2021 NFL Draft: Best and worst draft classes

With the 2021 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, which teams had the best and worst draft class this year? What franchise came out of the draft most improved, and who did not move the needle?

Who had the best NFL Draft in 2021?

Following the 2021 NFL Draft, two teams received A+ draft grades. Those teams were the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.

The Chicago Bears make a move to secure their QB of the future

After the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft proceeded without any major moves, it was the 11th selection where things burst into life. Chicago traded with the New York Giants, giving up two first-round picks, a fourth-round selection in 2022, and the 164th selection in 2021.

With the trade, the Bears selected Justin Fields with the 11th overall selection. Fields immediately becomes the Bears quarterback of the future. With Andy Dalton and Nick Foles on the roster, there is no pressure for Fields to start immediately. He should be given the opportunity to learn behind two veterans in 2021, before potentially taking over late in his rookie season or in 2022.

The Bears made a savvy move in trading up for Fields. They gave up a first-round selection in 2022, but outside of that, the capital was relatively limited. With QB-needy teams around them, the Bears moved up and secured the third-ranked signal-caller on Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline’s 2021 big board.

The Bears added talent and depth to their offensive line and their offense in general

Chicago spent their second-round selection on Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins. Jenkins has the potential to be a starter during his rookie season for the Bears. While Charles Leno Jr. sits atop the Bears depth chart on the OL, there is a clear opportunity for Jenkins to start opposite him. The selection of Jenkins as a cornerstone of the Bears OL is a big reason Chicago has one of the best draft classes in 2021.

Larry Borom, Khalil Herbert, and Dazz Newsome are intriguing depth pieces. Herbert should slot right in as the backup to David Montgomery, while Newsome could have an opportunity to see regular snaps later in the season. The Borom selection is a reach according to Pauline’s rankings, but OL depth is always valuable.

Chicago finished their draft with two intriguing defensive options

Thomas Graham Jr. and Khyiris Tonga give the Bears two defensive pieces to develop in 2021. Both have the potential to be future contributors for the Bears, but they are unlikely to make an immediate impact outside of a rotational or backup role.

The New York Jets also added their franchise QB

The selection of Zach Wilson No. 2 overall was predictable but no less important. While Trevor Lawrence was the clear No. 1, the consensus around the NFL leaned towards Wilson as the second-best QB. While Fields is the Bears’ QB of the future, Wilson appears set to be the immediate starter for Gang Green.

New York addressed needs on their offense in the first four rounds

It was critical for the Jets to secure an anchor on their offensive line. They did just that with Alijah Vera-Tucker. New York traded assets in the third round, as well as pick 23 to move to 14. Making the move up nine places without sacrificing a future first-round selection is a solid piece of business. Vera-Tucker could either play at tackle or guard for the Jets as soon as his rookie season.

The selections of Michael Carter and Elijah Moore really set the Jets up to have one of the best classes in the 2021 draft. Moore is a ready-made replacement for Jamison Crowder and could allow the Jets to save a large chunk of salary cap space in 2021. Carter is a fantastic back who is a perfect scheme fit for the Jets.

The Jets added defensive pieces late in the draft

The Jets made everyone do a double-take when they took another player named Michael Carter in the fifth round. Overall, the Jets added five pieces to their secondary between Rounds 5 and 6. New York desperately needed to add more talent there, which looks to be the thinnest area on the Jets’ depth chart. They now need to develop at least a couple of those five into NFL starters.

The Jets’ final selection was exciting defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall out of Arkansas. Marshall is an intriguing athlete who could be very effective in the middle of the defensive line.

Who had the worst NFL Draft in 2021?

After looking at the two teams with the best classes of the 2021 NFL Draft, which team failed to impress with their haul? In total, five teams received a grade of C+ or worse. The Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, and Arizona Cardinals all got a grade in the “C” region. Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks, who had just three selections, found themselves with a D+. However, it was the Los Angeles Rams who came out of the 2021 NFL Draft with the worst class.

The selection of Tutu Atwell left many scratching their head

Tutu Atwell is an intriguing football player, there is no doubting that. He is extremely fast, having posted an impressive 40-yard dash time. Still, what separates the best classes in the 2021 draft from the worst is the value of the selections and whether they addressed critical needs. Drafting Atwell does neither of those things.

The Rams selected Atwell, 57th overall, more than 60 spots above where Pauline ranked him on his big board. While he offers Matthew Stafford another playmaking option, the Rams had more pressing holes to fill. With questions around the offensive line and the defense, either of those areas would have been a better use of draft capital.

Los Angeles selected players tabbed to be special teams contributors ahead of potential starters on offense and defense

Drafting Ernest Jones as high as they did surprised many. The Rams selected Jones a Round earlier than Pauline ranked him. Equally, the Rams passed up on a plethora of talented linebacker options who were still on the board. Picking a player viewed mainly as a special-teams contributor over the likes of Jabril Cox was confusing, to say the least.

Jacob Harris, Jake Funk, and Ben Skowronek fall into a similar category of confusion. All three were seen as potential free agents by Pauline, and the Rams used fourth and seventh-round picks on the trio. Using seventh-round capital on Funk and Skowronek is nothing significant, but it continued a pattern of drafting played higher than they were perceived to go. The selection of Harris is simply head-scratching given the other talent available at that point.

It was not all bad for the Los Angeles Rams

While there were several questionable selections from the Rams, they did have some solid ones as well. The additions of Bobby Brown and Robert Rochell are values in Round 4. Both could be contributors as rookies and have the potential to develop into starters for Los Angeles. Unfortunately, even the Rams’ best selections could not save them from putting together a class viewed as one of the worst in the entire 2021 NFL Draft.

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Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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