2021 NFL Mock Draft: Final 1st-round projections

Photo illustration by Nick Roy / theScore

With the 2021 NFL Draft set to kick off Thursday night, theScore's Dane Belbeck, Dan Wilkins, and Mike Alessandrini give their final first-round projections.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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Lawrence has been the obvious top pick from the jump. Nothing about the pre-draft process has raised a single question about that reality, indicating everything we need to know about the Clemson star's elite-prospect status. There's plenty of work ahead for the Jaguars while building the rest of their roster, but finally landing a potential franchise quarterback was always the most important step. - Wilkins

2. New York Jets - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Joe Douglas and new head coach Robert Saleh have been locked in on Wilson for a while, and we don't expect a last-minute shift on Thursday night. Whether he's the right quarterback for the pick is another debate, but that may not be settled for a few years. Either way, Wilson is plenty talented and worthy of a high first-round selection. - Alessandrini

3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA) - Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The draft smoke indicates Mac Jones will be the pick here, but we don't believe the 49ers moved up to choose a player they could easily have gotten later in the opening round. Lance isn't close to being ready to start, but his potential makes this move worth it for Kyle Shanahan. The North Dakota State star can sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo before eventually taking over as the top signal-caller in the Bay Area. - Belbeck

4. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The Falcons could trade down here, or they might take a quarterback for themselves. But with Matt Ryan seemingly cemented for a few more years, and the 49ers-Dolphins trade putting a high price on top-five picks in this draft, we've got Atlanta staying put and taking the best non-quarterback. Picking a tight end this early might give you pause, but Pitts isn't just a tight end. A true offensive weapon who can be a mismatch everywhere, the Florida standout is a generational talent who deserves to be a top-five pick. - Wilkins

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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Cincinnati's pick is seemingly down to Chase and Penei Sewell. And while an offensive lineman makes sense after Joe Burrow suffered a major injury as a rookie, the organization will likely salivate about pairing its young quarterback with his former LSU teammate. Chase may be too talented to pass up. - Alessandrini

6. Miami Dolphins (from PHI) - Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

With every team seemingly searching for its own version of Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins choose the speedier of Tua Tagovailoa's former Alabama teammates with Waddle at No. 6. The star was one of the Heisman front-runners in 2020 before a broken ankle derailed his season. He gives Tagovailoa a game-breaking threat out wide, and Waddle should complement the trio of DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Preston Williams quite well. - Belbeck

7. TRADE: New England Patriots (from DET) - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

After an incredibly aggressive approach to free agency, you didn't think Bill Belichick would let the draft come to him, did you? The Patriots want to be contenders again fast, and Fields being available in this spot presents the perfect opportunity to help make that happen. Whatever the cost, trading up to get a young franchise quarterback will be worth it. - Wilkins

8. Carolina Panthers - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

A early run on quarterbacks puts Carolina in an excellent spot at No. 8. The Panthers could opt for a passer early in the first round, but giving Sam Darnold a strong supporting cast won't hurt, either. Sewell addresses one of the team's glaring weaknesses while providing long-term stability at a premier position. - Alessandrini

9. Denver Broncos - Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

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While many think the trade for Teddy Bridgewater removes the Broncos from any quarterback chatter, James Palmer of NFL Network insists the team could still be interested in a QB at No. 9. Jones is certainly familiar with Jerry Jeudy from his days with the Crimson Tide, and his pinpoint accuracy could be key for a set of young pass-catchers in the Mile High City. - Belbeck

10. Dallas Cowboys - Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Everywhere you look, you'll find Surtain connected to Dallas. And that's because it just makes so much sense. With the early run on quarterbacks and other offensive talent, the Cowboys get their pick of the top defensive players in this draft. The Alabama standout would be a much-needed upgrade in the secondary for Dan Quinn's new-look defense. - Wilkins

11. New York Giants - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Dave Gettleman and the Giants are likely to consider a handful of top defensive prospects, though one of the leading offensive playmakers may be too tempting to pass on right now. Daniel Jones is entering a make-or-break campaign, and adding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to an already-strong supporting cast would put him in the best position to succeed. - Alessandrini

12. Philadelphia Eagles (from SF via MIA) - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Eagles go with the long, physical, and rangy corner out of South Carolina to immediately shore up the secondary. Horn's technique might raise a few questions, but there's absolutely no doubt he can be a lockdown NFL cornerback. Philadelphia faces needs at multiple positions, but it'll be difficult not to call Horn's name at No. 12 due to his ability. - Belbeck

13. Los Angeles Chargers - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

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The Chargers may need to trade up to make it happen, but we've got them sitting tight at No. 13 and still coming away with one of the top two linemen in the draft. Offensive tackle is arguably the most pressing need on Los Angeles' roster, and Slater could provide a massive boost in front of Justin Herbert as a Day 1 starter on the left side. - Wilkins

14. Minnesota Vikings - Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami

With needs in both trenches, the Vikings will be hoping to land an instant contributor during the first round. Phillips would be considered among the premier defensive prospects in the class if not for his concussion issues in college. Minnesota could still trade Danielle Hunter prior to Week 1, which increases the urgency to upgrade at edge rusher. - Alessandrini

15. TRADE: Detroit Lions (from NE) - Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Parsons is arguably the best defensive prospect in the draft, and the Lions will be thrilled to get that level of talent at No. 15. The Penn State standout's physicality and versatility are likely right up Dan Campbell's alley, as the new head coach pledged to introduce a powerful brand of football. - Belbeck

16. Arizona Cardinals - Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Offensive playmakers are fun, and Arizona could find a way to work another one into Kliff Kingsbury's offense. But with the top three receivers off the board, the front five will be the priority. Whether it's at guard or tackle, Vera-Tucker would be another major addition to a Cardinals offensive line that should be much improved from years past. - Wilkins

17. Las Vegas Raiders - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

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The Raiders reshaped their offensive line this offseason, but there's still a hole at right tackle. Enter Darrisaw, who should bolster Vegas' run game right away while improving his pass-blocking chops opposite fellow first-rounder Kolton Miller. - Alessandrini

18. Miami Dolphins - Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan

After taking the most explosive offensive player at No. 6 in Waddle, the Dolphins select arguably the most explosive defensive player in Paye at No. 18. The Michigan standout isn't a finished product, but his potential and work ethic make this a solid pick. - Belbeck

19. Washington Football Team - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

With the top-five quarterbacks all long gone, Washington turns to the defensive side for one of the highest-upside players in this draft. Owusu-Koramoah could be the perfect modern linebacker, and he can instantly step in as a dynamic chess piece due to his athleticism and coverage ability that's tough to find at the position. - Wilkins

20. Chicago Bears - Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Losing Kyle Fuller due to cap constraints was tough to swallow in Chicago, but adding Newsome could help ease the pain. The Northwestern product profiles as an excellent schematic fit with the Bears, and he should develop into a high-quality starter opposite Jaylon Johnson in short order. - Alessandrini

21. Indianapolis Colts - Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia

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The Colts need to address offensive holes, but Ojulari would upgrade a critical defensive area. The Georgia star might not be the most polished pass-rusher, but he can learn the nuances of the position while taking some pressure off DeForest Buckner. - Belbeck

22. Tennessee Titans - Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

After the surprise move to part with Adoree' Jackson, addressing the cornerback position over the first two rounds feels like a must for Tennessee. If not for his back issues that required surgery in March, Farley would have been a likely early-round selection. But he'll be ready in time for training camp, and the Titans will happily bet on a player with this much upside. - Wilkins

23. New York Jets (from SEA) - Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

While the Jets must improve their defense under Saleh, they'll likely prioritize adding pieces to aid Wilson's development. New York won't let the Sam Darnold situation repeat itself, and Jenkins would provide an instant upgrade at right tackle. A pairing with last year's first-rounder Mekhi Becton is as ideal as it gets to protect a young passer. - Alessandrini

24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Steelers taking Harris just fits. Pittsburgh desperately needs to upgrade at running back with James Conner now in Arizona, and the versatile Harris checks all the boxes for the Steelers' offense. Harris may not possess game-breaking speed, but he's an incredible all-around offensive weapon who should instantly make Ben Roethlisberger's life easier. - Belbeck

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR) - Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

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Jacksonville could go in several directions with its second first-round pick. A three-down difference-maker in the middle of the field would be a good place to start when adding defensive talent. Collins is a massive prospect with impressive instincts who could be a fantastic running mate alongside Myles Jack. - Wilkins

26. Cleveland Browns - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Linebacker may not be the Browns' biggest need as they enter the 2021 season with high expectations. However, Davis' athleticism and upside could be too significant to overlook here. The former Kentucky star would give Cleveland a future core defensive piece, as he can match up with opposing running backs and tight ends. - Alessandrini

27. Baltimore Ravens - Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The Ravens added Sammy Watkins in the offseason, but they're far from set at wide receiver. Grabbing Bateman will go a long way toward fixing that and giving Lamar Jackson the weapon he desperately needs. Bateman may not blow people away with his athleticism, but he's as polished a pass-catcher as there is in this draft. - Belbeck

28. New Orleans Saints - Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

The Saints will need all the weapons they can get if the offense is to maintain its high level of production following Drew Brees' retirement. Moore is a potential game-breaker, and adding his skill set opposite Michael Thomas would make the duo difficult for defenses to handle, regardless of who's at quarterback. - Wilkins

29. Green Bay Packers - Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

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Receiver and cornerback are options here, but the Packers' selection of Leatherwood could impact multiple positions and help Aaron Rodgers. If the former Crimson Tide blocker is deployed at right tackle, Billy Turner can move inside to his more natural position. Leatherwood could also slot in at left guard, moving Elgton Jenkins to center - his college position - after Green Bay lost Corey Linsley in free agency. - Alessandrini

30. Buffalo Bills - Joe Tryon, Edge, Washington

With one of the league's most solid rosters, the Bills can ignore positional needs and simply take the best available talent at No. 30. With that in mind, Tryon makes his way to Buffalo, reinforcing the Bills' defensive line and providing some immediate outside situational pass-rushing talent. - Belbeck

31. Baltimore Ravens (from KC) - Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami

After taking care of the receiver spot with their first of two Day 1 selections, the Ravens use the pick acquired in the Orlando Brown trade to address their most glaring defensive need. Rousseau may need some time to develop, but his natural gifts can't be taught. Growing alongside six-time Pro Bowler and fellow Miami product Calais Campbell could be the perfect situation to unlock his incredible potential. - Wilkins

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama

The reigning Super Bowl champions aren't dealing with many, if any, issues on their roster. So Jason Licht and Co. will be looking to the present and future at the end of the first round, provided they don't trade out. Barmore offers excellent value here, and he fits as a long-term replacement for Ndamukong Suh while lining up next to monstrous nose tackle Vita Vea. - Alessandrini

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2021 NFL Mock Draft: Final 1st-round projections
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