These Live 2021 NFL Draft Grades will be posted minutes after each pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Follow @walterfootball
2021 NFL Draft Grades - Round: Picks 1-16
| Picks 17-32
| NFL Draft Team Grades
2021 NFL Mock Draft | 2022 NFL Mock Draft
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson - A+ Grade
I've been running this Web site for more than 21 years, and Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect I've ever covered. Unless he suffers a barrage of injuries throughout his career, I can't see him busting, or even being slightly better than mediocre. There's a very good chance Lawrence will be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL over the next 15 years or so. The Jaguars deserve an A+ not only for the pick; but for making it happen. The Jets won some meaningless games late in 2020 and lost out on Lawrence. The Jaguars, conversely, seemed to tank late in the year (versus the Bears in particular) because they knew that doing so would allow them to be a Super Bowl contender for a long time.
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New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU - B Grade
Zach Wilson has been locked into the Jets for quite some time, but that doesn't mean that this grade is a slam-dunk A+ like the Jaguars' selection of Trevor Lawrence. There's a ton to like about Wilson, given that he's such a great talent with immense upside. However, Wilson is a one-year wonder and doesn't have much experience against top-level competition. Some people in the NFL also questioned Wilson's character. From the outside looking in, I may have preferred Justin Fields, but the Jets are probably getting a winner in Wilson.
San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State - A- Grade
I've been in contact with several 49er fans who have been incredibly fearful of their team selecting Mac Jones. They can all now be at ease, as their team made the correct decision. Trey Lance is a much better prospect than Jones. Lance may not be as accurate as Jones in the short passing game, but he has much better arm strength, and he's an incredible athlete. He also possesses high intelligence and character traits. The one concern with Lance is that he's raw, especially after missing last season, but Charlie Campbell was told that Lance resembles Josh Allen. Give him two or three years, and he'll likely be a superstar.
Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida - B+ Grade
I personally would have gone with Penei Sewell, but I certainly don't hate this pick. I believe an elite left tackle is more valuable than an elite tight end, but in the end, the Falcons couldn't have gone wrong with either. Pitts is viewed as a receiver by some around the NFL. He projects to be a superior Darren Waller, so he'll be a dynamic, mismatch threat for Matt Ryan as the veteran quarterback enters his twilight years.
Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU - B Grade
The Bengals had a difficult decision between Ja'Marr Chase and Penei Sewell. They ultimately decided on the former, which I don't agree with, but don't hate either. Sewell would have been much better for them, especially when considering Joe Burrow's recent knee injury. That said, Chase is going to be a superstar receiver in Cincinnati for a very long time, and it's not like he and Burrow have to develop any sort of chemistry.
Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama - B Grade
The Dolphins couldn't really go wrong as long as they went with one of Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith and Penei Sewell. That said, I would have preferred the other two options, especially Sewell. With Will Fuller and DeVante Parker on the roster, receiver wasn't a huge need, while the offensive line continued to be. The Dolphins need to protect Tua Tagovailoa, which they could have done incredibly well with Sewell.
Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon - A+ Grade
I imagine the Lions are shocked that Penei Sewell made it past both the Bengals and Dolphins. This is a no-brainer selection. It could be argued that Sewell was the best player not named Trevor Lawrence in this class. Detroit has a huge hole at tackle, which Sewell will fill very nicely. Detroit's next quarterback - probably someone from next year's draft - go here for my 2022 NFL Mock Draft - will be thrilled to have Sewell blocking for him.
Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina - B+ Grade
Many considered the elite non-quarterback prospects in this class to be Penei Sewell, Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase and the Alabama receivers. Some teams actually had Jaycee Horn in that pantheon, despite Patrick Surtain being a bigger name. Charlie and I have had Horn slotted to the Panthers to No. 8 for a long time for that reason. Horn is a great addition to a secondary that has to cover so many talented receivers in the NFC South.
Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama - B Grade
The Broncos loved Justin Fields, so this selection might suggest that they'll be trading for Aaron Rodgers - and perhaps Surtain will be part of the package. Cornerback isn't a big immediate need for the Broncos, but they have Kyle Fuller signed on for just one year, so the position would need to be addressed soon. If Surtain goes to the Packers, it'll be a huge upgrade across from Jaire Alexander, and I would boost the grade to an A-.
Philadelphia Eagles: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama - A+ Grade
The Eagles had a chance to trade up with the Falcons for CeeDee Lamb last year. They didn't pull the trigger, which led to them squandering their first-round choice on Jalen Reagor. It seems as though Howie Roseman learned from his crucial mistake last year, making the jump over the Giants for the dynamic Alabama receiver. When Smith, known as the "Slim Reaper" dominated the college football playoff, I never imagined he would be the third receiver chosen in this class, yet here we are. The Eagles added a dynamic talent to their offense, which they sorely needed.
Chicago Bears: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State - A+ Grade
The Bears had to make this move. Andy Dalton was their projected starter entering the 2021 season, and there's no way they could have sold their fans and players on that. They couldn't waste a great defense or Allen Robinson any further. I imagine they're absolutely shocked that Justin Fields is still on the board. He's arguably the second-best quarterback in this class. For my money he is, so I must grade this as an A+.
Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State - C+ Grade
Charlie Campbell, who was 8-of-8 in his 2021 NFL Mock Draft, reported a few years ago that an NFL team removed Leighton Vander Esch from their draft board because of concerns regarding his neck injury. Now, we see why that team was so worried. Vander Esch hasn't been able to stay healthy, while Sean Lee just retired. The Cowboys needed a linebacker, and Micah Parsons is a mega talent. He has some glaring off-the-field concerns, however, so I can't grade this too favorably.
Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT/G/C, Northwestern - A- Grade
I'm all for improving the offensive line, especially when the quarterback is very young. The Chargers did a good job of this earlier in the offseason, but they weren't done. They needed a left tackle, and Rashawn Slater seems like a great fit. The one concern teams had with Slater is his lacking length. Some teams believed he would have to play guard or center. That said, plenty of successful tackles have had Slater's issue, so I'm in the camp that he can succeed at the position.
New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC - C Grade
I'm torn on this pick. On one hand, the Jets gave up a pair of third-round picks to move up for a guard. On the other hand, as I wrote above, I'm all for teams strengthening the offensive line for a young quarterback. Protecting Zach Wilson is paramount, but couldn't the Jets have obtained a solid offensive lineman at No. 23? Guards can be found all over the draft, so giving up many resources for one doesn't seem like a great decision.
New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama - D Grade
Yuck. I can't fail the Patriots because they're getting "value" with a quarterback some thought would go third overall. That said, several teams we spoke to had Jones in the second round. One had him pegged as a third-day prospect! Jones is an Andy Dalton with DUIs. There's no upside with him. He'll need to be surrounded with an all-star cast to reach the playoffs consistently, which was the exact case with Dalton.
Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa - B+ Grade
2021 NFL Draft Grades - Round: Picks 1-16 | Picks 17-32 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | NFL Draft Team Grades
The Cardinals have a dynamic offense, but they struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and cover the middle of the field last year. Zaven Collins can help in both regards. He's a dynamic, versatile linebacker who happens to be a great fit in Arizona's defense. I like this pick, as Collins will be needed to stop all of the powerhouse offenses in the NFC West.
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