2021 First Round Draft Grades

The draft happened. It seemed like it would just never actually arrive but it truly happened. Well, the first night anyway. But you’re not here to listen to me drone on, so let’s get to it.

#1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – B

You don’t get an A if you draft the dude you’re supposed to. A range grades are for excellent value. The Jaguars basically just didn’t screw this up.

#2 New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson, BYU – B

I would have taken Fields but that’s not why this is a B. Again, you don’t get an A if you draft the dude you’re supposed to.

#3 San Francisco 49ers (F/MIA/HOU) – QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State – C+

Am I going to take a victory lap for having Lance here in every mock I published post-trade? You’re god damn right I am.

Anyway, the 9ers didn’t commit a colossal mistake by taking Jones. Again, I would have taken Fields but that’s not even the reason for the C+. San Francisco paid a heavy bounty in order to obtain this pick. For whatever reason when it came to Lance’s pre-draft analysis the negatives most consistently talked about were his level of competition and inexperience.

To start, I genuinely do not care that he played at North Dakota State. Quarterbacking is different. Processing is processing and windows are windows. You can say the game speed isn’t as fast as the SEC or BIG12, sure, but Lance plays at a powerhouse I truly believe would field a decent team at the FBS level.

As for the inexperience thing, yes it’s part of the equation, but my real point here is I felt like everyone just glossed over his accuracy issues. It was mentioned in passing followed by a vague reference to cleaning up his mechanics and then “look at Josh Allen.” Josh Allen is the exception to the rule and you shouldn’t try to make a living chasing the exception.

Lance’s accuracy issues beyond 10 yards are very real and very scary. His accuracy percentage in the 11-19 yard range was 54.55% and 41.86% for 20+ yards. His total accuracy rate for 10+ yards was 49.54%. These are bright red numbers and pail in comparison to the other first round quarterbacks.

I don’t blame the 9ers for shooting a shot on Lance. The C+ is the product of taking him over Fields combined with sending off three firsts and a third in order to get it done.

#4 Atlanta Falcons – TE Kyle Pitts, Florida – B-

I have no idea what the offers were for the 4th pick. Atlanta was as openly pleading with the league to send in better offers through the media as you will ever see.

Given the Pitts selection signals they want to reload around Matt Ryan I probably would have sold this pick off to the highest bidder. Atlanta is not Kyle Pitts away from true contention. They also need as much cheap, cost controlled talent as possible given their nightmare cap situation. Again, I don’t know the offers, but if they could have stayed in the top ten and added a reasonable Day 2 pick I would have taken the deal.

I do think Pitts should have been the first non-quarterback off the board. He’s such a freak that he will become an advantage nightmare. So while Chase and Sewell play more premium positions, Pitts flips the conversation to positional scarcity in a way no tight end prospect has since, I dunno, someone from a long time ago.

For the record I would have taken Fields.

#5 Cincinnati Bengals – WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU – B+

The discourse around this pick ahead of the draft was way too much “right vs wrong” as opposed to “they can’t really mess this up, it’s just interesting to learn how they view team building.”

The Bengals opted for the position of greater value (yes, great WR > great OT (though average OT > average WR)) and reunite Burrow with his top collegiate target. I think Cincinnati made the “right” decision which is what gets the plus attached to the B. Sewell would have earned a B for making a “not wrong” decision.

#6 Miami Dolphins (F/PHI) – WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama – B

I’m honestly just mad at myself for not taking the late reporting more seriously that this was going to be Waddle over Smith in my final mock draft. Anyway, we knew if Pitts and Chase gone this would be a Bama receiver if Miami couldn’t trade back. Again, I don’t know what the offers were but I’m guessing they were not even in the ballpark. Miami is in a bit of a different position than Atlanta where they have a much more complete roster and can swing on someone like Waddle instead of needing to accumulate more picks.

Besides, they’ve done so much pick accumulation at a certain point it does make sense to swing on a premium upside (though I still don’t like the trade back up).

#7 Detroit Lions – OT Penei Sewell, Oregon – B+

I don’t know what the trade offers were, or if they even existed, but I think Detroit made the right pick here (though like Atlanta if anything vaguely reasonable was offered I would have taken it). Before giving into the notion this is where the Patriots would trade up to grab Fields, I mocked Sewell to the Lions here. This is what I wrote at the time:

In a world where Sewell falls to seven I don’t believe Detroit will be able to bring themselves to pass. Among other contributing factors, Brad Holmes had a front row seat for how drastically a competent offensive line changed Jared Goff in 2017. Even when the team moves onto to their next quarterback in 2022 or 2023, Sewell will already be in place providing protection.

Detroit may have decided to turn down a trade (I have no idea) but they correctly decided to take Sewell over Smith, Parsons, or Slater.

For the record I would have taken Fields.

#8 Carolina Panthers – CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina – C+

Yea, I dunno. If Carolina had Horn as their top corner (well, obviously they did) I can’t really argue. Corner is also one of the premier positions teams should be spending premium draft capital on. So all of that makes sense. Horn was expected to go in the 10-16 range so even if this is “a reach” it’s not egregious or anything.

On the other hand, I don’t know what trade offers they got but given they could have reasonably selected Slater, Smith, Horn, or Surtain at #8 they couldn’t have just dropped back a little? I guess not. Either way they passed on Smith which I don’t agree with.

Oh, and I would have taken Fields.

#9 Denver Broncos – CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama – B

Denver really doesn’t have a need outside of quarterback and I can’t blame them for loading up on corner depth. Plus Fuller is only on a one-year deal. I have no idea what’s going on with this Rodgers thing but Surtain figures to be of interest to Green Bay as well.

However, say it with me now: I would have taken Fields.

#10 Philadelphia Eagles (F/DAL) – WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama – C

Dallas Received: #12, #84
Philadelphia Received: #10

This is a great piece of business by Dallas, but we can get to that later. This almost feels like a panic pick from Roseman. After watching both corners go off the board earlier than expect and with the Giants right in front of him, Smith must of been the last name remaining on Roseman’s short list and he threw away a third to go get him.

Moving up for not-a-quarterback is in general a bad idea. With all we know about the crapshoot nature of the draft and the best strategy being to trade down and accumulate picks, and not being overconfident in your own evaluation, Roseman lit a third rounder on fire to move up TWO spots.

“But DeVonta Smith is amazing, he won the Heisman!” Yea, I like Smith as a prospect too, but nothing is a sure thing. Nothing. The Eagles roster is barren and they shouldn’t be pulling the trigger on a deal like this. Didn’t Roseman learn last year from taking Reagor over Jefferson that he shouldn’t be so confident in his own evaluation (nor should anyone) and the NFL isn’t very good at projecting wide receiver success from the college ranks? I can appreciate Roseman wanting to make sure Hurts (or the next guy) has every opportunity to succeed but this is ridiculous.

#11 Chicago Bears (F/NYG) – QB Justin Fields, Ohio State – A+

New York Received: #20, #164, 2022 first, 2022 fourth
Chicago Received: #11

Ryan Pace just saved his job, at least for the time being. Kudos to him for pulling this off. For this exercise let’s just use the 22nd pick next year for Chicago’s first and the same slot of what was their selection in the 4th this year (Minnesota has Chicago’s fourth rounder this year which was originally 126 but became 125 due to the Patriots third round forfeiture). So, math; according to the Chase Stuart draft chart New York profited 17.1 points worth of draft capital. This is directly in line with on the clock quarterback trades in this range such as Mahomes, Watson, and Allen.

Chicago paid a fair price to go get the dude who should have been the #2 pick of the draft at #11. That’s it, that’s all you need to know.

#12 Dallas Cowboys – LB Micah Parsons, Penn State – B-

Bro what? Look, I can understand Dallas thinking “hey, Parsons is the best player on the board and we’re going to just draft the best player on the board,” but not only did they draft a low impact position (off-ball linebacker) but it’s a position of strength already on the roster. Did they just throw their hands up with Surtain and Horn off the board? Trade down again and then tap into the edge class? Trade down again and target Newsome or Moehrig or Barmore? Did Chicago not call Dallas?

Maybe they plan on just making Parsons an edge rusher. As much as I don’t like this pick they fleeced the Eagles and Parson at least has unlimited upside.

#13 Los Angeles Chargers – OT Rashawn Slater, Northwester – B+

You don’t really need me to explain much here. Slater’s ceiling seemed to be Carolina at 8 so to get him here is pretty decent value for the Chargers, a team that has seemingly been trying to fix their offensive line since the day they drafted Philip Rivers.

#14 New York Jets (F/MIN) – OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC – D

Minnesota Received: #23, #66, #86
New York Received: #14, #143

I can’t. This is fucking ridiculous. The only thing saving this from an F is the fact I like Vera-Tucker as a prospect and expect him to be at least a good guard in the NFL.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about why the process of this is a fucking F minus. First, for the math, the Vikings profited 7.9 points worth of draft capital. Ironically, the 66th pick is worth 7.9 points, so Joe Douglas just lit that on fire.

This roster is in absolutely no shape to be doing this. The Jets entered the draft with #23, #34, #66 and #86 to surround Zach Wilson with as much as possible. Take as many weapons and offensive lineman as you can with those premium picks. Trading up is poor process especially when you’re the team that “earned” the second pick of the draft. Instead, the Jets turned all that into a guard and #34 (and #143).

Oh, and forget about positional value I guess. When you can consolidate Day 1 and 2 picks to fly up for a GUARD you just absolutely gotta. EVEN IF the Jets plan to play Vera-Tucker at tackle, this is viewed as a deep, and strong, tackle class. Wouldn’t the Jets *literally* rather be the Vikings right now who had Darrisaw fall into their laps at 23 and are in possession of #66 and #86? FFS.

Investing in Wilson’s protection is what Douglas should be doing. Doing it in this manner is managerial malpractice.

#15 New England Patriots – QB Mac Jones, Alabama – B

Look, New England should have paid the piper to go get Fields. That said, this is the proper draft range for Mac Jones. No one agreed with him theoretically going 3rd but he was considered worthy of a top 10. In essence he’s worthy due to the position he plays, but he just really isn’t that great of a prospect. He has no mobility, cannot make off-platform throws, and for the time being has a weak arm.

At 15, it’s worth seeing what happens, but in no way do I view this as a steal.

#16 Arizona Cardinals – LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa – C

Man, every mock on the planet had this pick (except mine because I didn’t project Horn to be gone). I just don’t understand the choices the Cardinals are making in the first round these past two years. Last year they turned down an offer from the Falcons to move back (it wasn’t reported what the offer was) and then selected Simmons over Lamb or Jeudy. Now they’re taking an off-ball linebacker in the middle of the first when they need players at positions of greater impact.

Trade down and target Collins later? Trade down and take a corner later? I love Collins as much as the next guy and there’s a good chance they just see this as a replacement on the edge for Hassan Reddick but every pass rusher in the draft was still on the board here so they could have moved back and let the draft come to them.

#17 Las Vegas Raiders – OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama – F

The Gruden/Mayock experiment has no fucking concept of maximizing value. They just plug needs with their arrogant evaluations. If they’re not going to spend any time doing their job properly then I’m not going to waste mine writing about them.

It must absolutely suck to be a Raiders fan.

#18 Miami Dolphins – Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami – B

This is fine. Grier once again targets a premium position with a premium asset. That’s good. This edge class is weird in that there isn’t much of a consensus on how to rank them, so I would have liked to see Miami trade back and let the draft come to them. Of course, it takes two to tango and I have no idea what trade talks, if any, were had prior to turning in the card. Phillips figured to go anywhere from 14-32 so all around this is a B.

#19 Washington – LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky – D

I really like Davis, but not here and not over JOK let alone Darrisaw. This is a first round reach on a non-premium position.

#20 New York Giants (F/CHI) – WR Kadarius Toney, Florida – C+

Ok, so, in case you forgot, the Giants profited 17.1 points worth of draft capital in my projected math on the Fields trade. The 16th pick is worth 16.9 so Gettleman basically created the 16th pick out of thin air. That’s really good, especially if we grade David on a curve for being a trade down virgin until last night.

Anyway, when the Giants are ready to move on from Jones next year and Justin Fields is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, the fact the New York gave away the pick that ended up being Fields is going to come under the scrutiny that it should be getting right now. Jones isn’t the answer and New York had Fields fall into their lap, and they passed.

As for Toney, the pre-draft buzz was right (I guess?). The league, or at least the Giants, liked him a lot better than the outside world. He is a freak athlete but he is unrefined and has a bizarre off the field record. You can never have too many weapons and Jones needs all the help he can get, so I can’t fault Gettleman for that. I do think this is a reach, and I don’t like Toney as WR4 off the board.

The trade was really good, passing on Fields is really bad, and snagging Toney here is weird.

#21 Indianapolis Colts – Edge Kwity Paye, Michigan – B

I really thought the Colts were going to trade down in order to recoup the picks they traded away for Wentz, but alas. As for Paye, this is similar to what I said above for the Dolphins. Addressing premium positions with premium picks is smart. Paye was my top edge in this class so I like the value here, but had the Colts moved down and let the edge class come to them a little more I would have liked this better.

#22 Tennessee Titans – CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech – B+

I’m attaching a plus here on account of Jon Robinson having some balls. In theory this is good value because Farley should really be a top 10 pick but he fell because of his medical history. I have no idea what his future looks like and the fact he’s had two back surgeries so young is concerning. However, Farley has as good a chance as anyone to be the best corner to come out of this class. Corner is a premium position and Robinson is rolling the dice on hitting this pick out of the park.

#23 Minnesota Vikings (F/NYJ/SEA) – OT Christian Darrisaw – A+

Bravo. The Vikings fleeced the Jets then land a dude they were possibly considering 9 spots higher to begin with. Darrisaw was the consensus OT3 in this class who could have gone as high as 13, and would have made sense at multiple spots between there and 23. Spielman for the win.

#24 Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Harris, Alabama – F

The Steelers just put wallpaper over a gapping hole in the drywall. Good luck with that.

#25 Jacksonville Jaguars (F/LAR) – RB Travis Etienne, Clemson – F

After this pick Urban Meyer said he views Robinson and Hyde as 1st and 2nd down backs with Etienne complimenting them as the 3rd down back.

The Jaguars just said out loud into a microphone they spent the 25th pick of the draft on a third down back. This has to be the dumbest shit I have heard immediately following a pick ever since the Dolphins said they took Ted Ginn 9th because they needed a punt returner.

#26 Cleveland Browns – CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern – B+

No team ever has enough corners. I love this move (as does the rest of the world) from Cleveland. Good value getting Newsome here as he could have gone anywhere starting at pick 20.

#27 Baltimore Ravens – WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota – A

This is what I wrote in my mock where I projected this pick:

This is the perfect blend of everything you’d look for in a draft pick. Value? Check. Hits a need? Check. Is a good fit for the roster? Check. If I bat 1.000 on Thursday night with my mock then on Friday this would easily get my highest grade.

I wasn’t expecting the Vikings or Bears to come in and steal the show, so Baltimore will have to settle for my second highest grade.

#28 New Orleans Saints – Edge Payton Turner, Houston – D+

The Saints are getting a plus here because at least they reached at a premium position. Payton Turner as the 3rd edge off the board just doesn’t make sense to me. Find me a single outlet that has Turner as Edge3. Even if the Saints believe this (obviously they do) then play the board. Already down their original 3rd rounder (they have a 3rd round comp pick) they could have moved down to acquire some more picks and nabbed Turner later.

#29 Green Bay Packers – CB Eric Stokes, Georgia – C

Yea I mean when you can further piss off Aaron Rodgers by passing on Elijah Moore in order to reach on a corner you just absolutely can’t pass that up. At least they reached on a premium position.

#30 Buffalo Bills – Edge Gregory Rousseau, Miami – B-

I thought Rousseau would fall to Day 2 on the heals of his poor workout. Rousseau is stiff and a lot of his sack production during his one season of college football came lined up against guards, not tackles. However, there is a lot to work with here so shooting a shot at a premium position like this at the end of the first is a perfectly fine strategy.

#31 Baltimore Ravens – Edge Jayson Oweh, Penn State – A-

This is what I meant when I said the teams up above should have let the edge class come to them. Oweh has an argument as the best edge in this class due to his absolute freak athletic traits. The Ravens just sat here and let him come to them because of course this worked out for them in this manner. Oweh was my #2 edge in this class.

#32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Edge Joe Tryon, Washington – B

I projected the Bucs to take an edge as JPP will be a 33 year old free agent after 2022, it’s just that I had Phillips falling here. This pick makes sense from a position stand point and this is the right range for Tryon. I ended up with him as my #5 edge and he’s the 6th edge off the board.

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