5 2021 NFL Draft Picks Who Would Be Huge Round 1 Mistakes
Coming out of the collegiate ranks, every NFL prospect has some upside. Some players have a higher ceiling than others, and those blue-chip talents usually stand out as potential first-round picks.
In some cases, the fine line between good and top-level prospects isn't clear. Some evaluators place a high value on physical traits in the absence of production. Some players have extensive injury histories that could scare off several teams.
Whatever the case, we cannot pin down draft projections to an exact science. A player who's a first-round talent on one big board may not land on another club's radar.
With that said, we're going to suggest teams think twice about selecting a handful of prospects in the first round. Each player has at least one significant area of concern, which may include durability issues, lack of production or technical shortcomings in his skill set.
Typically, first-round picks are expected to make an immediate and long-lasting impact. But the five players below need more time to develop in order to contribute at the pro level, or they may have trouble earning second contracts as roster cornerstones.
IOL Landon Dickerson, Alabama
Typically, players who struggle to stay healthy at the collegiate level battle the same issues in the pros. They compete against bigger and stronger athletes and have a longer schedule.
If Landon Dickerson had not suffered season-ending injuries in four out of his five campaigns between Florida State and Alabama, he would have a legitimate claim as the best interior offensive lineman in the class.
Unfortunately, he has missed several games because of knee and ankle ailments. He tore his ACL in December, so the 22-year-old may have a slow start to his career. Any team that selects him should have a reliable veteran or a developmental player at the position.
Dickerson has played in multiple spots across the offensive line, which helps his draft stock, but the 2020 Rimington Trophy winner's durability concerns should drop him into the second round.
In Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest ESPN mock draft, he slotted Dickerson to the Kansas City Chiefs, who traded that 31st pick to the Baltimore Ravens in a deal that involved offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Perhaps the trade changed Kiper's perspective on Dickerson's draft projection, but teams should stay clear of the oft-injured offensive lineman Thursday.
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
We shouldn't avoid all running backs in the first round just because of the turnover and short career span of players at the position. Teams should pick prospects based on value. Is that player worth a spot in the top 32 in comparison to his peers?
"The primary area of concern for Etienne is inconsistent results in pass protection," Marino wrote. "His tape reveals too many instances where he is tardy to diagnose pressure schemes and lacks the technique needed to consistently execute blocks in pass protection."
Etienne developed into one of the best pass-catching running backs in the 2021 class, hauling in 48 receptions for 588 yards and two touchdowns, but he won't see the field on third downs if the quarterback cannot trust him to pick up blocks.
Secondly, Etienne didn't produce the chunk plays we saw between the 2018 and 2019 terms. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and 7.0 yards per play from scrimmage this past season—his lowest marks of any term as a collegian. The 5'10", 215-pound tailback also lost three fumbles, per Team Rankings.
In The Athletic's latest two-round mock draft, which included team writers, Etienne went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 30th overall pick. While that's not a terrible spot for him, general manager Kevin Colbert should address his offensive line group, which lost three primary starters, and land an every-down running back in North Carolina's Javonte Williams on Day 2.
QB Davis Mills, Stanford
Earlier in the month, NFL Network's Peter Schrager raised eyebrows with his mock draft when he listed Davis Mills as the 32nd pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The insider had some intriguing insight on the projection.
"I don't know where Mills goes exactly, but the buzz around the league is that he could be a first-round pick and will most likely be the sixth quarterback selected," Schrager wrote. "I'll throw him to Tampa Bay, where he can learn from a pretty good QB1."
Before Schrager's mock draft, Mills hadn't gained much traction in predraft discussions, but he could go higher than some people would expect in the coming days.
If a team selects Mills in the first round, a coaching staff would have an extra year to develop him because of the fifth-year option, but the Stanford product may have a long way to go in order to become a starting-caliber player.
Mills suffered two knee injuries before he made his way up the depth chart. Finally, in 2019, he took over for K.J. Costello, who sat out with an injury, and led the huddle for six out of eight contests. In a coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign, the 6'4", 217-pound signal-caller started five outings.
Mills has the mobility, arm strength and pocket awareness to draw intrigue, but his limited collegiate experience and production (18 touchdowns and eight interceptions) don't translate to a first-round pick at that position.
Typically, teams select developmental quarterbacks with appealing traits on Day 2, which is where Davis should land this week.
Edge Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Jayson Oweh's athletic profile could serve him well at his position. On the edge, teams prefer defenders who can bend around the corner with enough speed to collapse the pocket.
Oweh has those traits and looked impressive at his pro day. However, he doesn't have the collegiate numbers to support the conclusion that his physical attributes will translate into production. The agile defender recorded 63 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks at Penn State.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. weighed the positives and negatives with Oweh's resume and physical profile:
"Oweh is an interesting case because his coaches raved about his athletic traits, and he just ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at 257 pounds. That's unbelievable. Sacks aren't everything, but he didn't have any last season, and Oweh could be the first FBS defensive lineman since Dominique Easley (2014) to be selected in the first two rounds after not recording a sack in his final collegiate season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Scouts rave about his upside, but I still would have liked more production."
Oweh didn't focus primarily on football until his junior year of high school, so he's still learning the game and his position, which likely explains his underwhelming collegiate numbers.
NFL.com's Chad Reuter posted a seven-round mock draft with the Atlanta Falcons taking Oweh at No. 30.
Although the 2021 class doesn't have a standout edge-rusher, teams should be wary of a raw pass-rusher who's more of an athlete than an impactful defender at a premium position. Oweh is a Day 2 prospect with upside.
WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
Kadarius Toney made plays in various ways at Florida. He scored a touchdown as a passer, ball-carrier, receiver and punt returner. The former high school quarterback even took snaps in the Wildcat formation.
This past season, he settled into his position and had a breakout year, hauling in 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. While his numbers show growth and his potential to become an NFL playmaker, he still needs time to develop his technical skill set.
Toney has the foot quickness to separate from and burn defenders in open space. He's going to extend plays with the ball in his hands. On the flip side, the 6'0", 193-pound wideout must expand his route tree to set himself up for those chunk gains. With only one solid collegiate campaign, the Florida product isn't ready to jump into the league and produce at a high level right away.
In a recent ESPN mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. slotted Toney to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 25, with a 49.5 percent chance that he's available in that spot.
Toney is more of a mid-to-late second-round pick who needs a creative offensive coordinator to scheme him open with isolation designs. He's not going to simply beat cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups without more polish to his game.