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Sports NFL Mock Draft 2021: Here's what happens when we let Madden simulate the picks

17:00  19 april  2021
17:00  19 april  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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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.

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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.

MORE NFL DRAFT: SN's latest 2021 mock draft | Top 100 big board

How the Madden NFL Mock Draft works

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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.

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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.

Accurate rosters

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.

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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.

Draft order

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.

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I did this for the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, and the results can be viewed below.

2021 NFL Mock Draft: Madden simulation

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.

a person holding a football ball: trevor-lawrence-jaguars-FTR © Provided by Sporting News trevor-lawrence-jaguars-FTR

2. New York Jets

  • Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

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

  • Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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.

Miami Dolphins draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections

  Miami Dolphins draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections Here is a 2021 NFL draft pick-by-pick breakdown for the Miami Dolphins.Round 1 (No. 6 overall, from Eagles) - Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: He's been compared to Tyreek Hill and will reunite with former Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Waddle and WR Will Fuller V will give Miami speed to burn on the outside, and Waddle could also greatly enhance the Fins' return teams. The AFC East better beware double moves from a player who averaged 10 yards after the catch.

4. Atlanta Falcons

  • Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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

  • Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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.

San Francisco 49ers draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections

  San Francisco 49ers draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections Here is a 2021 NFL draft pick-by-pick breakdown for the San Francisco 49ers.Round 1 (No. 3 overall, from Texans through Dolphins) - Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State: A pick that's changed hands three times, the Niners made their bold acquisition of it last month ... and it was quickly followed by rampant speculation that they would take Alabama's Mac Jones. But going with Lance, who has far more upside than Jones given his physical skills, seems like the better option given the franchise surrendered three first-rounders to get him.

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.

a person standing in front of a crowd: patrick-surtain-cowboys-FTR © Provided by Sporting News patrick-surtain-cowboys-FTR

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.

Los Angeles Rams draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections

  Los Angeles Rams draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections Here is a 2021 NFL draft pick-by-pick breakdown for the Los Angeles Rams.Round 2 (No. 57 overall) - Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville: Welcome to the draft, L.A., which gave up its first-rounder in the Jalen Ramsey deal. Atwell may only be 5-9 while hovering near 150 pounds, but his speed could bring another dimension to an offense that already added DeSean Jackson. An all-ACC selection in 2019 when he led the conference with 1,272 receiving yards, Atwell should use every ounce of QB Matthew Stafford's arm strength.

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

  • Kwity Paye, RE, Michigan

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

  • Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

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.

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25. Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Trevor Moehrig, SS, TCU

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

  • Osa Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA

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.

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2nd Round

(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)

Team Name Pos. College
Jaguars Pat Freiermuth TE Penn State
Jets Jayson Oweh DE Penn State
Falcons Zaven Collins LB Tulsa
Dolphins Travis Etienne RB Clemson
Eagles Jaelen Phillips DE Miami
Bengals Phidarian Mathis DT Alabama
Panthers Dylan Moses MLB Alabama
Broncos Christian Barmore DT Alabama
Lions Terrence Marshall Jr. WR LSU
Giants Nick Bolton MLB Missouri
49ers Landon Dickerson C Alabama
Cowboys Trey Sermon RB Ohio State
Jaguars Kadarius Toney WR Florida
Patriots Andre Cisco FS Syracuse
Chargers Tylan Wallace WR Oklahoma State
Raiders Deonte Brown OG Alabama
Cardinals Rondale Moore WR Purdue
Dolphins Josh Myers C Ohio State
Washington Brevin Jordan TE Miami
Bears Chazz Surratt MLB North Carolina
Titans Javonte Williams RB North Carolina
Colts Trey Smith LG Tennessee
Steelers Walker Little LT Stanford
Seahawks Jevon Holland SS Oregon
Rams Tyson Campbell CB Georgia
Ravens Jackson Carman LT Clemson
Browns Paulson Adebo CB Stanford
Saints Shawn Wade CB Ohio State
Bills Tre Brown CB Oklahoma
Packers Marvin Wilson DT Florida State
Chiefs Ronnie Perkins LOLB Oklahoma
Bucs Seth Williams WR Auburn

Finishing thoughts

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.

Los Angeles Rams draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections .
Here is a 2021 NFL draft pick-by-pick breakdown for the Los Angeles Rams.Round 2 (No. 57 overall) - Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville: Welcome to the draft, L.A., which gave up its first-rounder in the Jalen Ramsey deal. Atwell may only be 5-9 while hovering near 150 pounds, but his speed could bring another dimension to an offense that already added DeSean Jackson. An all-ACC selection in 2019 when he led the conference with 1,272 receiving yards, Atwell should use every ounce of QB Matthew Stafford's arm strength.

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