2021 NFL Draft Round One Grades

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
April 29th, 2021

1) Jacksonville Jaguars

The Pick: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, Quarterback

The Grade: A+

The top pick in this NFL Draft has been linked to Trevor Lawrence for years and unsurprisingly, that didn’t change last minute. The Jaguars took the best player in the draft and should have a franchise quarterback for as long as Lawrence wants to play. It was the only right pick at number one and it wasn’t botched.

2) New York Jets

The Pick: Zach Wilson, BYU, Quarterback

The Grade: A

No surprise here either as the Jets got the second best quarterback prospect in the draft. There could be some better upside in Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but Zach Wilson seems to have a very high floor and may end up as the best arm talent to come out of this draft. He’s worth building around and could absolutely end up as the franchise player the Jets so desperately need.

3. San Francisco 49ers (via HOU)

The Pick: Trey Lance, North Dakota State, Quarterback

The Grade: B+

San Francisco can’t really be faulted for this pick. Trey Lance has one of the highest ceilings in this draft and has displayed some tremendous upside in his short time at North Dakota State, but therein lies the potential road bumps. Lance is extremely young and didn’t get many reps against good teams in college. There’s a good chance that he becomes a great player, especially in Kyle Shanahan’s system, but there is some uncertainty. Good on San Francisco for not going after Mac Jones with this pick.

4. Atlanta Falcons

The Pick: Kyle Pitts, Florida, Tight End

The Grade: A+

Atlanta didn’t mess the pick up. They still have some years of Matt Ryan left so getting the most out of the offense should be a priority. All indicators point towards Kyle Pitts being a generational tight end and as Mike Ryan said, he could really just be classified as a weapon. Pitts is fast, strong, and has great hands and ought to be an absolute menace next to Julio Jones assuming he’s still on the roster come Week 1. Pitts was the right choice.

5. Cincinnati Bengals

The Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU, Wide Receiver

The Grade: B+

This is a tough pick to grade because I felt as though Cincinnati could use an offensive lineman more than a pass catcher, but they’re getting the best wide receiver in the draft. Chase was an absolute menace at LSU in 2019 and was the biggest target in that offense. Reconnecting him with Joe Burrow could be a very prosperous pairing while the offensive line can be worked on later. Chase will be a productive wide receiver, but if Sewell is truly great it could haunt the organization.

6. Miami Dolphins (via PHI)

The Pick: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama, Wide Receiver

The Grade: C

The Dolphins were almost a lock to pick a wide receiver with this pick and an Alabama pass catcher was likely, but not this Alabama pass catcher. Jaylen Waddle is a great wide receiver, but he wasn’t even the best one on his own team. DeVonta Smith was a better producer and even though Waddle returns kicks, Smith is the better player. Waddle will be a perfectly fine player in Miami but doesn’t have the floor that Smith possesses.

7. Detroit Lions

The Pick: Penei Sewell, Oregon, Offensive Tackle

The Grade: A

I didn’t expect Detroit to take an offensive tackle with this pick but I have absolutely no problem with it. The Lions have been desperate for some type of consistency and Sewell is a great building block to start that trend. He’s easily the best tackle in this draft and will be an absolute rock on the left side of that line as long as Detroit pays him. It was unexpected, but it’s a very good pick that will help build more than just the roster.

8. Carolina Panthers

The Pick: Jaycee Horn, South Carolina, Cornerback

The Grade: C-

I can’t really say that I love this pick because there were so many needs on the offensive side of the ball for Carolina. Jaycee Horn is a great, great, great cornerback and will do well in all sorts of schemes in the NFL, but with so many talented offensive players still on the board I can’t really figure out this pick. The team could have been improved so much more with a tackle or wide receiver and though Horn will be a good player, I don’t like this fit at all.

9. Denver Broncos

The Pick: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama, Cornerback

The Grade: B+

I felt as though Patrick Surtain II was the best cornerback in this draft class and there was a decent need for some to play opposite of Kyle Fuller, so I like this pick. I think Justin Fields could have been a great selection for this pick and DeVonta Smith must have been tantalizing as well, but Surtain is going to be a great fit. I think going from replacement level cornerbacks to paying the best corner combo in the AFC West is a great offseason and Surtain helps that happen. I’m absolutely fine with the pick.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via DAL)

The Pick: DeVonta Smith, Alabama, Wide Receiver

The Grade: A+

If you’ve read any of my draft material that has anything to do with the Eagles you’ll know how much that organization has needed a go-to guy on the outside. Getting DeVonta Smith with a double digit pick is a massive steal and will immediately give the team a number one wide receiver while reuniting Jalen Hurts with a player he’s very familiar with. This is an absolutely fantastic pick for Philadelphia.

11. Chicago Bears (via NYG)

The Pick: Justin Fields, Ohio State, Quarterback

The Grade: A+

I could be a bit biased as a Bear fan, but this was an absolutely fantastic pick for Chicago. Justin Fields is a really good quarterback and is a huge steal at the 11th pick. Chicago doesn’t have a good track record with quarterbacks but Justin Fields is going to have the best chance of succeeding in this position. He’s the best dual threat in this draft and should thrive if he gets any help. A great player at a great value with a great need comes out to a great pick.

12. Dallas Cowboys (via SFO)

The Pick: Micah Parsons, Penn State, Inside Linebacker

The Grade: A

Dallas was in desperate need of a very good defensive player and that’s what they got with this pick. Micah Parsons is a great player and is by far the best linebacker in this draft and might end up as the best defender in the draft. With Sean Lee retiring and Leighton Vander Esch unable to stay on the field, Parsons is a great fit for the roster and will be an awesome producer this season. The only reason this isn’t an A+ is because cornerback is so destitute, but Parsons will thrive in this spot.

13. Los Angeles Chargers

The Pick: Rashawn Slater, Northwestern, Offensive Tackle

The Grade: A+

The Chargers were in great need of an offensive lineman last year but did a great job of choosing Justin Herbert, an incredibly talented quarterback. However, they still needed some protection for their prize asset and that’s what they get with Rashawn Slater. Slater can move all over the line but will slot in at left tackle and will be excellent. He killed Chase Young in college when Northwestern played Ohio State and we can expect to see more of that in the NFL.

14. New York Jets (via MIN)

The Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC, Guard

The Grade: C

I think this was a very curious pick for the New York Jets. Sure, they needed a bit of help on the offensive line, but I didn’t think they needed first round help, especially considering they traded up to get the player. Don’t get me wrong, Alijah Vera-Tucker is a great blocker and will be a very good asset along this line, but I think they could have waited and found better value with their original pick. The player will do well and the team will be better, but a wide receiver would have been much better later in the round.

15. New England Patriots

The Pick: Mac Jones, Alabama, Quarterback

The Grade: D

The player is just not that good. The NFL consists of the best athletes in the world combined with incredible minds that allow them to play at an other-worldly level. Mac Jones only has the mind. He doesn’t have the athleticism to be a great player in the NFL and I think he’s going to be a bust. New England has a paranormal way of making things work out, but I don’t have enough faith in the player to believe in this pick.

16. Arizona Cardinals

The Pick: Zaven Collins, Tulsa, Outside Linebacker

The Grade: B+

Anytime you can get a player that fills a need and is the best in their class you have to chalk that up as a victory. Arizona is really good at making use of versatile players and Zaven Collins is just that. He’s a very good outside linebacker and should make a defense that needs help a lot better. I thought they might go after a player like Caleb Farley, but Collins is a nice value at this pick and should be good enough to make major contributions this year.

17. Las Vegas Raiders

The Pick: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama, Tackle

The Grade: B

The Raiders were in need of a talented offensive lineman as they hit reset on their line and the rest is aging out. Alex Leatherwood could have been a top 10 pick in last years draft but chose to return to college and get better, which he did. Leatherwood will be a good left tackle, maybe not a great one, but he will be very talented and good no matter where he slots in the line. I personally liked Christian Darrisaw more, but Leatherwood will be a good pick here.

18. Miami Dolphins

The Pick: Jaelan Phillips, Miami, EDGE

The Grade: A

I didn’t love Jaelan Phillips as much as many others, but I still think he’s a stellar player and fits Miami perfectly. The move won’t be too far considering he’s just going from the south side of the city to the north side and the adjustment won’t be difficult for Phillips either. He’s more than pro ready, he has the physical attributes to perform at a very high level, and Miami desperately needed an edge rusher. All the boxes are checked in this scenario.

19. Washington Football Team

The Pick: Jamin Davis, Kentucky, Inside Linebacker

The Grade: B+

Inside linebacker was a big position of need for Washington coming into this draft and I really only projected either Micah Parsons or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to the team, but Jamin Davis will thrive in this position. He’s an absolute tackle sponge and behind this defensive line he’ll have freedom in his playstyle which will suit him very well considering his attributes. I really like the pick.

20. New York Giants (via CHI)

The Pick: Kadarius Toney, Florida, Wide Receiver

The Grade: F

There’s just so many better options. New York is not in desperate need of a wide receiver and Toney is not good enough to be taken this high. He did a lot of producing in college, but you don’t draft production, you draft traits, and he isn’t good enough to be taken with this pick. With so many star wide receiver still on the board I just can not agree with this pick. It doesn’t make sense on any level.

21. Indianapolis Colts

The Pick: Kwity Paye, Michigan, EDGE

The Grade: B

There was a decent need for the Colts to grab a pass rusher at some point in this draft and you could have certainly done much worse than Paye, but I thought offensive tackle was much more pressing. The situation is a big part of making picks in the draft and with only two offensive tackles left that could warrant a first round tag, I would have liked to see the Colts grab one and wait on a deeper edge rusher class for their next pick. Paye is a stellar player and should do very well next to DeForest Buckner, but I would have preferred a tackle.

22. Tennessee Titans

The Pick: Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech, Tennessee

The Grade: A

Tennessee had a lot of needs coming into this draft and cornerback was certainly one of them. Despite having back surgery recently, Farley is a top 10 player in this draft and has the potential to be the best defensive player in the draft. Tennessee is absolutely barren at cornerback and Farley will be expected to produce right away, but his skills and ability to track the ball and disrupt passes will make him one of the best pass defenders in the draft. I love the pick.

23. Minnesota Vikings (via SEA)

The Pick: Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech, Offensive Tackle

The Grade: A+

I’m not really sure why Darrisaw fell this far. Had any of my original mocks worked out the right way, I would have had Minnesota grab Darrisaw at 14, but he never fell that far. Grabbing a stellar blocker at 23 is a tremendous value and one that Minnesota will love to employ in front of Dalvin Cook. He can run and pass block well and I expect to see him perform well from day one. Great player and great value at a position of need, doesn’t get better than that.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pick: Najee Harris, Alabama, Running Back

The Grade: A-

Running back has become a position that most teams choose not to pursue in the first round and that’s generally a good idea considering how the league has changed and how many decent options you can grab off the street and plug in. However, guys like Derrick Henry can take a team from good to great and Najee Harris is a whole lot like Henry. He’s a massive back with speed and massive size, enough to bowl over linebackers, as well as nice hands. The Steelers really needed and running back and Harris is a really nice player.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via LAR)

The Pick: Travis Etienne, Clemson, Running Back

The Grade: B

This was a pretty surprising pick, really. Jacksonville did need a running back but I don’t think it was really seen as a priority. I had figured on a wide receiver or offensive lineman, but I think the pick of Travis Etienne will work well for Jacksonville. Not only will it make the life of Trevor Lawrence easier considering the teammate aspect, but he’s a flat out great runner. He’s the best running back in ACC history and he can absolutely burn when he gets a bit of space. A good running back can help mitigate a bad line and Jacksonville now has a good running back, plus a bit of time to patch up the line along the way.

26. Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Greg Newsome II, Northwestern, Cornerback

The Grade: A-

Cleveland was in desperate need of help on defense, especially on the back end, and they have a great option to throw back there now in Greg Newsome. The player has some incredible stats to accompany him in difficult situations and is good enough to start and be good this season. I think this was the biggest position of need for Cleveland and the value was what a first round pick should be, so I have zero problems with this pick.

27. Baltimore Ravens

The Pick: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota, Wide Receiver

The Grade: A+

I don’t care if it hurts Hollywood Brown’s feelings, the Ravens needed a number one wide receiver and they finally have it in Rashod Bateman. Minnesota’s 2018 team thrived because Rashod Bateman was great and Baltimore’s offense is going to be revived because he’s that good. Lamar Jackson desperately needed help at wide receiver and I didn’t think one of the top big guys would be left here, but Bateman has great talent and size and will likely become Jackson’s best friend fairly quickly.

28. New Orleans Saints

The Pick: Payton Turner, Houston, EDGE

The Grade: D-

I’m not really sure this position was even that large of a need for New Orleans, so that’s a bad start right away. Things get even worse when you see who the pick is. This is a really nice class of edge rushers but Payton Turner should have been way down the list in terms of options for any player. The Saints had multiple needs that were more pressing and chose to take a player that isn’t worth the first round value. I’m not sure Turner will be able to pan out at a starting level at all.

29. Green Bay Packers

The Pick: Eric Stokes, Georgia, Cornerback

The Grade: C+

I don’t hate this pick but I don’t love it. Green Bay is in turmoil and this pick probably wasn’t something that they were thinking too hard about today considering the Aaron Rodgers ordeal, but this pick is fine. Eric Stokes was a player that I had going in this area of the draft so I don’t have an issue with the value and considering how many areas Green Bay could improve in, they didn’t really have a chief need. Stokes is an incredible athlete and will be a nice player as the secondary cornerback opposite of Alexander.

30. Buffalo Bills

The Pick: Gregory Rousseau, Miami, EDGE

The Grade: A

Buffalo only had a couple areas in which they could actually improve with this pick, cornerback, tight end, and edge rusher. I usually projected them taking a cornerback, but I love this pick with Rousseau. I think he’s the best defensive end in this class and has a very high ceiling. He won’t be the first guy you look at on this defense which will take some of the pressure off and the environment in Buffalo is very much attuned to players growing and developing. Rousseau would have been a top 10 pick in last year’s draft if he was eligible and I think this is a very nice value for a very complete team.

31. Baltimore Ravens (via KAN)

The Pick: Jayson Oweh, Penn State, EDGE

The Grade: B+

I really liked Baltimore to either take a wide receiver or an EDGE in the first round and their trade with Kansas City made both possible. Baltimore is making out great in this draft so far as they got a player with massive potential in Jayson Oweh. He didn’t have a good 2020 but there’s so much upside that I don’t have any worries about how the player played in college. Baltimore got their pick and nailed it.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Pick: Joe Tryon, Washington, EDGE

The Grade: A-

I thought that Tampa Bay had the most freedom of any team in this draft because of how they’re structured, but I did think they needed a bit of depth in the pass rushing department. Their front four is the best in the NFL, but they were shallow past that. I felt as though Tryon was the second best pass rusher in this draft and his speed will be a perfect fit in Tampa. I love this pick and can’t see it busting.

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