2021 NFL Draft: Grading every team's performance in the first round

2021 NFL Draft
2021 NFL Draft
Modified 01 May 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

The first round of the 2021 NFL draft took place last night in Cleveland, Ohio.

There were more than a few surprises in store for viewers, but the vast majority of teams emerged from the arena looking significantly strengthened.

Check out our grades for every team in last night's first-round:

NFL Draft grades 2021: Live picks, analysis from Round 1

#1 - Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

  • Grade: A

Taking the consensus number one overall pick off the board first was a no-brainer for the Jaguars. Lawrence is primed for success under new head coach Urban Meyer.

#2 - New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

  • Grade: A

Zach Wilson has the arm, nous and hair required to go on to big things in the great state of New York.

#3 - San Francisco 49ers (from Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

  • Grade: A-

This one shocked me a little if I'm honest. I think practically every NFL fan has complete faith in Kyle Shanahan, though; so if he says Lance is his signal-caller, I'm not going to argue.

#4 - Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

  • Grade: A

The only reason I'm not giving the Falcons an A+ for this one is because their secondary was ranked 28th in the NFL last season and most of the top cornerbacks are now off the board.

#5 - Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

  • Grade: A

Practically everyone expected the Bengals to take offensive tackle Penei Sewell off the board with the number five pick. But they've gone for Burrow's old teammate and probably the best receiver in this year's class in Ja'Marr Chase instead.

It's hard to argue that it's not an exciting pick, but I do worry about Burrow behind the line come autumn.

#6 - Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

  • Grade: A

The Dolphins needed an elite receiver to complete the three-pronged attack they've been dreaming of and they got one in Alabama's Jaylen Waddle. Fans in Miami can now start to get excited about the prospect of Waddle, Fuller and Parker in the backfield come autumn.

#7 - Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

  • Grade: A+

The best OT in the draft will be in Detroit next season. Jared Goff will have gotten a great night's sleep, I'm sure.

#8 - Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

  • Grade: B

The Panthers definitely got themselves a solid addition for their secondary in Jaycee Horn. But I can't help but wonder if there were better options available to them on the board at number eight.

#9 - Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

  • Grade: B

Fuller, Darby, and Surtain ll in coverage sounds great, but they aren't going to be out on the turf together all that much.

Should the Broncos maybe have targeted a different position last night?

#10 - Philadelphia Eagles (from Cowboys): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

  • Grade: A+

The 2020 Heisman award winner will be in Philadelphia next year. There wasn't a team in the draft that needed a splash of exciting offensive talent more than the Eagles. The selection of Smith allows their fans to dream again.

#11 - Chicago Bears (from Giants): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

  • Grade: A+

In my opinion, the best QB on the board went to the Chicago Bears. Rumor has it that Allen Robinson is still celebrating.

#12 - Dallas Cowboys (from Eagles): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

  • Grade: B

Parsons is a great prospect (possibly worthy of an A grade) but, after trading places with the Bears, the Cowboys missed out on their top cornerback targets, and, as such, I can't go higher than a B on this one.

#13 - Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

  • Grade: A

Part of me thought the Chargers would trade up to get Herbert's old Oregon teammate Penei Sewell to buttress the OL. They didn't. But it barely matters. Rashawn Slater looks just as impressive on tape to me, and was a great pick!

#14 - New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC

  • Grade: A-

Despite the supreme effort of last year's first-round pick OT Mekhi Becton, the Jets had the 28th ranked OL in the NFL last season.

With Vera-Tucker joining forces with Becton, Zach Wilson's prospects behind the line come autumn are starting to look an awful lot sunnier.

#15 - New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

  • Grade: A

Bill Belichick may well have unearthed his next franchise cornerstone in national championship-winning quarterback Mac Jones.

Jones, fortunately, dropped down the board and landed right on the Patriots' lap.

#16 - Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

  • Grade: B

Zaven Collins looks great on tape, but didn't the Cardinals need an elite CB?

#17 - Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

  • Grade: C

Leatherwood is a top prospect and probably deserved a slightly higher ranking than he was given. But to take him at number seventeen when Darrisaw was still on the board is risky, in my opinion.

#18 - Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)

  • Grade: A

No argument here, Phillips is an absolute beast and he improves the Miami pass rush.

#19 - Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

  • Grade: B+

Jamin Davis is a physically gifted defensive prospect and if he'd gone somewhere else, I'd have given the pick an A. But Washington could live to regret not strengthening their offense.

#20 - New York Giants (from Bears): Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

  • Grade: A-

All of a sudden the Giants' offense looks really, really good. Barkley, Golladay, Toney and Engram can create match-up nightmares all over the field.

If QB Daniel Jones can't hit stride with these guys, I wouldn't be surprised to see him traded in time for autumn 2022.

#21 - Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

  • Grade: A-

The Colts drafted the best pass-rusher in this year's class in Paye. But, personally, I'm not sure they shouldn't have taken a receiver.

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

  • Grade: B+

The Titans needed to improve the secondary and they've definitely done that by drafting Caleb Farley.

#23 - Minnesota Vikings (from Jets): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

  • Grade: A

An extra pick in the third-round and a positional need filled. The Vikings did well here, in my opinion. Not to mention that Darrisaw is a beast of a lineman.

#24 - Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

  • Grade: A+

There was no other player the Steelers could have taken than RB Najee Harris. Pittsburgh's run game just wasn't good enough last season. Harris is the solution, so it's a top pick in my book.

#25 - Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

  • Grade: B-

As great a player as Etienne looks to be, the Jaguars were woeful in almost every position except running back.

James Robinson was a revelation in his rookie year, so this pick doesn't make much sense to me.

Then again, Chubb and Hunt did alright in Cleveland, and Kamara and Murray didn't do too badly in New Orleans either.

Expect to see plenty of screens and running in Jacksonville next year.

#26 - Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

  • Grade: A

The Browns secondary ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Adding Greg Newsome II to play alongside Denzel Ward and co. strengthens the defensive backfield to no end, so it's a great pick in my opinion.

#27 - Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

  • Grade: A+

Lamar Jackson gets his receiver!

Few expected to see Bateman drop down to number 27, so this one got top marks. The Ravens now have Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, J. K. Dobbins and Lamar Jackson on offense. Watch out AFC North!

#28 - New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

  • Grade: B-

Payton Turner fills a positional need for the Saints, who lost Trey Hendrickson during the offseason.

Was he the best DE on the board, though? I'm not so sure. But Sean Payton's incredible haul in the 2017 NFL draft should give Saints fans hope.

#29 - Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

  • Grade: B-

Stokes is a top cornerback and fills a positional need for the Packers. But I can't give this pick more than a B- because of the adverse effect not plucking for a receiver (again) is likely to have on the wantaway 2020 MVP, Aaron Rodgers.

#30 - Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL)

  • Grade: A

The Bills have a solid defensive unit, but they struggled in red-zone defense and on pass rush duties last season. Rousseau should buttress both metrics.

#31 - Baltimore Ravens (from Chiefs): Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

  • Grade: A-

Oweh is one of the most athletically gifted players on either side of the football in this year's class, so this is a solid pick from John Harbaugh, in my opinion.

#32 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

  • Grade: A-

After 'getting the band back together again in time for pre-season, strengthening what was already the NFL's most fearsome defense has to be seen as a top move from Bruce Arians' Bucs.

Published 01 May 2021
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