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The 2021 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, set to get underway beginning April 29 with the first round from Cleveland, Ohio. The top 32 picks are finally set following Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory this past Sunday, so the Bucs will have the final selection of the first round while the Jaguars are slated to pick first.
That draft order could look drastically different come the end of April if quarterback movement shakes out the way most are forecasting. It’s likely that with any trade involving a QB, draft picks will be included. However, for the purposes of today’s exercise, we’ll imagine that the order stands pat as we project the first five picks of the draft.
1. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - TREVOR LAWRENCE, QB CLEMSON
This has been and will remain a no-brainer. Unless Jacksonville is offered a king’s ransom, they simply cannot refuse. They’ll be taking the top prospect to be the new face of their franchise.
It might take even more than a king’s ransom to sway Urban Meyer and company from selecting Lawrence, who would step in immediately to become the club’s starter ahead of the likes of Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon, and Jake Luton. After a 1-15 season, the Jags need a foundational building block, and there’s none better than the QB from Clemson.
2. NEW YORK JETS - ZACH WILSON, QB BYU
This is truly where the draft begins. All expectations are that Lawrence will go No. 1, which ultimately starts the clock on the Jets in the second slot. Gang Green has a new head coach in former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and the direction of the franchise hinges on how he feels about Sam Darnold.
If the Jets decide to trade away the former third overall pick from USC, then they’ll be in immediate need of a new QB. But if they keep Darnold, this pick turns into a player that can help his development, perhaps a wide receiver or offensive lineman.
Wilson has been skyrocketing up draft boards all year, and the second pick would be his ceiling.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS - DEVONTA SMITH, WR ALABAMA
It seems like there are rumblings about every team’s quarterback or their desire to acquire one. Miami has been no exception, with early rumors suggesting that Tua Tagovailoa would be shipped out of town after just one season.
In those scenarios, the Dolphins would get a quarterback in return (Deshaun Watson was a hot topic early on), so they wouldn’t take one here. Instead, Miami would reunite Tua with a college teammate and form a dangerous duo with Devonta Smith at the wideout position.
It’s arguable who the top WR prospect is in this draft, but the Heisman Trophy winner would be a perfect fit in South Beach.
4. ATLANTA FALCONS - PATRICK SURTAIN, CB ALABAMA
Surtain becomes the second straight member of the Tide’s National Championship team to go in the top five in this situation, with more to follow in the first round. He’s the best corner in the draft, with apologies to Caleb Farley from VA Tech, and the Falcons could plug him in from day one and count on him for a decade. However, if Atlanta trades Matt Ryan, you can rip this projection up immediately and slide Justin Fields in as his replacement.
5. CINCINNATI BENGALS - PENEI SEWELL, OL OREGON
The Bengals snagged their franchise quarterback last year by taking Joe Burrow with the first overall pick. They’ve got a nice young core of receivers led by Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd (with a decision to make on veteran AJ Green), so now it’s time to protect their most valuable asset.
Burrow was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week 11, and Sewell is the best lineman in this year’s class by far. Easy choice.