Three-round NFL Mock Draft: Will quarterbacks occupy the first four slots?
By Rob Rang
FOX Sports NFL Draft Analyst
With the 2021 NFL Draft now only two weeks away, it seems obvious that for just the third time in league history, quarterbacks will be the first three selections.
With a new head coach (Arthur Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot) in Atlanta who have no prior allegiance to the soon-to-be 36-year-old Matt Ryan, could the draft start off with an unprecedented four consecutive quarterbacks?
Every pick made sends ripples throughout the rest of the draft – but Atlanta’s choice at No. 4 could be closer to a tidal wave.
With the QB buzz getting louder, here's our latest extended projection of the 2021 NFL Draft, covering Rounds 1-3.
Literally heads and shoulders above the rest of an exceptional quarterback class, Lawrence has all of the traits to transform Jacksonville into a contender. Perhaps best of all, he is an ideal fit in Urban Meyer’s scheme.
Trading Sam Darnold guarantees what we’ve been projecting for months – The Jets are resetting the quarterback position. With all due respect to the bigger, speedier Lawrence, Wilson is the most accurate passer in this class and the perfect building block for defensive-minded coach Robert Saleh to build around.
With all due respect to Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers would not have given up three first-round picks in their trade with Miami for any position other than a young quarterback. Alabama’s Mac Jones is getting all of the buzz, but teams historically base selections this high on upside. Fields is not only more gifted, but a cleaner fit in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.
Matt Ryan remains one of the league’s better quarterbacks and, ironically, that fact contributes to why Atlanta might very well opt to select his replacement now. The Falcons have not owned a Top 10 pick since Ryan’s MVP season in 2016. As unproven against elite competition as Lance is, talents like the North Dakota State QB don’t last long on Draft Day. Further, consider the background of Fontenot (New Orleans) and Smith (Tennessee), who helped get their promotions in Atlanta based on the surprising development the past few years of dual-threat quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Ryan Tannehill, respectively.
He is coming a year too late to save Joe Burrow from the gut-wrenching knee injury that ruined his impressive rookie season, but Bengals fans (and Burrow) can take solace that Sewell is a generational talent well worth a top-five selection.
By trading out of the position that would have guaranteed access to one of this year’s top quarterbacks, the Dolphins appear to be committing fully to Tua Tagovailoa. If he is to take the next step, Miami will need to surround him with playmakers. A bully after the catch, Chase would be an ideal No. 1 target.
New quarterback Jared Goff will need playmakers to live up to the trade of the stronger-armed Matthew Stafford, and the Lions’ receiving corps lacks proven difference-makers with just one 1,000-yard season among the group – and that was from the 6-4, 205 pound Tyrell Williams back in 2016 for the then-San Diego Chargers. Waddle possesses the elusiveness and speed to immediately become Goff’s favorite target.
Widely regarded as a blue-chip talent, Pitts should not be available this late in the draft. However, the exceptional talent at quarterback and the fact Miami and Detroit already boast two of the league’s better young tight ends in Mike Gesicki and T.J. Hockenson, respectively, could cause Pitts to fall right into Carolina’s lap.
Some have speculated the Broncos could also be on the hunt for another young quarterback, but with coach Vic Fangio set to turn 63 before the season begins, a more immediate impact player would seem to make more sense. The defensive-minded coach might fall in love with Parson’s versatility and playmaking ability, especially given Denver’s pass rush and revamped secondary.
The Cowboys allowed 34 passing touchdowns in 2020 with just 10 interceptions, one of the worst ratios in the NFL in 2020. With Dak Prescott re-signed and the Cowboys seemingly in a position to compete again for the division title, it is hard to imagine Jerry Jones passing on an opportunity to solidify the secondary with Surtain, an NFL legacy with his own Pro Bowl potential.
The Giants finished with a very respectable 40 sacks last season (tied with Indianapolis for 10th in the NFL) but this number is deceiving as 11.5 of them came from Leonard Williams, with no one else contributing more than four. The power-packed Paye "only" registered 11.5 sacks himself over four years at Michigan, but he has the explosive traits and work ethic to suggest bigger things in the future.
Trading out of the sixth pick might limit the Eagles’ options for finding presumptive starting quarterback Jalen Hurts a true No. 1 receiver, but general manager Howie Roseman’s gamble pays off with the defending Heisman Trophy winner still on the board. An elite route-runner with sticky hands and graduate-level understanding of defenses, Smith would be an ideal complement to last year’s speedy top pick, Jalen Reagor.
Given the flashes of brilliance shown by Justin Herbert, the Chargers would be foolish not to take advantage of this year’s stellar offensive line class, with Slater’s versatility and character likely to earn high marks by the front office.
In part due to the loss of star pass rusher Danielle Hunter to injury, the Vikings were plundered defensively in 2020. Mike Zimmer will push to make sure reinforcements arrive via the draft and Phillips, while a bit of a gamble due to durability concerns, is viewed by scouts as the best overall pass rusher in this class
For all of the buzz about Jones and the 49ers, his game is much better suited to the up-tempo passing attack New England playcaller Josh McDaniels prefers. With Cam Newton retained (but only a one-year deal) and Jarrett Stidham showing little thus far (two TDs and four INTs since being drafted 113th overall in 2019), the Patriots could use help at the position.
DeAndre Hopkins was an immediate hit in the heat of Arizona, but no one else truly stepped up as a secondary target for Kyler Murray. Toney is a future No. 1 target in his own right. Dynamic after the catch, he would be an ideal complement to the bigger (but slower) Hopkins.
Quite frankly, the Raiders lacked difference-making speed in the back half of their defense in 2020. General manager Mike Mayock, a former NBC announcer for Notre Dame games, will likely know and appreciate Owusu-Koromoah's game as much as anyone.
It isn’t just that reuniting Tagovailoa with former All-SEC standouts might make his development as a franchise quarterback that much easier, Harris – and previously projected All-American receiver Ja’Marr Chase – really are that good.
Give Washington credit for rallying up front following the trade of stud Trent Williams to the 49ers during last year’s draft, but reinforcements are needed. Darrisaw is a potential future Pro Bowler, himself, who would qualify as a potential steal at this point.
The Bears could go in a number of directions with this pick, but Horn is easily among the best players still on the board and would fill a significant need with the club having made standout cornerback Kyle Fuller a cap casualty.
Nearly half of the Colts’ respectable 40 sacks a year ago were generated by Justin Houston (currently a free agent) and Denico Autry (signed by Tennessee). Ojulari, who led Georgia in sacks each of the past two seasons and won’t turn 21 until June, offers a package of size, burst and bend. He would be a fantastic value at this point in the draft.
The addition of Janoris Jenkins helps, but after moving on from former first-round pick Adoree' Jackson, as well as Malcolm Butler, the Titans will be looking hard at cornerbacks in this year’s draft. Newsome, agile and scrappy, would fit in perfectly.
The investment in Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall won’t matter if the Jets don’t shore up the interior of their offensive line. GM Joe Douglas attempted to do so in free agency, but missed out on pricey free-agent guard Joe Thuney. Vera-Tucker would be a younger, cheaper and similarly gifted consolation prize.
Bringing back Ben Roethlisberger on a one-year deal means the Steelers recognize their window to compete could be closing fast. Even with James Conner having signed with Arizona as a free agent, Pittsburgh has plenty of other backs on the roster. Who among them, however, is a difference-maker? Williams is viewed by some scouts as this year’s best back and would offer immediate impact potential.
Considering they finished 1-16 last season, the Jaguars are surprisingly talented with just two positions of major concern – QB and TE – following a spending spree in free agency. Urban Meyer might appreciate the impact Freiermuth made in the Big Ten more than most, and the drop-off in talent at tight end is significant enough to warrant what some would perceive as a slight reach.
The Browns appear to have replaced last season’s leading tackler B.J. Goodson with former Indianapolis starter Anthony Walker, but the fact Walker was signed to just a one-year deal suggests the club could still be looking for an upgrade. Davis is an athletic marvel just scratching the surface of his potential and might offer the immediate impact Cleveland needs to take the next step.
Having already lost Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, expect the Ravens to address the need for a pass rusher early in the draft. A size-speed freak like Collins simply makes too much sense at this point.
The March 11 release of Janoris Jenkins freed up some money for New Orleans, but it also created a significant hole opposite young, shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore. Durability concerns will push Farley down the board a bit, but he’s a top 15 talent.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is in town, protecting the league’s MVP should be priority No. 1. With the Packers losing Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley to free agency, the club should take advantage of this year’s underrated group of interior blockers. Humphrey's grit and experience in a heavy shotgun scheme should make his jump to the NFL a relatively smooth one.
Only five teams surrendered more rushing touchdowns than the Bills a year ago (21) and none of those clubs reached the playoffs. The 2021 defensive tackle class is below average, but most see the massive (and still ascending) Barmore as the best of the bunch.
The Chiefs surprised many with the release of longtime starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, but there is young talent already on the roster. This year’s draft offers plenty more, including Jenkins, among the nastiest blockers in this class and a four-year starter with experience on both sides.
If the draft falls this way, general manager Jason Licht might be very nearly as excited on draft day as he was with the Bucs winning the Super Bowl. Rousseau is certainly raw, but he’s also supremely gifted and would have time to learn behind a similarly-built and talented (but aging) Jason Pierre-Paul.
An elite athlete just scratching the surface of his potential, Oweh is the perfect gamble to start Day 2.
The Jets need to reload in the secondary, and Samuel has the ball skills and bloodlines to be a solid pro.
Regardless of who is taking the snaps, the Falcons need to add more juice in the backfield and Etienne certainly can provide that.
The Crimson Tide pipeline continues with the most talented interior lineman in the class, albeit one coming off a torn ACL.
Boasting terrific instincts and ball skills, Moehrig should help the Eagles fly immediately.
"Boogie" might lack ideal traits, but his production and versatility are outstanding.
Pairing the speedy, long-armed Stokes with Donte Jackson would give the Panthers one of the league’s swiftest cornerback duos.
Slapping the franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons won’t do much good without more juice for a running mate.
Expiring contracts for several defensive linemen the next two years will have Motown looking for both muscle and disruption. Onwuzurike offers both.
A rock at left tackle for the Irish, Eichenberg’s lack of ideal arm length has scouts projecting him inside at guard or even center.
Molden might lack the elite straight-line speed scouts prefer on the outside, but his instincts and ball skills will quickly make him a starting nickel candidate.
Adding a twitchy edge rusher to pair with Demarcus Lawrence would do wonders for Dallas’ defense.
While skill position players earned most of the attention, Urban Meyer's college teams boasted some of the best secondaries in the nation. He’ll need to mimic that to be as successful in the NFL.
A three-year starter at left tackle who some see as a better fit inside, Cosmi would provide the Patriots with great versatility.
Adding a utility playmaker like Moore, the SEC’s leading receiver in 2020, would serve young quarterback Justin Herbert well.
Cornerback will always be a need in the AFC West, and the Raiders didn’t get enough out of first-rounder Damon Arnette a year ago.
No one receiver is going to replace Larry Fitzgerald, but Bateman offers a similarly dynamic ability to win contested passes and underrated overall athleticism.
Washington needs to find a playmaker to help out Terry McLaurin and whoever is throwing the passes in 2021.
Whether to push incumbent starting left tackles Charles Leno (who is on the last year of his deal) or help replace Robert Massie, the Bears should take advantage of this year’s stellar blocking class.
Replacing free-agent defection Jonnu Smith with a similarly built and pro-ready talent like Jordan makes a lot of sense.
54. Indianapolis Colts: Dillon Radunz, OL, North Dakota State
The retirement of longtime starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo is a concern, but Radunz’s agility and tenacity could help ease the sting.
55. Pittsburgh Steelers: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
Built similarly as longtime Steelers’ starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva (but a much better athlete), Brown would check a lot of boxes for Pittsburgh.
With their first pick of the 2021 draft, the Seahawks should try to keep their quarterback happy with one of this year’s biggest, nastiest blockers.
With Matthew Stafford now delivering the passes, the Rams should look for a big, vertical target to complement his strong arm.
Should Orlando Brown Jr. force his way out of town, the Ravens might have little choice but to target a potential replacement early in the draft and Forsyth offers intriguing upside.
Adding the bullish Tuipulotu would help ease the sting of losing former first-round pick Sheldon Rankins in free agency.
The Bills boast plenty of speed at receiver but little size. With Collins’ height and long arms, he is well-suited to be the big possession receiver Josh Allen is missing.
The Packers do not have a single WR signed past 2021, and Brown has the sweet feet and sticky hands to earn Aaron Rodgers’ trust quickly.
63. Kansas City Chiefs: Quinn Meinerz, OG/C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
A former offensive line coach like Andy Reid might appreciate the grit, physicality and versatility Meinerz provides as much as anyone.
Tom Brady might be the G.O.A.T., but he isn’t going to play forever. The Bucs would be wise to start grooming a replacement now and teams love Trask’s decision-making.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rang has been covering the NFL draft for over 20 years with his work found at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others.