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NFL Draft grades 2021: Live results & analysis for every pick in Round 1

How well did your team fare in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft? Sporting News has you covered in tracking all the picks and issuing grades beginning in real time Thursday night.

Going on the clock in Cleveland, the spotlight again is on the quarterbacks, starting with the first three picks. But there’s plenty of franchise-changing talent at other positions both in terms of immediate impact and long-term shine.

The key questions to ask right away: Did the team get the right player at a position of need? Did it pass on someone else who could have been a better fit? Was the player it took worthy of that high of selection vs. the promise of similar prospects? Based on our evaluations, we’re providing answers for what the picks mean now and later. 

From No. 1 through No. 32, this is your hub for in-depth live reaction in Round 1, grading every team and player fit.

MORE 2021 NFL DRAFT:
Winners & losers | Best remaining after Round 1

NFL Draft grades 2021: Live picks, analysis from Round 1

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Jacksonville couldn’t do better than this after earning the first overall pick and a generational talent at the position who stands out even in a top-heavy draft class. Urban Meyer begins his pro career with a strong-armed passer, great athlete and exceptional leader with plenty of winning pedigree. Lawrence, with the right support soon, can be an ace starter for several seasons.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

The Jets surprised some by locking into Wilson so soon over Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones as their replacement for Sam Darnold. But they liked Wilson’s combination of arm and athleticism with a dash of dazzle. Wilson is confident after an accurate breakout season and is a great cerebral fit for the new offense of Mike LaFleur.

3. San Francisco 49ers (from Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The 49ers pulled off a mild shocker by going with the high-ceiling prospect vs. the high floor of Mac Jones. Lance is also a highly intelligent passer capable of making all the throws and offers a special brand of athleticism Jones can’t. Lance needs some development to hone his skills, but he gets into a great passer-friendly system and inherits a loaded supporting cast to boost him under Kyle Shanahan. Look for Lance to start sooner rather than later and take a top offense to an unprecedented level.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The Falcons stuck with their guns to help Matt Ryan and landed a unique dynamic pass-catcher to complement Julio Jones (assuming he’s not traded) and Calvin Ridley. New offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith featured athletic tight ends well with the Titans and will turn Pitts into an immediate-impact intermediate target all the way through the red zone, where he dominated for the Gators. Pitts makes it difficult to handle Atlanta’s passing game in every situation.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Joe Burrow got the help he needs, just a little different from what many expected. Chase is an excellent all-around receiver who can line up everywhere and make big plays like a true No. 1. He has great established chemistry with Burrow from their explosive production together at LSU. Chase will make big Tee Higgins and slot ace Tyler Boyd even more dangerous against lesser coverage. The minus is simply for making the tough decision to go weapon over protection for Burrow in the form of an offensive tackle.

6. Miami Dolphins (from Eagles): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

The Dolphins reunited Waddle with former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, taking a cue from the Bengals with Burrow and Chase the pick before. He was preferred in the end over DeVonta Smith because of ability to add a necessary big-play element, both using his speed to get downfield and using his quickness in the open field as a Tyreek Hill-style receiver. He is the ideal complement to top wideout DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki.

7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

The Lions came through on a good bet to take the best player available for their total rebuild under GM Brad Holmes. Taylor Decker is still at left tackle, but he’s getting older and Sewell can start and immediately upgrade right tackle with Halapoulivaati Vaitai moving to guard. He’s smooth in pass protection and also a long-term rock for the running game.

8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Panthers, with Sewell off the board, were pushed into their glaring defensive need for a cornerback to help shore up the pass defense behind Brian Burns and next to Jeremy Chinn. But with safe, “sure thing” Patrick Surtain II on the board, they opted to look elsewhere in the SEC, down the road to Columbia for a different son of a former NFL player, in this case Joe Horn. Jaycee is a natural big playmaker who rose up boards late because of his comparable size, but Surtain had the ultimate pedigree and better shutdown potential.

9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

There’s nothing wrong with the selection of Surtain, the strong defender in the top 10. But for a team that needed an upgrade at QB and several other positions, Denver went for corner despite adding Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby for Vic Fangio in free agency. Surtain should be a special player with shutdown skills to open up the blitz packages, but the Broncos get knocked a little by going for a future-minded quasi luxury pick.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (from Cowboys): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The Eagles couldn’t ignore the potential of reuniting Smith with former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, so much so they traded with a division rival to get in front of another division rival. They did use a first-rounder on Jalen Reagor last year and have Greg Ward back for the slot, but they needed a reliable route-running No. 1 with some big-play flair for new offensive-minded head coach Nick Sirianni. Hurts, like Burrow and Tagovailoa, gets to throw to a familiar dynamic target from college.

11. Chicago Bears (from Giants): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

The Bears had to give up a first-rounder next year and two additional picks to move up nine spots from No. 20, but it was well worth it to change their QB fortunes with Andy Dalton serving as the veteran bridge. Fields didn’t really “fall,” as simply Lawrence, Wilson and Lance had natural team fits early. He’s a tough, experienced winner with the necessary arm and athleticism to be a viable dual threat in the NFL. He just needs work on handling pressure better and getting the ball out more quickly, but Fields has all the physical tools to solve Chicago’s long-standing QB problem with the right coaching support.

12. Dallas Cowboys (from Eagles): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Dallas made a curious superfluous pick to add to its linebacker strength with Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, going back to the program that produced venerable retiree Sean Lee. Parsons is a rangy playmaker who excels at covering and blitzing. He can line up everywhere to help their defense in another way, but cornerback and true edge rusher were much bigger needs for Dallas and there also were strong options for the offensive line still on the board.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Los Angeles had to be thrilled Slater remained on the board to complete its offensive line overhaul to better protect Justin Herbert in Year 2. Slater, who opted out of the 2020 season, stood on excellent athletic tape that included him holding Chase Young in check on the edge. He will start opposite Bryan Bulaga right away, with Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler and elite center Corey Linsley rounding out the new-look line. Slater looks like a sturdy 10-year rock like Sewell will be.

14. New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC

New York was in the market for an offensive line upgrade at some point and jumped up for an immediate starting left guard to put next to 2020 first-round tackle Mekhi Becton. Vera-Tucker gives the Jets a strong run blocking and pass protecting blind side for Mike LaFleur’s rushing attack and Zach Wilson. They’re on track to be a much better offense in a hurry post Sam Darnold and Adam Gase.

15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Jones compares to Tom Brady in some ways with his size, decision-making skills, accuracy, smarts and mental toughness. He gives the Patriots a high floor to replace bridge QB Cam Newton and restore their style of offense that isn’t built around a runner at the position. Jones just doesn’t have the same dual threat or arm upside as Lance or Fields. Still, Bill Belichick got his much-needed potential franchise QB without a trade up. Jones, like when Jimmy Garoppolo was groomed behind Brady, is a natural fit for the Josh McDaniels offense with just enough mobility.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

The Cardinals went with a versatile linebacker in back-to-back first rounds after taking Isaiah Simmons in 2020. Collins has nice size and offers additional pass-rush and coverage ability, but he’s not the traditional edge producer or cornerback for which Arizona had bigger defensive needs. Collins is a bit of a reach, between a late first-rounder and early second-rounder on most boards.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

Leatherwood had settled as a second-rounder on most boards as a right tackle/guard tweener. He’s a big, powerful blocker, but the Raiders passed up some massive defensive needs with great talent there in the front seven and a couple of higher-quality offensive linemen (Christian Darrisaw, Teven Jenkins) who were still available. He was easily the biggest reach of the first round so far with some concern about consistency in the NFL.

18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)

The Dolphins jumped on the best pass rusher available to help defensive-minded Brian Flores. They could have considered tackle/end hybrid Kwity Paye for freakish ability, but they ultimately went for another smooth athlete who proved himself worthy of delivering greater production in the NFL. Flores and his staff will mold Phillips into a star getting to QBs from different angles. He can be his version of Chandler Jones.

19. Washington Football Team: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Washington got some range and coverage ability at linebacker for Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio. It also needed a second safety to support the run and make plays on the ball. Davis, a hybrid chess piece, is a great fit to support Chase Young and the rest of the front seven. Davis gained late steam as a second-rounder and it was a little surprising he went ahead of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Washington will need to look for QB later and also passed up some strong offensive tackle options as the opportunity cost.

20. New York Giants (from Bears): Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

The Giants could have still landed an offensive tackle here with either Darrisaw or Jenkins, but they stuck with taking a wide receiver after the Eagles grabbed Smith ahead of them before the big trade back with the Bears. New York added Kenny Golladay as a defined outside No. 1 for Daniel Jones. Toney, a big-play slot with some nice field-stretching skills, can complement Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton well with his versatility. There are no more excuses for Jones to break out with all his weapons, including a healthy Saquon Barkley.

21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

The Colts were tied to offensive tackles in the wake of Anthony Castonzo’s retirement for a long time but filled another key need early. Paye, an ideal outside-inside pass rusher who’s a great fit for their 4-3, combines freakish size and athleticism with high effort. Matt Eberflus will love his disruptive ability from different spots.

22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Titans stopped Farley’s fall because of injury concerns, knowing he has the size and smooth coverage skills to develop into a shutdown player who can also make big plays when needed. The Titans could have also considered offensive tackle or edge rusher, but this was a good choice to bring into their defense along with Janoris Jenkins and Kristian Fulton. The value boosts the decision to address this position first.

23. Minnesota Vikings (from Jets): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Vikings pulled off another draft coup with Rick Spielman, managing to still land the rock of a left tackle they needed for their style of offensive line after trading back nine spots. They got a big upgrade from Rashod Hill to make both Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook happy. This pick is a home run, much like Justin Jefferson around the same spot in 2020.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Steelers could have thought about Teven Jenkins to boost their run blocking but getting the elite, powerful, durable workhorse back also worked to revamp their running game as a massive upgrade from James Conner. Harris can pound between the tackles well with his size and strength but also has some burst into the secondary. He also is adept in the passing game as a protector and receiver to stay on the field for three-down impact.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Lawrence and Etienne led the Tigers’ offense to a lot of big plays and wins in college together, but Urban Meyer made a head-scratching luxury pick here for a team that got a terrific workhorse season from undrafted James Robinson in 2020. The Jaguars ignored plenty of available defensive help for their rebuild there, across the board. Etienne is a home-run back with great receiving skills, but he doesn’t make Jacksonville that much better with Robinson already there. This was a good range for him; it’s just a completely wrong team.

26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

The Browns not drafting for immediate need is a testament to them having a loaded roster with an upgraded defense coming off their triumphant playoff return. They didn’t need to force linebacker or defensive tackle when Newsome, with his size, smarts, instincts and nose for the ball, was the clear best player available who also fills a need for an extra big cover man to complement Denzel Ward.

27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Baltimore needed to continue to upgrade its wide receiver corps to support Lamar Jackson, and signing Sammy Watkins to put opposite Marquise Brown wasn’t enough. With some burners to stretch the field, a sturdy, steady route-runner with strong hands to be a reliable possession man was the missing ingredient. Bateman is also a strong red zone option to support tight end Mark Andrews.

28. New Orleans Saints: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston

The good part of this pick is that Turner, with his strong and tall frame, is the ideal style of pass-rusher to fit in Dennis Allen’s 4-3 defense, also filling a major need to get after the quarterback opposite Cameron Jordan in the wake of losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency. The less desirable part is that New Orleans passed on several more productive, consistent edge players for a late riser who finished as a second-rounder on most boards.

29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

The Packers had to address cornerback at some point to try to get the ideal complementary playmaker for Jaire Alexander. This just seems early as they again eschew direct offensive help for Aaron Rodgers, either an offensive tackle or wide receiver. Stokes keeps up the theme of nice-sized corners going early and often and he has some special on-ball attributes. It’s just Green Bay could have found some good values at the position later vs. what it passed up.

30. Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL)

Rousseau was the last of the notable top-flight opt-outs to go in the first round. He’s an exceptional athlete with a short but impressive history of big-time production. Buffalo filled a big need to boost its 4-3 attack for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier with an unexpected high value pick. It was a no-brainer once the temptation of a top-two running back or cornerback was gone.

31. Baltimore Ravens (from Chiefs): Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

Oweh is a freakish athlete. He might be better suited to operate in a base 4-3, but with some developmental work, he can be effective in Baltimore’s 3-4 helping to revamp a depleted pass rush that lost Matthew Judon in free agency. The Ravens went 2-for-2 in addressing key needs and should find a decent answer to help replace Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle on Day 2,

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

The Bucs get a slight knock for passing on defensive tackle depth behind Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, but one cannot argue with them further boosting an impressive pass rush with Tryon starting out as an effective situational player behind Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tampa Bay got a borderline first-round talent with the last pick and it was hard to mess the pick up after an amazing offseason of keeping the Super Bowl 55 starting lineup intact.

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