2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated: 2/18/21 

For first time readers of this website, the primary feature of this website is my against the spread NFL picks. Mock drafts are just something I do for fun in the off-season and I am not nearly as confident in these mock draft picks as my against the spread picks. My main focus is using my knowledge of pro teams to discuss how players would best fit with teams that are drafting in the range they are currently projected to be drafted in. I also threw in some trades. Teams’ needs will change pretty drastically before draft day due to free agency and trades, so I will make continue to make updates between now and the draft, based on changing prospect rankings and changing team needs, and I will likely expand to multiple rounds at some point. This is version 3.0.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Until I hear otherwise, I expect Trevor Lawrence to be a Jacksonville Jaguar. The Jaguars earned this pick by being the worst team in the league last season, losing each of their last 15 games after somehow pulling the week one upset over the playoff qualifying Indianapolis Colts. Trevor Lawrence won’t fix all of the Jaguars’ issues, but they have a stockpile of draft picks and significant cap space to build quickly around Lawrence, who is legitimately one of the safest #1 draft picks in the past three decades. In a division where two of the other three teams have quarterback concerns, the Jaguars could make a big jump in 2021 if they manage their off-season well.

2. New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson (BYU)

The Jets lost the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes by winning a couple games late in the season and now have a difficult decision to make. They could trade down from this spot and continue trying to build around Sam Darnold, the 2018 3rd overall pick, who is now heading into his 4th season in the league. Or they could trade Darnold and use this pick on his replacement. There is some speculation that the Jets could use this pick to acquire Deshaun Watson, but Watson reportedly is not as interested in going to New York as once thought and could veto a trade to the Jets. 

That leaves the Jets choosing between a new quarterback or keeping Darnold and using this pick to build around him, likely by moving down with a quarterback-needy team. Ultimately, I think the former is more likely. The front office and coaching staff who drafted Darnold are gone and Darnold’s contract situation is much less favorable than a rookie, who would have four remaining cost controlled years, as opposed to one for Darnold. It was close between Zach Wilson and Justin Fields here, but Wilson seems to have pulled ahead according to most sources.

3. Houston Texans (TRADE) – QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)

This is where things get complicated. The Texans are adamantly against moving Deshaun Watson, but may not have a choice in the matter if Watson chooses to really play hardball. On top of that, Watson’s no trade clause allows him to ensure that he has final say in his destination. If the Texans move Watson, they will likely want to make sure they get either a talented young quarterback in exchange or a high draft pick they can use to acquire one, which likely means moving into the top-3 of the draft. 

The Jaguars are unlikely to trade the #1 pick and the Texans wouldn’t want to move Watson within the division either, which leaves the Jets and Dolphins as trade partners. The Jets would make sense if Watson was willing to waive his no trade clause to go there, but recent reports suggest that might not happen. The Dolphins would make some sense, but they seem to be committed to last year’s #5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa, so, as enticing of a package as the Dolphins could put together for Watson, including two first round picks and either Tagovailoa or the compensation they can get for moving him elsewhere, a trade sending Watson to the Dolphins seems unlikely. 

However, the Dolphins could still be involved in a trade that moves Watson elsewhere. In this scenario, I have Watson going to Las Vegas, with Vegas sending Derek Carr to Chicago, their first round pick (#17) to Miami, and tight end Darren Waller back to Houston. Houston would also get a 2022 first round pick from the Bears, who would also send their 2021 first round pick (#20) to Miami. Miami would also get a 2022 2nd round pick from Houston to make the trade roughly work on the trade value chart, with the Dolphins getting a trio of picks total for the 3rd overall pick.

Waller’s contract is one of the most team friendly veteran deals in the league, the top-3 pick would get the Texans a replacement for Watson, and Houston gets to move up from the 2nd round to the 1st round in 2022 as well. The Bears would be giving up a pair of first round picks to acquire a quarterback they believe will put them over the top. The Raiders are trading a first round pick and a valuable tight end to upgrade at quarterback, but 2019 4th round pick Foster Moreau has shown a lot of promise in two seasons in the league and could take over a bigger role in 2021, and Watson is the kind of quarterback where the price tag may be worth it. For the Dolphins, this trade allows them to move down out of the top-3 in a year when they don’t need a quarterback and can get good value later in the draft and in next year’s draft with the three picks they acquired. If this crazy trade somehow happened, the Texans would target whichever of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson that the Jets don’t take.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (TRADE) – OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

Here is another trade that I think makes a lot of sense. The Chargers have a massive need at left tackle and need to protect Justin Herbert better long-term and the left tackle class drops off significantly after Sewell. They won’t be able to get him with their current pick at 13 and any left tackle they took there would probably be a reach, so they move up with the Falcons, who would have to reach to address any of their significant needs if they stayed put at 4. The move up would likely cost the Chargers a 2022 1st round pick, but Sewell is so much better than the other left tackle prospects in this draft that it would probably be worth it.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – WR JaMarr Chase (LSU)

The Bengals will be happy if at least 3 quarterbacks go off the board in the top-4 because that will ensure the Bengals will be able to draft either Sewell or their choice of the top wide receiver prospects. Sewell is off the board, but the Bengals won’t mind too much because adding a top flight wide receiver prospect would give Joe Burrow a very impressive young wide receiver trio going forward, along with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, with the aging AJ Green likely on his way out as a free agent this off-season. It’s close between JaMarr Chase and DeVonta Smith, but the opportunity to reunite Chase with his college quarterback Joe Burrow would likely be a tiebreaker in this scenario.

6. Philadelphia Eagles – WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)

The Eagles used several draft picks on wide receivers last year, including first round pick Jalen Reagor, but anyone who watched them this season knows they still badly need help at the position, with no pass catcher topping 539 receiving yards. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson can’t be counted on to return and, other than Reagor, none of the wide receivers drafted last season look like potential long-term starters. Either Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith are too good for the Eagles to pass on if available and it’s likely one of the two will fall to them.

7. Detroit Lions – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

I’ve had a quarterback here in the past, but that seems unlikely with Jared Goff coming to town in the Matt Stafford trade. The Lions reportedly chose Goff over a package that includes the Panthers’ 8th overall pick, so they seem to think more highly of Goff than the quarterbacks that would be available early in this draft, and Goff’s salary basically locks him in as the starter over the next two seasons anyway. Instead, the Lions will likely focus on defense, after being arguably the worst defensive team in the league last season. This isn’t a great defensive draft at the top, but the Lions will have their pick of defensive players in this scenario, with the first six picks all being offensive players. Parsons is likely to be the first defender off the board and would fill a big need as an every down middle linebacker in this 4-3 defense. 

8. Carolina Panthers – QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

The Panthers are another team that could address the quarterback position early in the draft, after failing to trade this pick for Matt Stafford. Teddy Bridgewater is owed 39 million over the next two seasons and in his first season as the Panthers’ starter he didn’t prove he was worth that kind of money. Bridgewater has 10 million guaranteed to him for 2021, but the Panthers could restructure a cheaper deal with him and keep him as a bridge quarterback while a rookie develops. A raw, high upside option like Trey Lance would make a lot of sense.

9. Denver Broncos – CB Patrick Surtain (Alabama)

The Broncos’ defense played well in 2020 despite a lot of injuries, but their cornerback group was depleted by the end of the season. Even if AJ Bouye and Bryce Callahan come back healthy, the Broncos need a third cornerback, another outside cornerback to play opposite Bouye, with Callahan on the slot, and it sounds like Bouye is going to end up being a cap casualty anyway. The Broncos are speculated to be interested in drafting a quarterback, but the top-4 are all off the board at this point and, even if they weren’t, I’m not sure they would take one, with Drew Lock still around as a developmental quarterback prospect. They could still take another quarterback with a high pick if they’ve given up on Lock, but I think it’s more likely they pursue veteran competition rather than giving up on Lock. 

10. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

The Dolphins have had as much draft capital as any team in the league over the past two drafts and they acquired another three draft picks by moving down from the 3rd pick, so now they use some of that draft capital to move back up into the top-10 and address a big need with a premium prospect. The Dolphins really lack a consistent 2nd wide receiver behind DeVante Parker and, by taking Waddle, would be reuniting him with his collegiate quarterback the same way the Bengals did with JaMarr Chase. Waddle would be a prime candidate for the Giants if he was available, so moving up to 10 would make sense for the Dolphins, while the Cowboys, the original owners of this pick, have significant needs on both sides of the ball and would benefit from moving down and accumulating more picks, in this scenario picks 17 and 50, which roughly equals the 10th pick on the trade value chart.

11. New York Giants – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

The Giants miss out on Jaylen Waddle, but they still can add to their receiving corps with Kyle Pitts, a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. He may sound similar to Evan Engram, but, despite his ludicrous Pro-Bowl nomination, Engram has been frustratingly inconsistent and, going into the final year of his rookie deal, the Giants could be looking to replace him long-term. In the short-term, the Giants can figure out ways to get both Pitts and Engram on the field at the same time and mask their lack of wide receiver depth.

12. San Francisco 49ers – DE Greg Rousseau (Miami)

The 49ers will be healthier at the edge rusher position in 2021, as at least Nick Bosa should return, but Dee Ford could easily not return, owed a non-guaranteed 16.9 million in 2021 after two injury plagued seasons in San Francisco. Solomon Thomas should also be healthy again, but he’s a free agent this off-season hasn’t shown much in four seasons in the league. The 49ers need a long-term edge rusher opposite Bosa. Arik Armstead played outside out of necessity last season, but the 49ers would like to be able to use him inside more next season. Rousseau would give the 49ers a quartet of first round picks upfront, with Bosa, Armstead, and last year’s first round pick defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

13. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – C Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)

The Falcons have plenty of needs on defense, but they have offensive needs as well and will likely take the best available player. Slater, who can play all 5 positions upfront, is a potential top-10 pick and would fill a big need on the interior of the Falcons’ offensive line. Center Alex Mack is about to be a free agent and left guard James Carpenter will likely be a cap casualty, owed a non-guaranteed 5.55 million for his age 32 season in 2021, after a dismal 2020. Matt Hennessy, a 2020 3rd round pick, can take over as the starter at one of those two spots, but they’ll need a second starter. Slater can step in immediately at either spot.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)

The Vikings’ defense was absolutely horrible down the stretch in 2020 and, while a lot of that was due to injuries, especially linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings still have obvious needs on that side of the ball, especially on the defensive line. Barmore is probably a better value at this point than any edge rusher and he’d fill a massive need at defensive tackle, where the Vikings had one of the league’s worst groups last season after off-season acquisition Michael Pierce opted out. If Pierce returns, he and Barmore would improve this group significantly.

15. New England Patriots – QB Mac Jones (Alabama)

I’ve expected the Patriots to get a veteran quarterback in the past, with an aging Bill Belichick wanting to win now, but with Matt Stafford and Jared Goff off the market and the Patriots seemingly not interested in the asking price for Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, their veteran options are dwindling. Jimmy Garropolo would still make a lot of sense, but with other teams needing quarterbacks, he is not a guarantee to return to Foxborough, nor is he a guarantee to even be moved, with the 49ers not guaranteed to find an upgrade. That would leave the Patriots in the Marcus Mariota/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jacoby Brissett/Andy Dalton/Cam Newton tier of quarterback options, in which case the Patriots would likely also draft a quarterback as a long-term option. Mac Jones would make a lot of sense at 15. 

16. Arizona Cardinals – G Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

The Cardinals have improved their offensive line a lot in the past two seasons since hiring Kliff Kingsbury, but they could still use an upgrade at right guard, where underwhelming starter JR Sweezy is set to hit free agency this off-season, ahead of his age 32 season. The Cardinals could upgrade on him in a big way with the draft class’ top guard prospect, which would have a big impact on this running game and this offense as a whole. 

17. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

After trading down, the Cowboys take the best available defensive player and address a big need at cornerback. Byron Jones left as a free agent last off-season and Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis could follow him as free agents this off-season. Both players regressed in 2020 anyway, so the Cowboys may want to move on. If they do, they’ll likely have to address this position in the draft because they don’t have the financial flexibility to make a big addition in free agency.

18. Miami Dolphins – OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

The Dolphins used a first round pick on Austin Jackson last year and had several rookie starters on the offensive line, but overall this group was part of the problem for this underwhelming Dolphins offense. Darrisaw can play either left tackle or right tackle for the Dolphins, allowing them to either move Jackson or 2020 2nd round pick Robert Hunt inside to guard long-term. The Dolphins need to continue investing in protecting Tua Tagovailoa long-term.

19. Washington Football Team – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

Washington misses out on the first round quarterbacks, but they can still find an upgrade for their offense, which was clearly Washington’s worst unit last season. They really lack a consistent #2 option behind Terry McLaurin and could use this pick to get an upgrade for whoever their quarterback ends up being. If Bateman pans out, he and McLaurin could be a dominant duo for years to come.

20. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

The Dolphins lack a good three down linebacker, so they could address this position with their second pick in the first round. Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, and Kamu Grugier-Hill saw the majority of the linebacker snaps in 2020 with hybrid player Kyle Van Noy also in the mix, but Van Noy plays a lot of edge defender snaps as well and Baker, Roberts, and Grugier-Hill could all be upgraded. Owusu-Koramoah is one of the best every down linebacker prospects in this draft and could play close to 100% of the snaps even as a rookie.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (TRADE) – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

The Eagles are reportedly trying to trade Carson Wentz, to acquire another high draft pick and to clear space for 2020 2nd round pick Jalen Hurts to be the starter long-term. The two teams most interested in Wentz are reportedly the Bears, who have Wentz’ former quarterbacks coach and a big need at the position, and the Colts, who have Wentz’ former offensive coordinator and a big need at the position as well. Right now, neither team is willing to give the Eagles the first round pick they’re asking for, but it’s still likely something gets worked out before draft day.

I have the Bears shooting higher and acquiring Derek Carr, so the Colts would then be the most likely suitor for Wentz. The Colts’ reportedly currently have the best offer on the table, a pair of second round picks, but the Eagles are insistent on receiving a first round pick. Perhaps the Colts and Eagles could come to a more creative agreement that gets the Eagles a first round pick without the Colts having to drastically increase their current offer. 

The Colts don’t have two second round picks this year, so we can assume the two second round picks they offered were this year’s (#54) and next year’s. A future pick typically is worth a round less than a current pick, so for comparison sake let’s say the Colts’ 2022 2nd round pick is worth the equivalent of the 80th overall pick this year. Combining that with pick #54, the Colts current offer is worth the equivalent of the 35th overall pick.

A comparable offer would send the Eagles the 21st overall pick for Wentz and the Eagles’ 3rd round pick, 70th overall. The difference between picks 21 and 70 is also equivalent to the 35th overall pick, so this is comparable value to the Colts’ current offer and gets the Eagles back into the first round, where they take a much needed complement to Darius Slay at the cornerback position. (Note: Of course, the day I publish this Wentz gets sent to Indianapolis, but this pick isn’t involved). 

22. Tennessee Titans – OLB Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

Edge defender (outside linebacker in the Titans 3-4 scheme) was a huge position of need for the Titans last off-season. They thought they solved the issue in the short-term with Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney being added on one-year deals, but neither amounted to anything and the Titans’ pass rush was an obvious weakness on a team that was Super Bowl caliber on offense. The Titans could address the need with a long-term option early in the draft this year, giving them a long-term complement on the edge opposite Harold Landry.

23. New York Jets – RB Travis Eitienne (Clemson)

Teams that use a first round pick on a quarterback typically use their next pick on another offensive player and I wouldn’t expect anything different from the Jets, who are much worse on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side. The Jets really could address any position group on offense, but Eitienne is arguably the best available player and would fill a big need for the Jets, after the Le’Veon Bell signing went about as badly as it could have. With Bell getting cut early in the year, the Jets were led in carries by Frank Gore, who is not a long-term option even if he does return for his age 38 season in 2021. Assuming the Jets move on and go in a younger direction, they’ll have options early in the draft. Eitienne could step into a feature back role immediately as a rookie.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – G Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)

The Steelers’ offensive line was a big part of the problem for this offense in 2020. They didn’t give up many sacks, but that was more of a feature of the Steelers throwing so many quick short passes, and their run blocking was terrible. This team is used to having a strong offensive line and have had arguably the most consistent offensive line in the league over the past half decade, but left guard Ramon Foster retired last off-season ahead of what would have been his age 34 season in 2020, which was a big part of the problem last season, and now center Maurkice Pouncey is following him, ahead of what would have been his age 32 season in 2021. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right guard David DeCastro are still around, but they aren’t getting any younger either, going into their age 33 season and age 31 season respectively and Villanueva is a free agent this off-season. Vera-Tucker is a versatile offensive lineman who could start at tackle or guard for this team. 

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

Normally teams that draft a quarterback with a first round pick use their next pick on a complementary offensive player, but the Jaguars could buck the trend because they have more needs on defense than offense. The Jaguars’ defense should be better by default in 2021 because they should be healthier, but they still need to add a playmaker at the safety position. Jarrod Wilson is a capable if unspectacular starter, but they could use a higher upside option next to him. 

26. Cleveland Browns – DE Kwity Paye (Michigan)

Olivier Vernon tore his achilles, which was a huge blow to the Browns’ chances in the post-season. Vernon was a free agent anyway, but his injury makes it even more likely the Browns go elsewhere at the defensive end position opposite Myles Garrett this off-season. Using a high draft pick on an edge rusher would make a lot of sense for a team that lacked depth at the position even before the Vernon injury.

27. Baltimore Ravens – G Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

The Ravens’ offense was not the same this season as they were in their dominant 2019 season, in part because they didn’t catch teams off guard as much with their unique offense, but also in part because they were missing key offensive linemen. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley should be back healthy next season, but they still need a replacement for right guard Marshal Yanda, who retired after the 2019 season, when he was one of the best guards in the NFL. Leatherwood has questions about his ability to play outside at the next level, but could easily move inside and be an above average guard.

28. New Orleans Saints – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

Along with losing quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints figure to also part ways with several other veterans, as they simply don’t have the cap space to keep all their high priced players, let alone retain their free agents. The Saints will likely look to the draft for replacements. Safety Marcus Williams is one of the top players in the league at his position, but he figures to get paid as such as a free agent this off-season, pricing him out of the Saints budget. The Saints could use their first round pick on a long-term replacement. Holland could start on day one and would be a big addition for a team whose top safety would be an aging and declining Malcolm Jenkins (age 34 in 2021) if Williams isn’t brought back.

29. Green Bay Packers – WR Kadarius Toney (Florida)

The Jordan Love pick didn’t make any sense at the time and looks even worse in hindsight, as the Packers were legitimately a play or two from making it back to the Super Bowl, while Love couldn’t even win the primary backup quarterback job as a rookie. The Packers easily could have taken a player instead of Love that would have put them over the top this season and Love’s lack of development makes the situation even worse. Wide receiver and middle linebacker remain obvious positions of need as they were last year, so perhaps the Packers will learn from their mistake. I have given the Packers a middle linebacker here in the past, but it might be more likely that the Packers finally get Rodgers a first round wide receiver to keep him happy, after yet another dominant season ended with an NFC Championship loss.

30. Buffalo Bills – DE Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

The Bills used a 2nd round pick on defensive end AJ Epenesa in last year’s draft, but their top-3 defensive ends by snaps played in 2020 were all over the age of 30 and their overall edge rush was disappointing, so they need to add more youth and talent to this group. The Bills don’t have many pressing needs and will have their pick of a variety of different edge rush options at the end of the first round, so this seems like an area they are likely to address.

31. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Jaelan Phillips (Miami)

The Chiefs’ biggest weakness is probably their edge rush opposite Frank Clark, as no other edge rusher had more than 3 sacks and the Chiefs had a below average 32 sacks as a team, despite playing with frequent leads. They could address this position in the draft at the end of the first round. Basham could easily be an immediate upgrade over players like Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpsaagnon, and Michael Danna.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Najee Davis (Alabama)

Leonard Fournette was added as a complement for Ronald Jones, but he’s only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded. Ronald Jones is a capable lead back, but the Buccaneers are all in for a Super Bowl repeat with an age 44 Tom Brady in the final year of his contract in 2021 and adding a feature back prospect like Davis is the most impactful short-term move the Buccaneers can make at this point. Similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le’Veon Bell on the Chiefs this season, Etienne could be the lead back, with Ronald Jones rotating in as a strong 2nd option.

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

You can really pick any position on the Jaguars’ defense and they need help there, but, after adding safety in the first round, defensive tackle stands out as their biggest need. Veterans Abry Jones and Adam Gotsis are both free agents, while 2018 1st round pick Taven Bryan and 2020 3rd round pick Davon Hamilton have yet to show much. There is opportunity for a rookie to play a lot at the defensive tackle position.

34. New York Jets – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

The Jets continue to add to their offense. Injuries were part of the problem for the Jets in the receiving corps last season as their top-3 wide receivers all missed significant time at one point or another. Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims are expected back healthy in 2021, but the Breshad Perriman experiment seems to be over after one year, so the Jets need a third receiver, preferably one with a lot of upside long-term. If they don’t address this position in free agency, expect them to do so in the draft.

35. Atlanta Falcons – OLB Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)

The Falcons seemingly have a perpetual need for pass rushers, somehow not topping 39 sacks in a season since 2004. Last season, the Falcons managed just 29 sacks, as free agent acquisition Dante Fowler was a massive disappointment and former first round pick bust Takkarist McKinley was cut midway through the season The Falcons are locked into some of Fowler’s salary next season, so they’ll have to hope he rebounds, but even if he does, the Falcons will still need help opposite him and they don’t have the financial flexibility for another big free agent signing at the position. If they don’t address this need in the first round, they’ll have to do it very soon after.

36. Miami Dolphins – RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina)

I expected the Dolphins to address the running back position in last year’s draft, but they opted to add a pair of veterans in Jordan Howard and Matt Breida instead. That didn’t work out and the Dolphins were down to starting backup caliber running backs by the end of the season. It’s likely they’ll use a high pick on the position early in this year’s draft, especially if they trade down and accumulate additional draft picks. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed aren’t terrible running backs, but Williams would have a big role in this backfield immediately.

37. Philadelphia Eagles – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

The Eagles have had problems in their linebacking corps for years and would really benefit from adding a three down linebacker prospect early in the draft. Duke Riley and Nathan Gerry are underwhelming players who are free agents this off-season, so Moses can step in and have a big role right away.

38. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Bengals’ addressed their need in the receiving corps in the first round and now need to find upgrades on their offensive line. Outside of left tackle Jonah Williams, every spot on this offensive line needs an upgrade and, unless they find multiple upgrades in free agency, their offensive line will have to be a draft day priority for the Bengals. Jalen Mayfield could be a plug and play starter at right tackle right away for this team. 

39. Carolina Panthers – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Panthers had a solid offensive line last season, but four of their five starters are free agents this off-season, so they will likely have to address this group early in the draft. Trey Smith is arguably the best offensive lineman available and could easily be a plug and play starter for this team at either guard spot, where veterans Michael Schofield and John Miller are both free agents.

40. New York Jets (TRADE) – OLB Jayson Oweh (Penn State)

The Jets get this pick in a trade with the Broncos that sends Sam Darnold to Denver. Darnold won’t be needed in New York anymore with Zach Wilson being added with the 2nd overall pick and the Broncos, who were known to have Darnold atop their draft board in 2018 and still have a massive need at the position, seem like an obvious fit as a trade partner. Darnold’s career has not gotten off to a good start, but he’s still not even 24 years old and has not been in a good situation with the Jets. He could definitely still develop into a franchise quarterback in the right situation.

There figure to be several teams that were high on Darnold in 2018 that are willing to pay a decently high price to try to take their shot at developing him, so the Jets are expected to be able to get close to a first round pick’s worth of value for him, in this case Denver’s 40th overall pick. In Denver, he would be competition for and hopefully an upgrade over Drew Lock. The Jets, meanwhile, get much needed help at the edge rush position, their biggest defensive weakness, after using their first three picks addressing big needs on offense. 

41. Detroit Lions – WR Terrance Marshall (LSU)

Defense is obviously a bigger priority, but the Lions’ top-3 wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola are all free agents this off-season, so it’s likely that they’ll have to find new weapons for Jared Goff on draft day. Depending on what happens in free agency, Marshall could be the Lions’ long-term #1 wide receiver.

42. New York Giants – OLB Joe Tryon (Washington)

Leonard Williams was the only Giants player with more than 4 sacks last season and he’s a free agent this off-season. Even if he’s retained, he rushes the passer from the interior more often than not, so the Giants would still have their long standing need for an edge rusher regardless of what happens with Williams. Barring a big free agent signing, the Giants will have to address this need early on draft day.

43. San Francisco 49ers – CB Eric Stokes (Georgia)

The 49ers’ top four cornerbacks from 2020, Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, and K’Waun Williams, are all free agents this off-season, so the 49ers will likely be addressing this position at some point on draft day. Depending on what happens in free agency, Stokes could end up as a starter for the 49ers as a rookie.

44. Dallas Cowboys – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

The Cowboys continue to add to their defense. Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory stayed out of trouble in 2020 and performed well in rotation with DeMarcus Lawrence, but Smith is a free agent going into his age 32 season and neither player is particularly reliable, so the Cowboys could easily add to the position through the draft.

45. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Asante Samuel (Florida State)

More defensive help for the Jaguars. DJ Hayden is a free agent this off-season, after a disappointing injury plagued 2020 season, and the Jaguars need at least one more, probably two more young cornerbacks to go with last year’s first round pick CJ Henderson.

46. New England Patriots – TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The Patriots will almost definitely address their receiving corps in free agency because they have among the most cap space in the league and among the worst receiving corps in the league. Still, they could need to add more talent in the draft, especially if they aren’t able to find a good tight end in free agency. Freiermuth is one of the top tight ends in this draft class and could play a big role as a rookie.

47. Los Angeles Chargers – C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

The Chargers added a left tackle in the first round, but they need to keep improving Justin Herbert’s protection. The interior of the Chargers’ offensive line is a problem as well, especially with center Mike Pouncey retiring. Humphrey could be his replacement and has the size and versatility to play guard as well.

48. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Shaun Wade (Ohio State)

The Raiders used the 19th overall pick on cornerback Damon Arnette last year, but the Raiders’ defense was still terrible this season and they need to keep building their cornerback group, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them use another high pick on a cornerback. The Raiders have the need for another long-term starter and if everything goes well Wade and Arnette could form a talented duo for years to come.

49. Arizona Cardinals – CB Aaron Robinson (UCF)

Byron Murphy, a second round pick in 2019, looks like a long-term starter for the Cardinals, but long-time Cardinal Patrick Peterson is a declining player who is a free agent ahead of his age 31 season this off-season and, even if he’s retained, they’ll still need a long-term replacement for him and a third cornerback to play with Murphy and Peterson in the meantime.

50. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – OLB Nick Bolton (Missouri)

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were once one of the top linebacker duos in the NFL, but they’ve struggled in recent years. Veteran Sean Lee is also a free agent ahead of his age 35 season and looked done last year, so depth is needed at the position even if Smith and Vander Esch bounce back long-term.

51. Washington Football Team – QB Kyle Trask (Florida)

The Alex Smith comeback story has been amazing, but he’ll need to make a decision on continuing his career in his age 37 season in 2021 and, even if he wants to return, Washington will have to make a decision on bringing him back at his currently scheduled 19 million salary, none of which is guaranteed. Even if he is brought back, he’s not a long-term option, so Washington will likely add another quarterback to the mix to compete with Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and possibly Smith.

52. Chicago Bears – WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

The Bears hope to bring back Allen Robinson as a free agent this off-season, but, even if they do, they could use another wide receiver. Darnell Mooney showed a lot of promise as a 5th round rookie in 2020, but 2018 2nd round pick Anthony Miller has yet to develop. St. Brown would be a potential #1 wide receiver long-term if Robinson can’t be retained and, if Robinson is retained, he can still contribute immediately in three wide receiver sets with Robinson and Mooney as a rookie.

53. Tennessee Titans – DE Daviyon Nixon (Iowa)

The Titans addressed their edge rush in the first round, but the interior is a concern for the Titans as well. Aside from Jeffrey Simmons, the cupboard is pretty bare on this 3-man defensive line in the Titans 3-4 defense, especially with DaQuan Jones and Jack Crawford set to hit free agency. Nixon could have a big role as a rookie, depending on how free agency goes.

54. Indianapolis Colts – OT Samuel Cosmi (Texas)

The Colts have had the best offensive line in the league in recent years and it’s the result of having the same five above average starters together for the past three seasons. However, left tackle Anthony Castonzo has retired, leaving a big hole at left tackle. Unless they address this position in free agency, the Colts will have to find a replacement for Castonzo early in the draft. 

55. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Chubba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

Lead back James Conner is a free agent for the Steelers this off-season and backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged 3.32 yards per carry and 3.42 yards per carry respectively in 2020. Conner could be brought back, but the Steelers may have their sights on an upgrade at the position long-term. Hubbard would be cheaper and likely better than Conner and would make sense even if the Steelers are able to bring Conner back on a cheap one-year deal to work in tandem with another back.

56. Seattle Seahawks – CB Tyson Campbell (Georgia)

Shaq Griffin and Quinton Dunbar were the Seahawks’ starting cornerbacks when healthy last season, but both missed significant time with injury and now they’re free agents. If the Seahawks have to replace them, Tyson Campbell is a day two prospect with the size they look for at the position.

57. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Jabril Cox (LSU)

The Rams don’t have a first round pick and aren’t scheduled to have one until 2024, so they’ll have to make all their picks count and they will likely try to move down and accumulate more picks like they normally do. If they stay put, addressing a big need at inside linebacker would make sense.

58. Baltimore Ravens – WR Elijah Moore (Mississippi)

The Ravens need reliable wide receivers behind Marquise Brown, especially with Willie Snead set to hit free agency. Moore would give them more upside long-term than Snead and a long-term #2 behind Brown.

59. Cleveland Browns – CB Greg Newsome (Northwestern)

The Browns used a second round pick on cornerback Greedy Williams in 2019, but he’s missed 20 of 32 career games, including all of 2020, which forced the Browns to rely on underwhelming veterans Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson, who are both free agents. Even if Williams is able to return healthy in 2021, the Browns need a third cornerback long-term with him and Denzel Ward.

60. New Orleans Saints – WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville)

The Saints were without Michael Thomas for most of 2020 and didn’t have a young wide receiver step up in his absence, instead relying on Emmanuel Sanders, who will be in an age 34 contract season in 2021. The Saints could use a high draft pick and a long-term complement for Thomas, something they really lack right now. In the short-term, Atwell would be an upgrade as the #3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders.

61. Buffalo Bills – OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)

The Bills got great play out of reclamation project Daryl Williams at right tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and could easily go elsewhere, as could swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who would be in his age 36 season if he returned. The Bills could use a high pick on a right tackle who would allow Cody Ford to remain at guard long-term. 

62. Green Bay Packers – MLB Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)

I mentioned in the first round that wide receiver and middle linebacker are glaring needs for the Packers. They added a wide receiver in the first round and now are lucky enough to have a good three down linebacker prospect available at the end of the second round. Surratt could play a big role, even as a rookie, in this thin position group.

63. Kansas City Chiefs – G Landon Dickerson (Alabama)

In case you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ offensive line is their offense’s achilles heel. They’ll be healthier next season, but tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz are both long-term question marks because of their injuries and guard Kelechi Osemele is a free agent this off-season and might not be back even if he is healthy. Dickerson is a versatile lineman who will likely settle in as a starting guard for this team.

64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Quincy Roche (Miami)

Shaq Barrett is one of several free agents the Buccaneers have hitting the market this off-season and, if he’s not retained, the Bucs are pretty thin at the position behind him, so they could look to the draft for a replacement. 

65. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

After focusing on defense with their last few picks, the Jaguars get Trevor Lawrence a new wide receiver here in the third round. DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault are both locked in as starters for 2021, but Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook are all free agents this off-season and the Jaguars could add more depth through the draft if they don’t make additions in free agency.

66. New York Jets – MLB Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

The Jets have a bunch of free agent middle linebackers this off-season and they could use an upgrade anyway. CJ Mosley is expected back after opting out this season, but the Jets will need at least one more player at the position.

67. Houston Texans – DT Jay Tufele (USC)

Beyond the Deshaun Watson problem that the Texans have, they also lack their own first and second round pick and could use help basically at every position on defense. In this mock draft, I have the Texans acquiring the 3rd pick in the Deshaun Watson trade, but they’ll have to use that on his replacement and leave defense for later. Tufele could have an immediate impact on a thin defensive line that will be even thinner next season without JJ Watt.

68. Atlanta Falcons – RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)

The Todd Gurley experiment didn’t work as Gurley was ineffective and was forced into a timeshare with Ito Smith and Brian Hill down the stretch. With Gurley now a free agent again, the Falcons will need to find another back to go with Smith and Hill. Even with as many defensive needs as they have, expect the Falcons to focus on the running back position early in the draft.

69. Cincinnati Bengals – G Josh Myers (Ohio State)

Unless they add multiple upgrades in free agency on the offensive line, the Bengals will need to find multiple starters in the draft. Even as a third round rookie, Myers could still compete for a starting job upfront for the Bengals.

70. Indianapolis Colts (TRADE) – DT Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)

Denico Autry and Justin Houston were starters at defensive tackle and defensive end respectively last season, but they’re both free agents this off-season, ahead of their age 31 and age 32 seasons respectively. Twyman could be a replacement for Autry.

71. Denver Broncos – S Andre Cisco (Syracuse)

Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are one of the best safety duos in the league, but the former is a free agent and the latter is going into his age 33 season, so, even if Simmons returns on a long-term deal, adding a safety in the draft would still make sense.

72. Detroit Lions – OT Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame)

Right tackle Tyrell Crosby wasn’t terrible last season in the first extended starting action of his career, but the Lions could still add competition for him and need depth across the line as well. Eichenberg is a good value at this point in the draft.

73. Carolina Panthers – TE Brevin Jordan (Miami)

The Panthers had a talented trio of receivers last season with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel, but they didn’t get much from the tight end spot. That wasn’t a huge deal because of their top-3 receivers, but Samuel is a free agent this off-season, which would put more emphasis on their tight end group.

74. Washington Football Team – OT Walker Little (Stanford)

Washington had a strong offensive line overall last season, but they could still use an upgrade at left tackle. Walker Little could at least add valuable competition and depth across the line.

75. Dallas Cowboys – S Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State)

The Cowboys have been looking for an upgrade at safety for years and the position was a big problem last season, with Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson both struggling as starters opposite Xavier Woods. Woods is a good safety, but he’s a free agent this off-season, so the Cowboys could need not just one, but two upgrades at safety this off-season.

76. New York Giants – CB Elijah Molden (Washington)

The Giants seem to have found a keeper with free agent signing James Bradberry, but they need to find consistent options behind him on the depth chart.

77. Los Angeles Chargers – WR Nico Collins (Michigan)

The Chargers could use more depth at the wide receiver position behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the latter of whom is going into the final year of his contract in 2021.

78. Minnesota Vikings – DE Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)

The Vikings added a defensive tackle in the first round, but they need to add a defensive end as well, as they had one of the thinnest defensive lines in the league last season. Their edge rush should be better with Danielle Hunter back healthy next season, but they’ll need help opposite him.

79. Arizona Cardinals – WR Seth Williams (Auburn)

The Cardinals run a lot of 3 and 4 wide receiver sets so head coach Kliff Kingsbury can’t be satisfied with his wide receiver depth, especially if Larry Fitzgerald retires this off-season. Andy Isabella, a 2nd round pick in 2019, hasn’t developed at all, so the Cardinals need a long-term #3 receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk.

80. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Jackson Carman (Clemson)

Trent Brown has had a lot of trouble staying healthy in two seasons since signing with the Raiders and even if the Raiders don’t move on from him this off-season to save 14 million in cash and cap space, the Raiders still should add depth at the position.

81. Miami Dolphins – WR Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

The Dolphins are so thin at wide receiver that they could double up at the position in the draft, especially if they trade down and accumulate extra picks.

82. Washington Football Team – DE Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)

Chase Young and Montez Sweat are obviously a dominant edge rush duo and, given how young they are, they figure to be one for a long time if they can stay healthy and if Washington can keep them together. However, backups Ryan Anderson and Ryan Kerrigan are free agents and are likely to leave in search of more playing time, so Washington will need to replenish depth.

83. Chicago Bears – OT James Hudson (Cincinnati)

The Bears have free agent backups at the offensive tackle position and could use a young development player, with left tackle Charles Leno and right tackle Bobby Massie heading into their age 30 and age 32 seasons respectively.

84. Indianapolis Colts – MLB Baron Browning (Ohio State)

The Colts don’t have a consistent linebacker behind Darius Leonard, whose absence is very noticeable when he misses time. Inside linebacker Anthony Walker is a free agent this off-season, so the Colts should be looking for a replacement and potential upgrade.

85. Tennessee Titans – WR Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

The Titans are unlikely to pay up to keep Corey Davis as their #2 wide receiver and slot receiver Adam Humphries’ future is in doubt due to concussions, so the Titans need to add depth behind top wide receiver AJ Brown.

86. New York Jets – CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)

Cornerback is also a major need on defense for the Jets. Brian Poole was their only above average player at the position last season and he’ll be a free agent this off-season.

87. Pittsburgh Steelers – TE Hunter Long (Boston College)

Vance McDonald is retiring, leaving the Steelers thin at the tight end position behind Eric Ebron, a possible could be a cap casualty for the cap strapped Steelers, who would save 6 million on the cap by moving on from him.

88. Detroit Lions – DE Hamilcar Rashed (Oregon State)

The Lions need to add talent pretty much at every position on defense, but defensive end is especially a need. The Lions’ 24 sacks were the 7th fewest in the league last season and Romeo Okwara, who led the team by far with 10, is set to hit free agency this off-season. Trey Flowers should be back healthy next season, but they need help opposite him.

89. Cleveland Browns – WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)

The Browns may not pay to keep Rashard Higgins as the third receiver behind Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, so he could easily sign elsewhere this off-season. If that happens, it would make sense for the Browns look to the mid rounds of the draft to replenish depth at the position.

90. Minnesota Vikings – OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State)

The Vikings need to continue adding to their offensive line. Radunz could develop into a long-term replacement for Riley Reiff, who will be in his age 33 contract year in 2021.

91. Cleveland Browns – DT Marlon Tuipulotu (USC)

The Browns may not retain Larry Ogunjobi in free agency, so they could use a mid round pick to replenish depth at the position.

92. Green Bay Packers – CB Kary Vincent (LSU)

Kevin King was last seen getting torched in the NFC Championship game and, while he hasn’t always been that bad, he’s a free agent who could be upgraded this off-season. The Packers have some internal options, but at least need to depth at the position.

93. Buffalo Bills – CB Israel Mukuamu (South Carolina)

Josh Norman is a free agent going into his age 34 season this off-season, so the Bills could use some young depth at the position.

94. Kansas City Chiefs – MLB Monty Rice (Georgia)

The Chiefs’ linebacking corps have been their biggest weakness in recent years. They’ll likely use another draft pick to try to upgrade this group this off-season.

95. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Marvin Wilson (Florida State)

The Buccaneers have two free agents on the interior of their defensive line, Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon, and, even if they’re retained, they are going into their age 34 and age 35 seasons respectively, so the Buccaneers could use young depth at the position.

NFL Pick Results

2020

Total Against the Spread: 138-127-4 (52.08%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-14 (58.82%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 40-36-1 (52.63%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 70-56-2 (55.66%)

Low Confidence Picks: 49-39 (55.68%)

No Confidence Picks: 19-32-2 (37.25%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-18 (51.35%)

2019

Total Against the Spread: 134-125-8 (51.74%)

Pick of the Week: 12-3-2 (80.00%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-11-1 (64.52%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-2 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 67-50-5 (57.26%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-40-1 (46.67%)

No Confidence Picks: 32-35-2 (47.76%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 22-21 (51.16%)

2018

Total Against the Spread: 154-102-11 (60.16%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-13-2 (61.76%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 41-27-1 (60.29%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 72-46-4 (61.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-28-1 (55.56%)

No Confidence Picks: 47-28-6 (62.67%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 25-17-1 (59.52%)

2017

Total Against the Spread: 139-120-8 (53.67%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-11-3 (65.63%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 33-34-1 (49.25%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 65-51-4 (56.03%)

Low Confidence Picks: 44-38-4 (53.66%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-31 (49.18%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2016

Total Against the Spread: 130-127-10 (50.58%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6-0 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 12-17-2 (41.38%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 42-26-4 (61.76%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 65-49-6 (57.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 34-40-2 (45.95%)

No Confidence Picks: 31-38-2 (44.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 26-25 (50.98%)

2015

Total Against the Spread: 124-138-5 (47.33%)

Pick of the Week: 9-8 (52.94%)

High Confidence Picks: 14-11 (56.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-1 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 58-55-1 (51.33%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-45-2 (44.44%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-38-2 (44.12%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 16-30 (34.78%)

2014

Total Against the Spread: 150-113-4 (57.03%)

Pick of the Week: 9-7-1 (56.25%)

High Confidence Picks: 9-11 (45.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 57-31 (64.77%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 75-49-1 (60.48%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-32-2 (52.94%)

No Confidence Picks: 39-32-1 (54.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2013

Total Against the Spread: 148-110-9 (57.36%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 25-10-1 (71.43%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 32-26 (55.17%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 67-42-2 (61.47%)

Low Confidence Picks: 39-28-3 (58.21%)

No Confidence Picks: 42-40-4 (51.22%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 27-31 (46.55%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 1117-962-59 (53.73%)

Pick of the Week: 82-48-6 (63.08%)

High Confidence Picks: 142-98-9 (59.17%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 315-252-10 (55.56%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 539-398-25 (57.52%)

Low Confidence Picks: 308-290-15 (51.51%)

No Confidence Picks: 270-274-19 (49.63%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 173-192-1 (47.40%)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Super Bowl LV Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady will be appearing in his 10th ever Super Bowl in Super Bowl 55, an incredible number that is double the next highest total and that is more than all of Brady’s Hall-of-Fame contemporaries combined. This one will be unique from all the others because he’ll be doing it with a new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in his first season with the team after two record breaking decades in New England. Brady is being given most of the credit, understandable if you just pay attention to team’s records, as the Buccaneers improved from 7 wins to 11 wins and a Super Bowl appearance, while New England fell from 12 wins to out of the playoffs with 7 wins, after Brady had made the post-season in 16 straight healthy seasons in New England. 

However, that is far from the whole story and ignores the reasons why Brady headed south in the first place. The Patriots won 12 games last year, but Brady and the offense weren’t the primary reason they won those games, as the Patriots had a dominant defense, but an offensive supporting cast that left a lot to be desired, especially in the receiving corps and especially down the stretch as injuries mounted. The Patriots’ defense led the league in first down rate allowed by a mile, but their offense ranked just 21st in first down rate, their lowest finish since before Brady arrived.

The Patriots didn’t make any major upgrades to their receiving corps last off-season, so it’s likely the Patriots’ 2020 offense would have resembled their 2019 offense if they had kept Brady, rather than the 2020 Buccaneers’ offense, which has a much better receiving corps. That still would have been enough for the Patriots to make the post-season had their defense continued playing at a high level like in 2019, but the Patriots’ defense is where they had by far their biggest dropoff from 2019 to 2020, finishing the 2020 season ranked 23rd in first down rate allowed. 

Given how much their defense fell off, it’s very likely the Patriots would not have made the playoffs even if they had kept Brady and, by some metrics, the Patriots were better offensively in 2020 with Cam Newton leading a run based attack than they were in 2019 when they relied primarily on an ineffective aerial attack with Brady throwing to arguably the worst receiving corps in the league. The 2019 Patriots ran a league leading 1,126 plays because their defense kept getting them the ball back so often, 115 more plays than they ran in 2020, but the 2019 Patriots only managed 6 more first downs than the 2020 Patriots and they averaged fewer yards per play as well, 5.3 vs. 5.2. 

The Patriots have gotten a lot of criticism for not bringing back Brady, but that would have required at least matching a fully guaranteed 2-year, 50 million dollar contract for a 43-44 year old quarterback who might not have even gotten them back to the post-season in the first year of the deal. For a team that needs to rebuild and reload, that kind of contract could have set them back a year or two. The contract obviously has worked out for the Buccaneers, but it’s kind of comparing apples to oranges, because the Buccaneers are built to win now much more than the Patriots and were right to be aggressive to try to capitalize on that.

Brady, of course, likely recognized the two teams were heading into opposite directions, which is why he made the decision he did. For all the talk about how Tom Brady is back in the Super Bowl because of what he did as a player this season, what Brady did this off-season as a scout probably has more to do with him being back here than anything. The Buccaneers were not widely discussed as a potential destination for Brady last off-season, but I put them at the top of my list for Brady last February and, while I wasn’t expecting Brady to actually leave New England, it was easy for me to see why he picked the Buccaneers when he picked them. 

The Buccaneers won just 7 games in 2019, but they finished 9th in first down rate differential, suggesting they were better than their record. They also had a massive need at quarterback after years of subpar play from Jameis Winston, they were well coached, going into the second season of the Bruce Arians regime, and they got a lot better down the stretch in 2019, particularly on defense, leading to the Buccaneers winning 6 of their last 9 games, with the exceptions being a loss to the division leading Saints and two losses by less than a score in games in which Winston threw at least one pick six. Tampa Bay’s loaded receiving corps was the main draw, but this was a talented roster overall, beyond their pass catchers and, after Brady brought his friends Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski along for the ride, Tampa Bay suddenly became legitimate contenders.

Brady, for his part, played at an above average level and was obviously a massive upgrade over the backup caliber Jameis Winston, but Brady is not the same player he was in his prime or even a few years ago when he could single handedly elevate a team with an underwhelming supporting cast to the league’s highest stage, likely part of the reason why Brady looked for a better football situation to spend the twilight of his career last off-season. Focusing too much on Brady overlooks the talented players and coaches (including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) that the Buccaneers have throughout their roster and throughout their staff, which is a huge part of the reason why the Buccaneers are where they are.

For Brady, being in the Super Bowl is nothing new, but what is relatively new is that he won’t be favored, with the Buccaneers listed as 3.5 point underdogs. Brady led the historic upset as massive underdogs in his first Super Bowl appearance back in Super Bowl 36, but he’s been favored in each of the past 8, covering in just 3 of them. Brady and the Buccaneers being underdogs has everything to do with the team on the other side, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are defending Super Bowl Champions and have been presumptive Super Bowl favorites all season, having lost just one meaningful game. 

For Mahomes, this is his second straight Super Bowl appearance and, in 3 seasons as the starter, he’s lost just once in the post-season, in 8 appearances. His one loss was to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship, one of four matchups between these two quarterbacks in just the 3 seasons that Mahomes has been the starter. The 4th matchup was earlier this season when the Chiefs won by a field goal in Tampa Bay in a matchup that previewed the Super Bowl, both in matchup and in location, with the Buccaneers being fortunate enough to be the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. 

The common narrative is that the Chiefs dominated that game and the Buccaneers came back in garbage time, but the Buccaneers’ score to cut it to a field goal came with over four minutes left on the clock and two timeouts left for Tampa Bay, so those were hardly meaningless possessions. A better way to think of that game is that both teams dominated a single quarter (the Chiefs in the 1st jumping out to a 17-0 lead and the Buccaneers in the 4th cutting it from 27-10 to 27-24), but that the Chiefs played slightly better overall. How much better overall may be very slight though, as the Chiefs only won the first down rate battle by just 0.66% and actually had slightly fewer yards per play (7.6 vs. 7.5). 

Winning close games was a big part of the story of the Chiefs’ season this year, as they snuck out 8 of their 14 wins by 6 points or fewer, including several against teams much worse than the Buccaneers. Overall, the Buccaneers actually had the edge in point differential (+137 vs. +111), DVOA (33.7% vs. 25.2%), and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (4.25% vs. 3.36%) on the season and, even though they won 3 fewer games, they had significantly more double digit wins (8 vs. 5). Wins by larger totals tend to be predictive of future winning at a much higher rate than close victories. 

Some ignore that most of the Chiefs wins have been close because the Chiefs have Mahomes and they assume that quarterbacks of his caliber can consistently win close games. Even ignoring the obvious fact that even the most elite quarterbacks couldn’t consistently win 88.9% of their one score games like Mahomes did this season, there isn’t much evidence of elite quarterbacks even consistently winning close games at a significantly higher than average rate. Entering this season, Mahomes was just 9-8 in one score games in his career, as dominant as he was in his first two seasons in the league. In fact, the only quarterback who has seemed to be able to consistently win close games is the quarterback on the other sideline, who is a remarkable 94-44 in his career in one score games. 

In addition to his dominance in one score games, Brady has somehow been even more dominant in tough games like this. Not only is Brady 33-11 in the post-season, but Brady almost always plays his best in these big games against tough opponents, particularly when his team is doubted and not expected to win. Overall in his career, Brady is 56-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5 and he’s 44-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including an incredible 42-13 straight up record in those games. 

As an underdog, Brady is 28-6 ATS in games against teams with a better record than his, pulling the straight up upset in 21 of 30 games. Most of that was with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the Buccaneers went 4-1 ATS as underdogs and against teams with a better record than theirs this season, including their 3-point loss as 3.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs earlier this season and their wins over the Saints and Packers in their past two games. 

It will take a lot more than just Tom Brady to win this game, but the Buccaneers have it, with arguably the most well-rounded roster in the league and a better overall team than the Chiefs, who may have the passing game stars, but have questions on defense and on the offensive line, particularly with the Chiefs now being without both of their starting offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, who are one of the best duos in the league when healthy. This offensive line was already not the same since losing Schwartz in week 8, a 11-game stretch in which they’ve won by more than 6 points just twice and Fisher going down in the Chiefs’ last game in the AFC Championship makes things much worse. 

The Chiefs have done a good job of rebuilding their offensive line on the fly this season, but they figure to be overmatched against a tough Tampa Bay front. I like the Buccaneers to pull the upset straight up and, even if they can’t, they should be able to keep it close, especially in what will be something of a home game for the Buccaneers. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer and the Chiefs haven’t blown out most of their opponents this season. The Buccaneers seem like a relatively safe bet against the spread and a great value on the money line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: High