2021 NFL Draft First Round Grades

The first round of the NFL Draft has been completed. Many teams just made franchise changing decisions, some good and some not as good. Let’s go through and grade every pick of the first round in this exciting draft.

The Bears look to have found their QB of the future in Justin Fields

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson QB

Grade: A+

The Jaguars did what everyone expected and locked up one of the most talented players to ever come through the NFL Draft. The only way to not get an A+ would be to pick someone else, which they thankfully didn’t. This is an easy decision, and the Jags nailed it.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, BYU QB

Grade: A

This is another pick that we’ve known for quite a while. Zach Wilson isn’t on the same level as Lawrence, but is a great pick nonetheless. The Jets did what we all expected and get graded accordingly. Hopefully Wilson pans out and New York picked the right guy here. We’ll assume they did and give them an “A” grade on this solid and not surprising pick.

3. San Francisco 49ers (via Miami Dolphins): Trey Lance, NDSU QB

Grade: B

The Niners picking Lance over Jones was a great decision in my opinion. I don’t fully agree with the capital it took to get to this pick, but overall, this pick was well used and gives them a QB of the future. Only reason that it’s a B grade is because they won’t have a first round pick for a while now.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, Florida TE

Grade: A-

The Falcons got the second best player in this draft here at pick 4, while a trade out would’ve made sense for a team that would benefit from a bunch of draft capital with numerous holes to fill, they nailed the pick anyway. Pitts is a monster, easily the best TE prospect in recent memory. Drafting him here makes the Falcons one of the stronger offenses in the NFL. While there is a still some more they need to do to become a threat in the NFC, this was a good start.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU WR

Grade: B+

There will be a debate about this pick for a long time, but I think they got it right. While Sewell would’ve been great, Burrow to Chase is a terrifying thought at the NFL level. There is plenty of O-Line talent still on the board heading into the second round, so as long as they address this need on Day 2, I think they’ll be happy that they took Chase at pick 5.

6. Miami Dolphins (via Philadelphia Eagles): Jaylen Waddle, Alabama WR

Grade: B

The Dolphins got the pass catcher they needed here. The would’ve probably enjoyed Pitts or Chase a little more, but Waddle is a stud. I personally see him as just as good as Chase and he can be a game breaker for the Dolphins offense. While they could’ve traded back and netted a huge return, adding Waddle here was one of the better picks in the first round and there’s no reason that he shouldn’t find success at the NFL level.

7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, Oregon OT

Grade: A-

The Lions desperately needed a pass catcher, but they had the top three receivers go off in the three picks before them, they responded by drafting the third best player in the draft in Penei Sewell. A pure left tackle that can protect the blind side of Lions QBs for a while, Sewell is one of the best picks of the first round. While a trade out may have benefitted Detroit, there’s nothing wrong with adding a player of Sewell’s talent at pick 7.

8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, South Carolina CB

Grade: C

There is nothing wrong with Jaycee Horn as a player, but this is a little bit of a reach. I still believe that Surtain is better than him, and that the Panthers could’ve moved back a few picks and still snagged him. Overall, it addressed a position of need and was a solid pick. Would’ve liked to see a little bit more of a value pick for Carolina here though.

9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, Alabama CB

Grade: C+

This pick was another one that I wasn’t ecstatic about. They could’ve gone QB here with either Fields or Jones, or gone with Micah Parsons, who they’ve been linked to for over a month leading up to the draft. They elected to take Surtain, who is a great player regardless. They have larger needs with great players still available at those positions in the draft, and I was shocked when Parsons wasn’t the pick here. Overall, I like this pick a little more than the Horn pick, but they could’ve done a little better in my opinion.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dallas Cowboys): Devonta Smith, Alabama WR

Grade: B-

The Eagles clearly thought that the Giants were going to take Devonta Smith at 11, they were desperate enough to trade with their division rival Cowboys to secure the Heisman winner. They had to lose a third round pick too, but they made a great selection here. They had a need at corner too, but the early run on corners left them with a better bet to take Smith. They traded up and got their guy, even though it isn’t ideal to lose a third rounder to move up two spots. Still a great pick overall.

11. Chicago Bears (via New York Giants): Justin Fields, Ohio State QB

Grade: A

It took a lot of draft capital for the Bears to get up here, but they got their guy. Ryan Pace made the move that he needed to make and they snagged Justin Fields. They have some hope now at the QB position, though they still reportedly plan to start Andy Dalton at the start of next season. This is one of the best picks of the draft, and Bears fans finally have hope after years of mediocrity from their quarterbacks and front office.

12. Dallas Cowboys (via Philadelphia Eagles): Micah Parsons, Penn State LB

Grade: A

The Cowboys traded back two picks, netted a third rounder in the process, and still got arguably the best defensive player in this draft. Parsons is a great fit, and can immediately fill the void of Sean Lee’s retirement and the injury concerns of the other Cowboys linebackers. This is another outstanding pick, and Dallas basically got a free third rounder and took the guy that they would’ve taken at pick 10. Well done, Dallas.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, Northwestern OT

Grade: A-

There were talks all week of the Chargers possibly trading into the top ten of this draft for one of the top two offensive linemen on the board. They instead had the second best lineman fall right into their lap at pick 13. They had the worst offensive line in the NFL last season, and Slater immediately helps a dire situation. Not having to trade up for Slater here was an absolute gift for the Chargers, and they wisely took him here and helped Justin Herbert stay on his feet. Excellent pick for Los Angeles.

14. New York Jets (via Minnesota Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC OT

Grade: A-

The Jets clearly wanted Vera-Tucker here, trading up nine spots to snag the talented offensive line prospect. Vera-Tucker is one of the most intellegent prospects in this draft, and he will likely end up moving to one of the guard spots on the Jets line. They are clearly trying to bolster their offensive line for their new QB, BYU’s Zach Wilson. They didn’t give up way too much to climb up and grab Vera-Tucker, and added a great offensive lineman. Overall, it’s a great pick and the Jets were clearly a team with a plan for success heading into this draft.

15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, Alabama QB

Grade: B

Jones was the betting favorite to be the third overall pick at the start of the day on Thursday, and now here he is at pick 15. That’s just the most Patriots thing I’ve ever seen. Some people don’t like this pick and wanted them to get one of the great defensive prospects or offensive linemen still on the board at this pick, but I actually like it. Cam Newton is awful, and having Mac Jones ready to step in whenever he is needed is a great security blanket. Jones is very similar to Tom Brady, who didn’t do too bad in New England for a while. This pick is filled with mixed emotions, but overall, I think it’s a solid pick and could end up being one of the better of the first round in the long run.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, Tulsa LB

Grade: C

The Sports Wave was the first team to break the news that Zaven Collins could end up going off the board in the top 18, but I’m still not a huge fan. A lot of teams viewed Collins highly, but Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a better prospect in my opinion and he was still on the board. The Cardinals missed the chance to trade up for a receiver, and then missed the chance to fill their biggest need of cornerback here. Collins could end up being a great player, but I feel as if there were better ways to use this pick for Arizona.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama OT

Grade: D

A draft isn’t really complete anymore until Mike Mayock makes a bad pick on a reach with his first round pick. Leatherwood could have very well been available with their second round pick, but they elect to take him here at pick 17 with better offensive tackles and numerous defensive prospects still littered across the board. A true head scratcher, it’s easily the worst pick thus far in the draft. The Raiders poor off-season continues with this pick.

18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, Miami DE

Grade: A-

I’ve been mocking the Dolphins take Phillips here for quite some time, and they nailed it. Phillips is easily the best edge rusher in the class and the best player still available on the board. The Dolphins didn’t over-complicate this pick and simply addressed a position of need with an elite prospect still on the board. This is their second great pick of the first round, and gives them a great edge rusher as they try to make a playoff run next season.

19. Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, Kentucky LB

Grade: C

A couple people I’ve talked to really like this pick, I don’t full agree. I thought Davis was also worse than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and the Football Team could’ve gotten a better prospect that was sliding down the board at this pick. Jamin Davis is a talented prospect that can help this Washington defense, but I was not as high on this pick as some other people.

20. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears): Kadarius Toney, Florida WR

Grade: B

The Giants pick here wasn’t that great. I thought that they’d elect to go with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Christian Darrisaw, or Kwity Paye. They added a receiver on a bit of a reach in Toney. The haul they received for trading back is the reason for their “B” grade. They netted numerous picks and hopefully they use them wisely, Toney can be a great player, but there were better options available at pick 20. Overall though, they got a lot of draft capital for trading back and Gettleman made a great decision trading out of pick 11.

21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, Michigan DE

Grade: B+

Kwity Paye was another player that I’ve been mocking to the team that ended up taking them. The Colts needed an edge rusher and they got a great one in Paye. Some people believe that they should’ve gone offensive tackle here, and that would’ve been a great pick too. However, Paye is better than any remaining offensive linemen and immediately helps DeForest Buckner on the Colts defensive line. A very solid pick by the Colts here.

22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech CB

Grade: A-

I absolutely love the Caleb Farley pick here, he was flying down the draft board and was worthy of a much higher selection. The Titans snagged him ahead of a few teams who almost traded up for him before the draft. They desperately needed a cornerback, and they got a great one in Caleb Farley. This was one of the best picks of the first round.

23. Minnesota Vikings (via New York Jets): Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech OT

Grade: A

This was one of my absolute favorite picks in the draft. After trading back nine spots and netting plenty of draft picks in the process, the Vikings still got a guy that they would’ve considered at pick 14. Darrisaw was sliding down the draft board and should’ve found his team at around the same time as Alijah Vera-Tucker in the early to mid teens. Instead he slid all the way to pick 23 and right into the Vikings laps. This is an amazing situation for the Vikings, and they wisely snagged Darrisaw here at 23. An excellent pick for Minnesota.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, Alabama RB

Grade: B+

There’s going to be people that wish the Steelers would’ve taken an offensive lineman here, and they are in desperate need of O-Line help so that’s completely understandable. However, Darrisaw went off the board a pick ahead and left a big gap in the tackle prospect board. Najee Harris is the best running back in the class and they wisely took him. They can continue to build the O-Line throughout the draft. Overdrafting an offensive lineman and passing on another major position of need like running back when the best running back was still on the board would’ve been foolish. This is a great pick, and I refuse to change my mind.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Travis Etienne, Clemson RB

Grade: D+

This was a very weird pick. The Jags had major needs at safety and defensive tackle, and they bypassed great prospects at both positions and took a running back. They already have James Robinson, so this pick really makes no sense. I’m very confused on what they are going to do at the running back position next year and who will be on the roster for them at the position. Passing on players like Owusu-Koramoah, Moehrig, and Barmore was a huge mistake here for Jacksonville, hopefully they address their major needs later in the draft now.

26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, Northwestern CB

Grade: B-

I’m mildly surprised that the Browns took Newsome here, but he’s still a great prospect. I would’ve bet a fair amount of money on them taking Barmore here since that is a bigger need for them than cornerback. This isn’t a bad pick at all, it’s just very surprising given the team needs that they didn’t really address. Overall though, Newsome is a great player and can definitely help the Browns secondary for a long time.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota WR

Grade: A-

This was a great pick for Baltimore. Bateman was supposed to be long gone by pick 27, yet there he sat when the Ravens were on the clock. They wisely took him and added to their weak wide receiver corps. He is an amazing prospect and will definitely help Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. It was a surprise that Bateman fell this far, and the Ravens wasted no time bringing him in to improve their offense as they attempt to make a Super Bowl run next season. Great pick here for the Ravens.

28. New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, Houston DE

Grade: D

Wow. Just wow. The Saints were a team with glaring needs to fill after an off-season of cuts to get them under the salary cap. They had major needs to address in the secondary and at defensive tackle. They elected to get a defensive end who probably would’ve been on the board in the third round had they not taken him. After having Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Christian Barmore, and Trevon Moehrig fall into their laps, they took a fringe day 2 level defensive end. This is easily the worst pick of this first round and will probably come back to bite the Saints. Mickey Loomis rarely misses on his draft picks, but this was one of his worst. Very poor choice here for the Saints, as there was plenty of talent left on the board and they could’ve most likely gotten Turner on day 2 of this draft if they liked him that much.

29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, Georgia CB

Grade: D+

Oh, Green Bay. I’m sorry to all the Packers fans that have to deal with this front office mediocrity. Stokes is a solid prospect that would’ve gone fairly early on day 2 I believe, but their refusal to draft a receiver or offensive lineman here is embarrassing. There was plenty of talent still at both of these positions, and they elected to skip over these needs. After not signing a single key free agent this off-season, the Packers once again skipped over serious needs and made a poor decision here at pick 29. The fans have every right to be annoyed by the lackluster work done by their front office.

30. Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, Miami DE

Grade: B-

Some fans don’t like the Rousseau pick and wish they would’ve gone after a different edge rusher, but I believe that this Rousseau pick was a solid one. This time last year, we all believed that he would be a top ten pick. He has slid down draft boards and was a fringe round 1 player. The Bills elected to grab him here at pick 30. He is definitely a bit of a project, but he has a high ceiling and can end up being a great player for the Bills. It’s not a great pick given the talent still on the board, but it’s a solid pick that addresses a team need. Not a bad choice here by the Bills at pick 30.

31. Baltimore Ravens (via Kansas City Chiefs): Jaysen Oweh, Penn State DE

Grade: C-

The Ravens drafted the correct position here at pick 31. I don’t think they drafted the correct player though. There are still numerous edge rushers on the board that are better prospects than Oweh. Azeez Ojulari and Joe Tryon are far higher up the draft board, and the Ravens elected to pass on them and go with Jaysen Oweh here. While they may see something that no one else sees, they still reached here and missed out on better prospects at the position. At least they went after a glaring team need. Overall though, could’ve been a better pick here for the Ravens.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon, Washington DE

Grade: B

The Buccaneers didn’t have any major needs to address here in round 1. Many speculated that they would target a receiver or a front seven defensive guy. They decided to take a front seven guy and got a solid player in Joe Tryon. He will be a rotational piece to begin his career but can slot in as a starter as soon as he’s needed. While I had Azeez Ojulari ranked ahead of him, Tryon is still a worthy player to be picked here. Not a bad pick by the reigning Super Bowl champs here at pick 32.

RECAP:

This draft was filled with many interesting decisions. Some were great decisions, like the Bears trading up for their future franchise QB at pick 11, or the Vikings trading back and still getting a guy that would’ve been in play at their original pick. Some were not so great decisions, like the Jaguars drafting a running back with a great, young running back already on the team, or the Saints overdrafting Payton Turner by about two rounds. Overall though, it was an exciting draft that lived up to all of the hype that was surrounding it. There is also still an unbelievable amount of talent still available heading into round 2 for teams to snag. Round 1 was a blast, but we are just getting started here with the 2021 NFL Draft.

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