Four-round 2021 NFL mock draft 1.0: Saints trade up for QB in Round 1

Deals or no deals? This is the question teams in need of a young quarterback are facing heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.

From 2016 to 2018, eight teams traded up to draft a quarterback in the top 12: Bills (Josh Allen), Jets (Sam Darnold), Rams (Jared Goff), Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes), Cardinals (Josh Rosen), Bears (Mitchell Trubisky), Texans (Deshaun Watson) and Eagles (Carson Wentz).

However, in the past two drafts, there were only two trades of any kind made in the top half of the first round and neither of them were for quarterbacks (LB Devin Bush, Steelers, 10th overall selection in 2019; OT Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers, 13th overall selection in 2020).

This decline in early deals could be the start of a long-time trend because teams seem reluctant to give up three or four premium picks for a prospect. It's also possible that the non-playoff teams typically interested in moving upward were waiting to see whether their current quarterback would develop -- or maybe they just weren't interested in giving up major draft capital for Justin Herbert, Daniel Jones, and/or Tua Tagovailoa.

Then again, it wouldn't be shocking to see the no-trade trend end this year, as there is a long list of quarterback-needy teams and plenty to like about the available QBs. For this four-round projection, however, I play out the scenario that mirrors the 2019 and 2020 drafts. The Jets, Falcons and Panthers land future signal-callers in the top eight selections while staying put, but there are five trades in this mock, including one for a quarterback in the middle of the first round.

The free-agent compensatory picks listed in this exercise are based on my colleague Lance Zierlein's projections from last April. The official list will be made available by the league in the weeks to come. Four additional picks were added to the end of the third round for franchises losing minority employees to head coach or general manager positions throughout the league.

The Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade between the Lions and Rams, which included L.A. sending a 2021 third-round pick to Detroit, is factored into this mock. The deal moving Carson Wentz from Philadelphia to Indianapolis for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 selection is also included. The trades won't become official before the start of the new league year (March 17).

Pick
1
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence
Clemson · QB · Junior

Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer had a front-row seat at Lawrence's pro day, which was scheduled early so he could have surgery on his non-throwing shoulder with time to recover before next season. Now the only remaining question is whether the team will give its strong-armed, athletic signal-caller the surrounding cast to succeed.

Pick
2
New York Jets
New York Jets
Zach Wilson
BYU · QB · Junior

It is unclear whether the Jets will trade former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold or build around him. If they decide to move on, Wilson is the natural choice here because of his accuracy from the pocket, overall athleticism and competitive fire.

Pick
3
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Ja'Marr Chase
LSU · WR · Junior

If the Dolphins don't get a trade-down opportunity, they'll want to aid the progression of second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with this pick. Chase's strength and speed are a deadly combination.

Pick
4
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons
Trey Lance
North Dakota State · QB · Sophomore (RS)

Lance has all the tools to succeed in the league but will benefit from sitting behind Matt Ryan for a year or two. Don't ignore his potential to contribute in a change-of-pace red-zone offense until he's ready to fully take the reins, if new head coach Arthur Smith wants to go that direction.

Pick
5
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
Penei Sewell
Oregon · OT · Junior

Sewell's size and athleticism will be difficult for the Bengals to pass up, especially after franchise quarterback Joe Burrow finished the year on injured reserve after taking a hit in the pocket.

Pick
6
Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles
Kyle Pitts
Florida · TE · Junior

The trade of Carson Wentz might open the door to an early pick of a quarterback, but in this scenario, I'll say GM Howie Roseman and new head coach Nick Sirianni will find a veteran free agent to compete with or complement 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts. The team has a need at the tight end position, as Zach Ertz is not expected to return and Dallas Goedert is a free agent after next season, but this could simply be a case of the Eagles picking the best available player. Pitts possesses the size, speed and insane catch radius to be a real force. 

Pick
7
Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions
Micah Parsons
Penn State · LB · Junior

Parsons plays with the toughness that head coach Dan Campbell promised his team would display during his initial press conference as the Lions' leader. He also has the athleticism to become a playmaker whether lined up in the middle or on the outside, just like Tampa Bay starter Devin White. For this mock, I'll assume the team will use the franchise tag on receiver Kenny Golladay and address a need on defense with this selection.

Pick
8
Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers
Justin Fields
Ohio State · QB · Junior

Teams should not overthink Fields' ability to operate an NFL offense. He reminds me of Deshaun Watson coming out of Clemson, possessing the intangibles, passing acumen and athletic skill set to excel in the NFL.

Pick
9
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
Patrick Surtain II
Alabama · CB · Junior

Denver lucks into the top cornerback in the draft because four quarterbacks are selected in the top eight picks. Surtain's ability to play the ball in the air is elite, and he will match up physically with any receiver in the league.

Pick
10
Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys
Caleb Farley
Virginia Tech · CB · Junior (RS)

Farley's size and athleticism will help the Cowboys upgrade their secondary, pairing well with last year's second-round pick, Trevon Diggs. Dallas will have a major need at the position if it chooses not to re-sign 2017 top 100 picks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.

Pick
11
New York Giants
New York Giants
DeVonta Smith
Alabama · WR · Senior

Smith is exactly the sort of playmaker that GM Dave Gettleman says he wants to support former first-round pick Daniel Jones. His foot quickness will help him win off the line and he plays much bigger than his 170 pounds would indicate.

Pick
12
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
Gregory Rousseau
Miami · Edge · Sophomore (RS)

The 49ers' defensive line was decimated by injury in 2020 and will be hit hard again in free agency. Picking the long and strong Rousseau would allow Arik Armstead to move back inside, where he can be more disruptive.

Pick
13
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
Rashawn Slater
Northwestern · OT · Senior

Slater is not the tallest or longest of offensive tackles, but he will be a solid starter at the next level. Not only will he help Justin Herbert's development, but also open holes for Austin Ekeler and whomever else the Chargers line up in the backfield the next few years.

Pick
14
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
(via Vikings)
Mac Jones
Alabama · QB · Junior (RS)

Sean Payton has shown a proclivity for attacking the draft like his schemes attack defenses. Over the past decade, the Saints moved up for edge rusher Marcus Davenport, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, receiver Brandin Cooks and running back Mark Ingram -- giving up future first-round picks for Ingram and Davenport. Jones' fit as the replacement for Drew Brees and complement to Taysom Hill might push Payton to deal his 2022 first-rounder to the Vikings.

Pick
15
Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team
(via Patriots)
Jaylen Waddle
Alabama · WR · Junior

In this scenario, Washington finds a new quarterback among the veteran ranks. The team would then need to add another playmaker on offense to complement Terry McLaurin, and only Waddle's size and 2020 injury allows for him to still be available here. The Football Team sends the Patriots their 2022 third-round selection in this trade.

Pick
16
Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals
Jaycee Horn
South Carolina · CB · Junior

Horn is a physical cornerback who reminds me of Marlon Humphrey when he came out of Alabama in 2017. Humphrey was selected 16th overall by Baltimore in that draft, so it makes sense for the Cardinals to snap up a potential replacement for Patrick Peterson at this slot.

Pick
17
Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
Christian Barmore
Alabama · DT · Sophomore (RS)

I think Barmore has the potential to be an outstanding pro because of his length and agility. Pairing him with Maurice Hurst would improve the Raiders' ability to stop the run and provide interior pass rush.

Pick
18
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Najee Harris
Alabama · RB · Senior

Harris' game will really be enticing to the Cardinals at No. 16, but the Dolphins will consider themselves lucky if Arizona passes on him. He should be a strong dual threat on offense, powerful as a runner and agile as a receiver.

Pick
19
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
(via Washington)
Kwity Paye
Michigan · Edge · Senior

The Patriots look to get younger on defense after ranking in the lower-third of the league in sacks. Paye is an every-down player who has the strength and athleticism to handle his responsibilities in multiple fronts.

Pick
20
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
Christian Darrisaw
Virginia Tech · OT · Junior

Darrisaw could go higher if things fall differently, as he presents the size and athleticism to start immediately at left tackle. If teams ahead of the Bears decide to meet other needs, however, the Monsters of the Midway will reap the benefits. One or both of the team's current starting tackles, Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie (who is coming off a knee injury), could be cap casualties.

Pick
21
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
(via Colts)
Zaven Collins
Tulsa · LB · Junior (RS)

Cleveland's defense is just a couple of pieces short of being a championship-level group. The Browns trade fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2021 for the privilege to move up for Collins, a versatile linebacker able to rush the passer, work in coverage and play the run. He could be special.

Pick
22
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
(via Titans)
Greg Newsome II
Northwestern · CB · Junior

Cornerback is a position of need for the Packers, and Newsome is the top outside starter remaining on the board. Green Bay trades its fourth- and fifth-round selections in this deal, but may be able to recoup some of that expense by way of a 2022 compensatory pick for the likely departure of free agent CB Kevin King. 

Pick
23
New York Jets
New York Jets
Azeez Ojulari
Georgia · Edge · Sophomore (RS)

GM Joe Douglas and new head coach Robert Saleh picked their quarterback early in this scenario -- now it's time to find a pass rusher. Ojulari can get after quarterbacks with strong hands and quickness, but also plays tough against the run and moves well off the ball. He is only available for the Jets if teams in the top 20 overlook him due to his average size for the position.

Pick
24
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Alijah Vera-Tucker
USC · G · Junior (RS)

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will be a free agent, and Vera-Tucker played well enough at left tackle for the Trojans to project there in the NFL.

Pick
25
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
(via Jaguars)
Jaelan Phillips
Miami · Edge · Junior (RS)

Tom Brady was sacked only once in the Super Bowl, which will likely be weighing on the Chiefs' collective minds as the draft approaches. Phillips played a strong power end for Miami in 2020, showing the ability to rush the passer and corral ball-carriers on the edge. That's an element the team will need if Tanoh Kpassagnon, Taco Charlton and Alex Okafor depart as free agents. Andy Reid might be willing to give up fourth- and fifth-round selections to secure his services, especially if Kansas City receives selections in those rounds as compensation for 2020 free agent losses.

Pick
26
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
(via Browns)
Kadarius Toney
Florida · WR · Senior

T.Y. Hilton's time in Indianapolis appears to be over, and it's tough to pick a more obvious replacement than Toney. Carson Wentz will love throwing to the quick and explosive former Gator whether he's in the slot or outside.

Pick
27
Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens
Teven Jenkins
Oklahoma State · OT · Senior (RS)

Orlando Brown has made his desire to play left tackle known, and Ronnie Stanley will regain that spot after returning from injury, which is why Brown has requested a trade. Jenkins is a powerful blocker with a nasty attitude who probably won't mind blocking on the right side of the line as he did at Oklahoma State (though he also started on the blindside during his career in Stillwater).

Pick
28
Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings
(via Saints)
Ronnie Perkins
Oklahoma · Edge · Junior

The Vikings are happy to get a much-needed pass rusher, along with the first-round pick with which the Saints were willing to part in this projection. Perkins' game mirrors that of Yannick Ngakoue, the explosive pass rusher whom GM Rick Spielman traded for and then moved to Baltimore at minimal loss after it was clear there wasn't a playoff run coming in 2020. 

Pick
29
Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
(via Packers)
Carlos Basham Jr.
Wake Forest · Edge · Senior (RS)

The Titans build on their defensive line with Basham, a strong yet agile pass rusher who could replace free agent starter Jack Crawford. Basham's work at the Senior Bowl showed scouts he's ready to take his game to the next level.

Pick
30
Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
Jalen Mayfield
Michigan · OT · Sophomore (RS)

Free agent tackles Daryl Williams and Ty Nsekhe might not return to Buffalo for 2021. The Bills must protect their young star quarterback, Josh Allen, and also need to improve their ability to run the ball next season. Mayfield is a beast in the run game with the agility to be a solid pass protector for a long time.

Pick
31
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
(via Chiefs)
Rashod Bateman
Minnesota · WR · Junior

Adding Bateman to D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault gives Trevor Lawrence a strong trio in the passing game. The team may lose three receivers to free agency (Keelan Cole, Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook), and Chark could be in for a big payday come the spring of 2022.


Pick
32
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Notre Dame · LB · Junior (RS)

Lavonte David and Devin White helped the Buccaneers shut down defenses during the second half of the team's Super Bowl season. If David's talents lead him elsewhere in free agency, White slides inside and allows JOK to blitz off the edge and work in coverage. For this mock, I am assuming Tampa Bay secures receiver Chris Godwin for next season using the franchise tag and that Shaq Barrett's desire to return to the team (while getting paid) comes to fruition.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter.

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