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2021 NFL Draft: 1st Round Grades

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Written By: Matt Di Domenico

Twitter: @didomenicomatt5

A few weeks have passed since the 2021 NFL Draft. NFL fans all over the country have had the time to digest and think over their teams’ selections in the draft. I wanted to do a full graded report of each selection that was made in the first round. Some NFL teams made some excellent selections on night one and others obviously did not. This is all based on my opinion and time will tell of which selections have panned out in the NFL.

Grading Scale:

96-100: A+ 93-95: A 90-92: A- 87-89: B+ 83-86: B 80-82: B- 77-79: C+ 73-76: C 70-72: C 67-69: D+ 63-66: D 60-62: D- 59-Below: F

Pick #1: Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence QB, Clemson- A+ (99)

As I said in my full two round mock draft, this was the easiest selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars had to take the talented Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson. Lawrence can simply be the difference maker that can turn this Jaguars team around. He has a rocket arm that throws with good overall accuracy deep down the field. Lawrence can also make plays outside the pocket with his legs if he has to. The Jaguars finally have their franchise guy and will need to get protection built around him to keep him healthy for 15+ years. There is not much to say here, and the Jaguars had no choice but to take Lawrence #1 overall.

Pick #2: N.Y. Jets: Zach Wilson QB, BYU- A- (91)

This selection here of Zach Wilson out of BYU is a pick that I was expecting to happen for the N.Y. Jets once they traded Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. This is a boom or bust pick in my opinion. Wilson has a talented arm that can make dynamic throws all over the field. Wilson would take a lot of chances at BYU, but he was able to make big plays off opportunities that were thrown his way by defenses. The question is, can he develop into a franchise QB that the Jets have not had in a very long time. I like the pick, but the Jets must be patient with Wilson because there will be growing pains in his rookie season. Wilson will be thrown into the starting role and will have to produce.

Pick #3: San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance QB, North Dakota State- A (93)

Another selection that I predicted right in my mock draft. I had a feeling that once the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the 3rd overall selection, that they were going to take a playmaker that could do multiple things at the QB position. It did not make sense for the 49ers to take Mac Jones here when they already have a similar type of QB on the roster. Trey Lance was able to make many plays at North Dakota State with his arm and legs. Lance is a raw QB at the moment but has a lot of talent to develop into a playmaker. The 49ers will roll with Jimmy Garoppolo for the start of the season while Lance takes his time to learn from Kyle Shanahan. Lance reminds me a lot of Dak Prescott from the Dallas Cowboys. Solid pick here from the 49ers but time and teaching will decide if it was truly the right selection.

Pick #4: Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts TE, Florida- B+ (89)

I am giving the Atlanta Falcons a B+ here because of a failed opportunity in trading out of this selection to reload the franchise with a bundle of picks. I understand that I do not know what kind of deals were thrown the Falcons way. I am positive that this team needs a lot of defensive help and getting more offensive weapons is not going to improve this team much. Do not get me wrong, Kyle Pitts is an athletic rare freak out of Florida and is the reason the Falcons are getting a decent grade. That being said, this was not the smartest move in my opinion. Moving on to the overview of Pitts, he is a weapon that will be moved all around the field to give the Falcons mismatch opportunities. Pitts is looked more beyond than just a TE and will have to be the building block for the Falcons heading forward.

Pick #5: Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase WR, LSU- A- (91)

Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU was my favorite player in the 2021 NFL Draft. The amount of high explosiveness off the LOS, playmaking ability after the catch, and quickness when running routes made him too good for the Cincinnati Bengals to pass upon. On tape, I was impressed to see how Chase was able to make contested catches with defenders draped all over him. As much as I love Chase, the Bengals do need some big-time offensive line help to protect Joe Burrow. Since Penei Sewell was still on the board, I cannot give the Bengals a grade higher than an A- here. However, I am sure Burrow was happy knowing that his #1 weapon at LSU will be reuniting with him. I do think Chase can be an electric star for the Bengals. What made matters better for this pick is that the Bengals found some promising offensive line talent in the later rounds.

Pick #6: Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle WR, Alabama- B (86)

At selection #6, the Miami Dolphins took the speedy Jaylen Waddle out of Alabama. Waddle is a WR that runs fluid routes and has dangerous deep speed that was showcased during his time at Alabama. I did think that the Dolphins would go DeVonta Smith or Penei Sewell here. Personally, I had Smith rated higher than Waddle, but both are incredible talents at the WR position. Waddle is coming off an ankle injury which is a concern for me as well. Waddle will need to stay healthy and be 100% for the Dolphins. I also saw the possibility of taking Penei Sewell here because it was some incredible value at selection #6. Tua Tagovailoa will be teaming back up with one of his former weapons in Waddle so it will be interesting to see the plays they make together in Miami.

Pick #7: Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell OT, Oregon- A- (92)

The Detroit Lions bolstered up their offensive line here at selection #7 with Penei Sewell out of Oregon. The Lions were a team that I had trading down with the Denver Broncos in my mock draft even with Penei Sewell left on the board. I did think that the Lions would be looking to target an offensive weapon for Jared Goff but adding the best offensive linemen in the draft certainly does not hurt. Penei Sewell is projected to play at RT for the Lions but he has the talent to play all over the line if they need him to. Sewell plays with a high amount of aggressiveness and his athleticism stands out in pass protection. This is the type of player that new head coach Dan Campbell wants on his football team. I do not know if Sewell will bite off kneecaps but nonetheless, the Lions got a good value here with Sewell.

Pick #8: Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn CB, South Carolina- B (85)

I like the type of CB that Jaycee Horn is, and I think he can develop into an excellent M/M coverage CB for the Carolina Panthers. What Horn does well is he plays the game with a large amount of aggressiveness by getting his hands on WRs throughout routes and at the LOS in press situations. I did think Horn was a bit too high of a selection at pick #8 and I did have Patrick Surtain II rated higher than Jaycee Horn. Another reason why I gave the Panthers a B for this selection is because I think there was a higher call for help on the offensive side of the ball. Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern was a player that would have been a nice addition to the offensive line to give Sam Darnold more protection. Horn is a player that will be developed into a starting role with the likes of A.J Bouye and Donte Jackson in the CB meeting room helping him develop.

Pick #9: Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II CB, Alabama- B (86)

The Denver Broncos were able to select my highest ranked CB in this draft at pick #9. Surtain II is a physical CB at the LOS and showcased good ball skills during his time at Alabama. Surtain II also played well in both man and zone coverage situations. The reason why this grade is only a B is because of two reasons. First, Surtain II will have to compete for a starting role because the Broncos already have three starting CBs on the roster. The second reason is the decision to not take Justin Fields here. To me, the Broncos have no answer at the QB position and Fields was a high prospect on my board. The Broncos need to get the QB position solved or else they will continue to be a bottom feeder in the AFC West. This Patrick Surtain II selection seems to be a pick for the future because both Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan will be free agents in 2022.

Pick #10: Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith WR, Alabama- A (94)

I thought trading up with the rival Dallas Cowboys and only having to give up a third-round pick was a very good move for the Philadelphia Eagles. What made the trade even better was being able to snag the Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at pick #10. Smith was my second rated WR in this draft. Smith is a smooth route runner that has breakaway speed and makes clean catches all over the field. Smith reminds me a lot of Marvin Harrison who of course is a Hall of Famer for the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles needed to get more weapons for Jalen Hurts and do so here. Smith has ties with Hurts because they were teammates at Alabama for a period of time. Many have questions about Smith's weight, but I do not think it will be an issue at all. A solid pick for the Eagles here at pick #10.

Pick #11: Chicago Bears: Justin Fields QB, Ohio State- A- (90)

The Chicago Bears made a deal with the N.Y. Giants to go up 9 spots to select Justin Fields at pick #11. The deal cost pick #164, a 2022 1st round pick, and a 2022 4th round pick. Fields was my second rated QB in this class and he fell to being the 4th QB taken in the draft. Fields was able to make deep and intermediate throws with good overall accuracy during his time at Ohio State. There is also the ability in Fields’ game to make plays outside the pocket with his legs. Even though there is still room to grow, I thought Fields read through his progressions at a good level when I watched his tape. The Bears desperately needed to get a new single caller under center, and they found it here with Fields. The questions of whether Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have enough time to develop Fields before ownership makes a change in 2022.

Pick #12: Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons LB, Penn State- A (93)

After trading down with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys come to select the player that they would have taken at pick #10 anyways. The Cowboys pick the explosive Micah Parsons out of Penn State. Parsons is an LB that can play at any of the LB spots because he has sideline-sideline speed and is powerful at the POA. At ease, Parsons was able to shoot into gaps and make tackles on ball carriers in the backfield. I expect Parsons to be plugged in at either the Mike or Strong side LB role with the Cowboys. The Cowboys needed to desperately improve their defense and Parsons certainly will help. There were no CBs left on the board, so the Cowboys had to go with Parsons here.

Pick #13: L.A. Chargers: Rashawn Slater OT, Northwestern- A+ (96)

I thought this was one of the best picks in the entire draft and the Chargers got a steal at pick #13 with the selection of Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern. I personally did not think Slater would fall to the Chargers at pick #13. Slater in my opinion is the best pass protecting OT in this draft. Slater had an incredible play during his time at Northwestern and his talent pops all over the tape. In 2019, Northwestern played against Ohio State where Slater was able to control the dominant Chase Young. The Chargers had to get an OT to protect Justin Herbert's blindside and do so here with Slater. This pick fills a major need, and it will allow the Chargers to take a major leap in 2021. The future looks very bright for the L.A. Chargers now.

Pick #14: N.Y. Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker OT/OG, USC- B (86)

The N.Y. Jets moved up from pick #23 to select Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC who can be a plug and play OG or OT day one. I love Vera-Tucker as a prospect and he was high on my board, but the price the Jets paid to move up was a tad too much. The Jets gave the Minnesota Vikings pick #23 and both of their 2021 third rounders. I did not think the Vikings got a huge steal, but their draft value was much greater in the deal. Vera-Tucker however is a very talented offensive lineman that has good balance in pass protection and will deliver powerful punches on defenders at the POA. The Jets now are starting to solidify their offensive line to protect their face of the franchise in Zach Wilson. Overall, pricy trade but good selection for the Jets here at pick #14.

Pick #15: New England Patriots: Mac Jones QB, Alabama- B (86)

After sitting and waiting, the New England Patriots were able to land their franchise QB of the future. The Patriots were able to select the smart Mac Jones out of Alabama. Jones certainly is not an athletic freak at the QB position. This is a QB that is much more of a pocket passer that leans on clean footwork when climbing the pocket to deliver a strike. Jones’ play reminds me a lot of Kurt Warner's. Jones is effective at diagnosing defenses and making throws with good touch & accuracy. Belichick knows a lot about Jones because of his connection with Nick Sabon so I believe he knows that this was the right selection at pick #15. This pick does not give the Patriots an immediate starter and they must be patient with Jones. I do not think Jones will start right away because of Cam Newton, but in time Jones will get his opportunity to play in 2021.

Pick #16: Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins LB, Tulsa- B+ (88)

Zaven Collins is a very talented LB out of Tulsa that I was very high on in this draft. Collins is an LB that has the athleticism to move from sideline to sideline at a weight of 260 and make outstanding plays that will blow you away. At ease, Collins was able to make clean-formed tackles on ball carriers in open space. Collins has the burst to fly into holes and make impactful plays for his defense. The Cardinals did need to get more LB help but I did think there was a much larger call for need at the CB position. A player like Greg Newsome II would have been an excellent addition to this Cardinals secondary. The selection of Collins however was a solid pick for the Cardinals and deserved a B+ grade. I know that Collins’ talent will only impact this team in a positive way.

Pick #17: Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood OT/OG, Alabama- C- (70)

This was a complete shocker for me, and it seems like everyone else when at pick #17 the Las Vegas Raiders decided to take Alex Leatherwood from Alabama. I thought Leatherwood would be a solid player to take in the early second round but certainly not this early in the draft. Leatherwood was able to cover Mac Jones blind side at a good level during his time in Alabama. There was much better talent still on the board for the Raiders to take. I feel as if they went straight for need instead of going for the best available player on their board. In my mind he was not even the best available OT either. I am not saying that Leatherwood cannot develop into a solid OT in this league but certainly time will tell with this pick.

Pick #18: Miami Dolphins: Jaelen Phillips DE/OLB, Miami- B- (81)

From Miami to Miami. At selection #18, the Miami Dolphins were able to take one of the talented edge rushers out of Miami. Phillips is a very high risk, high reward player for the Dolphins. During Phillips's collegiate career, he had concussion concerns/issues that had him transferring out from UCLA to Miami. Phillips was able to perform well at Miami and showcased his power when rushing the passer. The Dolphins did let go of Kyle Van Noy this offseason and needed to get more talent at either of their edge spots. I would have liked to see Kwity Paye here at pick #18 instead of Phillips because I think Paye is the better player overall. The Dolphins improve their pass rush, but time will tell if Phillips stays healthy during his career in the NFL.

Pick #19: Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis LB, Kentucky- B (83)

The Washington Football Team decided not to move up in the draft for any of the top QB prospects. That means either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Taylor Heinicke will be the starting QB for Washington in 2021. I thought Washington was going to go after some offensive line talent like Teven Jenkins or Christian Darrisaw at pick #19. Instead, Washington selected Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. Davis was a player that was on the rise over the past couple months and has now landed in a spot with one of the best defenses in the NFL. Davis will plug right into the weak side LB role for Washington. I understand the pick of Davis but more protection for Fitzpatrick or Heinicke would have made better sense, so I am giving Washington a B here.

Pick #20: N.Y. Giants: Kadarius Toney WR, Florida- C+ (79)

One of the most underrated WRs in this draft is Kadarius Toney out of Florida. Toney is a quick twitching WR that was able to make big plays for the Florida Gators in 2020. Toney simply can take off into the open field in flash and will be a dominant force in the slot. I am not giving the N.Y. Giants a C+ because Toney is a bad player. I am simply giving the Giants a C+ because they do not need a WR this badly. The Giants already have 3-4 WRs that will be playing over Toney. The Giants needed to get more help anywhere on the OL and at the CB spot. Greg Newsome II, Caleb Farley, or Teven Jenkins would have been much better selections here at pick #20. It will be interesting to see how the Giants get Toney involved and how many reps he gets early on in the season. I see him making a impact on special teams early on.

Pick #21: Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye DE/OLB, Michigan- A- (90)

Two of the biggest needs for the Indianapolis Colts were OT and DE. The Colts had some OT talent on the board but decided to go edge instead. The Colts were able to sit and wait at selection #21 to take my favorite edge rusher in this class in Kwity Paye. Paye rushes the passer with a great motor and has fast hands to rip by OTs when engaging at first contact. Paye can line up with his hand in the dirt or standing upright which makes him a nice fit here with the Colts 4-3 scheme. Paye will improve this Colts pass rush and bring even more intensity to the front 7 that is already in place. Going OT would have been a nice move as well but the value of Paye was too high to pass on here for Indianapolis.

Pick #22: Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley CB, Virginia Tech- B- (80)

There was no doubt that the Tennessee Titans had to get an upgrade at the CB position after losing Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler in the offseason. There was also a need for an upgrade at the RT spot after last year's bust pick in Isaiah Wilson. Last year's pick was the reason why I think the Titans were shy in upgrading the offensive line here at pick #22. Instead, the Titans took Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech. Farley’s draft stock dropped a tad bit after the news broke about him having to get back surgery. I think Farley will bounce back from his surgery, but I still think the Titans should have selected Greg Newsome II here instead. Farley has the rangy speed you want and is very aggressive with his hands in coverage. The Titans have to get some kind of production out of this year’s first-round pick. That is what made this Farley pick so interesting because they took a player with an known injury concern before the draft kicked off.

Pick #23: Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw OT, Virginia Tech- B+ (88)

From one Virginia Tech football player to the next. The Minnesota Vikings were able to trade back and still get the player I thought they were going to take at pick #14. The Vikings were able to land the big run blocking OT in Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw is the type of OT that the Vikings want on their offensive line. The Vikings want to be dominant in the ground game and Darrisaw is only going to help the offense in that area of the game. Darrisaw is an OT that is much better at run blocking than pass blocking. However, what helps Darrisaw in his pass protection is his strong hands and long arms when engaging with defenders at the POA. If Darrisaw can develop more bend and cleaner footwork in his pass protection, then this could be a pro bowl caliber OT. I like Teven Jenkins and other OT prospects more then Darrisaw overall, but this was a solid pickup for the Vikings at pick #23.

Pick #24: Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris RB, Alabama- C (75)

Not a huge buyer on this pick. For me, taking a RB in the first round when your offensive line certainly is not solidified is a selection you simply cannot make as a team. You can find good solid RBs in the later rounds who can produce for your backfield. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they seem to think otherwise when they selected Najee Harris with the #24 overall selection. Harris is a talented back that runs with pure power and strength. At times, it would take many defenders to bring Harris down in the open field. Harris can also be utilized in the passing game as well. The Steelers offensive line is in shambles however, and I would have liked to see a lineman taken here instead. If the Steelers offensive line cannot make effective blocks in the run game, then Harris simply will not have clear running lanes to work with.

Pick #25: Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne RB, Clemson- B- (81)

From one RB to the next. The Jacksonville Jaguars doubles down on Clemson stars here at pick #25. Now, this is a completely different situation here for the Jaguars compared to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the prior selection of Najee Harris. The reason why this pick is different is because the Jaguars simply have somewhat of an offensive line in place. Yes, the Jaguars could have waited to take an RB, but Travis Etienne is familiar with how newly acquired Trevor Lawrence operates and vice versa for Lawrence. Etienne is also a very special playmaking RB that the Jaguars will be able to move all around the field. Etienne was even utilized out wide as a WR for Clemson. Etienne is much more of a speed one cut back that will make defenders miss in the open field. I do not hate this pick, but I do not love it.

Pick #26: Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II CB, Northwestern- A (93)

A very strong secondary for the Cleveland Browns is now in place here with the selection of Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern. Newsome II was one of my favorite CBs in this draft and he fell right into the Browns' lap at pick #26. Newsome II has very fluid hips and good overall quickness that allows him to excel in man coverage situations. The Browns CB room is filled with extreme talent with the likes of Denzel Ward, Troy Hill, Greedy Williams, and now Greg Newsome II. I look for the Browns to be one of the best teams in the NFL now that they have had some playoff experience and have filled this roster with players that can make impactful plays. I love this selection for the Browns, and it deserves an A.

Pick #27: Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman WR, Minnesota- B+ (89)

There was a big need for an upgrade at the WR position here for the Baltimore Ravens at pick #27. We all had a feeling the Ravens were going to grab a WR here or with their other first round selection. I think they found a good one in Rashod Bateman out of Minnesota here at selection #27. Bateman has the talent to develop into a true #1 WR for Lamar Jackson and company. This is a WR that runs polished routes with a good solid burst of speed anywhere on the field. The Ravens simply need to get more production out of their WRs because Marquise Brown simply is not a true #1 receiver threat. The Ravens have taken a small hit to their roster over the past couple seasons, so they look to grab a superstar here with Bateman.

Pick #28: New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner DE, Houston- D (65)

In my opinion this was the worst pick in the entire first round. I do not know much about Payton Turner, but he simply was not a super high prospect in this draft. The New Orleans Saints could have selected him in the second round because I have a feeling that he still would have been there. There was also much higher value in other edge prospects and other positional prospects of need for the Saints still available on the board. I will eat my words however if Payton Turner turns into a superstar but for right now, the value was not there, and this was not a good pick at all. Turner will have to compete for a starting role with Marcus Davenport, who is also a former first round pick by New Orleans that has not fit up to his billing. This was a big head scratcher by the Saints and will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Pick #29: Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes CB, Georgia- B+ (89)

I have already graded this selection in my full report of the Green Bay Packers draft. Of course, the drama with QB Aaron Rodgers took over the Packers draft news. Outside of the Rodgers conflict, I thought this selection was a solid pick for the Packers. The Packers needed to get more CB help desperately after getting torched throughout the championship game by Tampa Bay. The Packers made a good choice here at pick #29 in taking the speedy Eric Stokes out of Georgia. Stokes was able to make outstanding plays for the Bulldogs during his time spent there. Stokes was able to hold up well against top receiving talent in the SEC. The pairing of Eric Stokes and Jaire Alexander will be a nice young secondary with top end speed to build around for years to come. If the Packers want to make it to the Super Bowl in 2021, then this secondary has to be improved with better talent. Stokes has that talent to help this defense out.

Pick #30: Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau DE, Miami- C+ (79)

When the Buffalo Bills were on the clock, I really thought they were going to take a CB here. One CB that would have fit in nicely was Asante Samuel Jr. out of Florida State. The Bills decided to go in a different direction with the selection of Gregory Rousseau out of Miami. Rousseau is a physical talent that opted out of the 2020 season. On film, there is clearly very good upside in Rousseau’s pass rushing talent. However, there are a few aspects of his game that were unfavorable. Rousseau does not have a high motor and tends to lack the run defending skills that are critical in helping the run defense. Being able to be a force in all aspects of the game is what the Bills need in a star DE. I think Rousseau will be a rotation pass rusher with the likes of Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, and A.J. Epenesa. The Bills are loading up on DEs but will need to pick wisely when making final adjustments to their roster.

Pick #31: Baltimore Ravens: Jayson Oweh OLB/DE, Penn State- C- (71)

When the Baltimore Ravens traded their star OT Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs here for pick #31, I thought that this is where the Ravens would add his replacement. Instead, the Ravens added a very young pass rusher out of Penn State. The Ravens do need pass rushers, but the value of the pass rushers compared to the offensive line talent left on the board did not match up for this selection in my opinion. Jayson Oweh is a very raw prospect but is gifted in the amount of physical talent that he possesses. I do not think Oweh will make that significant of an impact his rookie season for the Ravens compared to the likes of other possible selections like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, or Sam Cosmi.

Pick #32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon OLB/DE, Washington- B (85)

Coming to the end of the first round with the Super Bowl champs, they needed to add a nice rotational CB or edge player. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to go edge here with Joe Tryon at pick #32. Tyron is an athletic pass rusher that mixes his speed and quickness well with his power. The Buccaneers needed to get a young developmental pass rusher behind the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett. Tyron can learn from the likes of these two veterans and then be a nice rotational piece for this defense to use on 3rd and longs. The Buccaneers know that they won the Super Bowl because of their pass rush, so why not make it even stronger. I would have liked a CB prospect but a solid move here to end the first round.



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