NFL Draft 2021 Grades: Analyzing Every Teams Picks – Sports Illustrated
The NFL draft has come and gone, and while we’re likely to remember this class as the first post-COVID group, controversial for the medical issues they faced, their decisions to opt out of playing another college season or their decisions to return to school, there was still plenty of high-end talent available.
Beyond the quarterbacks, this class was deep at some foundational positions like offensive tackle. Beyond Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts, beyond Trevor Lawrence and Trey Lance, we may lose sight of the fact that this class will contribute some key foundational pieces of playoff rosters for years to come.
Grading immediately following the draft always feels dicey, so we try to do so on a curve. If you’re the Texans, for example, did you at least come away with something you could salvage? On the other hand, if you’re a team like the Ravens or Bills, did you secure that one last necessary piece that could elevate you into a Super Bowl contender?
Let’s get into it and find out.
Round 1 (No. 16 overall) – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa Round 2 (49) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue: Round 4 (136) – Marco Wilson, CB, Florida Round 6 (210) – Victor Dimukeje, DE, Duke Round 6 (223) – Tay Gowan, CB, Central Florida Round 7 (243) – James Wiggins, S, Cincinnati Round 7 (247) – Michal Menet, C, Penn State
The Cardinals came into this draft with limited ammunition and an attractive spot in the middle of the first round where many evaluators believed the talent level was about to drop off. It seemed that first-round pick Zaven Collins was the object of their affection from moment one, despite some more potentially attractive opportunities to upgrade their offense. Collins gives the Cardinals the flexibility to unleash last year’s first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons, and helps them bolster the pass rush. The Cardinals, like other teams, seemed to have taken a cue from Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers this offseason and are strengthening their off-ball linebackers to help guard against the myriad ways teams can pick on a defensive scheme.
Adding Rondale Moore in the second round goes a short way toward mitigating the noticeably minor offensive upgrades Arizona made during the offseason. The Cardinals now have DeAndre Hopkins, an end-of-career A.J. Green and a sea of options in the slot, including Andy Isabella, whom they impulsively chose in the same round two years prior and has received just 48 targets since.
Round 1 (4) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida Round 2 (40) – Richie Grant, S, Central Florida Round 3 (68) – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan Round 4 (108) – Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State Round 4 (114) – Drew Dalman, C, Stanford Round 5 (148) – Ta’Quon Graham, DT, Texas Round 5 (182) – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, Notre Dame Round 5 (183) – Avery Williams, CB, Boise State Round 6 (187) – Frank Darby, WR, Arizona State
The decision to stand pat was somewhat disappointing at the outset of the draft, but after seeing how the rest of the teams evaluated the quarterbacks, especially Carolina and Denver at the end of the top 10, there was no mad rush to climb the ladder to grab one. Atlanta could hang tight and take the top player on their board. Kyle Pitts creates a weapons overload for the Falcons, which, combined with a return of the Shanahan-ian offensive system, should help Matt Ryan again resemble the efficiency machine he was back in 2016.
On defense, there is a clear pivot toward the whims of new coordinator Dean Pees, which means aggressive corners and safeties who are always around the football. Darren Hall and Richie Grant are super aggressive and can come up to the line to make forceful tackles. If the downside is that sometimes they’re caught out of position, sometimes that’s part of the chaotic beauty of Pees’s system.
Round 1 (27) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota Round 1 (31) – Odafe Oweh, LB, Penn State Round 3 (94) – Ben Cleveland, OG, Georgia Round 3 (104) – Brandon Stephens, CB, SMU Round 4 (131) – Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State Round 5 (160) – Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State Round 5 (171) – Daelin Hayes, DE, Notre Dame Round 5 (184) – Ben Mason, FB, Michigan
Despite Baltimore’s recent track record of success, there have been moments where they may have outsmarted themselves and left certain position groups thin and prone to injury. As disappointing as the Orlando Brown Jr. situation was, Baltimore scored in the third round with mauler Ben Cleveland after knocking off other giant needs with their two first-round picks.
Rashod Bateman is finally healthy and should return to his 2019 form, back when he was more squarely thought of as a lock for the first round. His deceptive play speed and strong hands will provide the Ravens with the true X receiver they’ve been searching for, which has, in the past, forced them to entertain the likes of Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown.
Odafe Oweh, whose rawness was pronounced and may have forced him to drop, is in the perfect system to develop. The Ravens utilize athleticism first and foremost, and Oweh has that by the barrel full.
I maintain that the Bills are not done yet exploring offensive upgrades and could still make a splash on the veteran trade market before the season. This draft class may have been the franchise’s biggest vote of confidence in Josh Allen yet, largely ignoring the offense in an effort to give Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier some edge rushers to work with.
The Bills have been flirting with this position before, tapping A.J. Epenesa in the second round last year. Now, they return to the position with both Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham; a pair of high-upside talents who Buffalo hopes can sharpen one another into a platoon that hits. A pressure element to this Bills defense, which is already led by two talented corners and two heady safeties, could lift them to the kind of place where they’re expected to compete with Kansas City instead of considering getting that far as a victory in itself.
If Jaycee Horn is the kind of player who unlocks Carolina’s secondary and turns a soon-to-be-very-good Donte Jackson and a used-to-be-quite-good A.J. Bouye together, then so be it. It’s always good to have conviction.
We’re not going to sit here and say they should have drafted Patrick Surtan because he was the top cornerback on someone else’s list. The question is whether the Panthers have, after Matt Rhule’s first two drafts, made themselves markedly better; good enough to compete in a division that (outside of Tampa Bay) is starting to wither a bit. The best pick of the weekend may have been Tommy Tremble, the chess piece from Notre Dame who will elevate Christian McCaffrey, Sam Darnold and the receiving corps. Pairing Joe Brady with a possibly more athletic Kyle Juszczyk type can alleviate various deficiencies all at once.
There is a loud segment of the Bears fanbase that was wary about Ryan Pace making yet another franchise altering decision, and certainly the argument can be made that selecting Justin Fields is nothing more than the desperate flailing of someone trying to punch their way out of the scrap heap. I would argue the opposite. Pace drafted the polar opposite of Mitch Trubisky and, hopefully, refined his personal process during that time. Some of the league’s best general managers have made horrific drafting mistakes and went on to have successful careers. Playing the board like they did and landing Justin Fields, who could end up being the second-most talented player in this class, may be a springboard into a fine second act for the GM.
While Chicago finds themselves backed against the wall equity-wise for a deeper draft in 2022, they hoarded offensive line talent from the 2021 draft’s remaining strength and will turn over two outsized tackles to Juan Castillo.
The Bears, who have made the playoffs twice during the Matt Nagy era while limping offensively, now have a transformed offense with a mobility component at the quarterback position that can transform even a middling weapon set.
Joe Burrow’s knee injury was not the fault of his tackles. You can separate that argument from the fact that the Bengals’ offensive line has been perpetually scattershot and, in 2021, is highly dependent on young players developing on schedule. Picking Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5 is a fine decision in the context of a deep tackle class. Trading down in the second round beyond the wave of top second-round tackles and then nabbing Clemson’s Jackson Carman, though, was a bit puzzling. Perhaps Carman will find his own at guard, which will give the Bengals more of an interior presence. The hope, then, is that Riley Reiff can hang on as he enters his age-33 season.
I tend to agree with those who would have preferred the Bengals take Penei Sewell and then a wide receiver in the second. Among the available: Terrace Marshall Jr., D’Wayne Eskridge and Rondale Moore.
Trey Hill was one of the better picks they made. The sixth-round pick out of Georgia has guard flexibility and is fun to watch. Take a spin through his Auburn game this year and you’ll see a player with requisite size and speed who may just need a little refinement at the next level.
Round 1 (26) – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern Round 2 (52) – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame Round 3 (91) – Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn Round 4 (110) – James Hudson, OT, Cincinnati Round 4 (132) – Tommy Togiai, DT, Ohio State Round 5 (153) – Tony Fields II, LB, West Virginia Round 5 (169) – Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia Round 6 (211) – Demetric Felton, RB, UCLA
It’s hard to think of a team that picked as late as the Browns did and filled as many needs with high-end starters over the first few rounds. Greg Newsome II could be the final bit of mortar holding together one of the best secondaries on paper in the NFL. Let me say that again three times before I get chewed apart for this: ON PAPER. ON PAPER. ON. PAPER. John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison, Grant Delpit, Denzel Ward, Newsome and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are going to present some serious matchup issues for their opponents. Cleveland, thanks to this draft, is probably going to be one of the few teams in the NFL capable of dictating what most offenses do instead of the other way around.
At the back end of the draft, experimenting with a player like Demetric Felton out of UCLA could really pay dividends. As more teams hone in on what the Browns do well offensively in their double-tight personnel, Felton is a running back/receiver/returner hybrid who can show up in 10 or 11 personnel and scare teams as he shoots across the backfield in sprint motion.
I like when there is a need as deliberate as what the Cowboys have on defense right now that their personnel department doesn’t waste any time throwing all of their draft resources at the problem. Admittedly, a Dan Quinn personnel set is different than whatever the Cowboys called their defense last season, but it was still a little surprising to see them go defense with their first six picks and then another two in the sixth round.
Micah Parsons is not the perfect choice there, but with Dallas’s glut of linebackers, he can solve multiple problems given his pass rushing acumen. Kelvin Joseph is a long-ish cornerback who started his career at LSU before transferring to a starring role at Kentucky, where he picked off four passes in 2020 and seemed to be a more willing tackler than some media scouting reports might suggest.
Jabril Cox was probably my favorite pick. It was surprising, given his coverage ability, that he was available as late as he was. While corner is obviously still a concern, Quinn should be able to matchup more effectively with different teams.
I don’t think it’s possible to love a three rounds as much as Denver’s but in a very specific way. This is a Vic Fangio draft, which bolstered the team’s offensive line, added an effective, pass-protecting, three-down running back and most notably, bookended their secondary with another talented corner. A quarterback, especially a rookie, may not have made the same kind of first-year impact as someone like Patrick Surtain, who takes this Denver defense from good to great immediately.
Throw in mountain man and belly shirt enthusiast Quinn Meinerz, who will add some critical interior depth and season while the Broncos decide what to do with Graham Glasgow, who is great but entering a logical opt-out point in his contract, and Dalton Risner, a second-round pick from 2019 who could stand to improve.
Round 1 (7) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon Round 2 (41) – Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington Round 3 (72) – Alim McNeill, DT, North Carolina State Round 3 (101) – Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse Round 4 (112) – Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC Round 4 (113) – Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue Round 7 (257) – Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State
Give a former NFL tight end with a penchant for inflicting pain the keys to the draft room and this is exactly what you’d expect. The Lions went offensive line, defensive line, defensive line with their first three picks and while we’re all left staring at the empty, dust-ridden shelf that is their receiver room, it represented a solid foundational maneuver going forward.
Penei Sewell gives the Lions some serious heft up front, with the talented Taylor Decker holding down the right side and former Eagles swing mauler Halapoulivaati Vaitai standing to Sewell’s left at guard. With Green Bay in the division, it makes sense to pivot toward a sturdier, ball-control type philosophy that has the Lions consistently winning at the line.
If “kneecap biter” applied to a member of the secondary, Ifeatu Melifonwu out of Syracuse might fit the bill. There’s a rolodex of plays showing the 6’3″ defensive back clobbering smaller wideouts at the catch point.
Round 1 (29) – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia Round 2 (62) – Josh Myers, C, Ohio State Round 3 (85) – Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson Round 4 (142) – Royce Newman, OT, Ole Miss Round 5 (173) – Tedarrell Slaton, DT, Florida Round 5 (178) – Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Appalachian State Round 6 (214) – Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin Round 6 (220) – Isaiah McDuffie, LB, Boston College Round 7 (256) – Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
The Packers continue to put together high value draft boards under Brian Gutekunst who, despite being the target of his franchise quarterback’s ire, has an exceptional sense of where good players tend to fall. Eric Stokes was one of our favorite players of the draft; a corner with long arms who has extensive experience against all the SEC talent at wideout that populated the early portion of the first round. He’s only been playing the position for a few years and has a ton of room to develop. The former Fastest Man in Georgia, Stokes is not just a typical track burner. There is a real functional element to his speed and should help the Packers modernize their secondary and prevent the kind of home run breakdowns that underlined their last two conference title game losses.
The Amari Rodgers pick was probably the most quintessential Packers selection and, at its core, makes a lot of sense. Why waste valuable draft capital on a belle-of-the-ball type receiver who has his own preferences, when everyone who succeeds with Aaron Rodgers does so after acclimating to his own preferences? Amari Rodgers isn’t going to take as long to break in, and his value will be seen early on.
Davis Mills was a necessity given where Houston is right now. If you’re going to take a swing, it’s best to look at someone like Mills, who has pro-ready traits but got lost in the shuffle due to various circumstances.
Nico Collins is one of the mid-round receivers one could see developing into a star under the right circumstances. Does Houston provide the right circumstances? Not even close. But he did beat up on some good Big Ten talent and could be a nightmare if he can develop a rapport with Mills or Tyrod Taylor on the back shoulder fade or as a third-and-long 50/50 ball prayer.
Brevin Jordan is a bit ploddy and his routes are a little mechanical but if a coach can provide him some open space, he could be another relatively low-risk, decently high return offensive player from this draft.
To be clear, we’re grading on a curve here. In his first draft, Nick Caserio does as good a job as he can.
Round 1 (21) – Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan Round 2 (54) – Dayo Odeyingbo, DE, Vanderbilt Round 4 (127) – Kylen Granson, TE, SMU Round 5 (165) – Shawn Davis, S, Florida Round 6 (218) – Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas Round 7 (229) – Mike Strachan, WR, Charleston Round 7 (248) – Will Fries, OT, Penn State
While the edge rushing class lacked some heft, the Colts had little choice. When Matt Eberflus runs the kind of system he runs, DeForest Buckner cannot be the only pocket-crashing presence. Kwity Paye has moves like an open-field ballcarrier sometimes in the trenches, which may or may not work at the NFL level but are fun to look at on film.
Dayo Odeyingbo might be the more interesting player long-term. He can line up at multiple positions, including the edge, but may find a future as a supercharged defensive tackle who can win athletic mismatches inside.
The Jaguars got Trevor Lawrence … and then the draft took a turn for the strange. Trust me, I’m ready to be proven wrong here, but this may be Urban Meyer’s collegiate sensibilities showing. Travis Etienne is a phenomenal playmaker, but is he worth allocating this much equity for, especially as a positionless third down weapon?
Similarly, the Jaguars spent a fifth-round pick on a 29-year-old who was one of Meyer’s former players at Ohio State. While blocking tight end is an integral part of the offense, Jacksonville had some run stopping issues that were not really addressed outside of Jay Tufele and could use a little more love.
Their best pick may have been Tyson Campbell, who was part of a brilliant Georgia secondary that has churned out some high-end talent over the past three years. Watching him against Devonta Smith last year, Campbell did appear at a disadvantage but didn’t look completely overwhelmed.
Noah Gray, the fifth-round pick out of Duke, stands out as a noteworthy pick. After getting walloped in the Super Bowl up front, the Chiefs didn’t really have a foundation with 12 personnel and thus didn’t seem comfortable going double-tight end in order to bolster their protection. Gray is a pretty shifty route runner who could add a little bit of heft at the line but also juke out a few linebackers and gain some serious yardage after the catch.
Nick Bolton was a necessity as teams rush to gobble up off-ball linebacking help, though devoting resources there prevented Kansas City from addressing the edge rusher position until the fourth round. Joshua Kaindoh feels like a similar bet-on-the-athleticism wager that the Chiefs made a few years back at the position.
I don’t have a problem with the Raiders continuously bucking the NFL consensus and turning heads with their first-round picks. When said picks are criticized the rebuttal often includes some accusation of Raider hating and the fact that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock simply have a different way of grading talent.
All of this is fine if and when we see the evidence. Yes, they’ve drafted some good players, but the Raiders have had some very high-profile whiffs with their stockpile of first-round equity. Until this roster begins to resemble the swaggering youth movement that Gruden envisioned when he dealt some of the franchise’s best players, they will be ripe for criticism.
On a bright note, Trevon Moehrig falling enough to get into trading distance was a boon. Despite some health issues, he could help get their secondary back on track.
Round 1 (13) – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern Round 2 (47) – Asante Samuel, Jr., CB, Florida State Round 3 (77) – Josh Palmer, WR Tennessee Round 3 (97) – Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia Round 4 (118) – Chris Rumph II, DE, Duke Round 5 (159) – Brenden Jaimes, OT, Nebraska Round 6 (185) – Nick Niemann, LB, Iowa Round 6 (198) – Larry Rountree III, RB, Missouri Round 7 (241) – Mark Webb, S, Georgia
There are times when you’re better off lucky than good, and the mad dash to collect wide receiver talent, which subsequently kicked Rashawn Slater down to L.A.’s spot at No. 13 is a stroke of tremendous luck. There were few situations where an obvious, glaring need and a day one starter crossed over as seamlessly.
Deeper into the draft, beyond the Asante Samuel Jr. pick (which seems to be a home run on the surface) the Chargers got themselves some chess pieces to help them stay afloat in the radically diverse AFC West. Chris Rumph II, the outside linebacker from Duke, can find the field on passing downs during his rookie season and, while the rest of the defense is obsessed with Joey Bosa, fly under the radar and make life for Patrick Mahomes a little more complicated.
Round 2 (57) – Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville Round 3 (103) – Ernest Jones, LB, South Carolina Round 4 (117) – Bobby Brown III, DT, Texas A&M Round 4 (130) – Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas Round 4 (141) – Jacob Harris, WR, Central Florida Round 5 (174) – Earnest Brown IV, DE, Northwestern Round 7 (233) – Jake Funk, FB, Maryland Round 7 (249) – Ben Skowronek, WR, Notre Dame Round 7 (252) – Chris Garrett, LB, Concordia-St. Paul
Les Snead loves him some mid- and late-round picks, which is good because the Rams pretty much only have mid and late-round picks for the foreseeable future.
Tutu Atwell was a fascinating way to kick the draft off. Like Devonta Smith, a lot of people are making a big deal out of the weight (155 lbs) but he could be a difference maker behind the line of scrimmage. Their best pick, though, may have been securing the likes of Ernest Jones, who can finally help bring some stability to the middle of their defense. Losing Brandon Staley is a massive hit for the Rams, but bringing in an off-ball linebacker who can cover and play tough against the run is a good way to start the rebuilding process.
There were few of us out there who missed badly on projecting Miami’s first round based on their most glaring needs. Trading back into the top 10 almost locked them into a top wide receiver. Keeping the 18th pick almost guaranteed them an edge rusher. They did not disappoint.
This will be a formative draft for Chris Grier and Brian Flores, who have already transformed the Dolphins into a relevant division power player but now have to shift the gear into a team dripping with playmaking talent good enough to consistently compete with Buffalo and New England.
Their picks reflected as much; a mix of top-end skill and speed, with a high risk-reward potential (Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips) and a handful of safer bets that should be able to contribute right away. Liam Eichenberg and Hunter Long will not be as frequently discussed but could serve as foundational blocks that, if they play up to their potential, will go a long way toward rounding out the operation.
While much of the success of this team hangs in the balance of Tua Tagovailoa’s left arm, there is little else Miami could have done.
Round 1 (23) – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech Round 3 (66) – Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M Round 3 (78) – Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina Round 3 (86) – Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State Round 3 (90) – Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh Round 4 (119) – Kene Nwangwu, RB, Iowa State Round 4 (125) – Camryn Bynum, CB, California Round 4 (134) – Janarius Robinson, DE, Florida State Round 5 (157) – Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa Round 5 (168) – Zach Davidson, TE, Central Missouri Round 6 (199) – Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pittsburgh
The Vikings nailed their first-round pick, accumulating additional assets and still landing a top three offensive tackle in the first round who can start on day one. But their heaviest lifting (and most notable) was done in the middle rounds with a pair of quarterbacks taken back to back.
The first: Kellen Mond. The Texas A&M standout had scouts buzzing after a pro day workout that showcased a slew of NFL-ready throws above and beyond what he was asked to do in Texas A&M’s offense. Add in his speed, and Mond is all-of-a-sudden nipping at the heels of the more one-dimensional Kirk Cousins, who has just two fully guaranteed years left remaining on his deal. It could be attractive for Minnesota’s staff to begin eyeing some true 11-on-11 football with Mond under center.
The second: Chazz Surratt, a converted quarterback turned linebacker who, if you tuned into any North Carolina game this year, stood out despite his pedestrian size at the position. Surratt is a ball of energy who never seems to get washed out of a play. The perfect Mike Zimmer linebacker.
The narrative around Bill Belichick’s laziness seems a bit confounding after just one 7–9 season. Yes, Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl with another great coach and a stacked roster leads us to believe that he was an integral part of the Patriots dynasty but equating his penchant for drafting Alabama players with a lack of zest for the job feels irresponsible.
Mac Jones can represent a youthful energy within the Patriots system, perhaps like a less toolsy Josh Allen (who is also more accurate and less turnover prone initially). Whether or not he starts right away remains to be seen, but his accuracy and the Patriots’ improved weapon set should be putting opponents on notice for 2021.
Belichick loves layering talent at the outside linebacker and edge positions. Despite signing Matt Judon and developing Chase Winovich, the Patriots added a tremendous value in Ronnie Perkins, who could help bolster New England’s pass rush and shift the balance of power a bit, from a back-end focused defense to a more balanced unit that can bring pressure without perfect coverage.
Paulson Adebo, the 6’1″ cornerback out of Stanford, may have highlighted a ho-hum class (on paper). Sean Payton has done yeoman’s work trying to sell the football world on Payton Turner, and perhaps he’ll be proven right instantly given how talented the Saints‘ defensive line is and how quickly they should be able to generate opportunities for a young pass rusher.
Ian Book was raved about during the pre-draft process and greatly improved his stock, which seemed to be hovering in the sixth-seventh round territory before hitting the circuit.
While you could argue the merits of Kadarius Toney and whether he was worth a first-round pick, what Dave Gettleman was able to do in this draft, accumulating resources for a much stronger 2022 draft and securing the likes of Azeez Ojulari in the second round, should be lauded.
Kevin Seifert over at ESPN.com called it noble, given that there is no certainty that Gettleman will be around to utilize those picks given his track record with the Giants leading up to this draft. Still, this was an exercise in preparedness and the Giants managed to check off one of their biggest needs (and an ancillary need with high upside) in the first two picks.
It wouldn’t be a Giants draft without Gettleman falling in full bloom love at the Senior Bowl. Elerson Smith is a middle-round selection to watch, as he could find himself a quick favorite of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
Round 1 (2) – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU Round 1 (14) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC Round 2 (34) – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss Round 4 (107) – Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina Round 5 (146) – Jamien Sherwood, S, Auburn Round 5 (154) – Michael Carter II, S, Duke Round 5 (175) – Jason Pinnock, CB, Pittsburgh Round 6 (186) – Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State Round 6 (200) – Brandin Echols, CB, Kentucky Round 6 (207) – Jonathan Marshall, DT, Arkansas
Joe Douglas came under fire moving up 10 picks for an offensive lineman amid a questionable draft, but the Jets are playing by a different set of rules. Alijah Vera-Tucker goes a long way toward solving some of the issues that plagued Adam Gase and Sam Darnold and, over time, could develop into a better-than-good player at two positions.
This is a necessity when breaking in a rookie starter like Zach Wilson, who was accustomed to having plenty of pocket time to show off his arm.
Elijah Moore, though, may turn out to be the most important part of this class. The Ole Miss wide receiver is going to be a stable presence at the line, taking the short rhythm throws necessary to get Wilson into a game and putting up a ton of yardage after the catch.
Kudos to the Eagles for not leaving Jalen Hurts without a shot in 2021. The Devonta Smith and Landon Dickerson picks go a long way toward healing an increasingly veteran offensive line and diversifying a wide receiver corps that has been threadbare over the past two seasons.
Dickerson, who is coming back from an ACL injury, represents the kind of high-upside injury bet that many teams made in the upper-middle rounds this year. While some won’t hit, Dickerson is a player who can operate at any position on the offensive line in a pinch, but right away will compete for a shot at guard.
Round 1 (24) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama Round 2 (55) – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State Round 3 (87) – Kendrick Green, C, Illinois Round 4 (128) – Dan Moore, Jr., OT, Texas A&M Round 4 (140) – Buddy Johnson, LB, Texas A&M Round 5 (156) – Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, Wisconsin Round 6 (216) – Quincy Roche, DE, Miami (Fla.) Round 7 (245) – Tre Norwood, CB, Oklahoma Round 7 (254) – Pressley Harvin III, P, Georgia Tech
Najee Harris is already blowing up the rookie of the year betting lines. While this may be my own stubbornness, it seems like Pittsburgh should first look to alleviate some of the pressure on an older, immobile quarterback. Then again, we have not seen the Steelers with a back like Harris since their Le’Veon Bell days.
Pittsburgh eventually attacked the offensive line, taking center Kendrick Green. Pittsburgh was reportedly hot on Green’s tail throughout the process and have a vision for him as a right-away starter, which, if true, highlights some of the expert board work Kevin Colbert has done in the past. Dan Moore, the tackle from Texas A&M, also has a high ceiling for the position and could emerge in a year or two from his backup role into something more front facing.
Trey Lance should scare the pants off the rest of the NFL. Kyle Shanahan has had great mobile quarterbacks and great pocket passers, but never this combination of size and speed. In the past he’s admitted as much; rarely has he had the opportunity to force defenses into treating the quarterback as a rusher. Lance is powerful and athletic and could revolutionize a system that is already taking the NFL by storm.
The 49ers invested heavily in the offensive line interior, another talented running back to add to their rotation and picked up a nice mid-round cornerback in Ambry Thomas, who has great size and plenty of time to develop into a full-time starter.
Round 2 (56) – D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan Round 4 (137) – Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma Round 6 (208) – Stone Forsythe, OT, Florida
While there isn’t much ground to cover here (Seattle had a league-low three picks), D’Wayne Eskridge is notable in that he adds another athletic player into the fold for Russell Wilson just a few months after some anonymous grumblings about getting some help. With a new offensive system inspired by both McVay and Kyle Shanahan being installed, Eskridge is a player who can add to the fold behind the line, in tight-catch situations on the sideline and in the return game.
Stone Forsythe, whom the Seahawks traded up for, is worth keeping an eye on if only because John Schneider has had some success scouring late rounds for usable offensive line talent before.
Round 1 (32) – Joe Tryon, LB, Washington Round 2 (64) – Kyle Trask, QB, Florida Round 3 (95) – Robert Hainsey, OT, Notre Dame Round 4 (129) – Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas Round 5 (176) – K.J. Britt, LB, Auburn Round 7 (251) – Chris Wilcox, CB, BYU Round 7 (259) – Grant Stuard, LB, Houston
It’s always interesting to see where GMs go post-Super Bowl. Jason Licht has gotten cute before and been burned, so it was noticeable when he spent a relatively high pick on Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. At this point, there is no evidence that Tom Brady will ever retire, and the mid-round understudy turned starter is so incredibly rare that it almost doesn’t feel worthwhile.
What does make a good deal of sense is doubling up on pass rushing talent and stacking the likes of Joe Tryon behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquill Barrett. What’s better than a pair of edge rushers is a rotation at the position, much like the one Pierre-Paul entered the league under alongside Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
Left undrafted, though, were any defensive linemen who could help alleviate the heavy burden placed on Ndamukong Suh, who played more than 75 percent of Tampa Bay’s snaps last year in his mid-thirties.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Part of this process involves teams stringing together a handful of players that we’ve heard a great deal about during the process, and the Titans’ draft seems to stand out in that we heard the term “first rounder” attached to more than one of their picks. More name recognition often results in a higher grade. I put this in a different category given that the Titans took a calculated risk. Caleb Farley may end up being the best cornerback in this class, but dropped due to recent back surgeries. GM Jon Robinson said after the draft that their medical vetting process was rigorous.
The Titans were always going to go cornerback here and did a great deal of homework on the rest of the class. Their need at the position suggests that they would not take a flier on Farley if they weren’t confident in the return.
Dillon Radunz is a promising offensive lineman who will step in and audition for the role left behind by Isaiah Wilson. But it may end up being Rashad Weaver who emerges as the darling of this class. The Titans secured the former Pitt star in the fourth round and, with so much uncertainty on the edge, could end up working his way into a regular role.
Round 1 (19) – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky Round 2 (51) – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas Round 3 (74) – Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota Round 3 (82) – Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina Round 4 (124) – John Bates, TE, Boise State Round 5 (163) – Darrick Forrest, S, Cincinnati Round 6 (225) – Camaron Cheeseman, LS, Michigan Round 7 (240) – William Bradley-King, LB, Baylor Round 7 (246) – Shaka Toney, DE, Penn State Round 7 (258) – Dax Milne, WR, BYU
This was a fun draft in Washington that ran the gamut. In a lot of ways, you have to respect their decision to take a playoff team from last year, double down on what they do well and let the quarterback situation take care of itself when the time is right.
Samuel Cosmi might have been their best pick, and while he’ll have some pressure with the left tackle vacancy hanging over his head, he’s athletic enough to make up for the inevitable rookie jitters.
Washington also ended up with Benjamin St-Juste, who was a favorite of many during the draft thanks to his backstory and origins in Canada. While players of that size can sometimes find themselves without a position, St-Juste looked more than adequate at cornerback and could be an ideal matchup piece in a division with playmakers of all shapes and sizes (but most notably, solid tight end play that could warrant a player like him stepping up).