Grading Every Round 1 Pick Of NFL Draft

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After months of speculation, swirling rumors, and mock drafts in aplenty, the 2021 NFL Draft has commenced; and it was a treat!

With all 32 selections coming in, here are The Draft Network's team-specific grades on each first-round prospect.

Jacksonville Jaguars (No.1 overall): Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

The inevitable is now a reality. Trevor Lawrence becomes the immediate face of the franchise following his selection as the first player off the board. Lawrence, a transcendent talent at the quarterback position, will look to return Jacksonville back to relevance in a weak AFC South.

Grade: A

New York Jets (No. 2 overall): Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

With newly minted head coach Robert Saleh, the selection of Zach Wilson officially ushers in a new era of football in the Big Apple. QB3 on my board, the selection receives a “B” grade with Justin Fields still available. Wilson possesses all the tools to thrive from the onset of his career, including his innate ability to create outside of the pocket delivering throws to windows all over the field.

Grade: B+

San Francisco 49ers (No. 3 overall): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Trey Lance’s selection denotes the end of the Jimmy Garoppolo era in San Francisco. He now joins Carson Wentz as former North Dakota State gun-slingers to go in the top five following a short but impressive career at where he totaled just 319 career passing attempts. Ignore the inexperience issues, Lance has all the tools to compete and succeed on Sundays. With a bazooka on his shoulder and tree trunks for legs, Lance will become the next unique chess piece in Kyle Shanahan’s ever-developing offense. Although Fields was still on the board here, the tandem of Lance and Shanahan for the foreseeable future is enticing beyond belief. 

Grade: B+

Atlanta Falcons (No. 4 overall): Kyle Pitts, WR, Florida

Matt Ryan’s wishes come true with Kyle Pitts joining wide receivers Julio Jones (for now) and Calvin Ridley. General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith usher in a new era of Falcons football by taking my No. 1 player on the board. Pitts has the chance to be dominant from the onset of his career within an offense highlighting the All-Pro in Jones and experienced veteran in Ryan; a true nightmare of an offensive weapon to gameplan for, this is a grand slam for Fontenot. 

Grade: A+

Cincinnati Bengals (No. 5 overall): Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Burrow’s teammate in 2019, reunites with his quarterback; this time in Cincinnati. Chase is a physical, polished athlete on the boundary and joins a Bengals wideout room touting the likes of both Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, both of whom possess unique skills in the passing game to complement Chase. Chase’s chemistry with Burrow will be apparent from the get-go.

Grade: A+

Miami Dolphins (No. 6 overall): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Speed, speed, and more speed. Jaylen Waddle, despite missing the majority of Alabama’s season, rejoins Tua Tagovailoa in Miami to create a young, exciting pairing for head coach Brian Flores. 

Grade: A

Detroit Lions (No. 7 overall): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

New general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have established their culture. Everything you want in a tackle, you get in Penei Sewell, who’s as smooth as they come on the offensive line. Sewell, a mauler in the run game who’s a wall to get around in the passing game, will now protect Jared Goff’s blindside for the foreseeable future.

Grade: B+

Carolina Panthers (No. 8 overall): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The NFL loved Jaycee Horn during the evaluation process, and his selection at eighth overall says something about his projection as a pro. Horn, son of former pro Joe Horn Sr., is an in-your-face type of defender who will project as a CB1 at the next level tasked with covering the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas from the onset of his career.

Grade: B-

Denver Broncos (No. 9 overall): Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

With Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan in contract years, the addition of Patrick Surtain II offers head coach Vic Fangio the ultimate chess piece within his secondary. Surtain is arguably the top corner in the 2021 class and thrives using his length in both man and zone coverage. With the aforementioned corners in contract seasons, Surtain will have an easier on-boarding process than Horn, which could work in Denver’s favor in the long haul.

Grade: B

Philadelphia Eagles (No. 10 overall): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to fill their wide receiver room. With Carson Wentz now in Indianapolis, the Eagles get their WR1 in the 2020 Heisman trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. Smith, a long, wiry athlete, is smooth; he’s quick and has sticky mats for hands. The Eagles have now gone two consecutive years selecting wideouts. Although they have needs across the board, Horn nor Surtain was available. This is a best-player-available (BPA) selection for general manager Howie Roseman. 

Grade: C+

Chicago Bears (No. 11 overall): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Justin Fields, a potential franchise saving selection, now offers general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy a rookie quarterback with tools to potentially earn them an extension past ‘21.

Grade: A++

Dallas Cowboys (No. 12 overall): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

With 2020 defensive coordinator Mike Nolan gone, Dan Quinn enters as Dallas’ defensive coordinator who will look to improve an abysmal unit last year. Micah Parsons is an explosive, fast, downhill prospect who will line up adjacent to Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. It’s a win-win scenario for head coach Mike McCarthy. Like Philadelphia, Dallas was in desperate need of a corner. With both Horn and Surtain off the board, general manager Jerry Jones adds the most explosive defensive player on the board.

Grade: B-

Los Angeles Chargers (No. 13 overall): Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

The Los Angeles Chargers are fully investing in Justin Herbert’s future; they signed Corey Linsley this offseason and now drafted Rashawn Slater. Slater is big, tough, and will provide the outside anchor head coach Brandon Staley envisioned to protect Herbert for the foreseeable future.

Grade: A

New York Jets (No. 14 overall): Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC

With Wilson taken second overall, the New York Jets and general manager Joe Douglas invest in their future (similar to the Chargers) to protect their shiny new quarterback. Alijah Vera-Tucker can line up next to Mekhi Becton on the left side of the Jets’ line.

Grade: A

New England Patriots (No. 15 overall): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Woo, let’s have a draft. In typical Bill Belichick fashion, the board fell to him, and the New England Patriots head coach gets his future under center. Mac Jones received criticism for the talent around him, but he can sling it, and he fits the Belichick mold. 

Grade: B

Arizona Cardinals (No. 16 overall): Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Despite the Arizona Cardinals adding Isaiah Simmons last year, they add to their linebackers unit in Zaven Collins, a multi-versatile linebacker who can both cover and rush the passer. 

Grade: B

Las Vegas Raiders (No. 17 overall): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

Alex Leatherwood is taken by the Raiders to insert a nasty culture into the Las Vegas line. Despite Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins still on the board, general manager Mike Mayock sides with the SEC prestige in Leatherwood’s game with a selection Higher than many had in mind.

Grade: C-

Miami Dolphins (No. 18 overall): Jaelan Phillips, CB, Virginia Tech

Jaelan Phillips stays close to home as general manager Chris Grier adds a quick, flexible EDGE rusher who projects as an every-down defender in the NFL.

Grade: A

Washington Football Team (No. 19 overall): Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Head coach Ron Rivera continues to add to his culture-building roster in Jamin Davis, a do-it-all linebacker who has sideline-to-sideline speed who will fill Jon Bostic’s role in his first season as a pro. 

Grade: B

New York Giants (No. 20 overall): Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Even with the addition of Kenny Golladay, general manager Dave Gettleman takes the versatile speedster in Kadarius Toney who fits the modern-day scat receiver that’s able to work all over the field, in the backfield, or on jet sweep action. Toney is a do-it-all receiver who’ll serve as Daniel Jones’ chess piece on offense.

Grade: B-

Indianapolis Colts (No. 21 overall): Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Kwity Paye’s best football is ahead of him, and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ system will allow Paye to thrive both in Year 1 if he progresses and down the road, if his onboarding process takes longer than expected. I, however, envision Paye lining up next to DeForest Buckner to wreak havoc this fall. With Buckner and Paye on the front four, plus Darius Leonard at linebacker, the Indianapolis Colts present an excellent front seven.

Grade: C+

Tennessee Titans (No. 22 overall): Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Despite major injury concerns surrounding Caleb Farley, the Tennessee Titans are willing to bite the bullet here for a prospect who recently converted to the defensive side of the ball. Farley is an outstanding prospect who could slide in and fill the role Adoree’ Jackson left.

Grade: B-

Minnesota Vikings (No. 23 overall): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Minnesota Vikings get more protection for Kirk Cousins to stay upright and a mover in the run game for Dalvin Cook. Christian Darrisaw slips to No. 23 here, even with Teven Jenkins still on the board.

Grade: B

Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24 overall): Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Najee Harris—one of my favorite prospects in the entire class—fills Le’Veon Bell’s role from a couple of seasons ago; Harris is able to both run the rock and catch the ball out of the backfield. He can run through defenders, and around them, while filling the hole left by running back James Connor. I love this selection here for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even with their issues up front at offensive line. 

Grade: A

Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 25 overall): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

The run on ball carriers ends here with the top-two ranked running backs in the 2020 class, via The Draft Network’s rankings. Etienne, who’s more of an open-field speedster Harris, can fill an Alvin Kamara role. Etienne will thrive in a two-headed backfield with James Robinson. Oh, and they drafted Lawrence, in case you forgot. 

Grade: A-

Cleveland Browns (No. 26 overall): Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Greg Newsome II was another riser on many draft boards and could have been the top corner off the board if he didn’t go to Northwestern. Too harsh? It’s reality. Similar to Leatherwood’s selection, Newsome slid here on my board. Cleveland got a steal. 

Grade: A

Baltimore Ravens (No. 27 overall): Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The Baltimore Ravens want to sling it around more than they did last year, and Rashod Bateman offers Lamar Jackson a dynamic, versatile receiver on the boundary to target.

Grade: B

New Orleans Saints (No. 28 overall): Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

This is where—I just don’t see it. Payton Turner has a high motor and is a high production player when he was on the field. But an EDGE out of Houston with an injury background who’s top-heavy? It’s a reach for me here at the back end of the first round. 

Grade: C-

Green Bay Packers (No. 29 overall): Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

Poor Kevin King. General manager Brian Gutekunst selects Eric Stokes for his cornerback room in an effort to add talent opposite Jaire Alexander. Stokes, a toolsy corner, will have no issue keeping up with wideouts at the next level, but he has major progress to make as a cover corner. 

Grade: B-

Buffalo Bills (No. 30 overall): Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

I’ll try to stay positive here, but this is the biggest reach of the first round. It’s a huge risk-reward where five years down the road Gregory Rousseau could develop into a formidable force in Buffalo, but he’s so young. He’s so long, and he’s played just 14 games in college. If teams were to line up each first-round prospects in a gym, Rousseau would be their first selection, due to his physical prowess, but as a football player, he has a long, long way to go. 

Grade: D

Baltimore Ravens (No. 31 overall): Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

Jayson Oweh lit up his Pro Day, which led to his exponential rise on league-wide draft boards. He’s the ultimate project—like Rousseau—who’ll earn Day 1 snaps due to the loss of both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. 

Grade: B-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 32 overall): Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

With all 22 starters back this fall, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went BPA here at the backend of the first round, where they may find themselves this time next year. Joe Tryon is a big-bodied defender with a strong lower half and polished fundamentals on the outside for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to utilize. 

Grade: B

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.

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