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2021 NFL mock draft: Updated 1st-round projections with trades

So close, yet still so far away.

The 2021 NFL draft will arrive next week, and with it, the culmination of one of the most unique predraft processes we’ve ever seen. Teams and prospects alike have had to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, opt-outs and shortened seasons, virtual interviews, and more.

We didn’t even have an NFL Scouting Combine.

One thing that hasn’t changed? Our insatiable desire for mock drafts.

Here are our latest first-round projections, complete with a few more big trades:

*denotes projected trade

1. Jacksonville Jaguars | Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This pick has been locked in since Lawrence carved up Alabama in the national title game as a freshman. No matter who was picking here, we knew Lawrence was going to be the name that was called first. At least everyone will get this pick right.

2. New York Jets | BYU QB Zach Wilson

Rick Bowmer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

This shouldn’t be a sure thing, but at this point, it feels like it. All signs seem to point toward the Jets replacing the recently traded Sam Darnold with Wilson, who was inconsistent for the Cougars, but showed flashes of brilliance that the Jets will hope can put them back on the road to success.

3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA) | Ohio State QB Justin Fields

(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Alabama’s Mac Jones was the betting favorite not long ago, but that always felt like fool’s gold. Indeed, Fields has now overtaken that top spot in the odds, and with good reason. Easily the second-best quarterback in this year’s class, Fields is a dynamic playmaker who can beat defenses through the air or on the ground.

4. Denver Broncos (from ATL)* | North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

If the Falcons don’t want to take Lance themselves, and they don’t feel tempted enough by Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, trading this pick to the highest bidder would be an ideal scenario for a team that needs more than one player. If they can get a future first-round pick, or even multiple Day 2 picks, this move would be worth it for them to get better value at more positions of need. For the Broncos, it looks like the Drew Lock experiment hasn’t worked out, so the chance to move up and land one of this year’s top passers should be welcomed. Lance is still a bit rough around the edges, but he’s got as much potential as any quarterback in this class, and that’s saying something. If he hits that ceiling, a future first-round pick or multiple Day 2 picks will end up being well worth it.

5. Cincinnati Bengals | LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

What a scenario for the Bengals, who get to pick between three blue-chip prospects at positions of need, since they already have their quarterback of the present and future. Speaking of Joe Burrow, don’t be surprised if he has some pull here, getting the Bengals to opt for his former college teammate in Chase over Pitts or Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell.

6. Miami Dolphins (from PHI) | Florida TE Kyle Pitts

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The Dolphins can’t go wrong here after trading back up with the Eagles, getting their pick of multiple prospects who could make an immediate impact for their offense. Sewell would be hard to pass up for an offensive line that could use a little more help, but Pitts is the best non-quarterback prospect in this year’s class, and a unicorn of a pass-catcher to help Tua Tagovailoa.

7. Los Angeles Chargers (from DET)* | Oregon OT Penei Sewell

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

If Sewell gets to this pick, the Lions would have to think long and hard about taking him themselves, but it becomes a prime trade target if they’d prefer to go that route. Considering they still need a top-shelf wide receiver, and as many premium picks as possible, dealing this pick to a team desperate for a franchise left tackle might make the most sense. That team could easily be the Chargers, who proved last year by trading up for Kenneth Murray that they’re willing to make a bold move to land a prospect they love. Even if it costs a future first-round pick to move up six spots, giving Justin Herbert and elite protector like Sewell would be well worth the cost.

8. Carolina Panthers | Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The options are many for the Panthers here, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them help newly acquired quarterback Sam Darnold with an offensive lineman or wide receiver here. But there’s a significant need for a corner with size, length and athleticism, and with none selected so far in this scenario, it would be hard for them to pass up the chance to add all of those traits with a prospect like Surtain.

9. Atlanta Falcons (from DEN)* | Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye

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Another trade down would actually be a viable option for the Falcons here, and with Alabama quarterback Mac Jones still on the board, it could definitely happen. That said, with no more quarterback-needy teams on the clock until the New England Patriots at No. 15, I doubt the Falcons could entice a team like Washington (No. 19) or Chicago (No. 20) to give up what the Falcons would want to drop back that many spots instead of waiting until closer to that Pats pick to make their move. If they stay put here, the Falcons’ top need is for an edge rusher, and they get their pick of this year’s class in this scenario. The next two teams on the board (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants) could also use an edge defender, so that could keep Atlanta from pulling the trigger on another trade, as well. As for the pick, Paye is huge, athletic and versatile, and would bring some much needed juice to Atlanta’s front four.

10. Dallas Cowboys | South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Cowboys need help at every level of their defense, so this pick is all about which position gives them the most value. In this scenario, it’s at corner, where they land a cover man with an ideal combination of size, athleticism and ball skills. Horn is a complete player who could make a strong case to be the best corner prospect in an impressive class.

11. New York Giants | Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater

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If things play out this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple teams were clamoring to trade up ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 12 to land Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. The only problem with that? Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has never traded down. Like, ever. In any round. In eight years as an NFL GM. So, you can bet on the G-Men staying put here, even though there’s not an edge rusher worth taking. If they can’t fill their biggest need on defense, don’t be surprised if Gettleman stays here and bolsters the offensive line with Slater, who can play either tackle or guard at a high level.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (from SF via MIA) | Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

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After trading back in March with the Miami Dolphins, the Eagles still end up in a fantastic situation here, with tons of talent still on the board at positions of need. While there would certainly be temptations to take a top defensive prospect in this scenario, I couldn’t see them passing up an explosive playmaker in Waddle, who has the kind of elite speed that makes Tyreek Hill one of the NFL’s most dangerous pass-catchers. He could end up being that kind of difference-maker for a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts.

13. Detroit Lions (from LAC) | Alabama WR DeVonta Smith

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The trade back pays off for the Lions, who add additional picks and still get a top pass-catcher to help alleviate the loss of Kenny Golladay in free agency. There will be concerns about Smith’s lean frame and his ability to hold up to the pounding of the NFL game, but his polished skill set and smooth route-running ability should still make him a big-time playmaker at the next level.

14. Washington Football Team (from MIN)* | Alabama QB Mac Jones

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the New England Patriots lurking at No. 15, this is the spot where a quarterback-needy team will need to jump into if they want to land Jones. The Vikings could hold a bidding war between teams like Washington and Chicago, and assuming they wouldn’t want to help a division rival land a potential franchise quarterback, I’m betting Minnesota would prefer to deal with Washington unless the Bears grossly overpay. Jones doesn’t have the top-end physical traits of the quarterbacks already off the board in this scenario, but he’s a high-floor passer who can be a productive starter at the next level, and that’s worth a top-15 pick these days.

15. New England Patriots | Penn State LB Micah Parsons

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Without a quarterback worthy of consideration, the Pats revert back to the strategy of taking whatever top talent falls to them that should have been off the board earlier. In this scenario, that’s Parsons, who has top-10 talent but also some off-field concerns. He could end up being a huge steal this late in the first round, helping to give the Patriots some much needed youth and athleticism at the second level of the defense.

16. Arizona Cardinals | Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After the departure of veteran Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals need a new shutdown corner with that kind of size, length and athleticism. Farley was widely regarded as a top-10 prospect and arguably the best corner in the class before opting out of the 2020 college football season and undergoing offseason back surgery. He reportedly got good marks at his medical checks earlier this month, and if he’s back to full strength, he’d be a steal here.

17. Las Vegas Raiders | USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders dismantled much of their starting offensive line this offseason for some reason, so they should be targeting some reinforcements early in this year’s draft. This scenario works out great for them, as they’re able to land this year’s top interior blocker in Vera-Tucker, who would be an absolute steal this late.

18. Miami Dolphins | Miami (FL) EDGE Jaelan Phillips

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

After spending their top pick on an elite weapon for their offense, this pick almost has to be used on the other side of the ball. They could use an athletic, three-down linebacker, but their biggest need is on the edge, where they’re desperate for a difference-maker who can get after the quarterback. Phillips has some serious injury concerns, but if he’s able to stay healthy, he’s got limitless talent and potential.

19. Minnesota Vikings (from WAS)* | Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw

Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

This is a perfect scenario for the Vikings, who trade back five spots and get some extra draft capital, and still land a player they likely would have considered at their original pick. Minnesota needs a franchise left tackle, and landing one with as much talent and upside as Darrisaw this late in the first round would be a huge win for them.

20. Chicago Bears | Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II

Nikos Frazier-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Bears don’t land a quarterback in this scenario, so they switch gears and upgrade at corner, where they just released their best cover man in veteran Kyle Fuller. Newsome’s combination of size, length, athleticism and instincts are exactly what they need to adequately replace him, though.

21. Indianapolis Colts | Texas OT Samuel Cosmi

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

If Carson Wentz is going to live up to his potential in Indy, he’s going to need a replacement for the recently retired Anthony Castonzo at left tackle. Thankfully for Wentz and the Colts, it’s a great year to need one in the draft, and they should have plenty of quality options here. In this scenario, they opt for Cosmi, who has all the physical tools to excel at the position, and tons of experience at left tackle against top competition.

22. Tennessee Titans | Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

I wouldn’t count out a wide receiver here (Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman would be scary lining up with A.J. Brown), but the Titans have a huge hole at right tackle after whiffing on first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, and is the bigger need. Jenkins is a the perfect fit, with a track record of success at right tackle against some of the nation’s most talented edge defenders.

23. New York Jets (from SEA) | Georgia CB Eric Stokes

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets did their best to address their defensive needs in free agency, but corner is still a spot where they could use a quality starter. Stokes already had impressive film against SEC competition, but he proved with his impressive pro day performance that his rare combination of size, length, speed and athleticism is well worth a first-round pick.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers | Alabama RB Najee’ Harris

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers desperately need to address their offensive line if they want this pick to pan out, but this match just feels too right. Pittsburgh let James Conner sign elsewhere, and there’s no proven workhorse back on the roster, so it won’t surprise me if they target a three-down playmaker like Harris with their top pick.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR) | TCU S Trevon Moehrig

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

This is a perfect match of need and value, as the Jaguars need a versatile playmaker for the back end of their defense, and they get to grab the top one in this year’s class. Moehrig has the athleticism, instincts and intelligence to make big plays at every level of the field, something every NFL team needs from their safeties in today’s league.

26. Cleveland Browns | Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This defense has added some key pieces in free agency (John Johnson III, Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Walker), but the linebacker position could still use an athletic, three-down presence. Owusu-Koramoah is a versatile defender who can line up anywhere on the field, as both a linebacker and a safety, and make a huge impact on the game.

27. Baltimore Ravens | Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Another perfect match for an AFC North offense, Bateman is exactly the kind of wide receiver Lamar Jackson desperately needs to balance out an offense that has relied too heavily on the run in recent years. Bateman’s combination of size and athleticism would give Jackson and the Ravens’ passing game a complete pass-catcher who can move the chains, turn short catches into big plays, and dominate in the red zone.

28. New Orleans Saints | Tulsa LB Zaven Collins

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints spend this pick on an explosive playmaker at wide receiver, but there’s a bigger need on defense for an off-ball linebacker. Collins has a rare blend of size, strength and athleticism, and would make one of the NFL’s more talented defenses even better.

29. Green Bay Packers | Kentucky LB Jamin Davis

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

There are other needs that could be addressed here (offensive line, cornerback, wide receiver), but the Green Bay defense needs a difference-maker in the middle. One of this year’s fastest-rising prospects, Davis has exactly the kind of skill set to fill that need.

30. Buffalo Bills | Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills don’t have too many glaring needs, and I wouldn’t count out a running back, a pass rusher or a corner here. But an upgrade at tight end could be at the top of their priority list when it comes to helping out Josh Allen, and landing a well-rounded prospect like Freiermuth would be a huge boost to both the ground game and the passing attack.

31. Kansas City Chiefs | Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This pick has to be an offensive tackle, right? Even after they got embarrassed in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs still saw fit to let both of their starting tackles (who were missing for that game due to injury) walk in free agency. This scenario gives them plenty of solid options, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an experience, battle-tested prospect like Leatherwood gets the call.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs are already returning their entire starting lineup from last year’s Super Bowl team, so this pick is about loading up on potential for the future. They don’t have much proven depth behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, so spending this pick on a talented edge rusher who could rotate in as a rookie before assuming a starting job down the road would be ideal. Ojulari is one of this year’s most complete players at the position, and would be a perfect fit in Todd Bowles’ defense.

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