NFL Draft 2021 Results: Reviewing This Year's Best PicksMay 1, 2021
NFL Draft 2021 Results: Reviewing This Year's Best Picks
Most NFL draft picks make sense in one way or another. Some teams target roster needs, while other clubs take the best player available even at stronger positions. Yet a small group of front offices hit on a pick that accomplishes multiple objectives.
In a review of the draft, we can spot a lot of good picks. The best selections not only address a hole in the depth chart but also potentially change a team's future outlook or an entire dynamic on one side of the ball. On Day 2, a few teams found great value in prospects who could've gone in the first round.
Most draft analysts expected to see the Jacksonville Jaguars select Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and the New York Jets take BYU's Zach Wilson with the No. 1 and 2 picks, respectively. Let's take a dive into what we didn't know coming into the 2021 draft.
Aside from the obvious winners, which teams struck gold over the last three days? We've highlighted eight of the best selections in the draft and how these prospects will make a substantial impact in the near future.
Pick No. 4: Atlanta Falcons Select TE Kyle Pitts
The Atlanta Falcons deserve praise for not only acquiring arguably a top-three pass-catcher in the draft class, but general manager Terry Fontenot also afforded himself some flexibility if he decides to trade wideout Julio Jones.
Atlanta has limited cap space with just $929,851. Jones' contract carries a $23.05 million cap hit in 2021.
Fontenot is willing to listen to trade offers for Jones. If he accepts a deal, quarterback Matt Ryan would still have two quality targets in Kyle Pitts and wideout Calvin Ridley on the perimeter. If Jones remains with the team, the Falcons would have an explosive aerial attack.
Although Pitts is listed as a tight end, he could become the go-to target in the Falcons passing game. The Florida product recorded 97 receptions for 1,419 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two years. At 6'6", 245 pounds with reliable hands, he's going to draw some double-teams downfield.
Obviously, Pitts isn't established as a pro, but he has a good chance to become an elite playmaker. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has a background as a tight ends coach with the Tennessee Titans. He's more than capable of turning a blue-chip prospect at the position into a star.
Pick No. 10: Philadelphia Eagles Select WR DeVonta Smith
The Philadelphia Eagles helped themselves and hurt a rival with their move up two spots for DeVonta Smith.
General manager Howie Roseman landed a lead wide receiver for quarterback Jalen Hurts, who should win the first-string job over Joe Flacco. The former played two seasons with Smith at Alabama—one as a full-time starter.
In 2020, wideout Jalen Reagor struggled through his rookie campaign, catching just 31 passes for 396 yards and a touchdown. He missed five games because of a torn ligament in his thumb. The TCU product goes into his second term with some question marks.
Smith comes into the league as a much better prospect than Reagor with his 6'0", 170-pound frame being the only major knock against him. He won the 2020 Heisman Trophy after recording 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. The 22-year-old is already a silky smooth route-runner with big-play ability. Hurts can open up the offense with his newest target.
The Eagles may have disrupted the New York Giants' plan at wide receiver. According to ESPN's Jordan Raanan, Big Blue wanted an Alabama wideout with the 11th pick—either Smith or Jaylen Waddle, who went to the Miami Dolphins at No. 6.
After Philadelphia jumped ahead of New York for Smith, the Giants moved back to the No. 20 spot and took Florida wideout Kadarius Toney. The Eagles acquired the better receiver and likely foiled their rival's early draft plan. Well done, Roseman.
Pick No. 11: Chicago Bears Select QB Justin Fields
The Chicago Bears have two stopgap quarterbacks on the roster in Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, which seems like the foundation for a mediocre season, hovering around .500 at 8-9 or 9-8.
General manager Ryan Pace made an aggressive move Thursday, trading with the New York Giants to move up from No. 20 to 11 for Justin Fields. Now, the franchise has some hope for the future.
Fields has a dynamic facet to his game that the veteran signal-callers on the roster cannot provide. In addition to 5,701 passing yards, 67 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, he rushed for 1,133 yards and 19 scores on the ground, the bulk of which came in his two years as a starter at Ohio State.
The Bears tabbed Dalton as the starting quarterback for the upcoming campaign, but if he underperforms or Chicago slides in the standings, head coach Matt Nagy may insert the rookie to spark the offense.
Fields has a solid body of work. Along with impressive passing and rushing numbers, he only lost two games as a starter on the collegiate level. The former Buckeye can lead the huddle if called upon to play in 2021.
Pick No. 12: Dallas Cowboys Select LB Micah Parsons
The Dallas Cowboys moved down two spots and selected one of the top defensive players in the draft.
Micah Parsons should make an immediate impact on a Cowboys defense that ranked 28th in points allowed last season. He opted out of the 2020 campaign, but the 6'3", 246-pound linebacker had a stellar showing during the 2019 term, logging 109 tackles, 14 for loss, five sacks, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles.
Parsons will strengthen a weak run defense that allowed the second-most yards in 2020. He's also an asset in the pass rush, so defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can use him to apply pocket pressure from the strong side of the formation as a "Sam" linebacker.
After a Pro Bowl 2018 campaign, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has struggled to stay healthy. Since 2019, he's missed 13 outings. With the announcement of Sean Lee's retirement, the Cowboys needed a reliable second-level defender to pair with Jaylon Smith.
The Cowboys stabilized their linebacker unit with a versatile downhill playmaker who can change the complexion of the defense.
Pick No. 27: Baltimore Ravens Select WR Rashod Bateman
The Baltimore Ravens needed a vertical spark on offense. Lamar Jackson hasn't had a consistent go-to target at wide receiver, and this selection could elevate the 2019 MVP's game to another level.
Rashod Bateman should take on a sizable role in the upcoming season. He won't have any issues with separation on the pro level because of his sharp routes, fluid movement and adequate game speed to break away in space. The Minnesota product has scheme versatility with experience on the outside and in the slot.
Bateman had a breakout 2019 term, hauling in 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. In that season, he shared targets with wideout Tyler Johnson, who led the Gophers across major receiving categories. Yet Bateman made the most of his opportunities with chunk plays, which helps his transition to the pros in Baltimore.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman will likely stick to a run-heavy approach, but he has a new playmaker who can keep safeties out of the box. Bateman could become the lead wide receiver over Marquise Brown, who's more of a secondary option at the position.
Pick No. 43: Las Vegas Raiders Select S Trevon Moehrig
The Las Vegas Raiders went into the draft with a glaring hole at safety. They chose offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood with their first-round pick. Fortunately, none of the safeties came off the board on Day 1.
The Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons started the run at the position in the second round, taking Jevon Holland (No. 36) and Richie Grant (No. 40), respectively.
Trevon Moehrig might've been the first safety off the board Thursday if not for a medical concern. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the TCU product suffered a back injury before his pro day, which likely explains his fall in the draft.
According to Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News, general manager Mike Mayock considered a move back into the opening round to select Moehrig. The front-office executive showed restraint and still landed his ideal safety after moving up five spots on Day 2.
Moehrig spoke to reporters and said, "I'm 100 percent." If that's the case, Vegas picked up a top talent to plug into its starting lineup. The 2020 Jim Thorpe Award winner is going to play a crucial role as the single-high safety in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme.
In 2020, the Raiders ranked 26th in passing yards allowed. Now, they have a rangy safety who can erase coverage mistakes on the back end. As a collegian, Moehrig recorded seven interceptions and 21 pass breakups.
Pick No. 50: New York Giants Select Edge Azeez Ojulari
The New York Giants addressed a weakness in their defense on Day 2 with a first-round talent.
Last season, Big Blue didn't get much production out of their outside linebackers. Kyler Fackrell, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason, led the group in sacks with four. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines missed a combined 23 games. The former has 9.5 sacks in three years. New York needs a difference-maker on the edge.
Azeez Ojulari may have slipped into the second round because of concerns about his knee. According to Dan Duggan of The Athletic, the Georgia product went through a medical check about four months ago.
"Source says Dr. James Andrews examined Ojulari's knee in January and sent a letter to teams saying it was strong and there were no problems with it. Obviously teams did their own exams in Indy, so that could explain his slide. But some team could get a steal on Day 2," Duggan tweeted.
The Giants felt confident in what they know about Ojulari's knee and could have the best pass-rusher in the class on their roster. The 6'2", 249-pounder possesses the traits of an elite edge-rusher with great bend, explosiveness and balance while battling with 300-plus-pound offensive linemen around the pocket.
Assuming Ojulari doesn't have lingering knee issues, he's a potential Day 1 starter who can log double-digit sacks because of his technique and fierce attack-style approach near the pocket.
Pick No. 61: Buffalo Bills Select Edge Carlos Basham Jr.
In 2020, the Buffalo Bills fielded a middling pass rush without a playmaker who consistently pushed the pocket. The team tied for 18th in quarterback pressures (143). No one on the defense recorded more than five sacks.
General manager Brandon Beane focused on the defensive line, specifically the edge, adding Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season and struggled to win matchups on the outside despite his 15.5-sack 2019 campaign. Basham could leapfrog his rookie teammate for an immediate role. At 6'3", 274 pounds, he has a pro-body build with a refined technique on the end. The Wake Forest product uses his hands and slips blocks with impressive elusiveness to generate pressures.
Basham's size, agility and pass-rushing toolbox should help him see action early in his career. As a late second-rounder, he's a high-value selection who could take snaps away from defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison.
With a strong pass rush, head coach Sean McDermott may have a top-10 defense to go along with an elite offense.
Player contract and team salary-cap details courtesy of Over The Cap.