Remember when Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Jones were all believed to be worthy of top-five selections? Good times. This was the age of the 2021 NFL draft, where the debate raged after Trevor Lawrence went first to the Jaguars.
Of course, with hindsight, the Jets’ No. 2 pick should have been easy. Grab the phone, call the league and scream the name Micah Parsons. Luckily for the Cowboys, that isn’t what happened.
So how would the 2021 draft go if the teams could do it again, knowing what they know now? We took a run at it, combining the best player available with needs.
1. Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB
Original pick: Lawrence
The Jaguars wouldn’t change anything. Lawrence struggled through his rookie year because Urban Meyer became the worst coach in NFL history, but now paired with Doug Pederson, he’s blossomed. Jacksonville has to be thrilled thinking about Lawrence under center for the next decade.
2. Jets: Micah Parsons, edge
Original pick: Zach Wilson, QB
Parsons looks to be a generational talent for the Cowboys. With the Jets, he would have become a prized pass rusher off the edge for coach Robert Saleh, who undoubtedly would move him all over the front. With Parsons and corner Sauce Gardner, New York would have two of the best young defenders in the game.
3. 49ers: Justin Fields, QB
Original pick: Trey Lance, QB
Finally, the 49ers can stop wondering who the quarterback is going to be. Instead of the current situation with Trey Lance, Sam Arnold and Brock Purdy all trying to impress the staff, Fields is a budding star who last year joined only Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson as quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
4. Falcons: Patrick Surtain II, CB
Original pick: Kyle Pitts, TE
The Falcons have good corners, but the idea of Surtain and A.J. Terrell was simply too much to pass up. While nobody could argue the notion of sticking with Pitts despite a down year last season, the Falcons would have the best boundary tandem in the game.
5. Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR
Original pick: Chase
The Bengals would be thrilled to scoop Chase up once again. Through two seasons, Chase has helped Cincinnati go from doormat to dominant, reaching the AFC championship game each of those campaigns. The former LSU star is a two-time Pro Bowler and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021.
6. Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR
Original pick: Waddle
Another AFC contender, another receiver staying with the team that originally drafted him. Waddle has shown to be one of the league’s more explosive weapons on the perimeter. The Dolphins have an elite, speedy duo with Waddle and Tyreek Hill, giving Miami the opportunity to score on any snap.
7. Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR
Original pick: Penei Sewell, RT
The run on receivers continues with Smith going to Motown. While the Lions lose Amon-Ra St. Brown in this scenario (he’s not lasting to the middle rounds anymore), they still have Jameson Williams once he’s back from a gambling suspension. With Smith and Williams on the outside, Detroit would give quarterback Jared Goff a terrific chance to lead the Lions to their first NFC North title.
8. Panthers: Kyle Pitts, TE
Original pick: Jaycee Horn, CB
Pitts stays in the NFC South, but moves to the Panthers. Carolina needs a tight end to pair with its veteran receivers in Adam Thielen, DJ Chark and Terrace Marshall Jr. Factor in the ability to upgrade the weapons for first-year quarterback Bryce Young, and Pitts is an ideal fit in Charlotte.
9. Broncos: Talanoa Hufanga, S
Original pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB
The Broncos have a terrific secondary led by safety Justin Simmons. Now, they have an opportunity to add another All-Pro in Hufanga. While Denver would love a young quarterback at this spot, there’s nobody worth making that move.
10. Eagles: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
Original pick: DeVonta Smith, WR
The Eagles are the NFC’s defending champion, but they now need to replace the loss of Smith on the perimeter. Adding St. Brown would give quarterback Jalen Hurts another elite weapon to pair with A.J. Brown and tight end Dallas Goedert. Philadelphia’s offense would remain one of the league’s best.
11. Bears: Rashawn Slater, LT
Original pick: Justin Fields, QB
The Bears have been trying to rebuild their offensive line for the past few years, leading them to take Tennessee’s Darnell Wright this spring. Now, they grab Slater to give themselves a tremendous blindside protector.
12. Cowboys: Asante Samuel Jr., CB
Original pick: Micah Parsons, edge
Samuel was a second-round pick by the Chargers, but he moved all the way up into the top 12. The Cowboys have Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore, but both are free agents after this year. Samuel could play in the slot until one of the veterans moves on, showcasing his versatility in the meantime.
13. Chargers: Penei Sewell, RT
Original pick: Rashawn Slater, LT
The Chargers landed Slater in the original draft, but he’s already off the board to Chicago. With a glaring need at tackle, Sewell makes plenty of sense. Los Angeles is loaded offensively, but the line has long been an issue. Sewell can play on either side at a Pro Bowl level.
14. Jets: Creed Humphrey, C
Original pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, G
Two years ago, Humphrey fell to the late second round where the Chiefs scooped him up. In the re-draft, the former Oklahoma star doesn’t get out of the top half of the first round. Already a second-team All-Pro, Humphrey would be the perfect anchor for a rebuilding Jets line.
15. Patriots: Christian Darrisaw, LT
Original pick: Mac Jones, QB
Many thought the Patriots would opt for a left tackle in this year’s draft. Additionally, there’s still quarterback Mac Jones on the board for them here. However, Darrisaw is the pick as he appears to be a left tackle who is still reaching his potential. New England gets a top protector on the edge.
16. Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB
Original pick: Zaven Collins, LB
Horn hasn’t broken into true superstardom, but he’s a solid young corner who many teams would love to have. With the Cardinals in a full-blown rebuild, he would give them someone to build a new secondary around, especially if All-Pro safety Budda Baker ultimately gets traded.
17. Raiders: Nick Bolton, ILB
Original pick: Alex Leatherwood, OL
Bolton was a second-round pick of the Chiefs in 2021, and he totaled a team-record 180 tackles last season en route to the team’s second Super Bowl win in four years. The Raiders are in dire need of help on all levels of their defense, so why not start in the middle?
18. Dolphins: Landon Dickerson, LG
Original pick: Jaelan Phillips, edge
The offensive line remains an uneven part of the Dolphins’ roster. Adding Dickerson to the front would be a steal, as he’s already developed into one of the league’s best guards. Putting him in front of Tua Tagovailoa would improve the quarterback’s chances of staying on the field, and therefore Miami’s hopes of a deep playoff run.
19. Commanders: Mac Jones, QB
Original pick: Jamin Davis, LB
Jones has been underwhelming to start his career, but he doesn’t fall out of the top 20. Washington has Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett in its quarterbacks room, making Jones a critical addition. It would be intriguing to see how Jones would play with Eric Bieniemy as his offensive coordinator.
20. Giants: Azeez Ojulari, edge
Original pick: Kadarius Toney, WR
Originally the 50th pick of the Giants, Ojulari moves up 30 spots. He’s been a terrific piece of New York’s front seven, racking up 13.5 sacks as well as four forced fumbles. Alongside edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, the Giants have talent galore along the line.
21. Colts: Jaelan Phillips, edge
Original pick: Kwity Paye, edge
The Colts have invested in edge rushers recently, including a first-round pick in Paye. However, there remains a need for general manager Chris Ballard, and he has the choice of Phillips or Gregory Rousseau here. Phillips is the pick, having registered 15.5 sacks across two seasons with the Dolphins.
22. Titans: Gregory Rousseau, edge
Original pick: Caleb Farley, CB
Few teams know who they are more than the Titans, and Rousseau is the perfect fit. Tennessee loves to build along its lines, and Rousseau gives it an instant-impact edge to replace the departed Bud Dupree. On the same line with defensive tackles Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry, the Titans would be tough to deal with.
23. Vikings: Eric Stokes, CB
Original pick: Christian Darrisaw, LT
Stokes missed eight games last year with knee and foot injuries, but when healthy, the former Georgia star has shown why Green Bay made him a first-round pick. The Vikings desperately need a makeover in their secondary, and pairing Stokes to Byron Murphy Jr. would be a terrific start.
24. Steelers: Najee Harris, RB
Original pick: Harris
We’ve now reached a point where two teams take running backs they originally nabbed two years ago. Harris has been the proverbial bell cow for the Steelers early in his career, posting 579 carries. While averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, he has been durable and consistent, giving Pittsburgh an offensive identity.
25. Jaguars: Travis Etienne, RB
Original pick: Etienne
Etienne missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles, but broke out last year to show why he was a first-round pick out of Clemson. The dynamic back rushed for 1,125 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry with five touchdowns. Etienne also has good hands, posting 35 receptions in 2022.
26. Browns: Jevon Holland, S
Original pick: Greg Newsome II, CB
Holland is incredibly underrated nationally. One of the few safeties who can truly make an impact in almost any capacity, Holland has amassed four sacks and four interceptions, all while making 165 tackles through his first two years in Miami. The Browns would run this card to the podium.
27. Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR
Original pick: Bateman
This was a tough call, but Bateman has shown enough to stay in the first round. Although he’s been limited to 18 games with various injuries, Bateman has shown the explosiveness that made him tantalizing to Baltimore two years ago. The Ravens could go in other directions, but of the remaining players, Bateman has the highest upside.
28. Saints: Trey Smith, G
Original pick: Payton Turner, DE
The Saints need help on the interior of their offensive line after declining the fifth-year option of Cesar Ruiz. Smith, originally a sixth-round pick largely because of concerns about his long-term health, would be an ideal fit. Smith has proved a mauler in Kansas City, helping the Chiefs to last year’s title.
29. Packers: Alijah Vera-Tucker, G
Original pick: Eric Stokes, CB
We’re likely looking at the last season of left tackle David Bakhtiari in Green Bay. Should the Packers decide to move on after this season and save millions, Elgton Jenkins may kick outside. This would open up a spot for Vera-Tucker, who despite being limited to seven games last year, has enjoyed a good start to his career with the Jets.
30. Bills: Rhamondre Stevenson, RB
Original pick: Gregory Rousseau, edge
Another former New England running back going to Buffalo? Absolutely. Despite adding Damien Harris this offseason, the Bills would be wise to grab Stevenson, who ran for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns on 5.0 yards per carry in 2022. Paired with Harris and James Cook, Buffalo would have a three-headed monster in the backfield.
31. Ravens: Nate Hobbs, CB
Original pick: Odafe Oweh, edge
The Raiders have a litany of defensive issues, but Hobbs has been a bright spot over the past two years. Now, with the Ravens needing a corner after the free-agent departure of Marcus Peters, Hobbs makes ample sense. In two seasons with Las Vegas, Hobbs has posted two sacks and an interception.
32. Buccaneers: Rondale Moore, WR
Original pick: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, edge
Tampa Bay closes out the first round with an addition to the offense. Considering Mike Evans has only one year left on his deal, Moore joins the Bucs as the third receiver before moving up the depth chart. It’s a fairly easy choice for general manager Jason Licht.