2021 NFL Draft: The Biggest Mistakes That Could Have Been Avoided
Although the 2021 NFL draft just wrapped up Sunday night, it's not too early to start looking back at some of the biggest missteps made during the event.
It's too soon to judge the performances of these prospects, but there were plenty of questionable moves made in terms of ill-advised trades, taking players who don't seem to fit on their new team's roster and picks that were made far earlier than they should have been.
Let's take a look back at some of these mistakes and highlight how each team could fix them given a mulligan.
Las Vegas Raiders Leave Elite Tackles on the Board
The Las Vegas Raiders blew up most of their offensive line this offseason, trading away three starters from the middle through the right side. While they were able to unearth replacements at center and guard, the offensive tackle spot was one the club still needed to address going into the draft.
The Raiders made the sensible decision to go with an OT when they were first on the clock, but the prospect they took at No. 17 was one few expected to be taken. Vegas went with Alabama's Alex Leatherwood, a versatile offensive lineman who can man both the tackle and guard spots. While that flexibility may be beneficial to a line in transition, Leatherwood isn't a master at either position.
Both Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw and Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins were on the board when the Raiders were picking, players who could have shored up Vegas' open right tackle spot a bit more skillfully.
It's hardly a shock that the Raiders reached for a prospect, something that has become a bit of a habit for the club with general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden calling the shots. The team made Henry Ruggs III the first receiver picked last year and grabbed Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall in 2019, selections that were questioned by analysts because of the availability of more highly regarded players.
It appears that this Vegas front office operates on a different level than most others in the league. While the unconventional approach is interesting, it hasn't paid off yet as the team is 19-29 and still looking for its first postseason berth since Gruden took the reins. If Leatherwood doesn't pan out and Darrisaw and Jenkins develop into stars, this decision will haunt the organization.
New York Jets Pay Heavy Price to Move Up
The New York Jets had one of the easier decisions to make at No. 2, taking BYU quarterback Zach Wilson and giving the team the potential franchise quarterback it desperately needed. The team wasn't satisfied with simply acquiring Wilson, however, and the Jets didn't wait long to make a big move to protect their investment.
While the Jets could have waited to get an offensive lineman when they were next on the clock at No. 23, Gang Green coughed up a good bit of draft capital to move up to No. 14, where they secured USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker.
New York gave the Minnesota Vikings picks Nos. 24. 66 and No. 86 to move up nine slots, and while the team also returned No. 143 in the deal, the cost of getting this deal hammered out was hefty.
That type of trade would have made more sense if a team was moving up to get a quarterback, but the Jets are projected to deploy Vera-Tucker at left guard. The former Trojan played several positions on the offensive line during his collegiate career, including successfully manning the left tackle spot in 2020, but he'll likely move back to the interior to start his NFL career.
The Jets would have been better off standing pat at No. 23, where they still would have had a handful of quality offensive linemen to pick from. Another interior offensive lineman didn't come off the board until the Philadelphia Eagles took Alabama center Landon Dickerson at No. 37 and a guard wasn't picked until No. 48, where the San Francisco 49ers snagged Notre Dame's Aaron Banks.
With so many talented offensive line prospects in this deep class—the Vikings addressed their own interior offensive line situation by using No. 86 on Wyatt Davis—the Jets should have avoided forking over so much value for a guard.
Washington Football Team Fails to Address Huge Need
The Washington Football Team's biggest need going into the 2021 draft was at the quarterback position, but it was unlikely the club would get a chance to address it with the No. 19 pick.
Once the Chicago Bears traded up to No. 11 to get Justin Fields and Mac Jones came off the board at No. 15 to the New England Patriots, Washington knew it would have to go a different direction. Instead of addressing another glaring issue at left tackle, team brass made a pick that probably won't have nearly as much of an impact.
The Football Team took linebacker Jamin Davis, a player who will augment a defensive front that was already one of Washington's strengths. Davis is a developmental prospect who started just 11 games at Kentucky, but he performed at a high level in that limited span and has incredible athleticism for the position.
Despite Davis' huge upside, gambling on an interior linebacker when there is a huge void to fill at left tackle makes little sense. There were not only some elite offensive tackle prospects like Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins on the board, but there was also a linebacker many believed will be the best in the class still up for grabs.
Washington opted against taking Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah here, a much more polished and pro-ready linebacker. The Fighting Irish star wouldn't end up having his name called until the latter stages of the second round.
Given a do-over, the Football Team could have went for a tackle at No. 19 and then picked up a linebacker at No. 51, one spot before the Cleveland Browns snatched Owusu-Koramoah on Friday.
Jacksonville Jaguars Reach for Running Back
The Jacksonville Jaguars made a slam-dunk, no-brain decision to draft Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall Thursday, but their other first-round pick has left many scratching their heads.
The Jags took running back Travis Etienne—Lawrence's teammate at Clemson—at No. 25, a pick that didn't make much sense given the club's glaring problems on defense. After giving up a disheartening 417.7 yards and 30.8 points per game, it was obvious the club needed to address these defensive woes early in the draft.
This Jacksonville roster has too many holes at positions much tougher and costlier to find production at compared to running back, making this pick a luxury the franchise can't afford.
There were a slew of edge-rushers still available when Jacksonville made the Etienne pick, with Payton Turner, Gregory Rousseau, Jayson Oweh and Joe Tryon coming off the board in the late first round. Any one of those would have been a major boon for a defense that recorded a paltry 18 sacks last year.
The Etienne selection was also a rather redundant one, given Jacksonville got a great season from James Robinson in 2020. The undrafted rookie RB amassed 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on 240 totes, plus contributed in the passing game with 49 catches for 344 yards and three scores.
While Robinson may not have as high of a ceiling as Etienne, the incumbent starter is clearly a capable asset who could have continued on as the top RB job in Jacksonville in 2021. Unless Etienne develops into a superstar back with a long and healthy career, he wasn't worth missing out on a stud defender.
Miami Dolphins' Trade Gambit Fails to Pay Off
The Miami Dolphins were one of the most active teams during the lead-up to the 2021 draft. They initially held the No. 3 selection but made a series of deals that ended with the club first picking at No. 6.
While the 'Phins acquired plenty of draft capital for trading back, their moves ultimately didn't pan out this year. Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase—a pair of generational offensive weapons with few flaws—were taken back-to-back right before Miami was on the clock.
The organization settled for wideout Jaylen Waddle, a former teammate of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. Waddle should end up becoming a quality receiver at the professional level, but his athleticism isn't on par with Chase's and he doesn't possesses the sky-high upside of Pitts.
Not only did the Dolphins miss out on the two best skill position prospects in this class, but they may end up regretting skipping over Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith as well. Smith is a crisp route-runner who showed he can dominate during his Heisman-winning campaign in 2020.
Surprisingly, Miami graded Waddle as the top receiver in the class and had him at No. 2 overall on its big board—behind only Trevor Lawrence—a ranking that doesn't jibe with the multitude of draft experts who felt Chase was the top wideout in this class. Many even had Smith ranked ahead of Waddle, but it remains to be seen which Crimson Tide wideout has the more successful career.
While reuniting the successful collegiate battery of Waddle and Tagovailoa could pay dividends, it's more likely the franchise ends up regretting not sitting tight at No. 3 to get Pitts or Chase. The Dolphins may even regret not trading back a few more spots on Day 1 to snag some more value plus Smith, who wasn't taken until the Philadelphia Eagles moved up to get him at No. 10.