2021 NFL Mock Draft: Najee Harris Moves Into Round 1 & More Predictions With Betting Implications
Getty Images. Pictured: Najee Harris, Justin Fields
Now that March is almost here, I am updating my 2021 NFL mock draft.
You will notice that there are not many significant changes from my post-Super Bowl mock, and that’s because we still have pro days, free agency and trades ahead of us.
As we move into next month and we have more information on players and teams, I will make significant changes to future versions. But in this mock, I am concerned solely with prediction, not prescription.
My goal is for you to be able to use this mock as a guide for making NFL draft prop bets.
Last year, I was 124-88-1 (+26.2 units) betting the NFL draft and the No. 6 mocker in the FantasyPros accuracy contest. In 2019, I was 54-29 (+17.7 units) on the draft and was also a top-20 mocker in the FantasyPros accuracy contest and Mock Draft Database contest.
While I rely on my own research, I also take a “wisdom of the crowds” approach by surveying an index of mock drafts. I find that these drafts, created by experts with established records of success, collectively give me a good sense of the realistic range of outcomes for what we might see with any given player or pick.
With that in mind, here’s how I see Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft unfolding.
2021 NFL Mock Draft
1. Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
I have already bet on Lawrence to be the No. 1 overall pick and am yet to see a mock draft that doesn’t have him slotted to the Jags at the top of the board.
2. Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young
The Jets seem very likely to put an end to the Sam Darnold experiment by selecting a quarterback at No. 2. I imagine the NFL will prefer Wilson to Justin Fields because of his superior arm strength, passing skill, pocket presence and improvisational ability.
I am betting on Wilson to be the No. 2 pick.
3. Dolphins: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon*
The Dolphins might trade out of this pick, and they don’t especially need a tackle after drafting starters Austin Jackson (1.18) and Robert Hunt (2.39) just last year. But they do need help on the offensive line, and Sewell might be the best overall player in the class. It would be hard for them to pass up a player of his talent.
Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019 he was a unanimous All-American selection and the winner of the Outland Trophy for his outstanding line play.
Sewell seems like a lock to be the first offensive lineman selected.
*Pick via Texans
4. Falcons: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Many mockers are projecting a quarterback to the Falcons at No. 4, but I don’t see that happening, as starter Matt Ryan has been as steady and productive as almost any passer in the league for the past half decade. Offense isn’t the problem for the Falcons.
Defense is the problem: The Falcons allowed a league-high 3,348 yards receiving to wide receivers in 2020, and they could use an upgrade at cornerback. In Surtain, the Falcons get a unanimous All-American defender and three-year SEC starter with the size and athleticism to match up with almost any receiver.
5. Bengals: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Bengals desperately need help on the offensive line, and Slater is arguably the best tackle after Sewell. Slater opted out of the 2020 season, but he’s a three-year starter with experience on both sides of the line, the flexibility to move into the interior if needed and the versatility to play in most schemes.
6. Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Eagles need pass-catching help. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are entering the final year of their contracts, and there’s a chance that neither will actually make it onto the 2021 roster.
On top of that, 2020 first-rounder Jalen Reagor and 2019 second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside have both underwhelmed in their brief NFL careers.
Enter Chase. He opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019 he — not Justin Jefferson — was the No. 1 receiver on the title-winning Tigers with a nation-high 1,780 yards and 21 touchdowns.
7. Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Before the trade for presumptive starter Jared Goff, I had the Lions selecting a quarterback at No. 7, but now it probably makes more sense for them to address another position, such as wide receiver, where they are perilously thin at the moment.
Starters Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola — as well as second-string receivers Mohamed Sanu and Jamal Agnew — are all free agents. The Lions might draft multiple receivers with top-100 picks this year.
I have my doubts about Smith because of his age and size, but he outright dominated in 2020 with 117-1,856-23 receiving as the winner of the Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award. And it’s not as if he’s a one-year wonder: In 2019, he was also the No. 1 receiver for Alabama — ahead of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs — with 68-1,256-14 receiving.
I doubt Smith will fall outside of the top 10.
8. Panthers: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Teddy Bridgewater was adequate for the Panthers in 2020, but head coach Matt Rhule has refused to endorse Bridgewater as his starter for 2021, and the Panthers are reportedly exploring the quarterback market.
Even with his rawness, Fields would likely be an immediate upgrade over Bridgewater. An accomplished dual-threat quarterback, Fields was 5,373-63-9 passing with a 68.4% completion rate in 22 starts for the Buckeyes.
9. Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan both turn 30 this season and are entering the final year of their contracts. It’s not hard to imagine defensive-minded HC Vic Fangio taking an elite cover man like Farley at this spot.
Farley is not without his issues. He redshirted in 2017 because of an ACL injury and opted out of 2020 because of COVID-19, and he’s still relatively new to the position because he played quarterback in high school and started out in college as a receiver — but in the 2018-19 seasons he looked like a true talent as a perimeter corner with his size, athleticism and overall ball skills.
Farley is a top-10 selection in most mocks I’ve surveyed.
10. Cowboys: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
It’s hard to know what the Cowboys will do. I was tempted to mock them with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, but they still have Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz under contract.
And I also considered North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, just in case they are unable to reach a long-term agreement with injured starter Dak Prescott.
But the Cowboys need so much help on defense, and in Paye the Cowboys get arguably the top edge defender in the class. The Cowboys still have DeMarcus Lawrence, and they’re hoping to extend Aldon Smith, but that’s not certain to happen, and Randy Gregory is a free agent. Besides, it’s almost impossible for a team to have too many pass rushers.
11. Giants: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL)
The Giants are strong on the interior of their defensive line, but they have no one of note to rush the passer off the edge. With Rousseau, the Giants get an upside prospect with All-Pro potential.
Rousseau opted out of 2020 and redshirted most of 2018 with injury, but in 2019 he was the best edge defender in the ACC with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
12. 49ers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The 49ers are hilariously thin at cornerback: Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett are all unrestricted free agents. In Horn, they get an immediate starter.
A three-year SEC starter, Horn has experience playing on the perimeter and in the slot, and he has the size and physicality to press NFL receivers. He might have the skill set to be an eventual shadow corner.
13. Chargers: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Oh, baby. I love this landing spot. Hunter Henry has long tantalized with his talent, but he has never fully translated his potential into production for the Chargers, and now he’s a free agent.
Pitts would be an ideal replacement for Henry and someone who could partner with up-and-coming quarterback Justin Herbert for years. Pitts won the 2020 John Mackey Award as the No. 1 tight end in college football and was an easy unanimous All-American selection thanks to his unreal 43-770-12 receiving in just eight games.
14. Vikings: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)
The Vikings have needs all over the roster, especially on the defensive line. If you give defense-focused head coach Mike Zimmer an excuse to draft a big-bodied trench filler, that’s probably what he’ll do, and Phillips is the top edge defender available.
A five-star recruit, Phillips did little at UCLA for his first two seasons of college. But after transferring to Miami and sitting out a season per NCAA rules, he dominated in 2020 with a team-high eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
Previous pick: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
15. Patriots: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
This past season, the Patriots passed for just 3,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. They can’t go into the 2021 season with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer as their quarterbacks.
Luckily, Lance falls to them at No. 15. He’s young, but he also has immense upside.
Lance redshirted in 2018 and opted out of 2020, so he has just one season of college football to his name — but it was a fantastic season. In 2019, he won the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding FCS player in the nation, and he led the Bison to a record-setting 16-0 season with 2,786-28-0 passing on a 66.9% completion rate and 169-1,100-14 rushing.
16. Cardinals: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Cardinals don’t have an immediate need at receiver, but Larry Fitzgerald is close to retirement, Christian Kirk is in the final year of his contract and Waddle provides too much value to pass up at this point.
Waddle missed most of the 2020 season with an ankle injury, but before his injury, he — and not the Heisman-winning Devonta Smith — was the playmaking No. 1 receiver at Alabama.
- Jaylen Waddle (Weeks 1-4): 25-557-4 receiving | 3-12-0 rushing
- DeVonta Smith (Weeks 1-4): 38-483-4 receiving | 2-2-1 rushing
Waddle is raw and relatively unproven, but I’m yet to see him fall outside the top 20 of any mock.
17. Raiders: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The Raiders are weak all over their defense. They could conceivably go with an edge rusher, linebacker, cornerback or safety in this spot, but they are perhaps most in need of a big-bodied trench-filler given that defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is a free agent.
With Barmore, the Raiders address a significant need without reaching. Despite playing for just two years at Alabama, Barmore is widely regarded as the top interior defensive lineman in the class, and in 2020 he had a team-high eight sacks.
Previous pick: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)
18. Dolphins: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Dolphins defense was much improved in 2020, led mainly by the secondary and line, but the linebacking unit is still lacking in playmakers. Routinely, the Dolphins linebackers were exploited in both run and pass defense.
Parsons will be an immediate upgrade and provides outstanding value at No. 18. Although he opted out of the 2020 season, Parson was a consensus All-American selection as a true sophomore in 2019 and is almost certain to be the first off-ball linebacker drafted.
19. Football Team: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
It’s not lightly that I mock Jones to Washington at No. 19. Only three times in NFL history have we seen five or more quarterbacks go in Round 1.
- 1983: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, Dan Marino
- 1999: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown
- 2018: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson
This is the type of thing that tends to happen only once every 15-20 years — and it just happened a few years ago. To have this many quarterbacks go at the top of the draft, you must have a great class of passers as well as a great need at the position in the league.
I think we have both this year.
As inspiring as Alex Smith was last year, he almost certainly will not be the long-term starter for the Football Team, and after the release of Dwayne Haskins, Washington needs to find its quarterback of the future.
Jones could be that guy.
After redshirting in 2017 and backing up both Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in 2018, Jones served as the No. 2 quarterback in 2019 until Tagovailoa’s hip injury thrust him into the full-time starting role.
In his four 2019 starts, Jones looked great throwing the ball.
- Arkansas: 18-of-22 passing, 235 yards, three touchdowns
- Western Carolina: 7-of-11 passing, 275 yards, three touchdowns
- Auburn: 26-of-39 passing, 335 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions
- Michigan: 16-of-25 passing, 327 yards, three touchdowns
And then in 2020 he looked like the best quarterback in the nation, leading the Power 5 with a 12.8 AY/A as he has completed 77.4% of his passes for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions in 13 games.
There are some drawbacks with Jones: He’s older, he’s relatively small, he has barely more than a year of starting experience, he wasn’t an elite recruit, he’s a net negative as a runner and he probably has below-average arm talent.
Even so, he is a cerebral player and anticipatory passer.
Maybe there ultimately won’t be five quarterbacks selected in Round 1. In fact, I’ve actually bet the under on 4.5 quarterbacks because of the +375 odds. But Jones is likelier than not to go on Day 1.
20. Bears: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The Bears need help on the offensive line: Left tackle Charles Leno is entering the final year of his contract, right tackle Bobby Massie is coming off injured reserve and will be 32 years old when the 2021 season starts, right guard Germain Ifedi is a free agent and left guard James Daniels is also coming of IR and entering his final year under contract.
An overlooked recruit who received just one offer from an FBS school, Darrisaw prepped for a year at Fork Union Military Academy before enrolling at Virginia Tech, where he quickly won the starting left tackle job. A three-year starter, Darrisaw has improved each season.
He has the size, length and skill set to be an immediate NFL starter.
Previous pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
21. Colts: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
The Colts just traded for quarterback Carson Wentz, but they don’t have his blindside protector in place, as longtime franchise left tackle Anthony Castonzo has retired after a 10-year career. Vera-Tucker could be Castonzo’s long-term replacement.
Blessed with good athleticism and ability as a pass and run blocker, Vera-Tucker has positional flexibility thanks to his time starting as a left guard (2019) and left tackle (2020). If selected as a guard, Vera-Tucker could be the first interior offensive lineman off the board, but I expect he’ll get a shot in the NFL to show what he can do on the perimeter.
Previous pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
22. Titans: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The Titans defense last year was No. 31 in the league with a 17.6% pressure rate, and they need bodies at pass rusher, especially since Jadeveon Clowney and Harold Landry are respectively entering free agency and a contract year.
Ojulari feels like the kind of edge defender HC Mike Vrabel would like. He’s undersized, but he plays with effort and has the versatility to function as an off-ball linebacker if needed. And he’s also productive: In 2020, he led the SEC with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
23. Jets: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame*
The bad news is that the Jets have maybe the league’s worst collection of linebackers. The good news is that starters Neville Hewitt and Harvey Langi are both free agents and seem unlikely to be with the team next year.
Although maybe that’s just bad news in disguise.
Either way, new HC Robert Saleh with this pick gets a unanimous All-American and the 2020 Butkus Award winner to man the middle of his defense. Owusu-Koramoah will likely need to add more muscle in the NFL, but he has great instincts and looks like a Week 1 starter.
*Pick via Seahawks
24. Steelers: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler are both free agents. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and right guard David DeCastro are in the final year of their contracts. And two-time All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey just retired.
The Steelers desperately need to add to their offensive line, and Jenkins gives them an experienced player with 35 career starts and the versatility to play both tackle spots or kick inside to guard.
25. Jaguars: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan*
Left tackle Cam Robinson is a free agent — and he’s not that good anyway. The Jags need to find a blindside protector for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, and Mayfield is a potential candidate candidate.
At Michigan, Mayfield was an upside mauler at right tackle, but he’s not just a run-game grinder. He might start in the NFL on the right side — or maybe even one of the guard spots — but his youth, size and overall talent suggest that Mayfield has the long-term potential to be a franchise left tackle.
Previous pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
*Pick via Rams
26. Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
The Browns defense is notably weak at linebacker, and snap leaders B.J. Goodson and Malcolm Smith are both free agents. The Browns need some new blood at the position, and they get a great player in Collins at No. 26.
A unanimous All-American and the winner of the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player, Collins is the type of versatile defender who can make an immediate NFL impact. With his size, athleticism, intelligence and effort, he can hold up against the run, drop back in coverage or even rush the passer from the middle of the field or off the edge of the defensive line.
Collins looks like a multi-year starter at worst.
27. Ravens: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
After Marquise Brown, the Ravens are hilariously thin at wide receiver: Willie Snead, Miles Boykin and Dez Bryant are subpar NFL options. The Ravens must enhance their overall pass-catching capability if they are to hope for quarterback Lamar Jackson to reach his full potential.
Toney feels like the kind of offensive weapon the Ravens would like. For his first three years in college, he was a utility player who contributed in a part-time hybrid role as a wide receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback and return man — but in his senior season he finally broke out as a full-time playmaker with 70-984-10 receiving and 19-161-1 rushing in 11 games.
28. Saints: Trevon Moehrig, S, Texas Christian
At this point in Round 1, almost anything goes — especially with a team like the Saints, who don’t have many glaring weaknesses. But they are likely to lose safety Marcus Williams in free agency, so they could address the position through the draft.
The top safety in the draft and the 2020 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back, Moehrig is an all-around playmaker with the ability to play deep, in the slot and in run support.
Previous pick: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
29. Packers: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
Unless you root for the Packers — and maybe even if you do — you probably can’t name one off-ball linebacker who played for them last year. Christian Kirksey is a mediocre veteran in the final season of his contract, and Krys Barnes is an undrafted workman who proved himself to be overmatched last year as a rookie.
The Packers need a serious upgrade in their linebacking unit.
A young upside defender with toughness against the run and finesse against the pass, Bolton is likely to be an immediate starter regardless where he lands.
Previous pick: Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
30. Bills: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Right tackle Darryl Williams and guards Jon Feliciano, Ike Boettger and Brian Winters are all free agents. The Bills need to add depth to their offensive line to protect quarterback Josh Allen.
I’m not an offensive line guru, but Leatherwood feels like someone who should go in the top 10 based on his profile, and yet he’s routinely mocked no higher than No. 20 — in fact, he’s not even in the majority of Round 1 mocks I’ve indexed.
I don’t get it: He’s a three-year SEC starter with significant playing time at right guard (2018) and left tackle (2019-20). He entered college as a five-star recruit, and in his final season he was a unanimous All-American selection and the winner of the Outland Trophy for outstanding line play.
There’s a real case to be made that Leatherwood is the most NFL-ready offensive lineman in this draft — but I seem to be the only person interested in that argument, so I’m probably wrong.
Either way, he has a shot to go in Round 1, and he likely has the versatility to start out at right tackle or either guard spot before eventually shifting over to left tackle.
Previous pick: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
31. Chiefs: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson are both free agents. Why wouldn’t the Chiefs draft yet another offensive playmaker for quarterback Patrick Mahomes?
I’m a little skeptical that Bateman will go on Day 1. After all, he never outplayed teammate Tyler Johnson, who was drafted in Round 5 last year.
If the Chiefs go with a receiver at No. 31, they could easily opt for Terrace Marshall, Rondale Moore or Elijah Moore instead of Bateman. But Bateman’s draft stock is on the rise, and before a five-game 2020 campaign in which he had 472 yards, he was an impressive 60-1,219-11 receiving in 2019 as a sophomore.
With prototypical size and a strong production profile, Bateman could be an elite big-bodied perimeter complement to small-and-speedy receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman.
Previous pick: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
32. Buccaneers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
This pick is less about what the Buccaneers need and more about getting Harris into Round 1. As simplistic as this sounds, the key to an accurate mock is to get as many likely Day 1 picks as possible into the draft — and yet way too many mockers seem not to get that basic concept.
Instead, they try way too hard to match players with teams based on positional need, scheme fit and personal preferences, and in so doing — in attempting to get everything perfect and just to their liking — they create mocks that are utterly unrealistic.
I think a running back should almost never be selected on Day 1, but Harris is present in 62.5% of indexed mocks, so I need to get him into Round 1 somehow.
It’s not unthinkable for the Bucs to draft Harris. Leonard Fournette is a free agent, Ronald Jones is entering the final year of his contract and Ke’Shawn Vaughn showed little in 2020 as a rookie.
With Harris, the Bucs could finally have a bona fide big-bodied lead back with pass-game ability to support quarterback Tom Brady.
Previous pick: Carlos Basham, EDGE, Wake Forest
Matthew Freedman is 1,018-828-37 (55.1%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.
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