The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, but how does our team at Pro Football Network grade the selections in Round 1? Let’s take a look through the first round and see how the Pro Football Network team treated all of the first-round selections.
2021 Round 1 NFL Draft Grades | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This pick has been virtually written in for the Jacksonville Jaguars since the end of the 2020 NFL season. Trevor Lawrence is the epitome of a “can’t miss prospect.” Lawrence combines size with deceptive athleticism, providing a unique dual-threat. He brings arm strength, accuracy, and football intelligence to the Jaguars’ offense.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
After trading Sam Darnold earlier this offseason, the New York Jets were always likely to take a quarterback in this spot. As the 2021 NFL Draft grew closer, it became extremely likely that Zach Wilson would be the pick. The Jets fill a key need with a player who can make “wow” throws and is superb with his ball placement.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Houston through Miami): Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
After trading up to the third overall pick, it was always set to be a QB for the San Francisco 49ers. Trey Lance is a fascinating selection, given the upside he possesses. Lance has phenomenal arm talent and mobility to succeed at the position and will elevate the offense around him.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta
The selection of Kyle Pitts to the Atlanta Falcons gives us the fourth of our A grades in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Pitts has risen to the top non-QB for many analysts due to his uniqueness as a prospect. He can line up all over the offense and provides the Falcons with a terrifying pass-catching group alongside Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The only concern here is the positional value of adding a tight end over securing their future at QB.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Cincinnati Bengals selecting a wide receiver over an offensive tackle was always likely to be a controversial selection. Nevertheless, Ja’Marr Chase will bring a lot to the Bengals’ offense in terms of a replacement for A.J. Green. Chase possesses excellent body control and is a strong runner after the catch. He is superb at the catch point and consistently shows elite concentration as well as good hand strength.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
It is tough to believe the Miami Dolphins were not disappointed to see Pitts and Chase go off the board. Still, Jaylen Waddle is a pretty nice consolation prize. Waddle brings game-changing explosive speed, good hands, and the elusiveness to make a man miss in the open field. A combination of Waddle and Will Fuller gives Tua Tagovailoa two extremely explosive weapons.
7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Passing on a potential franchise quarterback could come back to haunt the Detroit Lions. However, Penei Sewell is an extremely talented tackle prospect. He’s athletic, instinctive, powerful, and he’s only 20 years old. The Lions depth chart now has a very good tackle pairing atop it. The only thing stopping this grade from being a straight “A” is the concern over passing up a potential franchise QB.
8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Giving us our seventh A out of our first eight grades in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft is the selection of Jaycee Horn. While perhaps a surprising pick, there is a lot to like about this selection. Horn brings a lot to the table as a physical, tough cornerback who brings feistiness to the Carolina Panthers’ secondary. After all, cornerback was one of the Panthers’ top two needs heading into the draft, so this is a fantastic selection.
9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The selection of Patrick Surtain II to the Denver Broncos was arguably the biggest surprise of the night. With Justin Fields still on the board and the Broncos having a need to address at quarterback, many expected them to go that way. Among needs on the defense, cornerback ranked behind linebacker and edge rusher. Therefore, this selection gets the lowest grade of Round 1 so far.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from Dallas): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
A trade within the NFC East was somewhat surprising to round out the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft. At any rate, the selection is ideal for the Philadelphia Eagles, who need to put more talent around Jalen Hurts. WR was the top need for the Eagles on offense, and DeVonta Smith brings a lot of talent with his routes and releases. He is one of the best pure technicians to come out of college in recent years.
11. Chicago Bears (from New York Giants): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The selection of Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears gives us the second of our A+ grades so far in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Fields was the QB2 on many people’s boards and a long shot to get outside of the top 10 by a lot of people. Therefore, the Bears did not hesitate to trade up for Fields when he was available at 11. Fields can now learn behind two experienced veterans in Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
12. Dallas Cowboys (from San Francisco through Miami and Philadelphia): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The potential that Micah Parsons brings to the Dallas Cowboys is undeniable. However, Parsons is a relative unknown when it comes to his coverage. As a former edge rusher who converted to linebacker, he brings unbelievable speed and hits like a freight train. He naturally has a pass-rushing prowess, but the linebacker position for the Cowboys will demand a lot from him in terms of coverage. This is by far the lowest grade of Round 1 so far.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OG/T, Northwestern
Many analysts felt that the Los Angeles Chargers might have to move up for Rashawn Slater. However, the fact they could stay at 13 and still get a player that fills a huge need on the offensive line only enhances their grade.
Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline believes Slater may be better suited to the guard position. No matter where he winds up on the Chargers’ line, he should be a big upgrade on their current situation.
14. New York Jets (from Minnesota): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG/T, USC
The selection of Alijah Vera-Tucker for the Jets continues the procession of A grades in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Vera-Tucker can play at a number of positions across the offensive line. This pick stands out as a high grade because of the need to protect the Jets’ new QB in Wilson. The only downside is they had to trade up and give up assets in order to get him.
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The selection of Mac Jones for the New England Patriots is one that receives a mixed response. On the one hand, the Patriots get a new QB without having to trade up. On the other hand, while the positives Jones brings as a pro-style pocket passer, his lack of mobility is a concern.
That concern is exacerbated by the combination of Jones with current Patriots QB Cam Newton. The Patriots will have two QBs of very different styles on their roster in 2021.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Concerns arose surrounding Zaven Collins when he weighed in at 270 pounds. That is too big to be a pure off-the-ball linebacker without slimming down. If he does, however, the skills are there for him to play a hybrid role. He is capable of dropping back into coverage but is also effective in rushing the passer. This pick has potential for the Arizona Cardinals if they can work out how to use him correctly.
2021 Round 1 NFL Draft Grades | Picks 17-32
What grades do we give here at PFN for the back half of the picks in Round 1?
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
The Las Vegas Raiders certainly filled a need with the selection of Alex Leatherwood. However, Leatherwood divides opinion and has been drafted significantly higher than many projected him to be taken. One positive for the Raiders is that Leatherwood likely has the ability to shift inside to guard if he does not pan out at tackle.
18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Jaelan Phillips makes it another good selection for the Dolphins in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Phillips addresses the Dolphins’ second-biggest need for a pass rusher and allows them to enter Day 2 with their focus on their remaining needs. Phillips has a desirable combination of speed, strength, and weapons to succeed as a pass rusher in multiple ways.
19. Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
The Washington Football Team resisted the urge to trade up and select a QB and instead focused their attention on their biggest need on defense. They had their choice of several defensive options, and they took a chance in selecting Jamin Davis. Although there is uncertainty surrounding Davis, his upside is huge. That upside means he is yet another of the A grades in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
20. New York Giants (from Chicago): Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
This selection of Kadarius Toney for the New York Giants raised a lot of eyebrows. Many people expected the Giants to target a pass rusher, so with Kwity Paye still on the board, this selection is questionable. On the contrary, with a number of talented pass rushers still available, the Giants can address this need later in the draft. Until they do so, the grade for this pick suffers accordingly.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
At times in this process, Kwity Paye was viewed as a potential top 15 selection. The Indianapolis Colts get a fantastic value with Paye at 21, who immediately upgrades their defensive line. Paye’s strength entering the league is his play against the run. However, he has the potential to develop into a terrific pass rusher with good coaching. A good player at a great value.
22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Caleb Farley was once viewed as a potential top 10 selection before his microdiscectomy surgery. His talent is still among the best at the position in this class, making him an intriguing value for the Tennessee Titans. Farley is yet another A grade in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, but if he recovers well from surgery, then he could even outperform this grade.
23. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle through New York Jets): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The selection of Christian Darrisaw is a superb value for the Minnesota Vikings. Often touted as a potential selection for them at 14, they get their guy while also trading back and picking up further assets. The Vikings had a huge need at tackle, and Darrisaw gives them a high upside player at the position.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Perhaps the most obvious pick of Round 1 so far was the combination of Najee Harris and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harris is a phenomenal talent and is a huge upgrade for the Steelers at the position. The concern for the Steelers is that this selection would have been better spent on an offensive lineman. This pick could look better if the Steelers do a solid job addressing their OL in the next few rounds.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Selecting Travis Etienne raises a lot of questions for Jacksonville. The Jaguars saw the potential of finding value at the running back position without using premium draft capital. After James Robinson impressed last season, this selection appears to be ill-advised. Jacksonville can salvage this selection with strong picks in Rounds 2 and 3.
26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
The A grades continue in the back end of Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. The selection of Greg Newsome for the Cleveland Browns gives them a high-quality cornerback opposite Denzel Ward. After giving up the eighth-most passing touchdowns in the NFL in 2020, the Browns needed to address their CB position. Newsome brings impressive football intelligence and prototypical size.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The Baltimore Ravens desperately needed to give Lamar Jackson another weapon on the outside. They addressed that need with Rashod Bateman, who will provide the Ravens with an intriguing weapon opposite Marquise Brown. The Ravens passed up drafting a replacement for Orlando Brown here but will likely look to address that need in Round 2.
28. New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, DE, Houston
One of the fastest rising prospects in the build-up to the draft, Payton Turner is a solid fit for the New Orleans Saints. After losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency, the Saints have a need when it comes to their pass rush. Turner fills this need but receives a reduced grade with potentially higher caliber pass rushers still on the board at this pick.
29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
After the Green Bay Packers struggled with their secondary in the playoffs, addressing that need with Eric Stokes is a logical move. Stokes is a former track star with good footwork, intangibles, and IQ. The only slight concern is that this selection does not address two glaring needs on offense for the Packers.
30. Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami (FL)
Gregory Rousseau is a high-upside selection for the Buffalo Bills out of Miami. Pass rush was a serious concern for the Bills last season and was a big part of why their playoff run stalled in the AFC Championship Game last season. Rousseau is likely not a Day 1 starter, but he should be a useful rotational piece.
31. Baltimore Ravens (from Kansas City): Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
The Baltimore Ravens saw an exodus of pass-rushing talent in free agency. Jayson Oweh is a superb athlete who can be a Day 1 starter for the Ravens. The tape on Oweh is extremely impressive, even if there are improvements still required in his game.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon, OLB, Washington
The expectation was that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would focus on defensive tackle or pass rush. They ultimately chose to go after a pass rusher in Joe Tryon. As an excellent athlete, Tryon has the potential to be a rotational piece immediately for the Buccaneers. This is very much a case of the rich getting richer and finishes off the 2021 Round 1 draft grades with an A-.
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