The waiting is almost over.
The 2021 NFL draft begins in less than two weeks, with the first round set for April 29 in Cleveland. As free agency winds down and teams put the finishing touches on their big boards, it’s time for one last look at how the draft might play out.
Here are The Baltimore Sun’s final projections for the first two rounds:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The first pick is a no-brainer for coach Urban Meyer and the new Jaguars regime. How Jacksonville spends the rest of its league-leading draft capital will determine the success of its rebuild — and how quickly it can compete with Lawrence on a rookie deal.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
With Sam Darnold dealt to the Panthers, there’s no doubt the Jets are taking a quarterback here. Wilson is the consensus pick among draftniks, thanks to his tantalizing playmaking ability and flashy throws.
3. San Francisco 49ers (via Dolphins, via Texans): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The rumors continue to point to Alabama’s Mac Jones with this selection, but it’s hard to see the 49ers trading two future first-round picks to acquire a quarterback many consider the fifth best in this class. Fields has been dominant since high school and has all the tools to thrive in coach Kyle Shanahan’s system.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
It’s a prime spot to trade down, but don’t discount the idea of Atlanta taking the best non-quarterback available to get back into contention in the NFC. The defense desperately needs help, but a game-breaking weapon like Pitts just doesn’t come along often.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
This pick will say a lot about modern-day team building and the draft. It’s no secret the Bengals need to shore up their offensive line for quarterback Joe Burrow, but a dynamic receiver would be nice to have, too. Given how difficult it is to identify top receivers, it seems wise to lock in the top tackle prospect here and take a chance on a deep group of pass-catchers in the later rounds.
6. Miami Dolphins (via Eagles): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Miami traded back up to this spot, seemingly to have a chance at one of the top offensive players. The Dolphins will probably be happy with whoever is available, but Smith gets the nod because of his record-breaking college production and familiarity with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa from their time at Alabama. (Remember that throw to win the 2018 title game?)
7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Tyrell Williams and former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman are nice players, but not who you want to count on as the foundation of your receiving corps. Chase showed in 2019 that he can play bigger than his 6-foot, 201-pound frame with an aggressive, physical style.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT/G, Northwestern
It’s hard to pin down what Carolina might do. After all, taking a quarterback might still be on the table after the Darnold trade. But improving the offensive line is never a bad way to go; Slater can kick inside or take over at left tackle.
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
New general manager George Paton should be jumping for joy if Lance ends up falling out of the top eight. There are questions about Lance’s lack of experience after just an NFL season’s worth of games at the FCS level, but the Broncos need to take a chance to upgrade an offense that has underperformed under former second-round pick Drew Lock.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
This is a dream scenario for the Cowboys, who are looking for defensive help after a dreadful performance in 2020. Pairing Surtain with his former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs gives Dallas two young stars to build around in the secondary.
11. New York Giants: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Giants’ defense was surprisingly good in 2020 under coordinator Patrick Graham, and it brought back defensive end Leonard Williams and signed cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Adding Parsons to the mix could help the unit become a real strength, with his ability to rush the passer and run sideline-to-sideline injecting some freaky athleticism to the second level.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via 49ers): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
It’s the second Alabama quarterback-wide receiver reunion of the first round. Waddle would give Jalen Hurts a field-tilting weapon with his game-breaking speed, opening up the offense for playmakers Miles Sanders, Jalen Reagor and Dallas Goedert to thrive.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC
Depending on how the Chargers feel about this class of offensive linemen, they could opt for a cornerback, defensive lineman or edge rusher here, with plenty of talented players still on the board. In Vera-Tucker, they get a versatile player who can be the final piece of the puzzle up front to protect quarterback Justin Herbert.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
The former No. 1 overall recruit is the top edge rusher in this class, but a history of concussions that prompted a medical retirement in college carries plenty of risk. The Vikings should be willing to take that risk to fix a defense that coach Mike Zimmer called one of his worst ever last season.
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Are the Patriots willing to trade up to find their quarterback of the future? If Lance or Fields falls, New England is among the teams that should be trying to get them. If it can’t, Jones is at least worth a look for a team that is clearly trying to win now after a big splurge in free agency.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The offense is exciting behind Kyler Murray, but the defense needs to improve for the Cardinals to compete in a tough NFC West division. Adding J.J. Watt should help, but the secondary needs to find its next Patrick Peterson. Horn has the size and versatility to be an immediate upgrade.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
With the exodus of Trent Brown, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson, it’s hard to envision the Raiders doing anything but fixing the offensive line with this pick. Darrisaw has the size and athleticism to be a strong blocker at the next level.
18. Miami Dolphins: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Given the run on offensive linemen, the Dolphins elect to fill another need at edge rusher here. Ojulari might be undersized at 249 pounds, but he’s explosive, bendy and aggressive. Those are the kinds of traits worth betting on in the first round.
19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
Offensive lineman and wide receiver are big needs, but the tantalizing traits of this linebacker-safety hybrid might be too good to pass up. “JOK” has been compared with star safeties Derwin James and Jamal Adams for his versatility. Adding that kind of playmaking ability to a defense loaded with talent up front could be scary for the rest of the NFC.
20. Chicago Bears: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Unless Chicago is prepared to offer a boatload of picks to move up, it doesn’t appear it can solve its quarterback woes this year. The next best thing is fixing the offense around stopgap veteran Andy Dalton. Jenkins would be an immediate upgrade at either tackle position.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Finding a left tackle should be a top priority for the Colts, but edge rusher offers more value here. Paye landed on Bruce Feldman’s annual “freaks list” for his jaw-dropping athletic feats, and while he didn’t dominate in college, the potential is there to be an impact player in the pros.
22. Tennessee Titans: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
The Titans have a glaring hole in the secondary after losing Desmond King II, Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson. Newsome made life tough for opposing receivers in 2020, allowing a 31.6% completion rate and just 7.8 yards per catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
23. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Farley was considered a top-10 pick most of the season, but recent back surgery and an opt-out in 2020 might scare away some teams looking for immediate production. A former high school quarterback, Farley is still learning the position but offers long-term upside when paired with the right coaching staff.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Landon Dickerson, G/C, Alabama
The Steelers could use help just about everywhere, so there’s a wide range of outcomes here. If Dickerson can stay healthy, he’d be a tone-setting presence in the middle, with the added bonus of experience at all five positions up front.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
If Jacksonville’s defense is going to succeed under former Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen, it needs a dominant presence in the middle. Barmore flashed early in his college career, showing the explosiveness and instincts to be a impactful three-down defender.
26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Jadeveon Clowney is a nice addition, but not the long-term answer opposite Myles Garrett. While Collins projects as an off-ball linebacker in the NFL, he’s a more-than-capable pass rusher who also showed a nose for the ball with four interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2020. His versatility and coverage ability would be a valuable addition to any defense.
27. Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Depending on how you feel about Sammy Watkins, Miles Boykin and potential second-year improvements from Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, receiver might not be the biggest need for the Ravens, especially with a quality group of pass-catchers expected to be available in the later rounds. Bateman, however, might be worth the early investment. He’s a terrific route runner who can create separation off the line of scrimmage, and has the size and speed to threaten defenders. While he spent most of his time in the slot in 2020, he led the country in yards per route run from an outside alignment as a sophomore in 2019, according to PFF.
28. New Orleans Saints: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Whether it’s Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston throwing passes, the Saints need to take some pressure off star receiver Michael Thomas. Moore is an outstanding athlete who plays bigger than his listed 5-9, 178-pound frame, and isn’t afraid to make catches in traffic.
29. Green Bay Packers: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Could the Packers maybe, finally take a wide receiver in the first round? This feels like the year to do it, considering who might still be available at No. 29. In this scenario, Green Bay stubbornly sticks to its plan and opts to fill a top need on defense with the rangy and athletic Davis.
30. Buffalo Bills: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
Oweh is one of the trickier evaluations in the entire draft. On one hand, he ran a sub-4.40 40-yard dash at 257 pounds with ridiculous 34.5-inch arms. On the other hand, he didn’t record a sack in 2020. Oweh didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school, but if he can refine his skills, the ceiling is a perennial Pro Bowl player. That’s the kind of swing the Bills should take in rounding out their roster.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
It might be boring, but mocking an offensive lineman to the Chiefs is the only thing that makes sense. A speedy wide receiver like Rondale Moore or Kadarius Toney would be a fun fit, but those types of players should be available later in the draft. Leatherwood should be able to anchor one of Kansas City’s recently vacated tackle spots with his combination of size and athleticism.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
One of the best rosters in the league gives Tampa Bay an opportunity to take a swing on the “best player available” here. While Rousseau disappointed at his pro day after opting out in 2020, his 15.5 sacks in 2019 show there’s a dynamic player waiting to be unleashed — under the right circumstances. Learning behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul qualifies.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
34. New York Jets: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
35. Atlanta Falcons: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
36. Miami Dolphins (via Texans): Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
37. Philadelphia Eagles: Elijah Molden, S/CB, Washington
38. Cincinnati Bengals: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
39. Carolina Panthers: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
40. Denver Broncos: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
41. Detroit Lions: Carlos Basham Jr., EDGE, Wake Forest
42. New York Giants: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
43. San Francisco 49ers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
44. Dallas Cowboys: Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
45. Jacksonville Jaguars: Stone Forsythe, OT, Florida
46. New England Patriots: Jevon Holland, S/CB, Oregon
47. Los Angeles Chargers: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
48. Las Vegas Raiders: Richie Grant, S, UCF
49. Arizona Cardinals: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
50. Miami Dolphins: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
51. Washington Football Team: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
52. Chicago Bears: Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
53. Tennessee Titans: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
54. Indianapolis Colts: Walker Little, OT, Stanford
55. Pittsburgh Steelers: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
56. Seattle Seahawks: Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
57. Los Angeles Rams: Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
58. Ravens: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
59. Cleveland Browns: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston
60. New Orleans Saints: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
61. Buffalo Bills: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
62. Green Bay Packers: Quinn Meinerz, G/C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
63. Kansas City Chiefs: Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech