Frankie Mancini / Gavel Media

NFL Draft Report Card: Grades For Each First Round Pick

The 2021 NFL Draft took place on Thursday night. After months of research, some teams made the most of their picks to fill the holes in their roster and put themselves in a position to succeed next year. Others missed by failing to address their needs or by drafting players whose talent or ceiling was not worth a first-round pick. Here, we will be examining each of the 32 first-round picks and grading the value they bring to their team.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Grade: A+

I truly believe that Lawrence will be as good as promised. The Clemson superstar has all the traits to succeed at the next level.


2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Grade: A-

The Jets have been linked with Wilson for weeks now, but he is not the quarterback I would have taken with the second overall pick. Still, Wilson has the tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL based on his arm strength and deep ball accuracy. I have to respect the Jets for going and getting their guy.


3. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Grade: A

The Niners took a chance on one of the most intriguing prospects in this class. While tape on Lance is limited, that tape that is there is pretty incredible. His ability to make plays with his arms and his legs gives him a really high ceiling. I trust head coach Kyle Shanahan to turn this small-school quarterback into a big-time name. 


4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Grade: A

There is no doubt in my mind that Kyle Pitts will be a very, very good player in this league. Atlanta choosing to ride with QB Matt Ryan for at least another year is definitely the right move. While the Falcons’ defense will continue to be a concern, Pitts will instantly elevate this offense to an elite level and keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.


5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Grade: B

The sub-A grade here is not a knock against Chase, who is one of the best wide receiver prospects we’ve seen in years. However, if I were the Bengals, I would have selected a top-tier tackle to protect the young franchise quarterback, Joe Burrow, who is coming back from a major injury. Their offensive line hasn’t been able to give Burrow time to throw or open up gaps for Joe Mixon, so these struggles will still need to be addressed.


6. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Grade: A-

Wide receiver was a glaring hole for Miami. An electric speedster like Waddle is a great fit for the Dolphins.


7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Grade: A+

I believe that the Detroit Lions are fully in rebuild mode. What better place to start a rebuild than with a franchise left tackle? Building from the trenches opens up the pass and the run, so building a top-tier offensive line over the next few years could help launch the Lions to relevancy.


8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Grade: A-

The NFC South is loaded with wide receiver talent. It’s a smart move by the Panthers to select one of the top cornerbacks in the class to limit opposing offenses' big-play ability. This young Carolina defense could be scary in a few years.


9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Grade: B

Surtain was my top corner in the draft. However, the Broncos still have a pretty huge need at quarterback that probably should not have been ignored.


10. Philadelphia Eagles: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Grade: A

After seemingly whiffing on a wide receiver in the first round last year, the Eagles moved up to get a guy who they know will produce. In doing so, they kept the Heisman Trophy-winner from falling into the hands of their division rival, the New York Giants.


11. Chicago Bears: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Grade: A+

The Bears made the move to get their quarterback of the future. Fields is a tough competitor with a heck of an arm. Now, he goes to Chicago with a massive chip on his shoulder. I am confident he will make a lot of teams regret passing on him. 


12. Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Grade: B+

After losing out on the top two cornerbacks, Micah Parsons is a great consolation prize. While the Cowboys’ defense has some bigger needs at other positions, Parsons can make plays all over the field.


13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Grade: A+

I am sure the Chargers were thrilled to see Slater fall to them. They made the smart decision in getting a tackle to protect their young star quarterback.


14. New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Grade: A

The Jets made an aggressive move up to get one of the more versatile lineman in this draft. Following last year’s pick of Mekhi Becton, this marks the second consecutive year the Jets have selected an offensive lineman in the first round. Similar to the Chargers, they made the smart business decision of protecting their young quarterback.


15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Grade: B+

The Patriots were able to get their quarterback of the future without having to trade up. While Jones may not be as athletic as the quarterbacks taken ahead of him, he is a proven winner that should be a great fit in New England’s passing scheme.


16. Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Grade: B

Collins is a versatile defender, but I am a little surprised that Arizona didn’t look to upgrade their secondary, especially after drafting a linebacker in the first round last year and the departure of Patrick Peterson.


17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama

Grade: C

It seems like Jon Gruden and the Raiders always try to outsmart everyone in the draft. Leatherwood, a projected second-round pick, seems like a reach at the 17th overall pick, especially considering some of the talent that was still on the board.


18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami

Grade: A

The Dolphins used their second pick of the night on a pass rusher with incredibly high upside. While Phillips’ injury history is cause for some concern, this is a risk that a team with two first-round picks and an already sturdy defense can take.


19. Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Grade: B+

Davis is set up to succeed given the talented surrounding cast on the Washington defense. I have to respect Washington for selecting Davis if he truly was their best available player, but they still have a number of holes on offense that must be addressed.


20. New York Giants: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Grade: A

The Giants landed one of the most explosive playmakers in the draft in this trade back, and gained an extra 2022 first-rounder along the way. Toney has the speed and the moves to make opposing defenders look silly. He also brings more depth to a wide receiver core that was often the subject of criticism last year.


21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Grade: A

Need and value met perfectly here for the Colts. There are some questions surrounding Paye’s production, but he certainly has the tools and athleticism to ramp up his sack count in the NFL.


22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Grade: B+

After losing former first-round cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in free agency, the Titans wisely selected his replacement. Farley has the potential to be the best cornerback in this class due to his size and athleticism, but the injury history is a real concern.


23. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Grade: A

The Vikings made a smart trade back and still landed a top offensive tackle. They adequately addressed a need without having to reach.


24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Grade: C+

I believe Harris will be a great player and a great teammate. I just really don’t see the positional value here, though he will at least take some pressure off of the aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 


25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Grade: B-

While I again would have steered clear from drafting a running back in the first round, Etienne and newly acquired quarterback Trevor Lawrence have clearly had success together. Plus, Etienne can be a threat in the passing game.


26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Grade: B+

The Browns get good value here with Newsome, even though they have spent a lot of early draft capital on their secondary in the recent past. Pairing Newsome up with CB Denzel Ward makes for a strong duo.


27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Grade: A

The Ravens have been needing a receiver like Bateman for a while, and he could do well to take some pressure off Lamar Jackson to run with the ball. Bateman was overlooked by many after opting out of the 2020 season. However, his massive catch radius could make him one of the best receivers in this loaded class.


28. New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

Grade: B

I believe there were better options still on the board at the position, but drafting DE Cam Jordan’s eventual replacement is a smart move for New Orleans to anchor their front 7 in the future.


29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

Grade: A-

After watching CB Kevin King get burnt all day long during the NFC Championship earlier this year, the Packers were wise to add a speedy cornerback to their team. Perhaps they should have also considered taking a playmaker to appease the disgruntled QB Aaron Rodgers.


30. Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

Grade: A

The Bills were in an ideal position to take a chance on a high upside player. Rousseau is still a bit raw as a prospect, but his measurables and production in 2019 are enough to make this a promising pick.


31. Baltimore Ravens: Odafe Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

Grade: C+

Oweh is also a raw EDGE prospect, just without the production. Although his speed is tantalizing, there is simply not enough on tape to make me believe Oweh warranted a first-round selection.


32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tyron, EDGE, Washington

Grade: B+

After returning all 22 Super Bowl starters, the Bucs did not have any glaring needs coming into the night. However, Tyron is a player that I believe has been widely underrated throughout the draft process. Allowing him to learn behind pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett is a great plan.


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Brendan Barnard