Welcome To The NFL: Grading the First Round Picks of the 2021 NFL Draft

The first night of the NFL Draft is over, here is how each team did with their pick.


media by Ben England

Rodger Goodell coming out on stage in round two of the draft April 30.

by Ben England and Luka Owen

The 2021 NFL Draft kicked off April 29 with the first round selections. This year’s draft has posed unique challenges for scouts and coaching staffs to make their selections without an NFL Combine process to deliver an in-depth scouting process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After extensive research regarding team needs and prospect skills, we have given an accompanying grade to each selection of the first round; based on team fit, the number at which a player was selected, and the positional value at each spot.

Pick 1: 

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars 

The Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

The Grade: A+

The pressure was on for Jacksonville, to make sure they wouldn’t mess up pick one. Thankfully, they didn’t. The Jags got their hands on the number one pick and landed arguably the most sought-after QB prospect of the last decade. The Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville begins with a splash. 


Pick 2:

Team: New York Jets

The Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

The Grade: B+

Over the last few weeks, Wilson became the clear-cut choice for the Jets in this spot. He possesses all of the arm talent that you could ask for in a quarterback. Whether or not he can reach his potential all comes down to whether or not Saleh and the new Jets coaching staff can successfully surround him with the accompanying talent.


Pick 3:

Team: San Francisco 49ers 

The Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The Grade: B

This selection ended up being a big-time surprise to most, however, the pick ultimately makes perfect sense. Shanahan has alluded in the past to his desire for a multi-dimensional signal caller— Lance is exactly that. Despite his small sample size and FCS competition, his 2019 numbers of 2,786 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards, 42 total touchdowns and not a single interception can not be denied.


Pick 4: 

Team: Atlanta Falcons

The Pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The Grade: B+

The Falcons elect to continue riding the Matt Ryan train as opposed to snagging another top QB of the class. Pitts is a generational talent at the TE position, and a matchup nightmare for DBs and LB’s in coverage with his 6’6’’ 240 lb frame. The receiving trio of Jones, Ridley and Pitts is sure to be the best in the league. 


Pick 5:

Team: Cincinnati Bengals 

The Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

The Grade: B+ 

Joe Burrow asks, and Joe Burrow shall receive. Many reports hinted that the former first-round pick was lobbying for the Bengals to reunite him with his favorite collegiate target. In 2019, the pair combined for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to a National Championship at LSU. So despite passing on Penei Sewell, this pick is still a major boost to Cincinnati’s offense under Zac Taylor. 


Pick 6: 

Team: Miami Dolphins

The Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

The Grade: B

Second year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is under monumental pressure to perform this year with Miami on the rise. As a boost, Flores and company elect to reunite him with one of his electrifying receivers from his college days at Alabama with Waddle. He is a true jack of all trades; thriving in the slot, on the outside and in the return game on special teams. Waddle paired with Will Fuller as the new receiving corps brings forth electrifying speed. 


Pick 7: 

Team: Detroit Lions

The Pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

The Grade: A

The highly-praised and consensus number-one-lineman falls right into the hands of the Lions at number seven. In the midst of a total revamp of the roster in Detroit, they secure a franchise centerpiece and brick wall on the left side of the line for Jared Goff. 


Pick 8:

Team: Carolina Panthers

The Pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Grade: B- 

Matt Rhule still has yet to select an offensive player in an NFL draft as he enters his second full season as the Panthers’ Head Coach. An OT in this spot would have made far more sense to assure that new QB Sam Darnold would not experience the same endless pressure which he faced in New York. However, Horn is a physical and battle-tested prospect who thrived going toe-to-toe with the best receivers in the SEC last year. 


Pick 9:

Team: Denver Broncos

The Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The Grade: B

Surtain is the most polished defensive back in the draft, with a refined skill set and NFL bloodline at the position. The Broncos add a day-one starter to a secondary in desperate need of some help, however with Justin Fields and Mac Jones still on the board, the pick was a bit of a head-scratcher. Drew Lock has given no indication to the Mile High City that he has the potential to be the long-term answer, going 8-10 as a starter with 23 career TD to 18 career INT, and the Teddy Bridgewater trade was surely not made to be the solution either. Denver must believe that they have a legitimate opportunity in the potential Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes. 


Pick 10:

Team: Philadelphia Eagles (via DAL)

The Pick: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The Grade: B

 The Eagles trade up just two spots to secure the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner in DeVonta Smith. They must have had a strong inclination that the Giants were waiting to snatch him up at pick 11. His 6’1’’ and 174 lb frame has been a major cause for concern among many draft experts, but Smith has proven to defy the odds by displaying one of the most historic seasons ever by a WR last year at Alabama. 


Pick 11:

Team: Chicago Bears (via NYG)

The Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

The Grade: A

They gave up a haul to get him, but Bears nation finally secures their QB of the future. Fields has the resume, natural talent and leadership capabilities of a future NFL superstar, and Chicago jumped up nine spots to get their hands on him. Having veteran Andy Dalton lined up to be the uncontested starter never seemed to make much sense, so perhaps this one was up the Bears’ sleeve all along. 


Pick 12: 

Team: Dallas Cowboys (via PHI)

The Pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

The Grade: B

It was a consensus pick that Dallas would be selecting either Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II to aid their atrocious secondary at their original number 10 spot. But with both of them off the board, they make the logical play and trade back, while still getting the best player left on the board with the versatile Parsons who can immediately become the cornerstone of the Dallas defense. 


Pick 13: 

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

The Pick: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

The Grade: A+

Most never dreamed that Slater would fall straight into the laps of the Bolts at pick 13, but when he did, they must have sprinted the draft card to the table, because most consider him a top 10 talent. Justin Herbert’s line gains an immediate starter and future Pro-Bowler, adding to a young and dynamic Chargers offense with an incredibly bright future. 


Pick 14:

Team: New York Jets (via MIN)

The Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC

The Grade: A+

After taking Zach Wilson at 2, the Jets trade up and grab a versatile lineman. Saleh and company show their investment in Wilson right away, solidifying the line and providing protection from a surefire prospect. Vera-Tucker will likely start at LG, where he will play alongside last year’s first round pick Meckhi Becton of Louisville, forming one of the best young offensive line tandems in football. 


Pick 15:

Team: New England Patriots

The Pick: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

The Grade: A

Belichick gets his future QB and does not have to trade-up in the process. Many experts speculated that Jones was the guy he was after all along, and the 2020 Davey O’Brien award winner seemed ecstatic to head to Boston as he hustled from the Green Room to meet commissioner Goodell on stage. 


Pick 16: 

Team: Arizona Cardinals 

The Pick: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

The Grade: C

Collins met with Arizona three separate times during Pro Day season, making it quite obvious that there was serious interest there. However, the pick seems like a bit of a reach in this spot, and in all likelihood they could have traded down and still gotten their hands on him, as he was pegged by many as a late first-rounder. 


Pick 17:

Team: Las Vegas Raiders

The Pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

The Grade: D+

After shocking everyone and selecting CB Damon Arnette in the first round of last year’s draft, the Raiders held onto the shock factor with this selection. Nearly all draft experts labelled Leatherwood as an early-mid second round selection, and with the likes of Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins still on the board at the position, this pick leaves a lot to be desired. 


Pick 18:

Team: Miami Dolphins

The Pick: Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami

The Grade:

The Dolphins get their choice at the full crop of edge-rushers at 18, and elect to scoop up their hometown kid in Phillips. The pick addresses a major need for Miami, and Phillips’ major bag of finesse moves is likely what made him the more desirable choice over Michigan’s Kwity Paye. 


Pick 19: 

Team: Washington Football Team

The Pick: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

The Grade: B+ 

Ron Rivera gets his linebacker, addressing the team’s greatest roster hole heading into the 2021 season. Davis is an athletic freak at 6’4’’, with a ridiculous unofficial 4.37 40-yard dash at his pro day, who is sure to develop nicely playing behind a tremendous Washington defensive line that puts consistent pressure on opposing offenses. 


Pick 20: 

Team: New York Giants

The Pick: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

The Grade: C

After their rival Eagles swooped in and stole DeVonta Smith at 10, the Giants elected to trade back and stay at the same position group, choosing the shifty Florida wideout. Toney is far and away the most explosive receiver in the draft and will accompany the size and strength of new addition Kenny Golladay nicely. However, this was by no means a bang-for-buck selection, with Toney getting a mid second round grade by most analysts. 


Pick 21: 

Team: Indianapolis Colts 

The Pick: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

The Grade: C+ 

Love the player, but the fit does not seem to make much sense. With a plethora of capable OTs on the board at 21, it seemed like an obvious choice for Indy to head in that direction after the retirement of LT Anthony Castonzo this offseason. 


Pick 22: 

Team: Tennessee Titans

The Pick: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Grade: A-

After the departure of former first round CB Adoree Jackson to the Giants this offseason, the Titans fill the hole with the highly skilled and experienced Farley. This pick is a grand slam, as long as his looming injury concerns begin to fade. Farley underwent back surgery prior to the draft, causing his stock to fall rapidly, as he was previously regarded as a consensus top 15 selection. 


Pick 23:

Team: Minnesota Vikings (via NYJ)

The Pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Grade: A+ 

Darrisaw to the Vikings did not seem unlikely at their original pick of 14, and they trade back all the way to 23 and he falls into their laps. Brilliantly done by Minnesota here, nothing more needs to be said.


Pick 24: 

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pick: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Grade: C+

Harris’ 30 touchdown 2020 at Alabama was pure insanity, propelling him to this spot for a Steelers team whose run game was an absolute disaster in the back half of last season. However, the first round running back is a dying breed, and in complete transparency, it was made clear that the running game problems were a fault of the offensive line’s inability to stay healthy as opposed to a lack of skill from the RB position last year. Therefore, I do not expect Harris to serve as an immediate fix to the Steelers rushing dilemma, however, he is a step in the right direction, especially after the departure of James Conner to Arizona.


Pick 25: 

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Pick: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

The Grade: D

The prospect of reuniting first overall pick Trevor Lawrence with his college teammate makes perfect sense, however, the Jaguars electing to go running back in the first round is utter mayhem. The position was arguably one of the strongest on the roster last year, with undrafted rookie sensation James Robinson going for 1,070 yards and 7 TD.


Pick 26: 

Team: Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

The Grade: C+

Cleveland goes with the best player on the board mentality, passing on the DT and S positions which posed more problems for them last year. However, Newsome II is a skilled and fully capable cornerback who will only add more to the young core of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams at the position. 


Pick 27:

Team: Baltimore Ravens

The Pick: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The Grade: A-

It became fully clear last season that Hollywood Brown was not a true WR1, as he logged a measly 769 yards as the clear front runner in the WR room. Bateman adds some much needed size, and was considered to be the best route-runner in the class. Lamar Jackson now has a well-rounded corps of pass catchers to distribute the ball to in the passing game. 


Pick 28: 

Team: New Orleans Saints

The Pick: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

The Grade: F

Not sure what the thought process was on this one in complete transparency. Many more talented and sought after EDGE players were on the board at this spot, not to mention the fact that the Saints had much greater needs on the roster than a pass rusher, WR and CB most notably. 


Pick 29: 

Team: Green Bay Packers

The Pick: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

The Grade: B-

Stokes’ unofficial 40 time of 4.29 was the fastest recorded in the entire draft class at the Georgia Pro Day. His blazing speed will pair nicely with the tremendous all around game of superstar cornerback Jaire Alexander in Green Bay, however, most anticipated that a WR would be in play at this spot in order to give Davante Adams a little break from having to carry the load. 


Pick 30: 

Team: Buffalo Bills

The Pick: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

The Grade: C-

Rousseau has arguably the most impressive resume of any EDGE in the class. His 15.5 sacks in 2019 were second nationally to only superstar Chase Young (16.5). This bolsters the Buffalo pass rush after the team took Iowa’s AJ Epenesa at the position in the first round just a season ago. 


Pick 31: 

Team: Baltimore Ravens

The Pick: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

The Grade: C-

Drafting an EDGE in the first round who recorded 0 sacks in a full season of college football seems like a sure stretch. However, Oweh is an outstanding athlete with tons of promise for the future.


Pick 32: 

Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Pick: Joe Tryon, LB, Washington

The Grade: A-

After returning all 22 starters from the Super Bowl Champion team from a season ago, there are truly no glaring holes on the roster for Bruce Arians’ squad. Therefore, the team looks to the future by adding Tryon, who is set to be a replacement for Jason Pierre-Paul after his contract expires at the end of next season.