NFL Mock Draft 2021: Here’s what happens when we let Madden simulate the picks
It’s almost time for the 2021 NFL Draft, which means the floodgates for NFL mock drafts are about to open.
Experts will break down team needs, watch film of the top college prospects and predict (to the best of their ability) where players will get drafted. We’re going to be doing none of that in this mock draft. Here, we’re going to set everything up so that the virtual GMs and coaches in “Madden 21” will be making the picks for us.
We’ve updated the rosters to reflect free agency moves and imported a custom-made draft class to represent the 2021 players (we explain all of that below). We also have the order set for the first round. Because of how complicated this is to set up, we only simulated the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. The entire draft wouldn’t be accurate anyway because of compensatory picks that aren’t included in Madden.
First, we’ll go over how this process worked. It involved a lot of setup since there’s no official 2021 NFL Draft class in Madden 21 yet, and rosters quit officially updating at the end of the Super Bowl. If you aren’t interested in the setup of the draft then you can click here to simply get to the results.
How the Madden NFL Mock Draft works
NFL Draft prospects
Madden uses auto-generated draft classes in franchise mode and doesn’t have an actual draft class of the 2021 players. But Madden does allow users to create their own draft class, and upload them into the community files where others can download. That’s what we did in this experiment.
We used the TFGDraft2021 file created by Marcus Whitman. Not only does he know how to create a draft class, but he’s also an NFL Draft analyst. So his NFL Draft analysis plays a big role in the ratings of the rookies for this class.
Madden rosters quit updating at the end of the Super Bowl, which means all of the big free agency moves aren’t updated. So the big Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff trade didn’t happen, Jadeveon Clowney is still on the Titans and Bears QB1 Andy Dalton is still a Cowboy.
But thanks to the same community files section, I was able to download an updated roster with all of the free agency moves. The rosters were updated through Wednesday, April 14, so if any big moves happened after this then it was missed in the simulation.
However, it’s not just as easy as downloading an updated roster. Because the Madden offseason begins after the draft, I had to simulate the 2020 season to get to the 2021 draft. This means a lot of players ended up becoming free agents in 2021, so I had to go through and re-sign them all to make sure they didn’t leave in free agency. This is a very tedious task, so I only kept players 65 overall and higher on each team to speed up the process, so a few bottom-tier players were lost.
There was also a small matter of retirements. Some active players decided to call it quits in the virtual world while their real-world counterpart continued on. To counter this, I just edited a low overall player to reflect the players who retired by changing their stats. Fun fact: one of the players who retired in-game was Julian Edelman, and he retired a day before this experiment took place in real life.
To get the draft order to reflect this year’s draft, I first went through the 2020 season and forced wins to replicate the actual outcome. This isn’t perfect as there are a number of tiebreakers that don’t come out the same, but it at least creates a baseline that sort of resembles what the order looks like.
For all of the inaccurate teams, whether through a wrong tiebreaker or because the pick was traded, I simply made trades with teams until the order was accurate (again this simulation was done on April 14 so any trades after that day aren’t reflected). To make this possible, I had to make this an offline franchise and create a character for all 32 teams so I could manage them individually. This also helps to eliminate any random signings or releases.
I did this for the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, and the results can be viewed below.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
We’re off to a good start. The Jaguars do what’s expected in the real-life draft and take Trevor Lawrence off the board first overall.
2. New York Jets
After updating the roster to send Sam Darnold to the Panthers, it was clear that quarterback was a huge need for the Jets. Their starting quarterback pre-draft is James Morgan. And with Wilson being the No. 2 prospect overall, it makes sense that he goes to the Jets, which is also an expected real-life pick.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Here’s where things start to go a bit awry. The 49ers made a huge pre-draft trade in order to move up to No. 3 and they’re fully expected to take a quarterback. That could either be Ohio State’s Justin Fields or Alabama’s Mac Jones. But because the 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo (75 overall) on the roster, the virtual GM doesn’t see QB as a position of need. So instead they go with the top non-QB option available on the big board. This won’t happen in real life, but it makes sense within the context of the game.
4. Atlanta Falcons
This move surprised me considering the Falcons already have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the roster. You’d think the virtual GM would recognize that and go a different route. Instead, they just take the best non-QB available on the big board. It’s not completely out of the question, but this seems like an unlikely real-life pick.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Since many mock drafts have quarterbacks going within the first four picks, the Bengals debate has almost always been Sewell or Chase. Protect Joe Burrow, or give him a familiar wide receiver? Well, with both gone, the decision is a little easier and the Bengals go with star tight end Kyle Pitts. This is a realistic pick even if Sewell and Chase are both available. Pitts is a great talent, and the Bengals could use another receiving threat to help out Burrow.
6. Miami Dolphins
- DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
This is a very realistic pick for Miami considering Tua Tagovailoa would be connected with his former Alabama teammate. Many mock drafts have the Dolphins taking a wide receiver in this situation, so if Chase is already gone then it makes sense to go with the Heisman-winning Smith.
7. Detroit Lions
- Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Another realistic pick. Parsons was listed as an “ideal” selection for Detroit by NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter. Detroit could also use a receiver, but with Chase and Smith off the board it makes sense in this situation to go with Parsons. Another draft pick that could actually happen in real life.
8. Carolina Panthers
- Rashawn Slater, LT, Northwestern
The Panthers have both Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater on their roster, so despite some speculation of Carolina going quarterback, it makes complete sense for the video game version of the team to not go QB here. And Slater is a very realistic choice for Carolina at 8. He’s even included in some mock drafts to be selected here. Strengthening your offensive line may not be a sexy pick, but it’s not a bad idea.
9. Denver Broncos
- Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami
Again, not an unrealistic pick for Denver, although a quarterback would make more sense here. Rousseau is a player who’s been tied to Denver somewhat in pre-draft talks. ESPN’s Broncos beat writer Jeff Legwold listed Rousseau as a player the Broncos “could be looking at” at 9. I wouldn’t expect this pick to happen, but it’s certainly a crazy selection.
10. Dallas Cowboys
- Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Surtain is a player who’s been tied to the Cowboys at 10 for a while now. In fact, he’s who Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer has going to Dallas in his mock draft. He’s the overwhelming favorite to land here in the consensus mock draft (via the Mock Draft Database) at 41%. So good job, virtual Jerry Jones.
11. New York Giants
- Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Despite the Giants making a big splash in free agency with the signing of WR Kenny Golladay, it appears they aren’t done adding to their receiving corps. Again, though, this is a pick that has a chance at actually happening. In fact, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Waddle projected to go the Giants at 11. Outside of one trend (which you may have noticed by now) this mock draft hasn’t been terrible.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Most mock drafts have the Eagles selecting a wide receiver here. But since the big names are gone, Horn is the next logical choice. And he’s not a random one. The Mock Draft Database has Horn as the No. 3 most popular choice (11%) to Philly behind Waddle and Smith.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
- Christian Darrisaw, LT, Virginia Tech
Not a crazy selection. Darrisaw is projected to go within about the 10-20 range and it makes sense for the Chargers to try and protect their star quarterback in Justin Herbert. Darrisaw is also listed in several mock drafts to land with the Chargers at 13. Another realistic selection.
14. Minnesota Vikings
- Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
Vera-Tucker is the third-most popular choice in the Mock Draft Database to land with the Vikings, appearing in 11.3% of mock drafts. While Mel Kiper didn’t have Vera-Tucker going to Minnesota, he did pick an offensive lineman saying, “it’s a glaring hole on this roster.”
15. New England Patriots
- Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Now that we’ve reached the near-midway point of the draft it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones are all still available. And spoiler alert, they won’t end up getting drafted at all in the first round. This makes some sense since the teams near the bottom of the draft don’t need a quarterback, but when I was going through the simulation I thought for sure the Patriots would take Fields, who by the way was the third overall prospect on the big board. I don’t really have an explanation for this.
As for the pick itself, Farley is a player the Patriots could consider. While not a popular choice according to mock drafts, Patriots beat writer Tom Curran said Farley is an option with Stephon Gilmore getting older and J.C. Jackson still being a restricted free agent.
16. Arizona Cardinals
- Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia
Not an incredibly popular pick to land with the Cardinals, but not a total shock, either. CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards has Ojulari landing in Arizona with his mock draft saying, “After losing Haason Reddick, it just makes sense for Arizona to replace a very productive player. The team has gone all in for the upcoming season and Ojulari gives them another piece that can be dropped into coverage or rush the passer.”
17. Las Vegas Raiders
- Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
Oddly enough, Mayfield is a very popular pick to land with the Raiders … just as a second-round selection. The Raiders certainly need help at the tackle position after trading away Trent Brown, so drafting this position makes sense. The only thing is Mayfield’s seen more as a late first-round guy or second-round guy and not a top 20 pick. But this certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Raiders reached in a draft.
18. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins went with an offensive playmaker earlier in the first round and now go to the defensive side of the ball. Paye is a fairly popular choice as the Dolphins’ second first-round draft pick, appearing in several mock drafts (including Mel Kiper’s).
19. Washington Football Team
- Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Another team that surprised me in passing on a quarterback (especially since Fields is still available). Fitzpatrick is older and doesn’t have a super high overall, and the team’s backup is a 60 overall. Instead, Washington goes receiver, which is a little surprising considering they added Curtis Samuel in free agency. Samuel and Terry McLaurin make a strong duo, but the virtual GM apparently wanted a strong trio. While I personally don’t see this pick happening, Bateman is projected in a few mock drafts to land with Washington.
20. Chicago Bears
- Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Another logical pick from the virtual GMs. Jenkins is the third-most popular choice in the Mock Draft Database to land with the Bears. Even Mel Kiper agrees as Jenkins was his choice to land in Chicago saying, “He’d fill the spot created by the release of Bobbie Massie.”
21. Indianapolis Colts
Cosmi is the consensus choice to land with the Colts in the Mock Draft Database. Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer was among them, saying, “The Colts saw Anthony Castonzo go into retirement and the nice-sized and pedigreed Cosmi is a solid immediate replacement option.”
22. Tennessee Titans
- Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
For the first time in a while we have a pick that’s not really projected somewhere. Eichenberg is more of a Round 2 candidate, per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. Although a number of mock drafts have the Titans selecting either Jenkins or Cosmi here, who were both just drafted with the two picks before this. So it’s a bit of a reach, but nothing shocking.
23. New York Jets
- Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
The Jets got their quarterback of the future earlier in the round, and now get some protection for him. Humphrey isn’t a really popular pick, but a report came out recently that the Jets “think really highly” of him.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
- Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
After losing James Conner in free agency, the Steelers are in need of a new running back. Harris is the consensus pick to land with Pittsburgh in the Mock Draft Database with a fairly high 15.9%. Harris makes a lot of sense here as both a position of need, and a talented player with the 24th overall selection.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
After grabbing Trevor Lawrence first overall, the Jaguars now turn to the defensive side of the ball. This is a pick that’s been trendy in recent weeks. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah had Moehrig going to Jacksonville in his latest mock draft saying, “There are some intriguing options for the Jaguars with this pick, but Moehrig is just too clean a player to pass up.”
26. Cleveland Browns
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The Browns have a solid offense with Baker Mayfield leading Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Austin Hooper. So it makes sense they’d go defense here. Owusu-Koramoah is the second-most popular choice in the Mock Draft Database to land at 26 with the Browns.
27. Baltimore Ravens
- Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest
I’d personally expect the Ravens to go wide receiver here, but Basham isn’t a terrible choice. He was in the mock draft conducted by NFLMocks.com’s Sayre Bedinger. Bedinger said of the pick, “Basham has the ability to play multiple positions on the defensive line and the Ravens almost always seem to prioritize players who look more like defensive ends at that standup linebacker position.”
28. New Orleans Saints
Even though I don’t expect the Saints to go QB here in real life, I thought they might sneak in late and grab one of them considering they’re still available in this simulation. Instead, they go with Odighizuwa, who is a somewhat surprising pick here. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has Odighizuwa as a 3rd-to-4th round draft pick. This is one of the more strange picks we’ve seen in this simulation, but crazy things happen in the NFL Draft so who knows.
29. Green Bay Packers
- Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State
Part of me wanted the Packers to go QB here just to frustrate the virtual Aaron Rodgers. Instead, they go with a more realistic pick of Wyatt Davis. Although it’s not a completely wild selection, it’s not one I expect Green Bay to make in real life. I’d expect a wide receiver here, potentially Rondale Moore or Terrace Marshall Jr.
30. Buffalo Bills
- Quinn Meinerz, RG, Wisconsin–Whitewater
The Bills get some offensive line help for Josh Allen, although most NFL Draft analysts don’t see this as a position of need for Buffalo. Meinerz was named by CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso as a player the Bills should consider, but viewed him more as a 3rd-round selection.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
- Alex Leatherwood, LT, Alabama
The Chiefs need offensive line help, and a lot of mock drafts have Kansas City going o-line here. But there have already been a number of offensive lineman drafted in this simulation, so Leatherwood ends up as one of the top options available here. Leatherwood is viewed more as a 2nd-round guy, but considering the insane offensive lineman run, he becomes a 1st-round pick.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
The Super Bowl champs added Antoine Winfield Jr. in last year’s draft, so why not add another son of a great NFL player? Samuel is a solid pick here for the Bucs, although most mock drafts have Tampa Bay going with a defensive lineman with this pick. But Samuel isn’t a wild selection at all.
(We won’t give detailed recaps of the second round, but since a lot of big names didn’t go in the first round we thought it’d be interesting to see how the 2nd round turned out)
|Jaguars||Pat Freiermuth||TE||Penn State|
|Jets||Jayson Oweh||DE||Penn State|
|Lions||Terrence Marshall Jr.||WR||LSU|
|Cowboys||Trey Sermon||RB||Ohio State|
|Chargers||Tylan Wallace||WR||Oklahoma State|
|Dolphins||Josh Myers||C||Ohio State|
|Bears||Chazz Surratt||MLB||North Carolina|
|Titans||Javonte Williams||RB||North Carolina|
|Saints||Shawn Wade||CB||Ohio State|
|Packers||Marvin Wilson||DT||Florida State|
Obviously the main takeaway here is that Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones are all available at the end of the first and second rounds. Even if one of the top teams surprise us by not going QB early on, in real life there’d most certainly be a trade by someone to select one of them before they fell to this point. Their slides were the primary reason for doing the second round simulation of the draft, and they didn’t even go then.
I didn’t change the rest of the draft so the picks were out of order after the second round. But at the top of the third round we finally saw the quarterbacks start to go. Justin Fields went to the Broncos in the third round, Mac Jones went to the Falcons in the third round, Trey Lance went to the Cowboys in the third round, Jamie Newman went to the Giants in the third round and Kyle Trask went to the Patriots in the third round. Only one other QB was drafted — Feleipe Franks to the Seahawks in the fourth round.
Outside of the quarterback issue, though, a lot of the selections in the first round seemed plausible. There were multiple players who have been attached to the teams that they were drafted to. I thought for the most part the simulation followed the needs of the teams, outside of a handful of selections.