The NFL Draft has become somewhat of its own sport separate from the NFL. Like the NFL, the 2021 NFL Draft has its own “winners” and “losers.” This year was peculiar because there was quite a bit of chalk involved. There were very few massive surprises in Round 1. In the opinion of this NFL writer, most teams did at least a decent job of blending talent with positional need. Like always, there were a few big winners. We’ll focus on them, but there were also a few teams that put up some head-scratching draft cards.
2021 NFL Draft Winners
The Bears did everything they needed to in their attempt to quickly rebuild a team with diminishing talent at multiple high-value positions. Maybe Bears fans were hoping for a future without Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, but the 2021 NFL Draft was a Hail Mary that they completed. Justin Fields has the high floor/high ceiling combination that is potentially franchise-altering in the most positive way.
After that, they gave up additional assets to improve upon a dismal offensive tackle group by drafting Oklahoma State mauler Teven Jenkins. The most important thing a front office can do to help their young quarterback is to protect them. Their next draft selection wasn’t until Round 5, but they went with Missouri offensive tackle Larry Borom. Stone Forsythe was a name I had circled for the Bears instead of Borom because he projects as a left tackle, but this was their only pick that was even somewhat questionable.
After that, it was a clinic in value. Khalil Herbert could have easily gone in Round 4 given his tape at Virginia Tech. Dazz Newsome has the potential to fight for snaps as the starting slot receiver, depending on what happens with Anthony Miller. Thomas Graham Jr. could compete for his own starting spot in the slot, given his efficient footwork and good processing skills. Khyiris Tonga is a high-upside nose tackle who possesses a startling first step but will need to play lower and more under control to meet his potential.
The Bears didn’t have much high-end draft capital, but they maximized their assets by taking good players at each spot outside of the Borom selection. Of all the 2021 NFL Draft winners, the Bears may take the cake when it’s all said and done.
New York Jets
The Jets did a fantastic job supplementing the selection of Zach Wilson with great talent on the offensive side of the ball with their next three selections. Alijah Vera-Tucker is an incredibly versatile blocker who can play up and down the offensive line, allowing the Jets to put their five best on the field.
Wide receiver Elijah Moore is as reliable a receiving weapon as there was in the draft. He should find immediate production in the slot for the Jets, allowing them to move on from Jamison Crowder should they want to. The Jets somehow had North Carolina running back Michael Carter slide to them at No. 107. Carter is a savvy zone runner with excellent feet and vision at the second level to make defenders miss. He doesn’t have outstanding contact balance, but his vision and acceleration through the hole are evident.
The Jets spent the rest of their picks on the defensive side of the ball. Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen are a bit redundant in their skill sets but are completely different athletes despite their somewhat similar measurables. Nasirildeen had Day 2 tape, but despite that, slipped to the Jets. I’m sure the value was too good to pass up.
The Jets don’t have much in terms of the cornerback spot, and they didn’t address it on Day 1 or 2. However, they did swing for the fences on two great athletes in Pittsburgh’s Jason Pinnock and Kentucky’s Brandin Echols. But my personal favorite pick of their entire draft was their last one. Jonathan Marshall is a freak athlete that played out of position at the college level. If they allow him to attack more instead of playing as a 0-technique defensive tackle, he should thrive.
Las Vegas Raiders
We laughed at them. We all laughed at them after Round 1. But if you take the average of the Alex Leatherwood and Trevon Moehrig picks, the Raiders definitely come out as a net positive from that. Leatherwood will play on the right side for the Raiders, which could be the fix for his issues striking with his outside (left) hand. Moehrig immediately eases the pain of poor safety play in coverage.
Malcolm Koonce was an interesting pick because he’s very much an upside selection, but we’ve seen the Raiders find pass rushers from small schools in the past with Maxx Crosby. Divine Deablo is a fantastic safety/linebacker hybrid who will most likely step into the WILL spot for the Raiders. He’ll bring outstanding coverage ability while he develops as a down-to-down box player.
They paired that pick with an outstanding pick in Missouri safety Tyree Gillespie. He’s not the most fluid mover, but he had some of the best tape I’ve seen against Kyle Pitts and Najee Harris. Harris surely knows who he is after Gillespie gave him a rude hello at the goal line. The three “safeties” they drafted complement each other in ways that do not make them redundant.
2021 NFL Draft Losers
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made two selections that resembled a nice swing at a pitch in the zone, and neither were their first two. Texas A&M defensive tackle Bobby Brown III has immense upside, and his best tape is top-50 stuff. If he can continually put his gas pedal to the floor, he could be a problem beside Aaron Donald. Robert Rochell is an impressive athlete that provides good depth while he develops his technical prowess.
Outside of those two picks, the names going to Los Angeles are uninspiring at best and downright questionable at their worst. Tutu Atwell is a 155-pound receiver who is more of a straight-line athlete than you’d want from a sub-200-pound receiver. He’s fast but historically light. He struggles with drops, and contested catches are out of the question for him. The Rams spent the rest of the night drafting players that had contemporaries with more talent waiting on their couches waiting for their names to be called.
It’s risky to peg the Colts as a draft “loser.” Chris Ballard has an incredible knack for finding the good in players, and they’ve done a great job taking whoever they want and having it work out.
However, going edge rusher then edge rusher was a head-scratcher. Dayo Odeyingbo is an impressive player, but he suffered a torn Achilles during the draft cycle. The Colts must not have liked any of the offensive tackles available because that was a big need for the team. The rest of the draft wasn’t necessarily bad but more uninspiring than anything.
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