If you're skipping this intro and scrolling down to see who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get, be warned that you're going to have to do a lot of scrolling. By virtue of their 31-9 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, the Buccaneers earned a surprisingly aerodynamic Lombardi Trophy and the last pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
That Super Bowl win was just over two weeks ago, but the team has already shifted from celebration mode into preparations for the 2021 offseason. And, of course, the single biggest event of the NFL offseason is the draft, which this year kicks off on April 29. Though it seems hard to believe, that is just a little more than nine weeks away.
Thus, we here at Buccaneers.com have arrived squarely in Mock Draft Season, maybe a bit later than usual because, again, Super Bowl. Better late than never! Beginning this Tuesday and continuing each week, we will be mocking up the first round of the draft every week until the real thing arrives, each one ending with the Buccaneers' own selection at number 32 (barring trade predictions). Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I will be taking turns from week to week to give you a couple different perspectives. I drew the first assignment, so let's dive right in!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
You know, when the Jaguars are helping Lawrence coordinate his Pro Day workout and his left shoulder surgery, I think it's pretty safe to say the two are going to be a match in April. I wouldn't be surprised if Jacksonville already has the nameplate ready for his locker. Not much more to say here other than that this is the second straight year in which virtually every mock draft you see will be in agreement on the first pick.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
The reason you don't sit on the first mock draft you do in January or February is that circumstances change and a team's motivation sometimes becomes more clear. If the Jets get in on the veteran QB carousel that has already started with Stafford, Goff and Wentz (Deshaun Watson, maybe?), then this pick will obviously change. If they end up trading their own guy, Sam Darnold, this pick will seem much more likely, if you like Wilson over Justin Fields or Trey Lance. For now, I'm going with the theory that a new coaching staff is going to want to start fresh with their own choice at quarterback.
3. Miami Dolphins: T Penei Sewell, Oregon
What a marvelous position the Dolphins are in. They can take the first receiver out of a very talented class, they can address a real need on their offensive line – both of which would help Tua Tagovailoa reach his potential – or they could trade down a bit if the other quarterbacks become even more coveted. That lattermost option might be the best, but I'm not forecasting trades in this first mock version, so instead the Dolphins choose to address the line with the top-rated tackle in the draft. Yes, Ja'Marr Chase and Devonta Smith are very tempting, but there is also a robust wide receiver free agent market and the Dolphins have a pretty good cap situation. Miami also owns the 18th pick in the first round (their own) and might still be able to land a much-needed playmaker there.
4. Atlanta Falcons: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
The big consideration with this pick, obviously, is whether the Falcons, who also have a new head coach, want to take this opportunity to get their successor to Matt Ryan, under the assumption they won't be picking this high again anytime soon. This seems a bit high for Surtain and for whomever you consider the top edge rusher – both big needs for the Falcons – which is why I fully expect Arthur Smith and company to be fielding a lot of phone calls in the first hour of the draft. A trade down makes a ton of sense if they aren't going for a quarterback. (Yeah, it could definitely be a quarterback.)
5. Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
The Bengals would have liked Sewell but if the Dolphins are going to pass on receiver the Bengals will jump at the chance to get a much-needed replacement for the great but now frequently-injured A.J. Green. It's Chase over Smith by a hair due to the former's bigger frame. Florida TE Kyle Pitts is also a consideration here, which is the classic mock drafter's trick of trying to make two picks at once.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: T Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
I happen to know that this would not be the highest a Northwestern player was ever drafted, but it would be the highest since another tackle, Chris Hinton, went fourth in 1983. The Eagles, who desperately need help on their front line after a disastrous and injury-plagued 2020, can only hope Slater has as good of a career as Hinton, who went to seven Pro Bowls.
7. Detroit Lions: WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
The Lions haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since Matt Millen was running the show and they did so in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. They really went one for four (or 1.5 for four; Roy Williams was okay) in that crazy five-year span but that's not new G.M. Brad Holmes' burden. What Holmes has is his top three receivers potentially heading to free agency, and Kenny Golladay in particular would be a tough loss.
8. Carolina Panthers: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Unlike Atlanta, Carolina is going to be targeting a new franchise quarterback, I believe. When it's all said and done, Trey Lance may leapfrog Fields on mock draft boards, but Fields is the pick right now. Both Fields and Lance have some things to clean up in order to succeed at the next level but Fields is probably a little closer to starting and I think the Panthers want to make the transition to their new signal-caller as quickly as possible.
9. Denver Broncos: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
Denver might prefer a dynamic edge rusher for their eventual (maybe soon) life without Von Miller, but this is not a great draft for that. Parsons gives them a playmaking off-ball linebacker who can do it all, excelling in coverage, against the run and even rushing off the edge. A recent Super Bowl team you may have heard of found out how much difference it can make to have a player like that in the middle of your defense.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The Cowboys went into last year's draft with a lot of needs on defense but understandably couldn't pass when wide receiver CeeDee Lamb surprisingly fell to them at number 17. They did get a few defensive pieces in later rounds but still gave up nearly 30 points per game, so it's time to use a first-rounder on a corner, down lineman or edge rusher. The best value here is at corner with Farley, who is fast, loose and long and has the hands of the receiver he was before converting to defense.
11. New York Giants: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The Giants could really use a receiver but we all know that G.M. Dave Gettleman likes to go with big men in the first round. How about we split the difference and give them one of the best tight end prospects to come along in a while? Blocking isn't Pitts' top strength but he's an absolute matchup nightmare who can line up all over the formation. This is as good for Daniel Jones as drafting a wide receiver.
12. San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
I don't think the 49ers are completely sold on Jimmy Garoppolo and there's no more guaranteed money on his deal, which runs through 2022. San Francisco can get out of it with a relatively small dead cap charge either this year or next, but they can also keep him around for at least one more season to give Lance time to develop. Lance only started 17 games in college but he's got the physical tools and showed excellent decision-making skills at NDSU. In addition, he adds a running element (1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019) that a lot of NFL teams are looking for these days.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: T Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Bryan Bulaga is 31 and has had a bit of trouble staying healthy in recent years, and Sam Tevi is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Chargers hit a grand slam with quarterback Justin Herbert last year and now the top priority should be keeping him upright and clean. Darrisaw is big, athletic and nimble and can play left tackle at the next level.
14. Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
The Vikings once had a fierce pass rush but most of that is gone now; their sack leader in 2020 was Yannick Ngakoue, who had 5.0 but was traded at midseason. Rousseau has great length and a nice array of moves, and scouts think he has a lot of room to develop into a much better player. He can also rush off the edge or from inside, which gives the Vikings some versatility up front.
15. New England Patriots: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
It still feels weird to project a receiver to the Patriots in the first round, but they did go that route just two years ago, albeit at the end of the round. I think they would like to see Pitts fall this far, but you can't deny that they have a serious need at receiver and Waddle is the last of the top-tier trio available. I would not be at all surprised by a trade down, however, after which the Patriots could target a linebacker or a defensive tackle.
16. Arizona Cardinals: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
Kyler Murray throws his remote at the television when the Patriots take Waddle, and the Cards' (possibly virtual) draft room is disappointed as well, but they quickly shift gears and get a much-needed edge rusher. This year's draft didn't include any edge rushers teams were clamoring to get in the top five but, like Rousseau, Paye is a talented player with a lot of room to grow.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
After the 2020 season, Raiders G.M. Mike Mayock said his team's defense "did not have a dynamic playmaker at any level." Let's get them one! Las Vegas has potential up front with Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell and has some recent high picks in the secondary, so it's the middle level that gets the boost here with Owusu-Koramoah, who is another one of the new breed of versatile defenders that every defense wants to be able to play schematic chess.
18. Miami Dolphins: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
I think this is a win for Miami after they went offensive tackle over receiver with the third pick. Alternately, you might prefer Chase at three and, say, tackle Jalen Mayfield here. Anyway, Toney is quick, shifty and dynamic with the ball in his hands and he can also have an impact on end-arounds and in the return game.
19. Washington Football Team: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Taylor Heinicke may be as revelatory as he seemed for one night in the Wild Card round but I don't think Washington is going to bank on that, or on Alex Smith having much left. It's a pretty good turn of events for the Football Team, which made the playoffs but was still in position to get a quarterback in the first round thanks to the depth at the position this year.
20. Chicago Bears: OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
I'm not convinced the Bears were after a quarterback in this draft but once Jones came off the board it became a moot point in the first round anyway. Vera-Tucker might be able to stick at tackle in the NFL and if so he would be an upgrade over Bobby Massie on the right side. If, as some scouts expect, Vera-Tucker ends up at guard, the Bears have an opening at right guard with Germain Ifedi a free agent.
21. Indianapolis Colts: EDGE Jaelen Phillips, Miami
The Colts need to replace retired left tackle Anthony Castonzo but Texas tackle Jalen Mayfield might have to stay on the right side. Meanwhile, both Justin Houston and Denico Autry are pending free agents, and while the Colts have plenty of cap space to bring either or both back they could use that in other ways (a receiver if T.Y. Hilton departs?) and get younger no the edge. Phillips is yet another pass-rusher in this draft who may not have scratched the surface of his potential yet.
22. Tennessee Titans: EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Tennessee's pass rush was almost non-existent last season, producing only 19 sacks despite trying to address the problem with Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney. Beasley is already gone and Clowney probably won't be back. General Manager Jon Robinson has agreed that pass rusher is a position the Titans are "definitely interested in," and fortunately the well hasn't quite run dry yet. Ojulari is a little undersized but he has a quick first step and agility to get around the edge.
23. New York Jets: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
The Jets need a receiver, too, but I don't love the value here. Of course, some analysts would suggest that running backs are rarely a good value in the first round, and I concede the point. Still, teams keep drafting them in the first round and Etienne is a very exciting prospect. Lamical Perine is currently at the top of the Jets' RB depth chart. Etienne would change that quickly with his speed, pass-catching ability and big-play potential.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
Pittsburgh's pass defense was good in 2020 but Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are pending free agents and Joe Haden turns 32 two weeks before the draft. Horn's scouting report makes me think of Carlton Davis, who might be a late first-round pick if the 2018 draft were re-run. Horn is big and physical and has great route-matching ability.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Travon Moehrig, TCU
Jacksonville's once-loaded secondary is pretty bereft of top-end talent at this point and could use help at corner or safety, but the value is clearly here in the top safety off the board. He could be the Jaguars' Antoine Winfield, Jr., an immediate playmaker who can be moved all over the formation and even cover slot receivers.
26. Cleveland Browns: EDGE Joe Tryon, Washington
I had hoped Tryon would make it to the end of the round for the Buccaneers but the Browns need to replace Olivier Vernon and the pickings are getting a little thin here. Tryon is a power rusher who plays with all-out effort and can stop the run as well. Cleveland has Myles Garrett but its pass rush was middle-of-the-pack in 2020.
27. Baltimore Ravens: DL Christian Barmore, Alabama
Baltimore is in decent cap shape but has a whole lot of front-seven defensive players who could hit free agency. Assuming they can't, or don't want to, bring them all back, Barmore would be a nice youth infusion next to Calais Campbell on the interior line.
28. New Orleans Saints: LB Nick Bolton, Missouri
The Saints need another off-ball linebacker to pair with Demario Davis and they have two to choose from here in Mizzou's Bolton and Tulsa's Zaven Collins. Bolton is a little undersized while Collins is huge for a modern linebacker. I think the Saints opt for Bolton's speed and range.
29. Green Bay Packers: DL Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Here's another player I was hoping the Bucs would get a shot to draft. Green Bay probably needs a cornerback more but I don't like the value here. And I think they proved that wide receiver wasn't the all-possessing need many thought it was heading into last year's draft. Kenny Clark is great but he needs help inside and Onwuzurike is a proven run-stopper with some raw skills to possibly develop into a strong pass-rusher.
30. Buffalo Bills: T Jalen Mayfield, Texas
I'm basing this on the Bills potentially losing right tackle Daryl Williams. Buffalo's cap situation is a little tight and they also have defensive leader Matt Milano and cornerback Josh Norman to re-sign, potentially. If Williams gets a big paycheck elsewhere, the Bills could plug Mayfield directly in at right tackle.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Terrace Marshall, LSU
After watching the Super Bowl, I want to give the Chiefs offensive line help but a lot of their problems were due to injury and the opt-out by guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. They could use a guard but I don't that can be addressed in the next couple rounds. Instead, let's prepare for the likely departure of Sammy Watkins and give the Chiefs a physical but fast wideout who can catch the ball over the middle and also get deep.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DL Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
The near-impossibility of predicting the 32nd pick in the draft is compounded by the fact that we're still a month away from free agency and the comings and goings thereof will surely affect this decision. So I'm making this pick based on the (ugly) possibility of the champs losing Ndamukong Suh and/or Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Nixon is an intriguing interior talent who could create a dominant inside force next to Vita Vea.