The first-round of the 2021 NFL Draft is over. Months of speculation led to a night with several twists and plenty of heartfelt moments for young men that worked their butts off to reach this point. We’ll briefly recap the selections in this article and give teams grades based on how well they drafted for needs and the skill of their selections compared to other available prospects.
Please remember that this article is a knee-jerk reaction getting put together as the draft occurs. More in-depth analysis of each prospect is available in The Grueling Truth’s mock drafts. This article isn’t an attack on any young man that heard his name called on Thursday night. It’s only meant as a light-hearted breakdown of each selection.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson
According to 247Sports, Lawrence was the nation’s top recruit in the Class of 2018 and the sixth-best recruit in the website’s history. He overtook incumbent Clemson starter Kelly Bryant as a true freshman on his way to going undefeated and winning the National Championship. Lawrence led Clemson to the College Football Playoffs as a sophomore and junior as well.
Jacksonville goes from starting Mike Glennon, Jake Luton, and Gardner Minshew II to adding one of the three best quarterback prospects in the past decade. Urban Meyer came to the NFL knowing he was getting a proven winner that’s succeeded at every level he’s played at. All it’ll take is one or two decent seasons for Lawrence to become the second-best quarterback in Jaguars history.
Lawrence is one of the most secure selections in the draft, but he comes with some concerns. The golden locked quarterback is 6-6 but only weighs 213 lbs. He’ll need to add weight or learn to slide if he wants to continue scrambling in the NFL. Lawrence also zones in on receivers at times, forcing throws instead of living to fight another day.
New York cleared the way for Wilson by trading Sam Darnold to Carolina. We knew this pick was coming for weeks, but it’s still a satisfying selection for Jets fans. Unless you count Mark Sanchez’s four-year run, New York hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Chad Pennington in the early 2000s. Even then, Pennington only went 32-29 as the team’s starter.
Wilson joins Robert Saleh’s new regime and instantly becomes the face of a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in ten years. While the BYU product only had one year of elite production, he saw productive starting time in 2018 and 2019. Wilson has elite accuracy, which he’s capable of displaying from off-platform throws.
The most significant concerns with Wilson surround his lack of competition. He barely faced any NFL prospects in 2020, and BYU’s offensive line dominated the team’s weaker competition. Coastal Carolina was the only team that consistently pressured Wilson, and that game was by far his worst performance last year.
San Francisco might’ve traded up for Mac Jones, but their feelings changed over the past several weeks. Jimmy Garoppolo is still probably the starter entering the 2021 season, but Lance is the future of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He has a high ceiling, but it could take several years before the former Bison reaches his full potential.
Lance is the most physically gifted quarterback in this year’s class. He’s got a cannon for an arm and might make a larger impact as a runner in the NFL than Fields or Wilson. Lance completed 66.9% of his passes for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his only year as a full-time starter. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns as North Dakota St. won the FCS Football Championship.
The problems for Lance begin emerging when teams examine his ball placement. While the 20-year-old didn’t make many bad decisions that could’ve become turnovers, he routinely misplaced passes. Lance struggled to hit small windows, which is something every NFL quarterback must accomplish. He also played at the FCS’ perennial powerhouse and rarely faced any pro-level challenges.
Atlanta and Pitts became a likely pairing after San Francisco moved up to third overall and ruined the trade value for teams behind them. The Falcons and new head coach Arthur Smith aren’t parting ways with Matt Ryan anytime soon. Picking Pitts signals that Atlanta is all in on winning with an overpowering offense.
Pitts is the true once-in-a-generation prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s physically built differently than any tight end currently in the league. The Florida product is 6-6, weighs 245 lbs., and has 33.5-inch arms. Pitts also runs a 4.44. He creates height mismatches against defensive backs and speed mismatches against linebackers.
Tight ends historically rarely hear their names in the Heisman Trophy conversation, but Pitts finished tenth in the voting this past year. In eight games, he amassed 770 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 17.9 yards per catch. Pitts is the prototypical larger wide receiver disguised as a tight end.
Cincinnati reunited Joe Burrow and Chase with their top pick. The duo set college football records in 2019 as LSU put together an undefeated championship season. Many Bengals fans wanted an offensive lineman here, but Zac Taylor’s team pivoted. Cincinnati’s wide receiver room features Tyler Boyd, Chase, and Tee Higgins.
Chase opted out of the 2020 season following a historic run alongside Burrow. The physical wide receiver bullied SEC corners, some of which are already in the NFL. At 6-0, Chase doesn’t have elite height. However, he’s excellent in contested catch situations and battles for yards after the catch. Chase ran a 4.38 40-time and flashed his explosiveness at LSU’s pro day. He’s the most complete receiver in this draft class.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Waddle was the second player on Miami’s board, only trailing Lawrence. The Dolphins already added Will Fuller in the offseason, but he’s on a one-year deal. Waddle is a dynamic speedster that played with Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. Brian Flores remains dedicated to building around the second-year quarterback.
Waddle outproduced teammate DeVonta Smith through Alabama’s first four games before suffering a broken ankle against Tennessee. The dynamic receiver fought back to make an appearance in the National Championship, but he still wasn’t at full strength. Waddle offers a menacing combination of speed and agility that should terrorize NFL cornerbacks.
The Lions have too many needs. This franchise won’t win more than four games in 2021 and could tank for the top pick next year. Rebuilds should start in the trenches and at quarterback. Detroit has Jared Goff and wasn’t in love with Justin Fields or Mac Jones. Sewell was the top offensive lineman in this class, and he fell into Detroit’s lap.
Sewell opted out of this past season after squashing Pac-12 defenders as a 19-year-old. Even if he’s not a generational talent, Sewell is a prodigy with an extremely high ceiling. If the 6-5, 331 lb. left tackle moved that well at 19, he could become an All-Pro before turning 24. He’s still better as a run blocker than in pass protection, but Sewell has all of the physical tools to improve in both areas.
Carolina hasn’t recovered from losing James Bradberry in free agency last offseason. Drafting Horn gives Matt Rhule an electric player to pair with Donte Jackson. However, taking a cornerback at eighth overall after spending the entire 2020 draft taking defenders is a massive disappointment.
Horn and fellow corner Israel Mukuamu terrorized wide receivers at South Carolina with their excellent combinations of height, weight, length, and speed. For his part, Horn measured in at 6-1, 205 lbs. with 33-inch arms and ran a 4.39 40-time at South Carolina’s pro day. He’s an aggressive corner that will challenge and beat NFL receivers in press coverage.
How do you cope with facing Patrick Mahomes twice a year? Stack the secondary as much as possible. While Denver added Ronald Darby in the offseason, Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller are playing on expiring deals. Surtain has a chance to learn from long-time veterans before becoming Vic Fangio’s top cornerback.
Surtain became the default top cornerback in this year’s class after Caleb Farley underwent another back surgery. However, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year is more than worthy of the top spot. After over 2,500 college snaps, Surtain is technically more advanced than every defensive back in several drafts.
Surtain responded to concerns about his speed by running a 4.42 40-time at Alabama’s pro day. That speed combined with Surtain’s 6-2, 208 lb. frame, length, and skills in press coverage should make him an immediate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Similar to Antoine Winfield Jr. last year, Surtain’s Pro Bowl father (who earned First-Team All-Pro honors as a corner in 2002) has mentally prepared his son for NFL stardom.
The Eagles haven’t had a wide receiver go for over 1,000 yards since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. Carson Wentz relied heavily on Philadelphia’s tight ends during his time with the team. Adding Smith gives Jalen Hurts a chance to survive in an offense where Zach Ertz is coming off the worst season of his career. Jalen Reagor remains unproven.
Smith enters the NFL after a historic season where he caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in only 13 games. The reigning Heisman winner is far from a one-year wonder too. He amassed over 1,200 receiving yards in 2019 and nearly 700 in 2018. Smith’s smooth route running creates separation, and he displayed excellent body control in contested catch situations.
Smith only weighed 166 lbs. at the medical combine. That weight for a 6-0 wide receiver is almost unheard of among superstars. However, it didn’t hold Smith back in college, and there’s no proven reason to think it’ll hold him back in the pros.
Andy Dalton knows how Mike Glennon felt four years ago when Chicago drafted Mitchell Trubisky. Selecting Fields gives general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy a chance at surviving beyond the upcoming season. Even if they don’t, the next regime will inherit an extremely talented young quarterback to build around.
Lawrence always held an edge over Fields, but not much separated the two juniors until this past season. The gap somehow expanded recently, despite Fields finishing seventh in the Heisman race, setting a career-high by completing 70.2% of his passes, and leading Ohio St. to the National Championship game by throwing six touchdowns against Clemson in the semifinals.
Fields is an athletic specimen that bangs for extra yards when he scrambles and does damage with 4.44 speed. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes run an offensive system that doesn’t challenge quarterbacks to make all the reads they will in the NFL. However, just because Ohio St. didn’t ask Fields to do something doesn’t mean he’s incapable of it.
With Leighton Vander Esch battling injuries and Sean Lee retiring, Dallas needed help at linebacker. Parsons is a flashy playmaker that fits Jerry Jones’ type. The Cowboys could have one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL if they get Parsons, Smith, and Vander Esch healthy at the same time.
Parsons opted out of the 2020 season after stuffing the stat sheet in 2019. He tallied 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and five sacks. The 6-3, 246 lb. linebacker has sideline-to-sideline speed and flows off of blockers when coming downhill against the run. Parsons is an explosive athlete that separated himself from the crowd in a deep linebacker class.
While Parsons is still mostly unproven in coverage, he has the speed and agility to develop in that area. With a background as a pass rusher, Parsons could see plenty of snaps as a blitzer or lined up on the edge. His 31.5-inch arms make a full-time transition to that role unlikely.
Red flags popped up on Parsons’ draft profile after he was linked to a hazing scandal at Penn St. He won’t find any tolerance for that kind of behavior in an NFL locker room.
Los Angeles found its quarterback of the future last season in Justin Herbert. Brandon Staley treated his young star well, drafting a blindside protector at 13th overall. The Chargers invested heavily in the offensive line this offseason with Matt Feiler and Corey Linsley. Grabbing Slater this late is a dream come true for Los Angeles.
Slater doesn’t have a typical body for a left tackle. He’s 6-4, weighs 304 lbs., and only has 33-inch arms. However, Slater proved more than a match for Chase Young in 2019. The senior opted out of the 2020 campaign, but his draft stock only rose in recent months. Slater is technically advanced and explosive. His arm length and anchor might result in a change of position.
The Chargers should give Slater a chance on the outside before asking him to move inside. While the 22-year-old has NFL-level footwork and diagnoses plays quickly, he’s not as imposing at tackle as Sewell. Luckily, Slater is skilled enough to play anywhere along the line with some success.
New York entered the 2021 offseason with inconsistent options along the offensive line. Drafting Vera-Tucker gives Saleh an emergency right tackle if George Fant falls flat on his face. However, Jets fans can expect to see Vera-Tucker taking over as a starting guard initially.
Speculation recently emerged that teams could experiment with Vera-Tucker at tackle before kicking him inside to guard. The former Trojan started at left tackle this past season, but his play and 32-inch arms have analysts projecting him as a guard. Vera-Tucker played right guard in 2018 and left guard in 2019 before kicking outside to tackle.
Very few players in this class have as high of a floor as Vera-Tucker. He has smooth footwork and processes advanced defensive plays quickly. Vera-Tucker should have an excellent NFL career, even if it’s at guard.
Bill Belichick has his quarterback of the future. Jones tumbled to 15th overall, and New England pounced. The Patriots have Cam Newton under contract for 2021, but his performance left a lot to be desired last season. Jones could replace the veteran before midseason. The reigning national champion should feel at home behind New England’s dominant offensive line.
Jones stepped in for Tagovailoa in 2019 and flashed some of the potential that contributed to his historic 2020 campaign. He finished third in the Heisman voting after completing 77.4% of his throws for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Alabama won the National Championship in a game where Jones threw five touchdowns against Ohio St.
Alabama had the nation’s most talented offense last year. Jones gained hundreds of yards throwing to wide open receivers and rarely faced a lethal pass rush. That led to inflated numbers against the blitz and a higher completion percentage. While Jones has excellent pocket control, his lack of arm strength and speed could become limiting factors in the NFL.
One year after drafting Isaiah Simmons with the eighth overall pick, Arizona added Collins to a developing defense. Kliff Kingsbury beefed up his defensive front this offseason by adding J.J. Watt and getting Chandler Jones back from injured reserve. However, Arizona’s secondary remains vulnerable after passing on Farley and Greg Newsome II.
Collins should see snaps at outside linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme. The 6-5 linebacker weighed in at around 270 lbs. at the medical combine. At that weight, he could see plenty of snaps as an edge rusher. Unfortunately, that role eliminates some of the zone coverage reps that Collins thrived in while at Tulsa.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock strike again. One year after drafting Damon Arnette 19th overall and Henry Ruggs III at 12, Las Vegas grabbed its latest Alabama love affair. Leatherwood joins a team that tore down its offensive line this offseason and should see immediate snaps at right tackle. If things go poorly, he can start over Denzelle Good at right guard.
While Leatherwood had a decorated career at Alabama, he showed minimal improvement from 2019 to 2020. According to PFF, the 6-5, 312 lb. tackle gave up three sacks and four quarterback hits last year. In comparison, Christian Darrisaw didn’t allow a sack or hit in his final season. Stiffness and athleticism issues could eventually force Leatherwood into playing guard.
Miami didn’t have to go anywhere and still got the top edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft. Flores wanted a dynamic pass rusher, and Phillips fills that role perfectly. He’s a dominant athlete capable of setting the edge or knifing to the quarterback. If the Dolphins are comfortable with the medicals, Phillips is an excellent selection.
Phillips medically retired while at UCLA after suffering several concussions. He didn’t stay away from the game for long, transferring to Miami and becoming the team’s best pass rusher in 2020. Phillips displayed his excellent athleticism at Miami’s pro day, running a 4.56 40-yard dash and 7.01 three-cone.
The Dolphins got the most complete pass rusher in the 2021 draft class without having to trade up.
Ron Rivera passed over versatile linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for Davis. The Kentucky product was a one-year wonder that posted incredible production against SEC competition. Rivera could use the 6-3, 234 lb. defender as an outside linebacker or even play him in the middle over Jon Bostic.
Davis is an explosive linebacker that thrives coming downhill against the run. He also showed some potential in coverage, using his long arms to snag three interceptions this past season. Davis ran a 4.37 40-time at Kentucky’s pro day, meaning he should make plenty of plays in pursuit.
New York seemed destined to draft Smith at 11th overall, but the Cowboys and Eagles conspired to thwart their division rival. With the reigning Heisman Trophy winner gone, David Gettleman traded back for another receiver the Giants liked. Toney should jump John Ross on New York’s depth chart and battle for starting time in the slot immediately.
Toney has joystick-level agility and shiftiness. He’s almost impossible to bring down alone in the open field. However, he’s not a physical wide receiver and didn’t run an NFL route tree at Florida. The Giants might manufacture some touches for him in 2021. Toney ran a 4.41 40-time at Florida’s pro day, meaning he wins with quickness more than pure speed.
Justin Houston hasn’t re-signed with Indianapolis, and Denico Autry recently agreed to a deal with the Tennessee Titans. The Colts have a First-Team All-Pro defensive tackle in DeForest Buckner, but they lacked a competent pass rush heading into Thursday night. While Paye is a developmental prospect, he adds some fangs to Frank Reich’s defensive line.
At 6-2, 261 lbs., Paye is a twitched-up ball of muscle. He has a lethal bull rush to combine with exceptional agility for his size. He runs the three-cone faster than some wide receivers. That combination of explosiveness and strength must cover for Paye’s lack of pass rush moves during his early years in the NFL.
Tennessee and Mike Vrabel desperately needed cornerback help after losing Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, and Desmond King early in the offseason. The Titans drafted Kristian Fulton last year and recently signed Janoris Jenkins, but Farley is arguably the best cornerback in this class.
Farley recently underwent a second surgery on his back, and some teams fear he might need further medical treatment before the 2021 NFL season. When healthy, Farley is the best cornerback prospect in this top-heavy class. He’s 6-2, weighs nearly 200 lbs., and has over 33-inch arms. Farley also clocked a top time of over 21 miles per hour during his 2019 campaign.
Minnesota needed help along the left side of the offensive line. Riley Reiff’s departure this offseason made Rashod Hill the projected starter at left tackle. While he’s a good backup, Hill is not a starting-caliber NFL tackle. Darrisaw steps in and cements a previously volatile position along Minnesota’s line for the next decade.
According to PFF, Darrisaw didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit this past season. The 6-5 tackle dominated his competition despite facing an ACC filled with future NFL pass rushers. Darrisaw made his work look effortless at times but left people wanting more gritty finishes. The former Hokie plays with so much control and patience that he frustrated defenders and analysts alike.
Darrisaw is an explosive tackle prospect that should thrive in the running game and continue developing in pass protection.
Even dating back to Le’Veon Bell’s final season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had one of the league’s worst rushing attacks. This past season, Mike Tomlin’s team finished last in the NFL in rushing yards and yards per attempt. Harris adds a versatile pass-catching back to a roster in desperate need of balance.
Like Bell, Harris can take snaps in the slot. He’s arguably the best running back in this class and the best pass-catching back as well. Harris’ patient, fluid running style works behind good offensive lines, but that might become a problem behind Pittsburgh’s below-average unit. Harris lacks top-end speed and won’t rip off many plays over 20 yards.
Despite James Robinson’s emergence as a franchise running back last year, Meyer decided to keep one of the most productive duos in college football history together. Etienne gives Lawrence a familiar face in the offense and opens plenty of passing plays out of the backfield.
Etienne has home run speed, but his style often generates some short runs before breaking off larger chunks. He needs to improve in pass protection for Lawrence’s sake, but the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing yards already showed tremendous growth in that area during his four years at Clemson.
Unfortunately, drafting a running back in the first-round when you have a much cheaper 1,000-yard rusher isn’t an ideal use of assets.
Cleveland drafted Greedy Williams 46th overall in 2019, but the LSU product missed all of 2020. Now, he’s battling with Newsome for the starting outside role opposite Denzel Ward. The Browns remain dedicated to fixing their defensive backfield after throwing millions in assets that way over the past several years.
Newsome began rising up draft boards after an impressive junior season. He’s a hot commodity on the cornerback market despite only having one career interception. Newsome played in a zone-heavy scheme at Northwestern but has the agility, fluidity, and speed to succeed in any scheme. He only played in 17 games during his college career.
The Ravens defended their wide receiver room heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, but it became apparent they were targeting a new pass-catcher after trading Orlando Brown Jr. for an extra first-round pick. Bateman joins a team that spent nearly half a dozen draft picks on wide receivers over the past four years.
Minnesota’s pro day revealed that Bateman is two inches shorter and 20 lbs. lighter than his college profile suggested. However, the measurements don’t erase a season of elite production in 2019, followed by a valiant effort in 2020 where Bateman battled COVID-19. The former Golden Gopher’s route running and physicality after the catch set him apart from other receiver prospects.
Gruden isn’t the only head coach that likes reaching for prospects. According to Jack Lichtenstein, Turner was the largest reach in the first-round compared to where he landed on pre-draft big boards for NFL analysts. The Houston product gets a chance to compete with Marcus Davenport for Trey Hendrickson’s vacated snaps.
Most people viewed Turner as a developmental second-round pick, but rumors emerged hours before the draft that some viewed him in a brighter light. Those rumors were true. Turner possesses ideal NFL measurements. He is 6-6, weighs 268 lbs., and has over 35-inch arms. Turner possesses elite agility, but he didn’t face many challenges in the American Athletic Conference.
The storylines surrounding Aaron Rodgers and a potential trade ambushed the draft day festivities on Thursday. Even with their MVP quarterback up in arms, Green Bay addressed the defensive side of the ball. Grabbing Stokes likely pushes Kevin King out of the starting lineup before the end of 2021.
Stokes intercepted four passes in his final season at Georgia. According to PFF, he only allowed a 43.6 passer rating when targeted. Stokes continued his stellar year by running a 4.34 at Georgia’s pro day and testing well in the jumps. However, Stokes didn’t partake in the agility drills, which was an area of concern for some teams heading into the draft.
Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes aren’t getting any younger. The Bills knew they needed a defensive end coming into the draft, and they found Rousseau still on the board at 30th overall. The Miami product opted out of the 2020 season after recording 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in 2019.
Rousseau has all of the physical traits to become an impactful NFL lineman, but he’s also a project player. His nearly 35-inch arms and 6-7 frame are perfect for a defensive end, but a lot of his 2019 production came against guards. Rousseau had lackluster testing numbers at Miami’s pro day, and analysts began wondering if he’d be better off adding weight and kicking inside.
The Ravens needed a sack artist after bidding farewell to Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. Baltimore is one of the best teams in the NFL at developing pass rushers, so landing Oweh was a dream come true for John Harbaugh. It might take a year or two, but the Ravens can transform the raw Penn St. product into a Pro Bowler.
A few weeks ago, Oweh had one of the best pro days in recent history. The 6-5, 257 lb. edge rusher measured in with 34.5-inch arms. He ran a sub 6.9 three-cone and a 4.39 40-yard dash. Oweh tested in or above the 95th percentile in five different drills. He’s a physical beast but hasn’t developed any consistent moves or counters yet.
Tampa Bay kept all of its key contributors this offseason, but doing so could become increasingly difficult next year. William Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh are all playing on expiring deals. It’s unlikely the team re-signs the 32-year-old Pierre-Paul, meaning Tryon could step into a starting role around his 23rd birthday.
Many analysts thought Tryon hurt his draft stock by opting out of the 2020 season, but Tampa Bay didn’t care. The Buccaneers already have one of the league’s top defenses, and they’ve made the Washington product part of their future plans. Tryon is an explosive edge rusher with ideal physical traits, but he didn’t produce impact plays consistently during his college career.
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