An NFL mock draft is in itself an exercise in speculation. The bottom line is trying to pair teams with prospects they should be interested in taking, regardless of what their final selection will be.
Adding mock trades to the process is a whole different story. The main goal is show what picks are most likely to change hands and what teams should be thinking most about moving up or down on the board during the first round.
There already has been one major shakeup in the days leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, with the 49ers (No. 12 overall to No. 3), Dolphins (No. 3 to No. 6) and Eagles (No. 6 to No. 12) all changing their spots in the top dozen. With quarterbacks in high demand and some rebuilding teams having multiple strong values in areas of need, it sets up for a busy opening night.
With that in mind and being aware of the draft trade value chart, here’s Sporting News’ only mock draft with trades for 2021:
2021 NFL mock draft with trades
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (6-6, 213 pounds)
The Jaguars won’t even be tempted to trade down with this transcendent big-armed athletic passer sitting there to change the course of their franchise at the game’s most important position.
2. New York Jets
- Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (6-3, 210 pounds)
The Jets already are sitting on two first-round picks from the Jamal Adams trade and the Sam Darnold trade sets them up take the second-best QB available after Lawerence. Barring a big change, New York should be locked into the accurate, arm-skilled and affable Wilson.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Texans through Dolphins)
- Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (6-3, 214 pounds)
Jones continues to be the leading candidate for the 49ers’ certain QB selection as he best fits the profile of a Kyle Shanahan passer in a friendly offensive system. The 49ers also could think about North Dakota State”s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, but based on the known variables, Jones still feels like the third QB off the board.
TRADE — 4. Denver Broncos (from Falcons)
- Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (6-3, 233 pounds)
The Broncos could worry about someone taking two quarterbacks before their initial turn at No. 9 and can give up their second-rounder (No. 40 overall) to move up five big spots to make sure they get their QB of choice to upgrade from Drew Lock. The lean should be Fields because they would want to get him on the field right away vs. the more developmental Lance. Fields would be served well by the structure and scheme of Denver’s offense.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
- Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU (6-1, 200 pounds)
It’s time to look at a scenario where the Bengals go away from an offensive tackle and reunite Joe Burrow with his big-time target from 2019. Chase is a versatile big playmaker who profiles like a true No. 1 and existing options Tee Higgins (big possession) and Tyler Boyd (ace slot) would be great complements to him to raise the passing game for Burrow in Year 2.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Eagles)
- Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (5-10, 182 pounds)
The Dolphins would be fine with taking Chase for Tua Tagovailoa, but if it came down to two former teammates of their second-year QB, Waddle would seem to be the better fit with what they already have in DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. They need to get more home-run plays by both stretching the field and getting into open field and Waddle can provide those elements better for them than DeVonta Smith.
7. Detroit Lions
- DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (6-1, 170 pounds)
The Lions, on the other hand, after cleaning house at wide receiver with Kenny Golladay (Giants), Marvin Jones Jr. (Jaguars) and Danny Amendola, need a well-rounded, sure-handed, smooth route-running No. 1 for Jared Goff and any other near-future QBs. A trade down will be tempting, but should Chase and Waddle both go, staying and locking into Smith makes sense.
TRADE — 8. New England Patriots (from Panthers)
- Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (6-3, 225 pounds)
Should the Falcons pass on Lance and the Broncos jump on Fields, that will facilitate the Patriots securing their QB future beyond bridge Cam Newton. They should target the Panthers should the Lance-enamored Falcons still loom at No. 9. They also can make sure neither Washington nor the Bears execute their move-up plan instead. Lance can be developed well in the Patriots’ adjusted dual-threat brand of offense, having the dynamic traits of a young Newton.
TRADE — 9. Atlanta Falcons (from Broncos)
- Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (6-6, 239 pounds)
The Falcons would love this scenario of moving down, adding a second-rounder to their haul and still getting the non-QB they most covet early. They might be comfortable with a “luxury” pick five spots later. Pitts can join Julio Jones and Calvin Rildey in boosting Matt Ryan in the intermediate passing game and become a featured red zone target playing off the run for new offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith.
10. Dallas Cowboys
- Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (6-5, 325 pounds)
The Cowboys should be thinking offensive lineman or cornerback with this pick should the temptation of Pitts not be there. Sewell dropping would be a welcome surprise, much like wide receiver CeeDee Lamb a little later in 2020. Sewell could start on the right side or inside for them and make a big impact at first while he gets lined up to succeed aging left tackle Tyron Smith as a rock-solid run blocker and agile pass protector in a few seasons.
11. New York Giants
- Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern (6-4, 315 pounds)
The Giants go tackle again in the first round after landing Georgia’s Andrew Thomas in 2020, but this time, they get a sturdy athlete who can better lock down the blindside for Daniel Jones at left tackle, while Thomas is pushed to the more comfortable run-blocking spot on the right side.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
- Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (6-2, 203 pounds)
The Eagles are a candidate to trade up for Pitts or catch a falling wide receiver, but they can’t go wrong with the size and shutdown pedigree of Surtain to boost their secondary and help clean up their cornerback mess.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
- Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC (6-4, 300 pounds)
The Chargers got busy with veteran additions for their offensive line overhaul (Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler) and can consider Vera-Tucker as an option to upgrade tackle. They also should be ready to take one of the top two offensive tackles or top three wide receivers if any of them fall.
TRADE — 14. Arizona Cardinals (from Vikings)
- Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207 pounds)
The Cardinals need a new big coverage ace for their secondary after moving on from Patrick Peterson and moving up a few spots to snag the shutdown potential of Farley to start opposite newcomer Malcolm Butler makes a lot of sense.
TRADE — 15. Carolina Panthers (from Patriots)
- Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virgnia Tech (6-5, 314 pounds)
The Panthers can still land a left tackle to replace Russell Okung by moving down seven spots. There’s some dropoff from Sewell, Slater and Vera-Tucker, but Darrisaw can do the job to boost Sam Darnold’s protection.
TRADE — 16. Minnesota Vikings (from Cardinals)
- Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (6-3, 245 pounds)
The Vikings need to think about reworking their linebacker corps for Mike Zimmer with Anthony Barr around for only the short term. Parsons would give them fine rangy playmaking ability, making the trade down a couple spots well worth it.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, LB, Notre Dame (6-2, 216 pounds)
The Raiders need a run stopper with some strong coverage sensibilites for the second level. Owusu-Koromah fits their scheme well to flank Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.
18. Miami Dolphins
- Kwity Paye, EDGE/DT, Michigan (6-4, 272 pounds)
The Dolphins need a versatile freak of a pass rusher to enhanch Brian Flores’ hybrid scheme. Here’s back-to-back great defensive fits for teams.
19. Washington Football Team
- Ka’Darius Toney, WR, Florida (5-11, 190 pounds)
Washington will have its eyes on Darrisaw, too, for left tackle, but won’t be too upset by falling back on Toney to work as a big field-stretcher from the slot, as he would be a big-play supplement to speedsters Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
20. Chicago Bears
- Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State (6-6, 320 pounds)
The Bears are in the market for some kind of offensive line impact and getting the protypical right tackle to be a rock for the running game with a smooth-enough frame for pass protection is a smart move should Toney not be available.
21. Indianapolis Colts
- Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas (6-7, 300 pounds)
The Colts lost Anthony Castonzo to retirement and they should have confidence that the big, tall Cosmi can fill the void in the left tackle for a long time in the same way.
TRADE — 22. Buffalo Bills (from Titans)
- Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (6-2, 230 pounds)
The Bills get aggressive in giving up a third-rounder a little more to move up, knowing that a reliable workhorse running back to pound between the tackles and trust in the passing game is the missing ingredient to their dangerous offense with Josh Allen. They do it because the Jets and Steelers are strong options for Harris.
23. New York Jets (from Seahawks)
- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (6-1, 205 pounds)
The Jets need to rebuild their secondary with better size and range at cornerback and Horn, the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, gives them a good blend of big-play ability and sound coverage.
TRADE — 24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Steelers)
- Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama (6-3, 310 pounds)
The Buccaneers remain “all in” with their thinking in the quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They shouldn’t mind working a deal with the Steelers, who should be more willing to move out of this pick should Jenkins, Harris and Horn be off the board. The Bucs can stash the active, quick disruptor Barmore as the successor to Ndamukong Suh, who’s on another one-year deal at 34.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams)
- Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (6-5, 266 pounds)
The Jaguars will think about cornerback and defensive tackle here depending on how things play out in front of them, but they should feel strong about taking the best available pass rusher for their new defensive scheme.
26. Cleveland Browns
- Azeez Ojulari, EDGE/OLB, Georgia (6-3, 240 pounds)
The Browns got Jadeveon Clowney late in free agency to help Myles Garrett but could use a versatile second-level player who can handle himself well in coverage when needed and further raise their ability to get after quarterbacks.
27. Baltimore Ravens
- Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (6-6, 260 pounds)
The Ravens should have their eyes on the two Hurricanes Phillips and Rousseau most in the first round because their pass-rushing styles best fit their scheme. Roussau has been working to hone his craft for the pro level with none other than current Baltimore edge force Calais Campbell, who also played at Miami.
28. New Orleans Saints
- Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas (6-3, 245 pounds)
The Saints lost Trey Hendrickson opposite Cameron Jordan so they can replace him with a well-rounded 4-3 end for Dennis Allen.
TRADE — 29. New York Jets (from Packers)
- Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State (6-5, 257 pounds)
The Jets find that two first-rounders aren’t enough for Joe Douglas and they would like to tap into this impressive run of promising pass rushers. Oweh is a physical freak who can be molded into a highly productive player in Robert Saleh’s 4-3.
TRADE — 30. Tennessee Titans (from Bills)
- Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (6-5, 319 pounds)
The Titans’ reasoning for trading down was they could still find a viable right tackle and didn’t need to force themselves into the pass-rusher run. Mayfield, with the same college background as Taylor Lewan, can help the team better replace Jack Conklin, who left for the Browns last offseason.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
- Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern (6-0, 192 pounds)
The Chiefs have some good depth at safety and look pretty good in the nickel package, but they could use better size and more reliable coverage and big-play potential for the outside. Newsome is smart, instinctive and has a special nose for the ball.
TRADE — 32. Pittsburgh Steelers (from Buccaneers)
- Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (5-10, 210 pounds)
The Steelers should be thrilled to move down and still get a potential feature back who can bring some more dynamic elements to their passing game. Etienne isn’t the same type of power back as Harris, but he can be effective in a much different way for an offense that needs short open-field juice to help Ben Roethlisberger.