Thomas: Grades for the 2021 NFL Draft
Aidan Thomas | Friday, May 7, 2021
You can get all the NFL Draft analysis you want, but given that I did a little bit of pre-draft writing with my sports authorities, I figured I’d offer up my own grades and brief analyses of how each team did in the draft. Today, I’m describing each team’s draft in three words, offering a grade on a scale of 1-10 and giving a quick sentence of analysis. Let’s get into it.
Jacksonville Jaguars — “Welcome Trevor Lawrence”
I love the picks of Trevor Lawrence, Walker Little and Andre Cisco, but the first round selection of Travis Etienne makes little to no sense; otherwise, I felt Jacksonville largely addressed their biggest needs.
New York Jets —“3 day value”
The Jets got their QB and protected him in the first round, and they followed it up with value picks throughout the weekend, including some of my favorite selections in RB Michael Carter and safety Hamsah Nasirildeen.
Cincinnati Bengals — “Weapons or Protection?”
The Bengals had the choice between the best tackle in the draft and Joe Burrow’s old receiver and went with the latter — it could prove to be fruitful, so long as Burrow isn’t getting leveled on every play.
Miami Dolphins — “Waste of Surplus”
Miami had absurd draft capital, which means you can’t miss completely, and they hit a home run with the Waddle selection but then didn’t address a lot of other primary needs on the offensive line or in the backfield, going for some defensive selections away from their positions of need.
Denver Broncos —“Quantity not quality”
Despite ten picks, the Broncos’ draft felt like an unmitigated disaster, as they didn’t address the quarterback or inside linebacker position, despite clear first-round prospects available throughout their first two picks — instead adding four picks to their secondary and three to their edge rush, which were among their deepest positions.
Los Angeles Chargers — “Steal after Steal”
Rashawn Slater at #13, Asante Samuel midway through the second, Chris Rumph in the fourth plus a couple of weapons for Justin Herbert — fantastic draft from the Chargers.
New England Patriots — “A Belichick first”
For the first time under Bill Belichick, the Pats went with a first-round QB in what was a pretty solid first round pick after electing not to trade up, and they followed it up with a great day two, but I was less enthralled with the final few picks, including New England’s decision to not address the cornerback position.
Las Vegas Raiders — “Reach then steal”
At least the Raiders’ absurd reach for Alex Leatherwood filled a need, and they followed it up with (in my opinion) a massive steal by landing Trevon Moehrig-Woodard in the second round, so that kind of cancels out; in general, I thought Las Vegas caught a lot of unnecessary heat for their later picks, where you should be picking off of upside and fit, so I don’t hate the overall haul for Gruden (even if I hate the round 1 pick). Grade: 6.2/10
Indianapolis Colts — “Stop Derrick Henry”
The key to winning the AFC South is going to be stopping Derrick Henry, and the Colts wisely added to the defensive line early; overall, I really liked this draft, including the insurance for Carson Wentz via the Sam Ehlinger pick in round six, but I would have liked to see an offensive line addition earlier than Round 7.
Tennessee Titans — “Prioritize the secondary”
The Titans added some cornerback prospects with some steals, getting Caleb Farley late in the first round plus Elijah Molden in the fourth, to go with some offensive line additions — the only complaint from me is a lack of receiver/tight end additions, with a fourth-round receiver not being enough to quell my doubts about the unit.
Pittsburgh Steelers — “Better than perceived”
The offensive line may have been a priority, but Najee Harris was another great addition and fit in Pittsburgh, so I love the pick way more than most, and I think the Dan Moore addition on the line is great mid-draft value, plus of course, Pressley Harvin III, which should be everyone’s favorite draft pick.
Cleveland Browns — “Versatility and playmakers”
I love most of this draft, with absolute steals in the first two rounds in Newsome and JOK, and Cleveland followed it up with pure speed in Anthony Schwartz, a playmaker in Richard LeCounte and more versatility in Demetric Felton in the seventh round.
Baltimore Ravens — “Weapons for Lamar”
The Ravens finally gave Lamar some help in Tylan Wallace (a fourth round steal) plus a first-round talent in Rashod Bateman and a great edge rushing prospect with raw upside in Odafe Oweh, but Baltimore didn’t add much offensive line help and I’m not super high on Cleveland as a prospect, so whether Baltimore’s heavy rushing attack is sustainable in 2021 remains to be seen.
Buffalo Bills — “Air Raid only”
The Bills didn’t address a big need at running back, but they did grab a pair of prospects at both defensive end and tackle, which were among their other biggest needs on a well-rounded team that is loading up for a Super Bowl run.
Kansas City Chiefs — “Make Mahomes Happy”
And also safe — the Chiefs did a decent job of adding further protection for Mahomes with a couple of big bodies in Creed Humphry and Trey Smith, and I like the Powell pick as a sneaky potential steal at receiver, but I would have liked to see some secondary and linebacker additions, and the lack of a first round pick limited the top-tier talent available to KC.
Houston Texans — “No apparent plan”
So we know QB isn’t the issue, because Deshaun Watson has been a stud, yet the Texans still waited around for their first pick in the third round and went for the quarterback position — completely inexplicable, but at least they added a nice receiving prospect in Nico Collins with their second pick.
San Francisco 49ers — “Lance and … ?”
The “…” serves as the third word here, as I loved the Lance selection, and the ’Niners addressed a need at guard with a slight 2nd-round reach in Aaron Banks, but I didn’t love much of what San Francisco did in the final five rounds.
Atlanta Falcons — “Trust in Ryan?”
Atlanta was a prime trade-back choice at the fourth pick or a potential landing spot for a top quarterback prospect to groom behind Matt Ryan, but instead they added to a loaded offense with Kyle Pitts and didn’t address their biggest need at the cornerback position until the fourth round. Grade: 4.6/10
Detroit Lions — “Good Luck Goff”
The Lions traded their QB, let their best receiver go and then didn’t draft a top-tier receiver for their new signal-caller, nor did they address many major needs — even if Penei Sewell was a great value pick in the first round, I hated this draft way more than most pundits.
Carolina Panthers — “Riding with Darnold”
Carolina doubled down on their trade for Sam Darnold by not drafting Justin Fields or another quarterback and adding a receiver and tight end in the first three rounds — I would have liked to see Carolina grab insurance under center and maybe more of a pass-catcher than Tommy Tremble at their biggest position of need, but we’ll see how this collection of talent plays out for Matt Rhule.
Philadelphia Eagles — “Devonta or bust”
This draft is going to rely on how well Howie Roseman’s decision to trade up and grab Devonta Smith turns out — I like the move right now, but if it doesn’t pan out, I’m not sure Philly landed a lot of value after the first round.
Chicago Bears — “Bust the trend”
Between Ohio State’s inability to produce a good NFL quarterback and Chicago’s struggles to develop them, the Justin Fields’ experiment will be fascinating, but the class is deeper than that, with the Teven Jenkins and Dazz Newsome picks being among my favorite selections for the Bears.
Dallas Cowboys — “Boom or Bust”
The Cowboys went with a lot of high-risk prospects that could pan out and bring a Super Bowl (lol, I mean a winning record) back to Dallas, or they could combust and continue a waste of a championship window.
Minnesota Vikings — “Bye Bye Kirk?”
Kellen Mond is in the building as the Vikings’ second pick, which is curious because there were other additions that needed to be made, but I loved Minnesota’s first pick in Christian Darrisaw and they got one of my favorite pre-draft steal alerts in Chazz Surratt, so there was more good than bad, but still a lot to unpack with this class.
Arizona Cardinals — “Who needs height?”
I’m ready for those electric celebrations between Kyler Murray and Rondale Moore, who could set records as one of the shortest QB-WR duos of all time, but I do feel the offense could have gotten more attention, with particular questions at tight end and running back (I’m not calling James Conner the answer).
Washington Football Team — “Fitzmagic’s the guy”
Or maybe Heinecke — either way, Washington didn’t add a QB in the draft, but they got a high-upside linebacker in Jamin Davis, and then they added some great physicality with Sam Cosmi and tight end John Bates, so I generally like the type of team that they’re building in the nation’s capital.
New York Giants — “Look away now”
The Giants were horrific in this draft, for some reason electing to add a running back over any offensive line help when it’s the latter that’s been the reason Saquon Barkley hasn’t been able to thrive yet, and that’s not even mentioning that horrible round one reach for Toney, who simply wasn’t even in my top 3 receivers available at the time of the pick.
New Orleans Saints — “Reach, Reach, Reach”
Every pick felt like a reach, with only their third-round cornerback, Paulson Adebo, even mildly seeming like good value at the slot, although I didn’t hate the Ian Book selection in the 4th (maybe a touch of bias); beyond that, though, this draft felt ugly start to finish.
Green Bay Packers — “Enough for Rodgers?”
The Packers simply cannot draft an offensive player in the first round — it’s like they’re afraid of making Aaron Rodgers happy, so instead they went for the 2nd-best Georgia cornerback; after a shaky first two rounds, they got a great value pick in the third round in Amari Rodgers and if Eric Stokes pans out, this draft won’t go down as a complete disaster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — “Ready to Repeat”
The Bucs had a fantastic draft, and there’s not much to say except the rest of the NFC should be quite scared after Tampa Bay added an underrated receiver in Jaelon Darden, some more protection for Brady, his potential successor in Kyle Trask and a pair of additions at outside linebacker, which, if anything, was maybe their biggest need.
Los Angeles Rams — “So many receivers”
When you don’t have a first round pick, do you use your others to deepen your deepest position group? That’s what LA did with this draft, and it felt like a disaster, as they added no offensive line help and no safety help for the secondary but selected three receivers, where they already were very strong.
Seattle Seahawks — “No sugarcoating that”
Can’t do much with three picks, and Seattle proved that, not only by not doing much but also by electing to add a receiver with their first pick rather than an offensive lineman for the frequently-sacked Russell Wilson.