There are some new pieces in the evaluation puzzle of prospects, but that doesn't change what the Detroit Lions should try to accomplish in the 2021 draft.
Mock 7: 1.0 First Selection is my first mock draft of the year. It projects the top seven picks in the first round, and which player the Lions will draft with the seventh pick.
To borrow a phrase used by the Lions' new GM-head coach team of Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell, I'm "in line" with what I saw on the field and in the stats by the Lions' defense in 2020.
Defense is the priority for the Lions in this mock draft, but there's big hole to fill on offense with the report that quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions have agreed to part ways after 12 seasons.
That development adds a new dimension to the Lions' offseason plans.
As the NFL plows forward to remain on schedule in its battle against the worldwide pandemic, teams have to contend with new factors in the draft.
One is the number of top-rated players who opted out of the 2020 college season and are now draft eligible, having qualified under the rule of being out of high school three years. Teams will have to evaluate them on their last games played in 2019.
And the annual Combine testing and workouts have been cancelled. Teams will have to rely on Pro Day workouts.
Trades are not allowed under the rules of Mock 7: 1.0, despite speculation that there could be multiple deals in the top seven.
Following is my mock draft. As always, feel free to disagree.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)
Draft status: Urban Meyer has been hired as head coach to lead a franchise overhaul after three straight losing seasons, bottoming out in a one-win 2020 season. Meyer has the prized No. 1 pick and 10 others, plus salary-cap space to work with.
Pick: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson.
He has hardware – the 2018 national championship and the MVP trophy. He has stats --10,090 career passing yards, 90 TD passes and 28 rushing TDs. And he can play.
2. New York Jets (2-14)
Draft status: A franchise with one winning record and no playoff appearances the last 10 seasons and an angry fan base. Hiring 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as head coach might give the franchise a spark.
There's speculation that the Jets could trade to get Texans QB Deshaun Watson. They have the draft picks to do it.
In this first mock draft, they stick with Sam Darnold and draft a player to protect him (sorry, Bengals).
Pick: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon.
He opted out of the 2020 season, but he's the best offensive lineman in the draft.
3. Miami Dolphins (10-6), from Houston (4-12)
Draft status: 2020 was a major move up from a 5-11 record in Brian Flores' first season as head coach. The Dolphins have their own picks in the first and second rounds, plus Houston's picks in the first and second rounds.
Pick: WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU.
Opted out in 2020 but made a lasting impression in national championship 2019 season as a sophomore: 84 catches, 1,780 yards and 20 TDs. His size (6-1, 200) makes him the first receiver drafted. (DeVonta Smith won't be on the board much longer.)
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Draft status: Finishing last in the NFC South for the first time since 2007 -- eight games behind the Saints and seven behind the Bucs -- shows how far the Falcons are from competing in the division. The buzz is that they're looking for a future replacement for QB Matt Ryan.
Pick: QB Zach Wilson, Brigham Young.
It's betting a lot on his 2020 season – 33 TD passes, 3 interceptions – after 23 TD passes and 12 picks in his first two seasons combined. But he's accurate with a quick delivery.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Draft status: The stats show the Bengals should get protection for QB Joe Burrow. Before going out for the season with a knee injury sustained in Week 11, he was sacked 33 times and hit more than 80 times. Unfortunately for Burrow and the Bengals, the best offensive lineman is off the board. What to do?
Pick: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern.
It's a reach, but there's a need. Flexibility to play guard and tackle adds to his value. Slater opted out in 2020 after starting his first three seasons.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
Draft status: Was it only three years ago that the Eagles won the Super Bowl and Doug Pederson was one of the NFL's brightest head coaches? That was then. This is now. Pederson was fired after the season, and the Eagles are patching large chunks of their roster.
Pick: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama.
Size (6-0, 170) might be a concern of whether he can take the pounding in the NFL, but the talent is unquestioned. He'll help whoever plays quarterback.
View photos of Coach Campbell's first day at the Detroit Lions Training Facility in Allen Park, Mich.
7. Detroit Lions (5-11)
Draft status: It's a fresh start with a clean slate for the Lions new GM-head coach tandem of Holmes and Campbell.
The issues on defense are obvious, and the offense needs a new starter at quarterback – either in the draft or free agency.
Here are five options to consider:
1. Trading Stafford: There is no room for sentiment here. My choice would be to acquire a veteran who can start immediately, and draft one to develop for the future.
The Lions should get multiple draft picks in any deal for Stafford. They have to be used wisely. To lose Stafford via trade and not maximize his value in compensation would be a one-two gut punch that could damage the franchise.
2. Draft a quarterback: Lawrence and Wilson are the top two quarterbacks in this draft, with a wide gap between Lawrence and Wilson.
Getting an extra first-round pick for Stafford would give the Lions a chance to maneuver. Quarterback Trey Lance of North Dakota State might be a possibility lower in the first round.
3. Trade down: It's a popular option, with the goal of adding picks, but it doesn't happen on draft day as often as people think.
In the 2020 draft, the first trade in the first round on draft day was at pick No. 13. In 2019, it was was pick No. 10. The trade floodgates opened on pick 17.
4. Draft for offense: Not a bad option. The Lions could use a speed receiver. However, the evolution of the college game is sending a lot of skilled receivers to the NFL every year. Good ones can be found in the middle rounds.
5. Draft for defense: It's where the Lions need help the most. The 2020 defense set franchise records for points (519) and yards (6,716) allowed in a season.
The Lions need a Day 1 starter on defense more than anything. Which brings us to ...
My Pick: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State.
Listed at 6-3, 246, he has good size for the position. He's another one of the top players who opted out of the 2020 season. Before that, he put together a good resume as a two-year player, with a big 2019 season: 13 games, 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, five passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
The Lions have had modest results drafting linebackers early in the last four seasons: Jarrad Davis in the first round in 2017 and Jahlani Tavai in the second in 2019.
The Lions might change their luck with Parsons.