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Star NFL mock draft: Predicting what will go down in Thursday's return to normalcy
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Star NFL mock draft: Predicting what will go down in Thursday's return to normalcy

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely expected to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This year’s NFL draft won’t feature commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks from the luxury of his own living room with a giant jar of M&M’s next to him slowly emptying as the first round progresses, but hey, at least an on-site draft is a sign of normalcy?

The draft will take place Thursday through Saturday in Cleveland.

Fortunately, we already know how the first round will play out. The Star’s Michael Lev, Ryan Finley, Justin Spears and Alec White held a mock draft this week. Here’s how Thursday’s picks will go down:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

White says: This pick was set in stone the moment the Jets beat the Rams back in December and clinched the No. 1 pick for the Jags. Lawrence is one of the best QB prospects of the last 20 years and is the no-brainer pick for new coach Urban Meyer.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Finley says: The Jets see something Burrowesque in Wilson, who — like last year’s No. 1 overall pick — developed from mistake-prone to unstoppable while in college. Wilson threw for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns last season at BYU, but the Cougars played only two games against ranked teams — and lost one of them. This is a risk.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Lev says: This is not expected to happen. All the chatter has been about Alabama QB Mac Jones. But Jones is a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect. Is that the type of player you give up multiple future picks to select? Fields has size, speed, a powerful arm, toughness, leadership skills and a higher upside. He’s the prototypical modern QB.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Spears says: Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said earlier this week Atlanta is in a “difficult cap situation” and will “listen” and “weigh” the possibility of trading All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. Should Atlanta move Jones to clear cap space, why not draft one of the most explosive, big-bodied playmakers in college football? Unless the “Dirty Birds” believe Trey Lance is the future of the NFL, Atlanta will give Matt Ryan another year under center — and give him a new toy in the offense.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

White says: Lots of debate here between Chase and Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell, but pairing Chase with his college QB is too enticing to pass up. During Burrow’s Heisman year and LSU’s run to the national championship in 2019, Chase averaged 127 receiving yards per game and caught 20 touchdowns.

6. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Finley says: The Dolphins go all-out to make Tua Tagovailoa comfortable, drafting his former Alabama teammate to join a receiving corps in need of help.

7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Lev says: I had decided to take the best pass catcher available after Detroit parted ways with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. Was hoping Chase or Waddle would be here. Thought long and hard about Oregon OT Penei Sewell. If Smith is the consolation prize, Lions fans will be happy. The undersized playmaker absolutely dominated the SEC in 2020.

8. Carolina Panthers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Spears says: Carolina found its quarterback of the future — maybe — in Sam Darnold. Now they need a boost in the secondary. Surtain was targeted 48 times in his final season at Alabama, but allowed just 21 receptions (44%) and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. When in doubt, pick the Alabama guy.

9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

White says: The Broncos need to have one of either Lance or Fields available at No. 9 to feel confident in taking a QB. Would have loved to grab Fields with this pick, but Lance is an intriguing option with a big arm and play-making abilities.

10. Dallas Cowboys: Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon

Finley says: The Cowboys couldn’t block anyone last season, and as a result, Dak Prescott’s ankle exploded and Ezekiel Elliott finished with a career low in rushing yards. Sewell, a top-five pick in terms of talent, is a no-brainer.

11. New York Giants: Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

Lev says: The Giants have invested heavily in skill-position players (QB Daniel Jones, RB Saquon Barkley), and so it makes sense to continue to surround them with talent. Slater opted out of the 2020 season, but tested extremely well and can play multiple positions. Another meat-and-potatoes pick for old-school GM Dave Gettleman.

12. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Spears says: Philly could go a number of directions with this pick, but will address their inconsistencies in the defensive secondary. Horn is an aggressive cornerback known for his ability to press wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

White says: The Chargers grab a Pac-12 offensive lineman. The 6-foot-4-inch, 315-pound Vera-Tucker can play from Day 1 in the NFL. He is a much-needed protection upgrade for the blossoming talent that is Justin Herbert.

14. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech

Finley says: Pro Football Focus gave Darrisaw the highest rating of any Power 5 offensive tackle in 2020. Good enough for me — and for the Vikings.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones jogs off the field after defeating Western Carolina on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Lev says: This probably won’t happen. New England is a strong candidate to trade up for a QB or down for more picks. But if it should fall this way, the Patriots have to act. Jones doesn’t have as much upside as the other QBs. But Bill Belichick, as evidenced by his earlier offseason moves, is in win-now mode. Jones can start right away.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Spears says: All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson has bolted to Minnesota, meaning the Cardinals’ top position of need is, well, cornerback. Arizona drafted Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round last year, and signed defensive end J.J. Watt this season. Now it’s time to add more depth to the secondary.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

White says: Parsons has the talent to be selected in the top 10, but a lack of experience makes this a risky pick. The flashy 6-3, 246-pound linebacker was an All-American selection in 2019 and the Big Ten linebacker of the year. However, he opted out of the 2020 season at Penn State and has only started 13 games in his college career.

Alabama running back Najee Harris cold join his college teammate Tua Tagovailoa in Miami.

18. Miami Dolphins: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Finley says: It’s another Alabama player for the Dolphins, who have a major need at running back after finishing 22nd in rushing yards per game last season.

19. Washington Football Team: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

Lev says: Washington is another candidate to move up for a quarterback; Lance would be a perfect fit as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s understudy. But getting from No. 19 to, say, No. 7, is a tough ask. So I turned my attention to offensive tackle, another major team need. Jenkins isn’t a classic left tackle, but he was the last first-round tackle available.

20. Chicago Bears: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Spears says: Bateman shifted inside and caught 36 passes for 472 yards in 2020. Whether Bateman is a slot or outside receiver in the pros, he’ll make an immediate impact in Chicago alongside Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney.

21. Indianapolis Colts: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

White says: The Colts were a top-10 defense for all of 2020 and made one of the bigger gambles of the offseason by trading for Carson Wentz after Philip Rivers retired. Owusu-Koramoah makes a lot of sense with edge rusher Justin Houston gone due to free agency.

Mississippi wide receiver Elijah Moore (8) reacts following a touchdown by his team against Mississippi State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss.

22. Tennessee Titans: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

Finley says: The guy who cost Ole Miss a 2019 rivalry game by pretending to pee in the end zone following a touchdown catch, Moore has matured into an elite player. He averaged 149 receiving yards and exactly one TD per game in 2020.

23. New York Jets: Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia

Lev says: With Wilson in the fold, I took a best-player-available approach while also keeping team needs in the back of my mind. Ojulari checks both boxes. He’s a little undersized at about 6-2, 249, but has long arms and was extremely productive in the SEC (12.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 4 FF). He also hasn’t turned 21 yet.

24: Pittsburgh Steelers: Elijah Bateman, OL, Ohio State

Spears says: Ben Roethlisberger needs as much protection as possible if Pittsburgh’s offensive core of Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron want to thrive. At 6-4 and 315 pounds, Bateman has the size and versatility to play anywhere on the O-line.

Clemson's Travis Etienne celebrates after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

White says: Something about reuniting dynamic offensive players with their college QB just feels right in this draft. Etienne is a perfect third-down complement to James Robinson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.

26. Cleveland Browns: Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan Finley says: The most compelling athlete in the draft — Paye’s 6-4, 277, and was a high school long-jump champion — joins Jadaveon Clowney and Myles Garrett in Cleveland.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami (Fla.)

Lev says: Given the Ravens’ history, it seems likely that they’ll trade back with at least one of their two first-rounders. But with no such option available, I targeted the best edge rusher left. I had considered Phillips for the Jets at 23. He has everything you could want from a physical standpoint — aside from durability. Past concussions remain a concern.

28: New Orleans Saints: Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn State

Spears says: Do the Saints ramp up the competition to replace Drew Brees by drafting a quarterback at No. 28? We don’t believe so. Oweh was one of the top edge rushers in college football, and oozes potential with his 6-5, 257-pound frame. Pairing him with Cameron Jordan could make the rival Falcons wish they had drafted Sewell instead of Pitts.

LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Clemson during the second half of a NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans.

29. Green Bay Packers: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

White says: The Packers’ annual refusal to help Aaron Rodgers in the first round stops now. At just a shade under 6-foot-3, Marshall Jr. can line up on the outside opposite Davante Adams and be the reliable secondary receiving option that Rodgers been clamoring for.

30. Buffalo Bills: Walker Little, OL, Stanford

Finley says: Little got hurt in Stanford’s 2019 opener, missed the rest of the season, then opted out of 2020. Otherwise, he’d be a top-half-of-the-first-round pick. Buffalo gets great value at No. 30.

31. Baltimore Ravens: Landon Dickerson, OL, Alabama

Lev says: The Ravens need to keep Lamar Jackson in one piece, and they need to replace Orlando Brown. I was hoping a tackle would fall here, but that didn’t materialize. Baltimore never panics, though. In Dickerson, the Ravens get a plug-and-play center who can make Jackson better. As with Phillips, durability is a bit worrisome.

32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

Spears says: Want to feel old? Tom Brady is teammates with Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father played against Brady in college when the two were at Ohio State and Michigan. Now Brady becomes teammates with Samuel, whose father won two Super Bowls alongside Brady in New England.


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Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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