Grading Each Pick From the First Round of the NFL Draft

By Ryan Croke

On Thursday night, the NFL held its annual draft, in which college players are brought up into the NFL. An incredibly hyped up event, millions of fans tuned in to see who their team would pick to be the future of their franchise. There was much speculation behind who would go where, what trades would be made, and who the winners and losers of the draft would be. In this article, I will be grading each and every selection made in round one based on the team’s situation, the talent level of the player they selected, and how well each player fits the team’s needs. Without further ado, let’s begin the evaluation of round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Pick 1: Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

We knew this pick would be over two years before it happened. Trevor Lawrence is one of the most hyped college prospects of this century, and it is easy to see why. He is an incredible quarterback, who can make any play asked of him. His ability to create opportunities for his team was on full display at Clemson, and he was a major part of why the South Carolina college won the 2018 College football championship and never lost a single regular season game while he was there. He can throw the ball almost perfectly, and he puts the ball in places where only his receiver can get it. His ability to read the opposing defense is incredible for a college prospect, and he is already an NFL calibur player. Jacksonville needs all the help they can get, with a weak roster in general, what better way to kick off a rebuild than by taking the best college QB in the last decade. The roster still has holes at almost every position, particularly on defense, but with a few more years, they could very well be one of the better teams in the NFL. There was no other decision they could have made with the first overall pick.

Grade: A+

Pick 2: New York Jets select Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Another pick that was expected, the Jets took their QB of the future with Zach Wilson, a prospect who has shown his ability to make plays time and time again at BYU. There are some concerns with Wilson’s play however, mainly the lack of competition he had to go up against in his 2020 college schedule. There are those who say he is NFL ready, and those who believe he will be a bust when going up against NFL level competition. I lie firmly in the middle. Wilson has a great amount of potential, but the lack of competition is a big concern. Wilson joins a weak Jets roster that has the foundations of a team that can be great in the next 5 years. They desperately needed a QB after trading starter Sam Darnold away to the Panthers, and although I believe they should have gone with Justin Fields or Trey Lance here, rather than Wilson, Wilson is a great pick. The Jets now need to focus on their defensive issues, and if they can fill their defense with strong, young talent, they are in great position to contend within the next few years. 

Grade: A-

Pick 3: San Francisco 49ers select Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St.

The third quarterback taken in this draft, Lance provides a great skillset to this 49ers team which is a quarterback away from making a run for the Super Bowl. He joins a great offense with an underrated receiver core, and with an absolute stud at tight end in George Kittle. This is the best possible outcome for Lance, and if he is the starter at the beginning of next season, he will have an instant impact. The 49ers have everything a young QB could ask for; a great defense, great weapons, and head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is an offensive mastermind. The 49ers are in a great position to win in the next few years, depending on Lance’s development. He also faced extremely weak competition in college, but was 17-0 as a starter, and proved that he could be a leader and playmaker while he made everyone around him better. I think Lance has possibly the highest ceiling in this draft, and I love the pick by San Francisco. 

Grade: A

Pick 4: Atlanta Falcons select Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Kyle Pitts might be the greatest tight end prospect of all time. An absolutely dominant force for the Gators in college, Pitts is fast enough to evade linebackers, and strong enough to break through tackles from corners and safeties, making him the perfect tight end. He has an insane skill set, and being taken at 4 means he is the highest drafted tight end ever. The Falcons got an absolutely insane player here, and he will have an instant impact on their offense. I fully expect Pitts to become the best tight end in the league within the next 5 years, and I think this pick is a great addition to the Falcons roster. That being said, they do have massive holes to fill within the next few years, as they are considering trading their superstar wideout Julio Jones, and their quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t getting any better with age. This team’s defense is absolutely atrocious, and there are a lot of holes to fill on this roster. They wanted to trade out of this pick, most likely to gain more draft capital and pick more defensive players. Either way, Pitts is an incredible asset to have, but he doesn’t fit the teams gaping needs as well as other players would have. 

Grade: A

Pick 5: Cincinnati Bengals select Ja’marr Chase, WR, LSU

The Bengals had an extremely difficult decision to make with the 5th overall pick. They could have gone with Penei Sewell, an incredible offensive lineman that would have fit this team’s needs perfectly, allowing them to protect their star QB Joe Burrow, whom they took with the 1st overall pick in 2020. Chase did play with Burrow in college at LSU, and I’m sure Burrow is ecstatic to be back playing with his former WR 1 from LSU. However, I am pretty critical of this pick. Burrow tore his ACL last season, and injuries will continue to occur as this Bengals offensive line isn’t getting any better. Sewell would have been a great addition to the roster, but Chase is a great receiver who has incredible potential. I completely understand the pros of picking Ja’marr, but I think there are much more cons to taking him than there are pros, and Sewell would have a much bigger impact on this roster, as they already have a great young receiver core in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. Chase is without a doubt the best receiver in this draft excluding Kyle Pitts, but Cincinnati had a much more pressing need on their O-Line. They could have gone either way, but I myself would have taken Sewell with this pick, although both prospects are going to be great. 

Grade: B

Pick 6: Miami Dolphins select Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

This pick is possibly my favorite selection up to this point, and for good reason. The dolphins have a great roster from top to bottom, and were simply filling out their roster with great receivers for their quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is another Alabama prospect selected last year. Waddle is a great young talent, and he drew comparisons to star NFL wideout Tyreek Hill. Waddle is very difficult to defend, and he brings a great playmaking presence to this Miami offense that is poised to be a contender in the next few years. The Dolphins don’t necessarily fill any needs with this selection, but I love Waddle’s potential, and I definitely expect him to be a star. 

Grade: A

Pick 7: Detroit Lions select Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

The Lions made a great selection here at 7, taking Penei Sewell and bolstering their offensive line. They probably should have gone for Devonta Smith, especially with their lack of a receiver, but the Sewell pick is a good one that fits one of Detroit’s many needs perfectly. This is a team with a lot of holes, and the addition of Sewell is a great step in the right direction for this franchise. Sewell was a forced to be reckoned with at Oregon, and the highlights are nothing short of incredible. He’s like a freight train on the field, laying out any defensive lineman or linebacker who dare try to line up with him. I expect big things from Sewell, and the Lions are lucky he fell into their lap at 7.

Grade: A

Pick 8: Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Panthers shocked the world with their selection of South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn, a prospect who showed a great ability to jump throws and knock balls away from receivers in his tenure at the university. However, there were better choices available, namely Patrick Surtain II out of Alabama and Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech. I personally would have taken both of these guys over Horn, but Horn is a great talent that is a massive addition to the Panthers defense. Rashawn Slater, an offensive tackle out of Northwestern who many believed Carolina should have selected, would have been a great addition to the offensive line, but the Panthers saw something special in Jaycee Horn. I don’t expect Horn to have a massive impact out of the gate, but don’t be surprised if Jaycee Horn is a top ten cornerback in the next 5 years. 

Grade: C+

Pick 9: Denver Broncos select Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The second player drafted from Alabama in round 1 was Pat Surtain II, the best corner in the draft, and a stud for the Crimson Tide during his college career. Surtain is the definition of a lockdown cornerback; he shut down nearly every receiver he faced in 2020, and was the key piece of Alabama’s secondary. He has proven his playmaking ability time and time again, and his ability to shut down passes is remarkable. It’s no wonder people were shocked that fellow cornerback Jaycee Horn was taken above him. Surtain has pro DNA, his father was a former player as well, an all pro talent who played from 1998-2008. Surtain will look to follow in his father’s footsteps on the Broncos, who have had a great offseason so far, adding Kyle Fuller and now Surtain to their secondary which already featured young sensation Justin Simmons. On top of that, the Broncos are the frontrunners to trade for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the current league MVP, which provides an explanation for their passing of Justin Fields with the 9th overall pick. Should they acquire Rodgers, this move is an absolute stroke of genius, but if they don’t, this could be remembered as the biggest mistake of this draft. 

Grade: B-

Pick 10: Philadelphia Eagles select Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama

After Patrick Surtain II was selected by the Broncos, the Cowboys, in dire need of a cornerback, traded out of this pick, and gave it to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for their 12th overall selection and their 3rd round choice from this year’s draft. The Eagles, a franchise plagued by receivers who ended up being busts, made the move to secure Devonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, out of Alabama. Smith was easily the best receiver in college this year, but his size left some concerns about his play in the league, as he stands at only 6’0”, 166 lbs. Despite this, Smith has wowed fans and players alike with his ability to beat defenders with his speed and route running. This is a great pick by the Eagles, a team in desperate need of a receiver that can prove to be a weapon for Jalen Hurts. Plus, they were able to steal the prospect the New York Giants, a division rival, were hoping to get with the 11th pick. This is an overall great move by Philadelphia, but we still don’t know how Smith’s size will impact his ability to make plays in the NFL. 

Grade: A

Pick 11: Chicago Bears select Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St.

After Devonta Smith was taken by Philly with the 10th pick, the New York Giants were quick to trade away their 11th overall selection to anybody willing to give them something in return, and the Chicago Bears were the team to strike a deal. They were able to snag Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, whom many were calling the second best QB in this draft. I love this move by Chicago, a team who has always been a quarterback away from being a contender. I fully expect Fields to be the second best QB to come out of this class when the dust settles, and I believe him to have one the highest ceilings of any prospect in this class, behind only Kyle Pitts. Fields is a more well rounded Lamar Jackson, his accuracy is on point, his playmaking is nothing short of incredible, and his ability to make plays with his feet is almost unmatched by any QB in this class. The Bears were lucky that he fell right into their lap, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fields is finally able to lead this franchise to another Super Bowl, a game they haven’t won since 1986. This will most likely go down as the best pick in this draft, and for good reason.

Grade: S

Pick 12: Dallas Cowboys select Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St.

Penn State Linebacker Micah Parsons was called the best defensive player in this draft class, and it’s easy to see why. Parsons was electric for the Nittany Lions, and although he didn’t play in 2020, he had over 100 tackles in 2019. Parsons is a great addition to the struggling Cowboys defensive unit, and I predict he will be a future cornerstone of this unit, which, if they play well, could be a part of a Cowboys team that finally makes another Super Bowl run. Parsons is a field general with insane speed for a linebacker, and he will definitely be able to bring that to the table in Dallas. 

Grade: A-

Pick 13: Los Angeles Chargers select Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Talk about a steal. The LA Chargers are a team with lots of potential, featuring rookie sensation Justin Herbert as their QB, star studded offensive weapons Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler, and not to mention young defensive stars Joey Bosa and Derwin James. This team can be something really special, and the much needed addition of an offensive lineman is a great help to their chances. Slater probably should have been a top 10 pick, but the Chargers finally ended his slide with their selection at 13, in what should have been a no-brainer. Slater was dominant at Northwestern, and he will be a great pass blocker for Justin Herbert and this talented Chargers offense.

Grade: A

Pick 14: New York Jets select Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC

The Jets were quick to get their new quarterback Zach Wilson some much needed help on the offensive line, a position that the Jets have sorely missed production from for years on end. Hopefully Alijah Vera-Tucker, the best guard in the draft, will be able to change that. He is easily one of the best guard prospects to enter the draft over the last few years, and the Jets were smart to jump up in the draft and secure him. This is a great choice for the Jets, and I predict Tucker will make his presence felt right from the get go. 

Grade: A

Pick 15: New England Patriots select Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Many Patriots fans, myself included, were hoping that Justin Fields would fall to New England at 15, or that they would trade up to get him at an earlier position. Unfortunately, the Bears crushed these hopes and dreams with their trade up to get him at 11, and New England was left to take Mac Jones with their pick. While not the outcome everybody wanted, it was the outcome that seemed inevitable, and Mac Jones is a good addition to the Patriots offense that needs all the help they can get. With almost no weapons at wide receiver, a stark contrast to Jones’s situation at Alabama, I expect him to struggle a bit at first, but the tight end tandem of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith should prove very useful for Jones. If the Patriots can acquire a strong receiver and bolster the O-line a bit, they are going to be contenders for the super bowl within a few years. While not the first quarterback Patriots fans would have liked to see be drafted, Mac Jones will fit right in to the system, and he is a great fit for the coaching style of Bill Belichick. Jones definitely has the potential to lead this team back to the greatness it achieved with Tom Brady, but I am not overly optimistic about that happening.

Grade: A-

Pick 16: Arizona Cardinals select Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa

In what was considered the first real reach of the draft, the Cardinals filled in their outside linebacker spot with Zaven Collins, and this is a pick I actually like. Collins will be a great linebacker for Arizona, and while I believe they could have traded out of this pick to acquire more draft capital and pick Collins later on, I like the selection. Collins is a very talented linebacker, and is another young talent on this Cardinals roster that will have a tough time competing for the NFC West division title. This is a roster that has the potential to contend soon, but the aging members of the defense may hinder this team’s production a bit on that side of the ball. Collins is a good player to have should that occur. 

Grade: B-

Pick 17: Las Vegas Raiders select Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

After losing right tackle Trent Brown to the Patriots earlier in the offseason, Las Vegas attempted to fill that hole with Alex Leatherwood, who was taken much higher than he should have been. This is arguably the biggest reach of round 1, and I think the raiders will end up paying for it at some point down the line. They could have easily gone with a receiver like Kadarius Toney or Rashod Bateman to give Derek Carr someone to throw to, but instead they wasted a first round selection on a player they could have gotten in round 2. Even better, they could have gone for a defensive player, like Kwity Paye or any secondary player, which would have been a much better addition than Leatherwood. Leatherwood isn’t bad, but Las Vegas essentially squandered their first overall selection on a player they could have gotten the next day. 

Grade: D

Pick 18: Miami Dolphins select Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

Jaelan Phillips is arguably the best defensive lineman in the draft, and Miami got another great player to add to their roster. Miami adds to an already solid defensive line which included Emmanuel Ogbah, and Phillips will be a great edge rusher for the Dolphins. Phillips is great at running through contact, and he will be a great prospect right out of the gate. I would have preferred the Dolphins take Kwity Paye here, but Phillips is no scrub, and he has the potential to be a dominant defensive lineman that strikes fear into every lineman tasked with blocking him. 

Grade: A-

Pick 19: Washington Football Team select Jamin Davis, ILB, Kentucky

Jamin Davis has a lot of raw talent, his tackling ability is superb, and he can defend the middle of the field with little help. He doesn’t have the football IQ that other linebackers do, but he can easily improve that and become a dominant force for the already superb Washington front seven. Washington adds yet another young talent to their front seven, and with Chase Young showing how good he can be last year, this defense is only going to get better from here. I would have considered taking a secondary player here, Davis is a great choice in his own right, and Washington was smart to complete their front seven. 

Grade: A-

Pick 20: New York Giants select Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

What was going through Dave Gettleman’s head when he made this pick we will never know, and I hope we never know, because one of the only positions the Giants needed no help at was wide receiver, and yet they took Kadarius Toney 20th overall. The Giants have really no need for Toney, as their receiving core is already young and can do fine on their own. They desperately need an offensive lineman, but the best choice here was Kwity Paye since most of the first round lineman were gone at this point. Paye would have been an instant starter for New York, and a great addition to the underrated defense they have there. Instead, the Giants wasted a first rounder on Toney, who isn’t a bad player, but unless Dave Gettleman sees something in him that none of us could have ever predicted, this is an awful pick.

Grade: D-

Pick 21: Indianapolis Colts select Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

The best defensive lineman in the draft somehow fell to the team who already has a superb defensive unit, and Indianapolis was quick to pounce on Paye, who fell right into their lap at 21. He is the perfect fit for the Colts, and is the final piece needed to secure this unit as a top 3 defense in the league. Paye will be an absolute unit for Indy, and this is one of the biggest steals of round 1. However, it isn’t the most glaring team need, and the Colts still are in need of another wideout, but Paye was easily the best player on the board, and they capitalized on the ignorance of other teams. 

Grade: A

Pick 22: Tennessee Titans select Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

I was stunned that Farley fell this far, but it makes sense, since he’s had numerous back surgeries after an injury to his back he got while deadlifting. I guess these were enough to scare teams away from selecting him, but the Titans couldn’t have gotten a better player at 22. Farley is an elite corner, and I think that him falling to 22 is the biggest steal of round one without a shadow of a doubt. He is a dominant corner, and the Titans are in desperate need of someone in the secondary that can match up with some of the best receivers in the league. While Farley won’t be able to do that right away, he will in a very short time, and this is one of the best picks of round 1. 

Grade: S+

Pick 23: Minnesota Vikings select Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Darrisaw is a great lineman that fills Minnesota’s pressing need for one. He was dominant at Virginia Tech, and has an insane amount of power that will prove useful against the best defensive linemen in the league. He will be an instant starter for the Vikings, and they were very smart to take Darrisaw with their selection at 23. 

Grade: A

Pick 24: Pittsburgh Steelers select Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is without a doubt the best back in the draft, but he will have an extremely rough time this year given that Pittsburgh has lost so many lineman, and their notorious reputation for misusing running backs. They broke an unwritten rule of taking a RB in round one, and although Harris’s talent may be enough to justify the selection, without a solid line, he will struggle. Many fans know that any running back can be good if his blockers are doing their job, and Harris will not have the luxury of a good line this year, unless Pittsburgh is able to find some diamonds in the rough in the later rounds. 

Grade: C-

Pick 25: Jacksonville Jaguars select Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Jacksonville, after getting Lawrence number one, had to waste at least one first round pick, right? Believe me, they did, and this is easily the worst pick of round 1. Etienne is a great RB, and he played with Lawrence in college, so this must be the right player to take, right? Wrong. With this pick, they completely ignore their desperate need for a defensive player, and break the unwritten rule that says not to take a running back in the first round. Plus, they stab their breakout running back James Robinson in the back, a rookie last year who had a great season for the Jags. This is an absolutely horrible choice, and unless they trade Etienne or Robinson for massive amounts of compensation that includes a defensive standout, it will remain the worst choice made in round one. 

Grade: F

Pick 26: Cleveland Browns select Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Newsome is another strong corner, but many felt the Browns should have stopped the slide of Notre Dame standout LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with this choice. It didn’t make a difference, however, as JOK fell to them in round 2 the very next day. Cleveland made out in rounds 1 and 2, and although the steal of JOK will get the most attention, Newsome is a great addition in his own right. While not as elite as fellow cornerbacks Jaycee Horn, Pat Surtain, or Caleb Farley, he is a good corner, and will serve as a nice addition to the 22nd ranked pass defense which experienced some health issues last year. 

Grade: B+

Pick 27: Baltimore Ravens select Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Baltimore finally got their unanimous MVP quarterback, Lamar Jackson, some help. I cannot tell you enough how much I despise the Ravens front office and their poor job of giving Jackson good receivers to throw to, but this choice has the potential to change all of that. The Ravens had the worst pass offense in the league last year, due to their severe lack of a good receiver. Bateman is an elite route runner who will be a great option for Lamar, and I expect the pairing to be electric right out of the gate. Don’t be surprised if Rashod Bateman has the best rookie season of any wideout in this class. 

Grade: A+

Pick 28: New Orleans Saints select Payton Turner, DE, Houston

After losing Trey Hendrickson to Cincinnati last year, the Saints needed someone to pair with Cam Jordan up front, and Payton Turner definitely has the chance to be that someone. It may be a little bit of a reach, but Turner showed a lot of raw talent for the cougars. The Saints made a good selection here, but could have gotten someone a bit better in my eyes.

Grade: C+

Pick 29: Green Bay Packers select Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

Green Bay became the 27th team to pass on Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah in round 1, and they were probably the team that needed him most. Eric Stokes is a good corner, but there were so many better options the Packers had to fill out their defense. They have had a rough couple of days to say the least, with their star QB Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay, and then they blow their first round pick on a corner they could have selected in round 2. It’s a shame to see the Packers front office make horrible decisions every year, and even though they won a super bowl with Rodgers, it’s safe to say that they wasted the careers of one of the greatest of all time. 

Grade: D+

Pick 30: Buffalo Bills select Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

The second Miami defensive end selected in round 1, Rousseau brings a lethal combination of speed and size to the table in Buffalo, and he is a great selection that adds to an already good front seven. Buffalo is already in great shape, and will be on top of the AFC East for years to come, barring any injuries of course.

Grade: A

Pick 31: Baltimore Ravens select Odafe Oweh, OLB, Penn St.

Baltimore made another great choice with Odafe Oweh, a linebacker with elite speed and strength, and has the length necessary to be a great NFL linebacker. He has possibly the highest ceiling of any edge defender in this class, and Baltimore made a great choice at 31, and had the best 1st round of any team in my eyes. 

Grade: A

Pick 32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Joe Tryon, OLB, Washington

The reigning champions closed round 1 by taking another great young linebacker, adding to the three headed monster of Devin White, Lavonte David, and Shaq Barrett. Tryon is a great tackler, and while he probably won’t have a massive impact on the team early on in his career, as Jason Pierre Paul climbs in age, he will definitely get more chances to showcase his elite talent level. I love the move for Tampa Bay, and Tryon will be a great future talent. 

Grade: A

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