Draft Day: Rob Rang's final three-round mock draft
By Rob Rang
FOX Sports NFL Draft Analyst
With a handful of clear-cut first-round picks completely opting out on the season, and the slate of all-star games and the annual NFL Combine altered significantly, the time-honored procedures scouts previously relied upon to complete their grades were eliminated.
That makes the 2021 NFL Draft even more of a crapshoot than ever – which from a fan perspective, should make it that much more entertaining.
What will be readily apparent throughout the first round is that the 2021 crop is loaded on offense, with the quarterbacks, of course, taking center stage. Five passers are projected to be selected among the top nine picks in my final mock draft with more than half of the first 32 picks being dedicated to offense, something that has happened just twice on draft day since 2006.
Here's our final projection of the 2021 NFL Draft, covering Rounds 1-3.
Even amongst No. 1 overall picks, this one is a slam dunk. With the coaching staff and supporting cast in place, Lawrence should prove an immediate difference-maker for a team that has only reached the playoffs three times since the turn of the century.
With a lightning-quick release and terrific accuracy from the pocket and on the move, Wilson has a chance to be special. To live up to his potential, though, the Jets must protect better than they did Sam Darnold.
On paper, a more athletic quarterback would seemingly make more sense in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but decision-making and accuracy are most important, especially in an offense with the 49ers’ talent. This pick might come down to San Francisco’s ability to trade Jimmy Garoppolo. If the veteran isn’t moved, San Francisco might opt to gamble on North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and let him learn from the sidelines for a year. Though they have the same number of collegiate starts (17), Jones’ elite football IQ and success at the highest level make him better suited to play immediately – at least, it seems, in the 49ers’ opinion.
Ultimately, Pitts is just too good to pass up, though the idea of drafting a young quarterback or trading down has to be tempting to new GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. The 6-6, 240-pound Pitts’ presence should extend the glory days for both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Like the Falcons a pick earlier, the Bengals ultimately recognize that surrounding their quarterback with elite pass-catchers is the best way to win in today’s NFL. Reuniting Chase and Joe Burrow just makes too much sense, especially with the offensive tackle depth in this class.
Paired with last year’s "other" first-round pick, Austin Jackson, the ground-breaking Sewell should give the Dolphins the bookend tackles to help Tua Tagovailoa take the next step in his second season.
The Lions need playmakers for Jared Goff, and Smith is the kind of football junkie that all of the Lions’ top brass can believe in.
Whether they move up for a rookie or trade for former Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo, Bill Belichick’s aggressive offseason will likely continue on draft day by netting New England a quarterback. More accurate and intelligent than his critics suggest and the ultimate competitor, Fields (or the similarly gifted Trey Lance) would make a lot of sense in New England.
Teddy Bridgewater might be the eyes on the sideline needed to tutor Drew Lock and help him live up to his rocket-armed potential. But if the Broncos aren’t convinced of that and the even rarer talent, Lance, is available, the Broncos shouldn’t hesitate.
The Cowboys appear to be in the perfect position to nab one of the top two cornerbacks in this draft – an obvious need. If the Cowboys do, indeed, plan to play more man-to-man in 2021, Horn’s elite speed and agility would be a terrific schematic fit.
There have been plenty of critics of Dave Gettleman’s recent first-round picks. No one is going to question the selection of Parsons – the best defender in this class – when he earns Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
An NFL legacy and three-year starter at Alabama, Surtain is the perfect running mate opposite Darius Slay – as he has the maturity and talent to handle all of the passes that will be coming his way.
Can you imagine how much more effective Justin Herbert would be with an electric playmaker like Waddle complementing big-bodied possession receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams? Yeah, so can the Chargers.
Just the return to health of star defensive end Danielle Hunter will turn around Minnesota’s moribund pass rush, but with Paye, Mike Zimmer’s defense could jump back up to a strength immediately.
Recouping some of the picks sent to New York in the trade for Sam Darnold, the Panthers drop down and are still in position to get a top tackle to further protect their investment.
There is a legitimate arms race happening in the NFC West. The Cardinals would be wise to build up their secondary in preparation with the light-footed Samuel steadily moving up draft boards in recent weeks.
The Raiders’ lack of speed at the second level is almost as obvious as their need to add big bodies along the offensive line. Given the offensive firepower in the AFC West, the Raiders can’t afford to let the dynamic JOK slip by.
Perhaps the Dolphins can look past their marginal backfield should they get Tagovoiloa a playmaker at No. 6 but after nabbing the draft’s top offensive lineman in Sewell, bouncing back with their quarterback’s former Alabama teammate just makes too much sense here.
Even with the addition of burly blocker Ereck Flowers, Washington shouldn’t ignore the chance to add a premium talent at left tackle should Darrisaw still be on the board.
While quarterback remains the Bears’ biggest concern, cornerback is a close second. Farley has All-Pro potential and GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy might feel that they need to swing big to save their job. On a related note, if the draft played out like this projection, Denver’s Drew Lock (or San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo) might be available via trade.
With 15.5 sacks walking out the door with Justin Houston and Denico Autry, the Colts will be looking for edge help. Ossai might not possess the eye-popping traits of some of this year’s rushers, but he’s gritty and plays hard – exactly like GM Chris Ballard expects.
Perhaps the sting of cutting bait on last year’s top pick Isaiah Wilson is too fresh, but in a run-heavy offense like Tennessee’s a brawler like Jenkins would seem like a perfect fit.
There is no point in drafting a quarterback early if he isn’t protected. Pairing Vera-Tucker with one of the league’s better young tackles, Mekhi Becton, would give the Jets the offensive line to give Zach Wilson his best chance at success.
The quickest way to revive Ben Roethlisberger? Get him a running back with the juice to turn 5-yard runs into breakaway touchdowns.
A myriad of medical and off-field concerns make Phillips one of the draft’s true wildcards, but Urban Meyer might push for the ultra-talented pass rusher, who just a few years ago was the No. 1 overall prep recruit in the entire country.
Free agent Anthony Walker is a solid middle linebacker but he doesn’t have the upside (or contract) to suggest the Browns should let an ascending talent like Davis slip by.
Marshon Lattimore is one of the better young cornerbacks in the league, but the Saints need more bodies at the position. Newsome’s tape is good enough that he, too, should be long gone, but his durability has teams concerned.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is in town, protecting the league’s MVP should be priority No. 1. A 32-game starter at left tackle with the size, arm length and temperament to play up and down the line, Radunz would give the Packers flexibility, especially with incumbent starter David Bakhtiari coming off a torn ACL late last season.
Only five teams surrendered more rushing touchdowns than the Bills a year ago (21) and none of those clubs qualified for 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.
In typical Ravens fashion, do not be surprised at all if Baltimore replaces Orlando Brown Jr. with a similarly built and talented blocker with the exact pick acquired in the deal.
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.
Urban Meyer has always prioritized speed and ball skills among his defensive backs, and Moehrig, the reigning Thorpe Award winner, has both.
Corey Davis was signed to be the Jets’ top pass catcher but adding an electric slot like Moore to complement would just make Zach Wilson’s start in New York that much smoother.
An explosive edge rusher whose inconsistent tape and medical could cause a slip down the board, this Georgia Bulldog could have a soft landing spot with the Falcons at the top of the second round.
Boasting multiple first-round picks the next couple of years, the Dolphins can afford to gamble on an edge rusher with much more potential than production.
Jalen Hurts might very well be the Eagles’ long-term answer, but new coach Nick Sirianni does not have any ties to him and might want to add some young competition.
A rock at left tackle for the Irish, Eichenberg’s lack of ideal arm length could push him out of the first round – but the Bengals shouldn’t mind.
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.
The Giants’ 40 sacks a year ago were respectable, but inflated by Leonard Williams’ 11.5. Adding a proven, productive and reliable edge rusher like "Boogie" at this point feels like stealing.
Long and fast, Campbell would fit in perfectly in a San Francisco secondary looking to replace two of their top corners last year in Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon.
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, Meyer boasted some of the best secondaries in college football. He’ll need to mimic that to be as successful in the NFL.
46. *Projected Trade: Carolina Panthers (from New England Patriots): Joe Tryon, DE, Washington
As part of the deal that allows New England to move up for their quarterback, the Panthers nab an edge rusher to attack opposing passers. New Panthers’ GM Scott Fitterer will know the University of Washington products well after his time in Seattle, and Tryon is just scratching the surface of his potential.
After nabbing star quarterback Justin Herbert a dynamic pass catcher in the first round, the Chargers opt for a highly durable, self-made blocker in Cosmi.
After trading away three of their starting five offensive linemen, the Raiders will be looking to the draft for reinforcements. Humphrey never allowed a single sack at Oklahoma.
Off-field concerns and inconsistent tape could push Toney out of the first round, but his talent is undeniable – and his fit in this offense could be scary.
The Crimson Tide pipeline to Miami continues with the most talented interior lineman in the class, albeit one coming off a torn ACL.
Ron Rivera has proven he can win a division with average quarterback play, but to make this club THE Football Team, they’ll need an upgrade at the game’s most important position.
Replacing free-agent defection Jonnu Smith with an even bigger and more versatile tight end like Freiermuth would make a lot of sense.
Massive and battle-tested, Forsyth could be the Colts’ answer to the loss of longtime starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
55. Pittsburgh Steelers: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
Built like 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.
With only two receivers signed past 2021, the Chiefs would be wise to protect for the future. Moore is precisely the type of high-octane playmaker who makes this offense so difficult to defend.
60. New Orleans Saints: Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech
Adding the pass-rushing presence Williams would provide inside would help ease the sting of losing former first-round pick Sheldon Rankins in free agency.
Possessing the best contact balance of any back in this draft, Williams could be long off the board. The Bills likely wouldn’t complain, however, if the burly finisher fell to them.
The Packers do not have a single wide receiver 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.
73. Carolina Panthers: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
79. Las Vegas Raiders: Jalen Mayfield, OL, Michigan
80. Las Vegas Raiders: Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford
86. New York Jets: Ambry Thomas, CB, Michigan
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.