detroit Lions (via mock trade with NE)

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Detroit moves back eight spots and can still get one of the best defenders in this class. Parsons can be a leader in the middle of this defense. If the Lions keep the No. 7 pick, Penei Sewell is a player to keep an eye on.

Projected trade: Jets climb seven spots to get their guy

The Jets have extra picks from the Jamal Adams trade, and they could use them to trade up for an offensive lineman. In this case, it would likely take their pick at the top of Round 2 (No. 34) and one of their third-rounders (Nos. 66 or 86) to get this far. Arizona would move down to No. 23 and pick up other valuable selections.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC

The Jets could upgrade at both guard spots, and Vera-Tucker is my top-ranked guard. They need to protect Zach Wilson.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

The Raiders’ linebackers really struggled last season, and Owusu-Koramoah is the type of defender Jon Gruden loves. Jamin Davis and Trevon Moehrig are two other prospects I considered.

Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

I thought about a running back — Najee Harris? — and an offensive tackle here, but Miami could likely find a tackle with one of its second-round picks. Paye is a raw edge rusher with high upside.

Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

There could be an opening at safety if Washington moves Landon Collins into more of a hybrid linebacker role. Moehrig is outstanding in coverage.

Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

Moore is rising over the past few weeks, and he could make an instant impact out of the slot. This pick could also be an offensive tackle.



Check out the best highlights from Florida WR Kadarius Toney’s college career.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

It’s edge rusher or offensive tackle for the Colts. Phillips is a great fit.

Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

With slot receiver Elijah Moore off the board, the Titans can fill another immediate need at cornerback. Newsome had a tremendous 2020 season.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

I don’t love teams taking a first-round running back, but Harris could really help Kyler Murray. If the Cardinals stay at No. 16, they could target a corner.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

The Steelers have needs at offensive line and corner, but there have been rumblings that they like the top running backs. Etienne’s pass-catching skills will give Ben Roethlisberger easy throws.

Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Toney gives Trevor Lawrence a playmaker out of the slot to make the quarterback’s life easier. The Jags also have the first pick of Round 2 and could go offense there, too.

Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

The Browns are another team that could look for a Round 1 slot receiver, but they need front-seven help, too. Davis could be a Day 1 starter at inside linebacker. Zaven Collins and edge rusher Gregory Rousseau are also possibilities with this pick.

Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Collins is a do-it-all linebacker with coverage skills and upside as a pass-rusher. Baltimore also has a need at wide receiver, and I considered raw pass-rusher Jayson Oweh as well.

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Farley has fallen a little bit because of offseason back surgery, but he’s the best man-to-man cover corner in this class when he’s healthy.

Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

This is the Round 1 receiver help for Aaron Rodgers. Bateman can play outside or in the slot. Don’t rule out front-seven help here, either. Offensive tackle Teven Jenkins could also be in play.

Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia

I thought hard about putting a third first-round running back here — North Carolina’s Javonte Williams would be the guy — but Buffalo also has to get some help at corner. Asante Samuel Jr. could be in consideration too.

Projected trade: Chargers deal into the Ravens’ spot

L.A. needs help at cornerback, and it might have to move up from pick No. 47 in Round 2 to get a starter. In this scenario, the Chargers would give up the No. 47 pick and one of their third-rounders (Nos. 77 and 92), while the Ravens would move back 16 spots into Round 2.

Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

The Chargers showed last year that they will be aggressive to get their guy, as they traded up for linebacker Kenneth Murray. They could try to get ahead of the Bucs. Samuel is stellar in man coverage. If the Ravens keep this pick, they could go O-line.

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

The Super Bowl champs could snag Barmore as the eventual replacement for Ndamukong Suh. He’s the best interior pass-rusher in this class. Cornerback Tyson Campbell is another potential fit here.

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