Carolina Panthers projected to be first overall pick in 2021 NFL draft

2021 NFL draft order Carolina Panthers
Feb 25, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule speaks to the media during the 2020 NFL Combine in the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the release of the 2020 NFL schedule comes win-loss predictions (both by game and season totals) around the league. And while most of the attention is paid to teams that are predicted to win divisions and make a Super Bowl run, the opposite has appeal, too. We can begin uncovering which clubs are most likely to end the year with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft order.

ESPN, via Football Outsiders, ran a projection of the teams that are the most likely to finish 2020 with a top-10 pick, and the Carolina Panthers “led” the way. Apparently, Matt Rhule and Teddy Bridgewater aren’t enough for Carolina to get on a winning track in Year 1 of the new regime. The loss of Luke Kuechly, James Bradberry and Eric Reid will be too much for an already underwhelming defense to overcome.

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The Washington Redskins check-in at No. 2 overall, and the Miami Dolphins, despite the presence of Tua Tagovailoa and an inspiring finish to the 2019 season, are No. 3.

The top pick in the 2021 NFL draft should be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and if Carolina ends up with the first choice, they’ll waste little time calling Lawrence’s name. The same holds true for the Redskins even with Dwayne Haskins, their first-round pick in 2018, on the roster. If Washington is bad enough to secure the No. 2 pick, then it’s more than likely that Haskins will be a big reason why.

On a more encouraging note, Football Outsiders projects the Bengals to finish with the fifth pick. It’s an improvement over their league-worst finish in 2019 and a suggestion that Joe Burrow will have a successful rookie season.

One of the more surprising teams in this top-10 prediction is the Cleveland Browns. Football Outsiders has the Browns checking in with the eighth pick; if that happens, it’ll be time to question whether Baker Mayfield is entering bust territory. Cleveland, and Mayfield, will be out of excuses at season’s end if they fail to at least have a competitive year.

Here’s the complete top-10 projection:

  1. Panthers
  2. Redskins
  3. Dolphins
  4. Giants
  5. Bengals
  6. Broncos
  7. Jaguars
  8. Browns
  9. Chargers
  10. Raiders

Teams that are surprisingly absent from this list include the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets.

Bryan Perez

Bryan is the founder of Pro Football Draft. His work has been featured on The Draft Network, NBC Sports and USA Today. Former CFL scout.

Follow him on Twitter: @BryanPerezNFL