2021 NFL Draft Round 1 winners and losers: Bears, 49ers, Ravens log victories as Panthers, Raiders stumble – CBS Sports
The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books. Thirty-two picks are down, and dozens more are on the way on Friday for rounds 2 and 3. Which teams, prospects and other players benefited from Day One of this year’s draft? Which ones took a hit? We’ve got you covered right here with a rundown of all the most notable winners and losers from Thursday night at the NFL Draft:
What a beautiful, exhilarating pairing. Instead of San Francisco playing it “safe” and confirming all the pre-draft buzz around Mac Jones, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan rightly gambled on Lance’s sky-high ceiling, which is especially apparent in the latter’s run-heavy offense. Lance, meanwhile, gets the benefit of joining a playoff-ready roster in sunny California. A total win-win.
Don’t be angry with us, Panthers fans. Jaycee Horn is a heck of a prospect, and his confidence alone makes him a safe bet to be scrappy out of the gate. Unless he becomes the next Jalen Ramsey or Tre’Davious White, however, it’s just hard to overlook the fact that Carolina passed on a bona-fide quarterback prospect in Justin Fields. Yes, they added Sam Darnold, who should be better now that he’s out of New York. But Fields would’ve given them a premium insurance plan, or rather relegated Darnold to that role.
Any speculation regarding Ryan’s immediate future as the Falcons‘ QB ended when Atlanta made maybe the safest pick of the first round and took Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who could instantly become Ryan’s favorite target. In an alternate reality where Lance slides past the 49ers, this one might look different.
No disrespect to Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, whose dreams came true Thursday night. But since when do the Raiders deserve the benefit of the doubt for reaching on a first-round prospect? Widely considered more of an early Day Two target, Leatherwood instead went No. 17 despite other tackles like Christian Darrisaw — and top defenders like Jamin Davis and Kwity Paye — being available. Las Vegas shuffled its O-line this offseason, but it’s very hard to say it got better.
Should Justin Fields have been in play at No. 10 for the Eagles, who moved up two spots with Dallas? Probably. But make no mistake about it: Philly adding Hurts’ former Alabama teammate, DeVonta Smith, is big news for the second-year QB. Not only because it signaled yet another fork in the road where the Eagles opted not to add another post-Carson Wentz QB, but primarily because Smith instantly becomes the club’s best receiver — a ferociously competitive new No. 1 that should accelerate Hurts’ improvement.
First New York watched as the Eagles and Cowboys teamed up to allow Philly to jump ahead of the G-Men in the draft order. Then the Eagles took Smith, the presumptive Giants target at No. 11. Then Dave Gettleman added a slew of picks to move all the way down to No. 20. Getting a future first — and other picks — was great, but using the 20th pick on Florida wideout Kadarius Toney? Meh. He’s another big-play piece for Daniel Jones, which is a plus, but they could’ve easily waited to capitalize on Day Two WR depth.
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It was a lot easier to dunk on Chicago when team brass was busy assuring Andy Dalton he would be the starting QB in 2021. The current regime may have talked itself into a big move up for Fields in part to buy itself more time, but even so, the addition of a legitimately dynamic QB is monumental. Fields instantly injects hope into a position sucked dry of it lately, and his play-making potential could help the Bears get back to the postseason sooner rather than later. Moving from No. 20 to No. 11 for his upside was a no-brainer.
The 49ers can talk all they want about him sticking around with Lance, but if a real offer were to come in, they’d take a long, hard look at it. The only issue: Who’s left to even take a flyer on him? The Broncos didn’t draft a QB but just added Teddy Bridgewater. The Patriots spent No. 15 on Mac Jones. The Bears moved up for Fields. Barring a late-offseason injury to some team’s starter, Jimmy G’s market has essentially dried up. For now, he’s bound to stay in San Francisco and, ultimately, hold a clipboard.
Rick Spielman loves a move down, and boy, did he make one with the Jets, sending No. 14 and an extra fourth-rounder in exchange for No. 23 and two third-rounders. Not only that, but then he wound up getting Christian Darrisaw, a widely projected top-20 pick at left tackle, with the 23rd pick anyway. A really nice haul — plus a potential Day One blind-side blocker for Kirk Cousins — in Minnesota.
Loser: Urban Meyer
Yes, he got Trevor Lawrence at No. 1, so in the grand scheme of things, he’s on an upward trajectory. As are the Jaguars. But can we stop for a second and really think about his comments about the team’s second first-round pick? Travis Etienne is a solid weapon at running back who deserved to be an early pick, but at No. 25, with James Robinson already on the roster? No worries, because Meyer’s goal is to boast a “top-eight” rushing offense and use Etienne as a third-down specialist. Yikes. That’s not how you want to be spending your most premium picks at the start of a rebuild.
The one-two punch of WR Rashod Bateman (No. 27) and EDGE Jayson Oweh (No. 31)? Incredibly solid. Baltimore got so much better in just two picks. Lamar Jackson suddenly has himself another starting-caliber wideout who has the makeup to be a high-volume target right off the bat, and a defense that lost several edge rushers gets one of the most physically gifted guys at the position.
Najee Harris will probably be a good, hard-nosed back, and he’ll fit in well as a workhorse for Pittsburgh. But take the big-picture view here. The Steelers are in a boom-or-bust season but could be entering the post-Ben Roethlisberger days sooner rather than later. Building the trenches was a bigger priority. And it’s not as if Pittsburgh couldn’t have found a starting-caliber RB on Day Two.