How will Round 1 of the 2021 NFL draft play out? Todd McShay projects all 32 picks, including which teams end up with a new quarterback in April.
The 2020 NFL regular season is complete. There is just one college football game still to be played — Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship between Alabama and Ohio State. Eighteen of the 32 NFL teams know where they will be selecting in the 2021 NFL draft and have turned their attention there. So it sure seems like a good time to predict how the first round will play out in April.
It’s still very early. This month’s Senior Bowl will provide scouts a chance to see players who didn’t have much tape this year in a shortened season, and the NFL scouting combine will be teams’ first look in more than a year at numerous highly touted draft prospects who opted out of the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. Evaluators, including myself, still have a lot of tape to watch and a lot of interviews to conduct. Rankings will change, as will the back half of the draft order used here — which was determined by ESPN’s Football Power Index projections.
But this much is for sure at this point, just under four months out: The class is loaded with talent. I currently have 22 players with a 90-plus grade — which I use to identify true first-round prospects — including a handful of quarterbacks. So how will it all happen? Let’s predict the opening 32 picks of the 2021 NFL draft, starting with a one-win Jaguars team. And be sure to check out our mock draft special on ESPN+.
Note: Draft order is set for pick Nos. 1-18. For pick Nos. 19-32, we used projections from ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.
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Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson*
Did you expect anyone else? I haven’t seen a quarterback prospect quite like Lawrence in almost a decade, and the Jaguars are certainly in the market for one. Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon and Jake Luton combined for the NFL’s second-worst Total QBR in 2020 (43.7). Jacksonville will have a new general manager and a new coach after losing 15 games, and the 6-foot-6 Lawrence — who has a huge arm, good mobility in the pocket and all the intangibles you could ask for — would give the team a starting quarterback who should soon be among the NFL’s best. Lawrence declared for the draft on Wednesday.