Which 2021 NFL Rookies Were Drafted by the Wrong Team?
The NFL draft is always a time for optimism, and most selections are met with anything from mild to effusive praise. However, there are always exceptions.
Nearly every year, a handful of early round choices are strange fits. Although the 2021 draft lacked the occasionally truly bizarre picks, several top-75 selections look underwhelming on paper.
The choices are entirely subjective. And, hey, we might remember some of these criticisms in a few years and laugh.
But based on current depth charts, a team's scheme and perceived draft needs, these draft picks all created reason for pause. The order is organized from earliest to latest selection.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
Pick: No. 11
From the Chicago Bears' perspective, they crushed it. This is not a reflection of Fields being a poor selection for the struggling NFC North franchise with a history of bad quarterback play. You can question Matt Nagy's ability to develop a quarterback, but that's the only negative here for Chicago.
Instead, this is more of where Fields did not go.
Considered the second-best QB in this class behind Trevor Lawrence from high school through January's national championship game, Fields suddenly began to fall during the predraft process. "Why" is a question we're still trying to answer.
Yet the New York Jets chose Zach Wilson, and the San Francisco 49ers took Trey Lance. None of the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers or Denver Broncos―all lacking a long-term answer at QB―picked Fields.
Great for Chicago. Probably good for Fields. Bad on the rest.
Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Pick: No. 12
Micah Parsons is a great player who the Dallas Cowboys added at a good value, but a trend is concerning.
Dallas continues to invest resources at linebacker, which is a position of average importance if you exclude edge-rushers. In the last five years, the Cowboys have selected Jaylon Smith (2016), Leighton Vander Esch (2018) and now Parsons with top-35 picks. Throw in the offseason addition of Keanu Neal, and the position group is crowded.
Even though Dallas recently declined Vander Esch's fifth-year option, he might not be leaving. Per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan that the team wants to re-sign Vander Esch anyway.
Parsons can develop into a reliable starter and has some position flexibility, given his high school background as a pass-rusher.
But the Cowboys need to stop running to the linebacker well.
Zaven Collins, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Pick: No. 16
Flexibility is an essential piece of any modern defense, so a player like Zaven Collins is a worthwhile early selection.
However, there must be a coherent plan to utilize his versatile skill set. And after watching Isaiah Simmons search for a consistent role on the Arizona Cardinals last season, it's concerning―at the very least―to see them doing it again.
In fairness, the Cardinals seem to have an idea.
"Playing side-by-side with Isaiah Simmons when you see those two guys in there with their length, it's really like having two trees in the middle of the field," general manager Steve Keim said, according to Darren Urban of the team's official site.
If that remains true, Arizona can silence the criticism. But with Jordan Hicks already pegged to start at the position, any indecisiveness in Collins' role would be frustrating to watch.
Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants
Pick: No. 20
This is a challenging spot for the New York Giants, who have a quarterback problem more than a receiver issue. Since they're committed to Daniel Jones, though, they have prioritized adding more pass-catchers.
In free agency, the Giants signed Kenny Golladay to a four-year, $72 million deal and also added John Ross III. They joined a receiving corps that returns Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard.
Despite those additions, New York still took Kadarius Toney in the first round―and didn't select any offensive linemen in the entire draft. Early on, the Giants passed on Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson and Teven Jenkins, among others.
Between the Giants' shaky offensive line, tolerable depth at receiver and Jason Garrett not exactly being the most creative coordinator, it's easy to see Toney becoming lost on the depth chart.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Pick: No. 25
Travis Etienne is a dynamic runner. In a few years, he might be a successful player for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Literally one season after finding an undrafted gem at running back, however, the Jaguars used their second-most valuable draft pick on the same position. Look, we're just people with a keyboard, but that's a bizarre roster-building plan.
James Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards at 4.5 per carry and caught 49 passes for 344 yards. While not as explosive as Etienne, they have reasonably similar skill sets.
Overall, the Jags had a superb draft. That helps minimize the sting of using a valuable draft pick on a luxury player.
After a 1-15 season, though, was this the right moment for that luxury pick? Hopefully they won't regret adding a running back instead of a highly rated offensive lineman or pass-rusher.
Aaron Banks, IOL, San Francisco 49ers
Pick: No. 48
Kyle Shanahan has risen to prominence because of the stress his offenses can create. San Francisco leans heavily on outside-zone runs, which has always been a staple of Shanahan teams.
So, why Aaron Banks? Although he's a good prospect, his strengths are basically a polar opposite.
"Teams that ask their interior line to play out in space often or play laterally to string out action will find Banks' resume much less appealing than those that implement vertical climbs and double-teams to generate interior lanes and space," Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network said of the Notre Dame product.
NFL Network pegged Banks as "heavy-legged in space" with a weakness in adjusting to block defenders on the move.
Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch are smart football people. This one, nevertheless, is curious.
Tutu Atwell, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Pick: No. 57
This response comes with a caveat.
Under head coach Sean McVay, the Rams regularly use motion, jet sweeps and misdirection. Tutu Atwell, a quick and shifty player, can seamlessly fill that responsibility.
If the Los Angeles Rams are comfortable moving Robert Woods to the outside, Atwell is a logical choice. The challenge, though, is Woods has carved out a role in the slot. He spent 59.5 percent of his snaps there last season, per Rotowire.
The trio of Woods, Cooper Kupp and Atwell can be dangerous if they can coexist. However, both Woods and Atwell have primarily played in the slot with Los Angeles and Louisville. And the Rams run the risk of predictability if they're not on the field together.
Los Angeles must determine how to best utilize Woods―who has 86-plus catches in the last three seasons―while not removing him for Atwell, yet still feature the rookie's strengths.
Davis Mills, QB, Houston Texans
Pick: No. 67
Deshaun Watson is facing allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, and ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that some people in the NFL believe Watson's career with the Houston Texans is over.
There are two outcomes here.
Houston signed Tyrod Taylor to hold the backup job, and he'd start over a rookie. And if Watson doesn't return to the Texans, they'll be in the market for a quarterback. Davis Mills might get a shot to compete with Taylor and free-agent signing Ryan Finley, but Houston won't be satisfied with the depth at the position.
Conversely, if Watson returns, nobody else is starting. On the field, he's an established elite quarterback.
Mills' chances of rising the depth chart in Houston are extremely slim.