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Live updates, analysis on 2021 first-round picks

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The 2021 NFL draft, i.e., the league’s 86th annual “Player Selection Meeting,” is finally upon us; some beautiful mysteries are finally about to be solved (while some others continue to deepen in Green Bay). Outwardly, this draft will project a return to normalcy; the NFL set up with its massive stage contiguous to Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Brown’s FirstEnergy Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie.

However, the pre-draft process was hardly standard, with COVID-19 forcing the league to cancel this year’s scouting combine on the heels of a season when scouts and team executives had far more limited access to college programs and the prospects whom they evaluate. It should make for an exciting calculus as teams weigh their information over the next three days and decide which players potentially fit their program.

Now, to the picks:

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2021 NFL draft tracker: First-round picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

He becomes the fourth quarterback taken in Round 1 in franchise history – joining Byron Leftwich (2003), Blaine Gabbert (2011), and Blake Bortles (2014) – but Lawrence is the first tabbed No. 1 overall. Widely regarded as a generational prospect on par with John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck, it’s been widely assumed for years that Lawrence would be the first player picked in this draft – the only question was which team would get him.

Turns out that’s the Jags, a franchise that needs a spark on the field after a 1-15 campaign and in the seats. Lawrence’s presumed arrival likely spurred college coaching legend Urban Meyer to come aboard. (Meyer has hired veteran offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who facilitated Russell Wilson’s transition to the NFL in Seattle, to do the same job in Jacksonville.)

analysis

Lawrence stands 6-6 and should add weight to his 213-pound frame as his surgically repaired left (non-throwing) shoulder heals. He went 34-2 as a starter for Clemson, bringing home a national title in 2018 and finishing with 90 TD passes (against 17 INTs) in three seasons. With a powerful, accurate arm, the ability to dissect defenses and make plays with his legs, plus a steady persona indicative of a franchise quarterback, all Lawrence has to do … is live up to the hype – in Duval County, the United Kingdom.

2. New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson, BYU

This franchise thought enough of Wilson to dump 2018 first-rounder (and No. 3 overall pick) Sam Darnold – making the Jets the first team in the common draft era (since 1967) to pick a passer within the top three picks twice in the span of four drafts. Though slightly built at 6-2 and 214 pounds and with a worrisome injury history that includes surgery on his throwing shoulder two years ago, Wilson does have tantalizing gifts that have drawn comparisons to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, which probably isn’t fair to them or Wilson.

Still, he’s got the juice in his arm to make excellent throws with his feet set or on the move, and that may be a necessity given the general state of New York’s offense, which finished last in points and yards in 2020. Wilson was the only player at the FBS level in 2020 with at least 30 TD passes and ten scores on the ground, and his 33-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio also paced the country.

Now Gang Green and their impatient fans have found out if a player who feasted on non-Power Five competition can take a franchise 52 years removed from its only Super Bowl back to the promised land. GM Joe Douglas and a new coaching regime led by Robert Saleh must support Wilson better than they did Darnold.

played one game since the 2019 season, but he had a year during the Bison’s national championship run. He had 28 passing TDs that year, 14 TDs on the ground (among 1,000 yards) … and no interceptions. He didn’t lose any of his 17 college starts, either.

Lance, who also gets high marks for leadership and intelligence, should bring a dimension to coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense that Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, and incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo have not. Lance, who only attempted 318 passes in college, will likely sit behind Garoppolo for some time, but it does stand to reason he’ll need to play soon, given how little time he’s had on a football field in the last year. It could be Cam Newton-lite.

4. Atlanta Falcons – TE Kyle Pitts, Florida

Last year’s Mackey Award winner as college football’s top tight end, Pitts scored 12 TDs among his 43 catches and should be a deadly red-zone threat. He’s been widely touted as the best prospect ever at his position. That will happen when you’re 6-6 245 pounds with an 83-inch wingspan and run a 4.4 40-yard dash,l

Pitts surpasses Denver’s Riley Odoms (fifth overall in 1972) as the tight end picked earliest in the common draft era. Now he’ll line up between WRs Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones (presumably), and for a coach, Atlanta’s recently hired Arthur Smith, who favors double-tight sets. Pitts, who’s also a willing blocker, could be a weapon on the order of Travis Kelce or Darren Waller if he fulfills the hype.

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

Strong case to be made here for an offensive tackle after the ACL injury that prematurely ended 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow’s rookie season. But apparently, it was a more compelling case to reunite Burrow with his primary weapon from LSU’s 2019 title team when Chase established himself as the best wideout in college football. Widely regarded as the premier receiver in this draft, Chase’s built-in chemistry with Burrow could take this offense up a few notches given what Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, both very capable targets themselves, already provide.

The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner as college football’s top receiver, Chase’s name constantly came up in last year’s combine as the player his peers with most impressed by at the position – including former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson, who tore up the league for the Vikings in 2020. Chase set SEC records in 2019 (1,780 receiving yards, 20 TDs), surpassed by Alabama’s DeVonta Smith in 2020.

return for the national championship game. The AFC East better beware of double moves from a player who averaged 10 yards after the catch.

latest defender taken by Carolina, which has yet to draft an offensive player in the Matt Rhule era. Perhaps a more explosive athlete with slightly better ball skills than Alabama counterpart Patrick Surtain II, Horn joins a division where his father starred at the start of the century.

And given how much the ball is in the air in the NFC South with Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and the pass-happy Saints on the schedule twice apiece. At the same time, Rhule and Co. would eschew a tantalizing QB option (Justin Fields, Mac Jones) in favor of Horn now that they’ll be rolling with Darnold.

title game for 12 catches, 215 receiving yards, and three touchdowns in half. Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce told me this about Smith’s prospects when asked if there was any concern about his 166-pound frame.

“Once his development (occurs), he’s gonna be a guy who’s gonna have to be double-teamed,” said Bruce. “He’s just that good. You see his maturation from college, making huge plays his freshman season up to being the guy last year, and he just showed up every week. He’ll be a No. 1 receiver not very long from now.” Smith will team with last year’s first-round pick, Jalen Reagor, for a new-look Eagles offense.

big swing for Fields by giving the Giants a future first-rounder to move up. This could also be a self-preservation move for Pace and coach Matt Nagy, who seem to be fighting to keep their jobs beyond this year despite two playoff trips in the past three seasons. Fields are mobile, highly accurate (68.4% completion rate in a college career split between Georgia and Ohio State), and have all the tools to be a superstar. Better still, he doesn’t have to play right away with veteran Andy Dalton on board as Chicago’s anointed QB1 for 2021 … though these plans could change in the future.

12. Cowboys (from 49ers via Dolphins and Eagles) – LB Micah Parsons, Penn State

Dallas drops two spots after missing out on Horn and Surtain II to add Parsons to the worst defense in franchise history in 2020. With Sean Lee retiring and former first-round LB Leighton Vander Esch possibly entering his final season with the team, Jerry Jones and Co. reload at linebacker – and Parsons might arguably be the most impactful defender in this draft. Though he opted out in 2020, Parsons is a blue-chip prospect, defending the run and pass while hunting quarterbacks. He’s had to answer questions about off-field issues in Happy Valley and will remain under a microscope as a member of the league’s most high-profile team. But regarding talent, this could be a home run for Jones and new coordinator Dan Quinn.

Tom Brady mold than the Cam Newton mold for a team needing a long-term successor post-TB12. Long rumored to be the choice of the 49ers at No. 3, Jones’ trademark is his accuracy and decision-making after completing 77.4% of his passes in 2020 for 4,500 yards and 41 TDs. Pats coach Bill Belichick did his homework on Jones, who played for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa. Now it will be worth monitoring how New England designs an offense conducive to Jones’s abilities and Newton’s.

college football’s top defender.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – OL Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

Maybe a bit of a reach this early; Leatherwood will certainly fill a need for Vegas after GM Mike Mayock traded 60% of his starting offensive line in March. The 2020 Outland Trophy winner could plug in at guard or correct tackle after playing inside and outside for ‘Bama, though Kolton Miller is entrenched on QB Derek Carr’s blindside in Sin City.

target Bills star Josh Allen if they’re going to dethrone the AFC East champs. Phillips had a remarkable comeback in 2020, recording eight sacks for the Hurricanes after concussions had derailed his career into retirement at UCLA before his transfer.

last year’s second-ranked defense with a needed playmaker at the second level. Davis’ 4.37 speed and 42-inch vertical illustrate his athleticism, which should be nicely leveraged playing behind the WFT’s vaunted defensive line.

Angeles Rams) –

26. Cleveland Browns –

27. Baltimore Ravens –

28. New Orleans Saints –

29. Green Bay Packers –

30. Buffalo Bills –

31. Ravens (from Kansas City Chiefs) –

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers –

Follow USA TODAY Sports Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.