The mock drafts are shelved. The speculation is over. We now know every pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, and there are 32 new additions to the NFL family. Which teams pulled off the biggest steals, and which teams might want to re-think their choices? It’s always specious at best to grade draft picks right as they happen, but as a card-carrying member of the Draft Industrial Complex, I am obliged to do just that. Here’s how the top 32 picks in the 2021 NFL draft look, at least in one analyst’s eyes, with grades from me, and analysis from myself and Touchdown Wire colleague Mark Schofield.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (A+)
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With the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson.
Analysis: A number of different comparisons have been thrown around for Lawrence. Some have gone as far as comparing him to Andrew Luck, given the expectations. Others have made the Deshaun Watson comparison. The more I watched Lawrence over the past few months, the more I saw another quarterback: Justin Herbert. That might sound crazy, but if you look at Lawrence’s athleticism, arm talent and ability to attack leverage in the secondary, it looks somewhat similar to the peaks of Herbert during his time at Oregon, and what he did last year as a rookie. If you had said during this time last season that Lawrence and Herbert were comparable, someone would have said you were crazy. But now? Teams would take a rookie season from Lawrence similar to what Herbert did in a heartbeat. Grade: A+. This is the move everybody knew was going to happen, and there are specific reasons for that. There isn’t anything Lawrence can’t do at the position, and he may be the most can’t-miss QB prospect since Andrew Luck.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (A)
(Rick Bowmer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY NETWORK)
With the second pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the New York Jets select Zach Wilson, quarterback, BYU.
Analysis: Wilson is a very talented quarterback who showed true growth this past season in an offense that is becoming en vogue at the next level. As we see, mobility, athleticism, and off-platform throws become prerequisites for NFL success, it would make sense that someone strong in all those areas is viewed highly by so many. He will be a Top Five pick for a reason, but I would caution people not to draw the direct parallels between him and Mahomes. They are different players who might do similar things on the field. Do not set Wilson up with such expectations. He fits with the way the sport is trending and with talent around him he could have success early in his career. Grade: A. There are YOLO elements to Wilson’s game that will need to be smoothed out, but he’ll be a perfect fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense (which is basically Kyle Shanahan’s offense) because he has great ability to throw on the move, and he’s dominant in play-action concepts. Wilson might wind up as the Jets’ best quarterback since that Joe Namath guy got himself drafted in 1965.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (A)
With the third pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers select Trey Lance, quarterback, North Dakota State.
Analysis: Lance’s upside is extremely enticing. Wherever he ends up Lance could be a star, especially if he’s allowed to sit behind a veteran and learn the intricacies of the NFL game. Lance’s payoff could be huge if the development is handled the right way, because he has every possible physical and mental trait to succeed at the NFL level at the game’s most important position. Grade: A. Lance’s college quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg told me recently that Lance might benefit from sitting a year in the NFL, which he would be able to do in San Francisco. But he also ran a lot of stuff with the Bison that Kyle Shanahan is familiar with (Y-throwback FTW), and Lance gives Shanahan every bit of the ability to run his advanced offense over time, and the kind of mobility and second-reaction ability that is required in today’s NFL.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (A+)
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With the fourth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons select Kyle Pitts, tight end, Florida.
Analysis: Football is a matchup game, and offensive coordinators try as hard as they can to create mismatches and then exploit them. A player like Pitts, with the ability to beat defensive backs and linebackers in man coverage, is ideal to fill that role. Even teams that have a tight end already on the roster, like the Philadelphia Eagles or the Detroit Lions, would be smart to consider Pitts. You can put him next to a Zach Ertz or a T.J. Hockenson and run a 12 personnel package that forces the defense to decide whether to use a base package, or a sub package. Either way the defense is wrong. If they go light, you can run behind the TE duo. If they go heavy, spread them out, put Pitts on the boundary and watch him run away from safeties or linebackers. It is a win-win for you as an offense. Grade: A+. Pitts is the highest-drafted tight end in pro football history, and there are reasons for that. The specific fit with former Titans offensive coordinator and new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is absolutely dead-on. Last season, the Titans had 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions with at least two tight ends on the field, and the combination of Pitts and Hayden Hurst should be absolutely incendiary.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU (A+)
6. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (A)
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
With the sixth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select Jaylen Waddle, receiver, Alabama.
Analysis: This is a great class of receivers, and how you might stack these players could come down to personal preference. What elevates Waddle in my mind is his route-running and his ability to use pace to influence — and beat — defenders in a variety of coverage situations. Separation is not a concern with him, and if you can get open in the SEC, you can get open at the next level. He might not offer the ability to align as an X receiver at the next level, and his ability against press coverage is more of an “incomplete” grade, but as we saw last year with Jefferson, if you can get open and have shown instances of beating press in the past, you have an NFL future. Grade: A. This was the pick I had for Miami at six in my latest mock, so I obviously like it. Here’s what I wrote.
Now that the Dolphins have put their full commitment behind Tua Tagovailoa as their franchise quarterback, it’s time for them to get as many high-caliber targets as possible to accentuate Tagovailoa’s timing-and-rhythm passing traits. There may be no more perfect match in that regard than Waddle, who brings great short- and intermediate-area route awareness to the table, along with explosive after-catch speed that brings Tyreek Hill to mind. Adding Waddle to a receiver group that already includes DeVante Parker and Will Fuller could push Miami’s passing game over the top.
7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (B)
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With the seventh pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select Penei Sewell, offensive tackle, Oregon.
Analysis: One of the hardest things for me to do in this pre-draft process was deciding who my OT1 was in this class. If I had gone with Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, it would have been fine, and I think there are things Slater does better than Sewell. But Sewell ultimately rose to the top because I think he’s more technically evolved, and he’s able to do more things because of it. You don’t often describe offensive tackles as “creative,” but I’d use that word in Sewell’s case, because his athletic profile simply allows his team to implement concepts one wouldn’t dare to attempt with a more limited player — and most tackles are more limited than Sewell is already. Grade: B. I love Sewell as much as any player in this class, but this is a really interesting decision for the Lions, as they are frightfully thin at receiver, and even in a deep class, that could be a problem for Jared Goff. New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn loves to be creative in the run game, and Sewell can certainly help with that, but this pick does give one a second of pause.
8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (B)
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With the eighth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, cornerback, South Carolina.
Analysis: Horn has the experience and the mental makeup to be a top-flight press coverage cornerback in the NFL. If that sounds like something your defense can use, you might want to grab him early because he will not be there next time you are on the clock. His versatility is a huge asset for his next team. Grade: B. The Panthers didn’t play much man coverage last season, and when they did, they weren’t very good at it — they allowed five touchdowns and had no picks in man. Both in man and zone coverage, Horn projects well as an uber-aggressive player who can make Carolina’s secondary better right away. It’s a bit of a surprise to see Hor go before Patrick Surtain II, but it’s not crazy to view Horn as an eighth-overall talent.
9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama (A)
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With the ninth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Patrick Surtain, cornerback, Alabama.
Analysis: If your team needs a cornerback who can start day one and is ready to handle everything the NFL can throw his way, this is your guy. Especially if you need a cornerback with the mirror/match ability to take on the best receivers in the game and follow them step-for-step from the line of scrimmage. Surtain has all the elements needed to excel at the next level, no matter what challenges you throw his way. Grade: A. The Broncos signed Kyle Fuller to a one-year deal and brought Ronald Darby on with a low-risk contract, so it’s not a certainty in Vic Fangio’s cornerback group over time. Surtain is the most certain (sorry) cornerback in his class — while he’s a great zone cornerback, he is an absolute shutdown defender in man and match concepts. Denver was pretty good in its 203 man-coverage snaps last season, allowing six touchdowns and grabbing three picks, and with Surtain on board, they’ll be even better.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (A)
With the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, acquired from the Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles select DeVonta Smith, receiver, Alabama. The Cowboys get the Eagles’ 84th overall pick in the third round.
Analysis: Smith is one of the best receivers in this class, with an outstanding combination of production and skills. Forget about his 166-pound frame; Smith has already proven his ability to transcend that. His route-running, ball skills and nuance make Smith a fun player to study and a potential All-Pro at the next level. Grade: A. Another reunion between quarterback and receiver in the 2021 draft, as Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts gets back with the guy he threw to at Alabama in 2017 and 2018. There are those who believe Smith isn’t big enough to be an alpha X receiver, but the tape shows the exact opposite. Especially in Philly’s depleted receiver corps, Smith will produce early and often.
11. Chicago Bears: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (B+)
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With the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears select Justin Fields, quarterback, Ohio State. Chicago moved up from the 20th overall pick, trading with the Giants for the 11th pick, giving up their 20th and 164th picks in 2020, as well as 2022 first- and fourth-round picks.
Analysis: I’ve said before that NFL teams that pass on Fields will one day regret that decision. Because when you watch him, particularly this past season against Clemson when he was clearly hurt and still was able to help the Buckeyes stave off a comeback attempt from Lawrence and the Tigers, Fields has the traits that matter at the position. He’s someone that teammates want to play for and that coaches want to work with. He could be special. He’s not a one-read guy, he’s not a slow processor, and none of the garbage you’ve heard pre-draft holds up. Grade: B+. The last time the Bears traded up to draft a quarterback, it was Mitchell Trubisky. Fields is not that. There are some issues with mechanics and accuracy at times, but throw out all the crap about Fields being a one-read guy, a slow processor, and a “last in/first out” guy. Not at all true, and Fields has a legitimate shot to be Chicago’s best quarterback since Sid Luckman. There’s a lot of capital here, but Fields could well be worth it.
12. Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (B)
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With the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Micah Parsons, linebacker, Penn State.
Analysis: Provided teams are satisfied about the character concerns, Parsons is a top ten talent in this draft class. The other concern might be the position, as off-ball linebackers tend to be devalued in today’s game. But given what he can do off the edge as a pass rusher in spots, the fact Parsons can also contribute in that way makes him a player worth targeting at the top of the first round. He’s a potential do-it-all guy who could transcend his alleged positional value over time. Grade: B. Parsons projects well as an inside and outside linebacker, but he can also play in the slot, and with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch already on board, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has one of the most athletic linebacker groups in the NFL. The need in the secondary is still clear, but the Cowboys can pick up pieces for that a bit later in the draft,
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern (A)
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
With the 13th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Los Angeles Chargers select Rashawn Slater, offensive tackle, Northwestern.
Analysis: Without Penei Sewell’s generational talent at part of the 2021 equation, Slater would blow everyone else in this class away as the OT1, and I have no issue with the people who have him there anyway. It took another Sewell watch session to break the tie for me late in the process. Any NFL executive who reduces Slater’s potential in his offense based on height or arm strength should undergo a thorough examination of his evaluative skills. Slater is a tackle, he’s a left tackle, and he has every tool in the toolbox to be a great one in the NFL sooner than later. Grade: A. The Chargers knew they needed to get more and better protection for Justin Herbert, so they signed Corey Linsley, the NFL’s best center, in free agency. Then, to get Slater at 13 without having to make a move? That’s outstanding value. You may remember Slater as the guy who beat the daylights out of reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young in 2019, and he’ll continue kicking butt on Herbert’s blind side.
14. New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC (B)
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With the 14th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the New York Jets select USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, offensive lineman, USC. The Jets traded up from 23 to 14, giving up the 23rd, 66th, and 86th overall picks to the Vikings.
Analysis: Vera-Tucker probably wouldn’t have been an ideal tackle for every NFL team, but if you have a quick passing game with the intent to run power, he would be an asset on your offensive line, and given the progress he showed at the position in 2020, he should be seen more as a tackle than as a guard prospect. He switched from guard to tackle after two years at guard for the Trojans, and his outside upside is very high. Grade: B. Vera-Tucker is a good guard, but I think he also has considerable upside at tackle over time. We’ll see where the Jets put him, but they obviously loved his potential to give up this much to move up. He does have the movement ability to excel in Mike LaFleur’s offense.
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (C)
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With the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the New England Patriots select Mac Jones, quarterback, Alabama.
Analysis: There is room in the game for a quarterback that you can “win with,” and that might be Jones. He might not have the ceiling the quarterbacks above him offer, but he might have one of the best floors. Jones could be a very good NFL quarterback that helps deliver a team to the playoffs. In a league filled with risk-averse decision makers, a QB with Jones’ floor might seem like a nice warm comfortable blanket of a pick. You’re just going to have to be okay with his lack of mobility and second-reaction ability, and you’ll have to have faith that he can do in the NFL what he did at Alabama without DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle demolishing every cornerback they faced. Grade: C. I like Jones’ fit with the Patriots better than most, because Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels know how to make the most of a quick-processing pocket quarterback. The problem is, Jones is going to have to be the second coming of Tom Brady to make this work with his lack of mobility and second-reaction ability. Jones is the Patriots’ first first-round quarterback since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, and I can see this working, but I can also see Jones falling short of expectations for multiple reasons.C)
16. Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (C)
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With the 16th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals select Zaven Collins, linebacker, Tulsa.
Analysis: My advice for NFL teams is simple: Draft him and get out of his way. Collins might be more of a traditional linebacker than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but he still offers some flexibility in terms of scheme and usage. He can play in the more stack linebacker role, but you can put him down on the edge, he is athletic enough to play in space, and you can use him to matchup against tight ends in the passing game. Smart defensive coaches are going to see what he offers and find a home for him right out of the gate. Grade: C. This is the second straight season the Cardinals have selected a “positionless” linebacker in the first round, and it took them quite a while to figure out what to do with Isaiah Simmons. Perhaps Arizona’s defensive staff learned from that exercise, and Collins is a very interesting player, but it’s reasonable to question the pick at 16th overall.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama (D)
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With the 17th overall pick, the Las Vegas Raiders select Alex Leatherwood, offensive lineman, Alabama.
Analysis: When Leatherwood gets in his pass set comfortably and gets his hands out to attack, he projects well as an edge protector. Then, he’s able to work through the arc and mirror the defender from side to side. Plus blocker on RPO concepts; he’ll use his power in these and any run-action concepts to just bury defensive tackles at times. Has the potential for great footwork in pass protection, though it’s wildly inconsistent and not seen enough. As a run-blocker, Leatherwood does a good job of getting his hands into a defender’s numbers and using his upper body to win with leverage. Has the upper-body strength to work defenders back when his technique is sound. But he’s still getting the hang of his footwork; at times, he’ll over-reach with his steps and leave himself vulnerable to inside counters. Must be more aggressive with his hands to offset the tendency to let defenders into his kitchen. Doesn’t show great recovery speed and technique when he’s beaten off the snap. And you’d like to see more of a finishing mentality at times. IN the end, he might be a guard, and perhaps an average one. Grade: D. I had Leatherwood as my 10th-ranked offensive tackle, and he would have been about my third or fourth guard. I’m not surprised that the Raiders went with a project after trading away most of their offensive line in the offseason — line coach Tom Cable loves projects at the expense of his offenses — but this it a real head-scratcher.
18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (A)
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With the 18th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami.
Analysis: If teams are satisfied from a medical perspective, Phillips is an easy selection. The talent and potential is there for Phillips to be a dominant player off the edge at the NFL level, and he also offers discipline and awareness against the run, making him a complete package. His ability to dominate on the inside with his quickness and array of pass-rushing moves makes him an asset on every down in the league. Grade: A. The Dolphins needed two things out of the first round: A speed receiver for their timing-and-rhythm passing game, and help at the edge. If Phillips is past the concussion issues that caused him to quit football when he was at UCLA, he’s the best edge defender in this class, and the Dolphins did outstanding work with their two similarly-named guys — Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips.
19. Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky (B)[Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
With the 19th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Washington Football Team selects Jamin Davis, linebacker, Kentucky.
Analysis: Life as an NFL linebacker will require more than spot-dropping so patience might be warranted early in his career. But Davis is moving up boards for a reason. There is room for growth and we know NFL coaches often think that “if I just get my hands on him, I can mold him into something greater.” Whether this is simply “coach-em-up-itis” or something more accurate remains to be seen. But his ability against the run combined with his athleticism gives him a path to be an immediate contributor as the rest of his game is filled out. Grade: B. It could be argued that Washington is a great linebacker away from becoming the NFL’s best defense, and I’m not quite sure if Davis is that guy right away. Davis brings formidable athleticism to the field, and Washington head coach Ron Rivera had that in Carolina with Like Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and there are elements of Davis’ game beyond the same last name.
20. New York Giants: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida (B)
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With the 20th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the New York Giants select Kadarius Toney, receiver, Florida.
Analysis: Teams that run a lot of option routes through the slot receiver might have him as the fourth or fifth WR in the draft. Teams that run a more vertical-based offense or more 12 personnel might grade him a bit lower on their boards. I look at what he offers out of the slot, and think that you’re gonna have to draft him in the first if you want him on your roster. His human joystick qualities are too good to wait for, and those kinds of skills make magic happen on Sundays. Grade: B. Did Dave Gettleman take Toney thinking that he was getting the next Odell Beckham Jr.? https://twitter.com/NFLResearch/status/1387962972757127169 Toney may not come into the NFL with that level of freakish skills, but Gettleman swore up and down that he was going to get more weapons for Daniel Jones, and Toney qualifies. Now, it’s up to offensive coordiantor Jason Garett to figure out how to best use his astonishing athleticism and raw route-running skills.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan (A)
(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 21st pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan.
Analysis: Ultimately, Paye might offer a better floor than the EDGE prospects above him, and teams might find that enticing at the next level. He does not have the medical concerns that you find with Jaelan Phillips, and he is already built for the NFL game unlike Azeez Ojulari who still needs to add some strength and power to his arsenal. He has played on the interior so he offers some versatility, and while I do think he is better off the edge teams are going to value that from him. Grade: A. The Colts came into the 2021 draft with a great need for athletic potential on the edge, and while Paye is still getting the hang of pass-rushing intricacies, he’s got all the athleticism and power you want at the position(s).
22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech (B)
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With the 22nd pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans select Caleb Farley, cornerback, Virginia Tech.
Analysis: There are some outlets and/or evaluators that have Farley as high as CB1 on their boards, and when you watch the Miami game you can see why. He has some elite traits at the position, such as that recovery ability, and given his relative inexperience at playing corner, you can see room for growth and a potentially high ceiling. His background as a quarterback also gives him a great feel for the game, and where to get on each route to disrupt the play. He might need time to round out the press-man part of the game, and the medical history requires some further examination, but this is a talented player who can contribute immediately — as long as he’s healthy. Grade: B. Getting a player of Farley’s talent with the 22nd overall pick is amazing value for a team in desperate need at the position. I had Farley going to Tennessee in my final mock draft, and this is what I wrote.
Now that the Titans have boosted their edge-rush prowess with Bud Dupree and Denico Autry in free agency, it’s time to turn their attention to a cornerback group that lost its most efficient 2020 member, Malcolm Butler, to the Cardinals. Janoris Jenkins is a nice fill-in if Tennessee wants to play more zone coverage (which the Titans should, because they were absolutely atrocious last season when they played man), but more needs to be done. There are legitimate medical questions about Farley’s back, which is why he could fall to this spot, and he unfortunately will miss the draft in person after testing positive for COVID. But when he’s on the field, Farley is the best versatile cornerback in this class, with the ability to play man and zone equally well; press and off-coverage. Farley proved in 2019 (he opted out in 2020) that quarterbacks were not going to beat him anywhere on the field — against throws of 10-19 air yards, he allowed one completion on 12 targets. And against throws of 20 or more air yards, he gave up four catches on 15 targets. Farley could be the steal of the draft if the medicals check out over time.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (A)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 23rd pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Christian Darrisaw, offensive tackle, Virginia Tech.
Analysis: The current NFL is filled with two kinds of offensive tackles — nuanced edge-protectors who have agility and need to build up their functional strength, and pure maulers whose footwork could use… well, a lot of work. Darrisaw is an excellent man in the middle, so to speak. He’s not “generational” as Penei Sewell might be, and he’s not quite the combination of dominator and technician that Rashawn Slater is, but if your NFL team needs a plug-and-play left tackle who will cost you a mid-first-round pick, Darrisaw looks like the kind of player who would give you just that kind of value for a number of consecutive seasons. Grade: A. I had Darrisaw ranked as my third-best offensive tackle behind Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater, so for the Vikings to get a tackle of Darrisaw’s caliber with the 23rd pick is outstanding value. Darrisaw is plug–and-play as a pass-blocker, and he brings all kinds of nasty to the position. https://twitter.com/BenFennell_NFL/status/1315354410151804930
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (C)
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With the 24th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Najee Harris, running back, Alabama.
Analysis: Let the NCAA-leading 81 first downs last season be your ultimate guide to Najee Harris. He is a table-setter for an offense in the run game, and I believe he has the potential to do so at the next level. There are still NFL offensive coordinators who want to build their systems around backs who brick-wall their way through defenders to keep drives going, and that might be Harris’ superpower. He’s a player who does everything well, but very little spectacularly. Grade: C. I have two issues with this pick. First, if you’re going to take a running back in the first round, make sure he’s the best in his class — and in my mind, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams has better power and contact balance than Harris. In addition, Harris ran behind an outstanding offensive line, which the Steelers do not have. I get the belief that Harris brings a complete skill set to the Steelers, and that’s what they prefer, but I’m not at all sure how this will work out.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (B)
(Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 25th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Travis Etienne, running back, Clemson.
Analysis: The team that selects Travis Etienne will have to understand exactly what he is — and what he isn’t. Though he does present more power at times than you may think for his size, he’s not a sustaining, grind-it-out runner. The upside is that players with Etienne’s explosive potential don’t exactly grow on trees. If he’s in an NFL offense where backs are used creatively in a multi-purpose sense, he has the potential to be a foundation back with as many receptions as carries; think of a super-charged Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey. Grade: B. Well, Trevor Lawrence can tell Urban Meyer exactly what Etienne is and isn’t. It’s smart to pair Lawrence and Etienne together again, but the Jaguars already have a fine running back in the underrated James Robinson, so we’ll have to see how Etienne is utilized.
26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern (A)
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With the 26th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select Greg Newsome II, cornerback, Northwestern.
Analysis: If you draft Newsome hoping to get a Day One press-man corner, you might be setting the bar too high. Can he give you that part of the game? Sure, but perhaps not immediately. Still, teams that play a lot of zone will love his footwork and his eyes. He might be a more schematically-limited corner out of the box, but there is room for growth and a pretty solid ceiling. Grade: A. The Browns helped their defense in free agency with the acquisitions of former Rams safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill, and Newsome is an excellent addition to a group with cornerbacks who have missed time due to injury. Last season, Newsome was targeted seven times on passes of 20 or more air yards, and didn’t allow a single catch.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota (A)
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With the 27th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens select Rashod Bateman, wide receiver, Minnesota.
Analysis: Bateman’s alignment and route diversity make him one of the better receivers in this class in my mind. However, that is not a universal opinion. Some might have him higher on their boards, and others might have him much lower. For me, I think he is one of the best prospects given his ability to beat press, his ability to run a variety of routes and what he does after the catch. I think he is a diverse player both in terms of scheme fit and usage, and I would be banging the table for him in the first round. Grade: A. In his pre-draft press conference, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta expressed consternation at the public perception of Baltimore’s receiver corps. But it’s been a problem for a long time, and selecting Marquise Brown in the first round two years ago didn’t solve it. Bateman isn’t the most explosive receiver in this class, but he does give Lamar Jackson size and route-running expertise as Jackson tries to take his passing acumen to the next level.
28. New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston (C)
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With the 28th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints select Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston.
Analysis: Turner’s tool kit as a rusher coupled with his ability to kick inside makes him an extremely enticing option. I love what he offers from a technical standpoint, and also what he demonstrates in terms of a plan of attack. I would have liked him more as a second-round pick. Grade: C. On the same day that they picked up Marcus Davenport’s fifth-year option, the Saints took another questionable pass-rusher in the first round. Turner does have some raw attributes, but you have to wonder about his injury history, level of coopetition, and pad level.
29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia (A)
(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 29th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers select Eric Stokes, cornerback, Georgia.
Analysis: If you want a scheme-diverse CB with extensive experience in the SEC going up against some of the best receivers in college football, then Stokes is the kind of player you want on your board. I might be higher on him than consensus, but I think his background, press coverage experience and his long speed make him a very solid option early in the draft. Grade: A. The Packers needed cornerbacks to help the secondary behind the peerless Jaire Alexander, and in my latest mock, I almost sent Stokes to the Jets at 23 because of his athleticism, press ability, and coverage consistency. Physically, he presents a perfect paradigm for what the Packers have wanted at the position. And hey, at least the Packers didn’t draft another cornerback in the first round…
31. Baltimore Ravens: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State (B)
(Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 31st pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens select Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State.
Analysis: The first thing that stands out about Oweh is one number: Zero. That’s how many sacks he had in 2020, but he was just as disruptive as he was in 2019, when he had five quarterback takedowns. Last season, he had five quarterback hits and 15 quarterback hurries on just 17 pass-rushing snaps, and he’s more consistent as a speed rusher than those sack numbers would indicate. Grade: B. Oweh fills a certain need for the Ravens — they were light on the pass rush after losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, and especially as a part of the blitzingest defense in the NFL, Oweh will see more production at the next level.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington (B)
(Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 32nd pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington.
Analysis: There is a phrase in life: “Do one thing and do it well.” That could apply to Tryon and his mode of attack as a pass rusher, as he wins primarily with a speed-to-power bull rush off the edge. Forget evading you, he wants to run through you. It works on occasion, but what gives me more hope about his NFL career is what you are seeing him use to complement that move. You are seeing examples of him using cross-chops and even the occasional rip/dip move to add to the weapons in his bag. He’ll need to be moved around the defensive line to be his most productive, though. Grade: B. The Buccaneers have been aligned with Tryon for a while, and word was that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was especially high on Tryon’s potential. Bowles is one of the NFL’s most creative minds when it comes to tying pressure to coverage, so it will be fascinating to see how the Super Bowl champs work Tryon into that defense.
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