Yes, it’s early in the 2021 NFL draft process. Focus has been elsewhere as sports begin to return to play amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the college football scene for 2020 is still cloudy at best. And while I’ve spent a good deal of the summer watching film and prepping for this class, there is still a ton of work to be done. So what follows is a very premature projection of the first 32 picks for next April’s draft.
This 2021 group is talented with high-impact potential. I have three highly ranked quarterbacks coming off the board, and the top guy is probably the best QB prospect I’ve seen in a while. And if you still aren’t tired of skilled wide receivers after the 2020 draft, you’re in luck — this class has plenty too. A few SEC pass-catchers, in particular, stand out as promising future NFLers.
The Day 1 names will of course change over the next eight-plus months, but this exercise is usually a good starting point for the class. My way-too-early mock of the 2020 class featured 10 prospects who ultimately ended up going in the first round. There are a lot of unknowns at this point. But even as we await more news on the college football season (the Big Ten and Pac-12 already canceled their fall seasons and plan to look at spring options), let’s predict the opening 32 picks of the 2021 NFL draft. We start off with the Football Power Index’s lowest-rated team for the upcoming season.
Note: Draft order projection is via ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson*
OK, let’s begin with a no-brainer. Lawrence is a once-in-a-decade type of quarterback prospect who currently has our highest Scouts Inc. grade on a QB since Andrew Luck in 2012 (99). Jacksonville dealt Nick Foles in the offseason, leaving it with just Gardner Minshew II and Mike Glennon, and Lawrence would step right in for the Jaguars as an immediate game-breaking starter. With a big arm, great mobility for his 6-foot-6 frame, excellent poise under pressure and off-the-charts intangibles, it wouldn’t be long before he was among the game’s best.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama*
Washington went out and got Kendall Fuller in free agency, but with Fabian Moreau and Ronald Darby set to be free agents next spring, this CB group needs a punch. And Surtain — the son of former Pro Bowl corner Patrick Surtain — is a real shutdown corner. I love his instincts, ball skills and ability to wrap up and make a tackle, but what stands out is how well he diagnoses routes and funnels receivers to where he wants them to go. He might just end up the best defensive player in the entire 2021 class, and along with 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, he’d help revamp a Washington defense that was No. 27 in yards allowed per game in 2019 (though it’d be hard for Washington to leave a guy like LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase on the board with its issues at receiver).