2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Grades
By Ha Kung Wong
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence – QB, Clemson
Clearly a no-brainer. One of the highest rated QB prospects in the NFL Draft ever. I’m personally biased against Clemson, but you can’t hate the talent of Trevor Lawrence.
2. New York Jets
Zach Wilson – QB, BYU
I picked Wilson for the Jets in our Mock Draft as well because the sheer excitement he brings to the building. But his big arm and ability to extend plays and create make him a great counter-point to the Sam Darnold experiment.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Trey Lance – QB, NDSU
I really like Trey Lance, but honestly, the 49ers paid a lot to move up to 3. So it’s not a knock on Lance, but more a knock on value. Lance will need time to get up to speed and develop, and as the 3rd overall pick, I’d prefer to see something closer to the finished product, particularly when you give away the No. 12 pick and the No. 102 pick (third round), plus first- and third-round picks in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023. That’s a lot to pay for question mark. Trust me, I’m a Bears fan and lived through the Mitchell Trubisky fiasco.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts – TE, Florida
Generational talent. We’ve been saying this on our podcast for months. He’s going to feast in Atlanta and Matt Ryan should be ecstatic to have such an amazing new weapon. Pitts makes history has the highest draft TE ever in the NFL.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase – WR, LSU
No doubt that he’ll make an instant impact rejoining his former college teammate, Joe Burrow. And although one could have also considered shoring up Burrow’s protection, this pick definitely brings excitement to Cincy.
6. Miami Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle – WR, Alabama
First, this is not Jaylen Waddle hate, but I doubt this is what the Dolphins had in mind at 6. The Dolphins did a nice job trading back with the 49ers to 12, but then gave up the No. 12 pick and a 2022 first-round pick to the Eagles to move back up to 6. I think the Dolphins spent this capital to get Pitts or Chase, but when they were surprisingly both off the board, they took the next best thing. I understand the connection to Tua Tagovailoa, so perhaps it’ll work out even better than Pitts or Chase, but I still think the Dolphins ended up overpaying and not getting what they targeted.
7. Detroit Lions
Penei Sewell – OT, Oregon
Lions fans, including our own Scott King, were clamoring for Sewell all the way, and he makes a ton of sense. He’s an automatic upgrade to the Lions O-line.
8. Carolina Panthers
Jaycee Horn – CB, South Carolina
I thought that Patrick Surtain would be the first CB off the board, but Jaycee Horn isn’t bad. I actually thought the Panthers should have selected a QB here instead of relying solely on Sam Darnold.
9. Denver Broncos
Patrick Surtain II – CB, Alabama
I totally understand this as he’s, in my opinion, the best CB in the draft and should really solidify the Broncos defense. That being said, I was also surprised that the Broncos didn’t take a QB here.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
DeVonta Smith – WR, Alabama
I assumed the Eagles were looking for a CB, but after Horn and Surtain were off the board, there’s no reason to reach. Plenty more for the second round. And trading up to snipe Smith in front of the Giants probably was fun for the Eagles as well. I love Smith and his skill set and I think he gives Jalen Hurts a fighting chance next season.
11. Chicago Bears
Justin Fields – QB, Ohio State
I’ll admit to a lot of bias here being a Bears fan, and this is the second time the Bears traded up in the 1st round to grab a QB, so I’m also similarly jaded. But Justin Fields isn’t Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky was someone Pace and Nagy thought they knew more about than anyone else. Fields is someone that everyone thought, until recently, should have been off the board at number 2. It’s a big swing, but that’s what Pace and Nagy need to save their jobs and prevent a full on revolt from Bears fans for calling Andy Dalton a “QB1”.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Micah Parsons – LB, Penn State
I love love love Micah Parson and he’s certainly the best LB in the draft. But it’s unclear why the Cowboys decided to focus on drafting a LB. It’s a great pick, but perhaps not the best pick for Dallas.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Rashawn Slater, – OT, Northwestern
The Chargers found their franchise QB in a big way last year with Justin Herbert. Now they have to make sure he stays safe throughout the season, so picking Slater makes a lot of sense. He should slot in immediately at left tackle.
14. New York Jets
Alijah Vera-Tucker – OL, USC
In our Mock Draft, I specifically stated that the Jets should build the offensive line to protect Zach Wilson. I understand that Vera-Tucker has some versatility, but I had the Jets staying pat and drafting Teven Jenkins instead. I don’t hate moving up, and they filled the right need, but think they could have waited.
15. New England Patriots
Mac Jones – QB, Alabama
Yes, I totally hated on Mac Jones being from Alabama and going to the Patriots because I love hating on Alabama and the Pats. Guilty of that all day long. But to be honest, Belichick got lucky here as Jones is a great fit for the Pats and they didn’t even have to trade up to get him.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Zaven Collins – LB, Tulsa
We all loved him on the podcast and the Cardinal can really use some defensive help, so this makes a ton of sense.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Alex Leatherwood – OL, Alabama
Wait, what? It’s not that I don’t like Leatherwood, but I thought of him more of a second round pick, which is where we had him mocked (though we did move him up to the end of the first round after the Chiefs-Ravens trade). Seems to be a reach at 17, but no one will ever figure out how Jon Gruden thinks.
18. Miami Dolphins
Jaelen Phillips – EDGE, Miami
Bingo, this is exactly who we mocked for the Miami Dolphins in this spot. Great fit.
19. Washington Football Team
Jamin Davis – LB, Kentucky
We loved Davis on the podcast as well, and he clearly will make a solid Washington defense even scarier.
20. New York Giants
Kadarius Toney – WR, Florida
Trading down was well played by the Giants (particularly getting a 1st round pick in 2022), but I actually prefer several of the other available WRs over Toney, including Elijah Moore. Still, it’s not a bad pick and teaming him with newly acquired Kenny Golladay should make Daniel Jones happy.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Kwity Paye – EDGE, Michigan
Paye has a great personal story, and I know he’s loaded with talent, but it’s unclear how and if that will translate in the NFL. Colts needed an EDGE though, so it makes sense.
22. Tennessee Titans
Caleb Farley – CB, Virginia Tech
Everyone has injury concerns regarding Farley, so there’s certainly some risk here That being said, the Titans could use a CB upgrade and Farley definitely fits the bill.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Christian Darrisaw – OT, Virginia Tech
The Vikings definitely needed to shore up their o-line and Darrisaw is as solid as they come. Should be an immediate upgrade.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris – RB, Alabama
We mocked Harris to the Steelers in our Mock Draft and it makes a ton of sense with James Conner out the door. I know a lot of draft pundits hate taking RBs early, but 24 seems fine with me.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
Travis Etienne – RB, Clemson
He’s explosive and gets to team up with newly acquired Trevor Lawrence. From a PR move, it’s awesome. From a football analytics perspective, it probably wasn’t necessary. But it probably got the fans even more excited, if that was even possible after Lawrence.
26. Cleveland Browns
Greg Newsome II – CB, Northwestern
The Browns keep trying to find solid CBs in the draft and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Newsome certainly profiles as a solid CB that can help immediately, but I wonder if they might have considered taking a WR or LB here instead.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Rashod Bateman – WR, Minnesota
We actually mocked this exact pick for the Ravens and it clearly fills a glaring need. Jackson needs solid targets, and Bateman gives him exactly that.
28. New Orleans Saints
Payton Turner – EDGE, Houston
What? Clearly, the Saints know something that I don’t. This appears at least 1 if not 2 rounds too early. Right position, wrong player.
29. Green Bay Packers
Eric Stokes – CB, Georgia
Listen, I hate the Packers, but this doesn’t make sense to me. Aaron Rodgers just complained about the Packers organization, and instead of getting him protection or another viable target other than Devante Adams and Robert Tonyan, they get a CB that was predicted to go in the 2nd round. It still fits a need, but I don’t get it.
30. Buffalo Bills
Gregory Rousseau- EDGE, Miami
He’s loaded with upside and certainly fills a need for the Bills. I suspect the Bills were really considering one of the top 2 RBs in the draft since their ground game was the reason why they didn’t make the Super Bowl last year. But this isn’t a bad pick with both Harris and Etienne off the board.
31. Baltimore Ravens
Jayson Oweh – EDGE, Penn State
Another one of those big talent but unclear how he’ll be in the NFL types. The Ravens needed an edge so it makes sense. We had him mocked to go late in the 1st round as well.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Sure, why not? The Bucs will be trying to repeat with the exact same team, but no reason not to build on that for the future.