Podloski’s First Round Grades for the 2021 NFL Draft

Podloski’s First Round Grades for the 2021 NFL Draft

by May 3, 2021 0 comments

The 2021 NFL draft is now officially over and the grading process begins. Overall, the first round had some surprises, some valuable picks, but also some reaches. I evaluate the process by which the pick was made, the value of the position, the scheme fit, and the player himself. With that said, let us dive in, starting with the grading chart I used to evaluate each pick.  

Make sure to check out all of our post-draft coverage here.

Grading Scale for NFL Draft 

A+ Valuable position, excellent scheme fit, process was excellent, talented player C+ Average positional value, questionable scheme fit, good process, non-pro ready player with lots of development.
A Good Positional value, great to excellent scheme fit, process was good to great, talented player. C Poor to average positional value, poor scheme fit, average process, non-pro ready player with lots of development.
A- Average to good positional value, good to great scheme fit, process was average to good, talented player. C- Poor positional value, poor scheme fit, average process, non-pro ready player with lots of development.
B+ Average to good positional value, average to good scheme fit, process was good, talented player. D+ Poor positional value, terrible scheme fit, below process, reach on player talent.
B Average positional value, average to good scheme fit, process was average to good, Good to great player. D Poor positional value, terrible scheme fit, poor process, reach on player talent.
B- Average positional value, average to good scheme fit, process was good, average to good player. F Terrible positional value, terrible scheme fit, poor process, reach on player talent.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Your writer is a Jaguars fan, where years of despair have led to the glorious moment of Lawrence coming to Duval. The perfect grade comes as he was the most complete and pro-ready quarterback out there. The system and support will go a long way to making this a surprising team to look out for in the 2021 season. 

Grade: A+

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

Similar to the Jaguars, everyone expects Wilson to start right away. However, I’m more skeptical as I think Wilson may struggle with the speed and pressure of the NFL. The ideal scenario for Wilson was for him to sit a year and adapt to the speed of the game. Without Sam Darnold, Wilson now must bear the brunt of the brutal New York media, who will be hypercritical on every detail. He will be expected to play Week 1 and make a difference for this team. He gets a high grade for the team building around him and being a talented player, but overall an A- due to the process of the Jets making him start right away.

Grade: A-

3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans) – Trey Lance, QB, NDSU

Ideally, Lance sits the whole year behind Jimmy Garoppolo and takes over next season. This is the most ideal situation for Lance as the scheme will allow him to play outside of the line structure (one of his biggest strengths) and be a dynamic running threat. This pick gets an A as Lance can continue to develop for a year and will start with an excellent supporting cast. 

Grade: A

4. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Pitts should hit the ground running as he is perhaps the best tight end prospect to ever come out of college. His receiving ability is dynamic, and still getting better. Pitts should offer rookie of the year upside as a plug-and-play starter. Tight end is valuable when there is an elite player, which Pitts has the potential to be, thus the grade gets an A. 

Grade: A

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

Ja’Marr Chase is the best receiver to come out in the last five years and immediately makes this receiving core a top-five unit. Not only do they get a dominant wide receiver in Chase, but it allows Higgins to play the second-best corner, along with Tyler Boyd, which gives them more mismatches. Chase will be able to hit the ground running with his rapport with Joe Burrow. The Chase pick makes this offense so dynamic and will give Burrow a chain-mover in big situations and will allow Higgins to go against less pressure. 

Grade: A

6. Miami Dolphins – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Waddle is an explosive vertical threat that has a rapport with Tua Tagovailoa already. What gets undervalued for is his run after the catch ability. Of the four first-round picks Alabama had at receiver in 2019, he was the only one returning punts and kickoffs because he’s simply was the best with the ball in his hands. His elusiveness, short-area quickness, and vision make him a dynamic player. Above all, this grade deserves an A- as Waddle can offer a deep threat, but also gadget plays that keep the defense on its toes. 

Grade: A

7. Detroit Lions – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Dan Campbell drafts an elite prospect for a position who exemplifies this idea of ‘biting off knee caps’ and building from the trenches. Sewell was easily the best offensive linemen in the draft, but will immediately make an impact in two positions. Halapoulivaati Vaitai can move into guard and compete with Jonah Jackson and the right tackle position will get better with Sewell. Overall, Sewell played extremely well at the age of 19 (2019) and could be excellent starting Week 1. 

Grade: A

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

The fit for Horn is interesting as the Panthers’ defense plays lots of off-coverage man. Carolina must allow Horn to play more press at the line of scrimmage for this to be an effective pick. That aside, Horn is a nice fit for the division playing against Julio Jones/Pitts, Michael Thomas, and Mike Evans. I see the vision and role for Horn, all that is left is the execution. 

Grade: B

9. Denver Broncos – Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama

Surtain puts the Broncos into the category of top secondary in the league. Surtain has the tools to be an elite cornerback and paired with Kyle Fuller, he makes this a scary pairing. Many will say this grade is high because they did not take Justin Fields which is fair, but the reality of the situation is that Surtain was the best defensive player in the draft and fell to the Broncos. They get a B+ as he fell to them, but also it is a valuable position. 

Grade: B+

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dallas Cowboys) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama 

Smith enters a system that has had an extremely hard learning curve, where first-year receivers have struggled. The fit in itself makes sense, but the targets will be interesting for Smith’s first year. Devil’s advocate says betting on an outlier is a bad process and 166 pounds as a wide receiver in the modern era can be troubling. However, the grade gets a B, as the team is giving all the weapons necessary to determine if Jalen Hurts is the future, while also taking a shot at Smith who could become a very good pro receiver. 

Grade: B

11. Chicago Bears (via New York Giants) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State 

Fields was number two on my Big Board overall and to get him outside of the top ten is insane. They only really gave up a 2022 first-round pick to move up and secure him. Fields ideally will sit behind Andy Dalton and learn the nuances of pocket movement – his biggest weakness. Fields could be a franchise quarterback and deserves a A+ grade for the talent, process, and fit. 

Grade: A+

12. Dallas Cowboys – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

I’m skeptical of this pick for a number of reasons but I’ll simplify. What is the fit and way Parsons gets onto the field his first year? Leighton Vander Esch still played ten games last year, and Jaylon Smith remains under a massive contract. In addition, the team will move to a 3-4 and play a majority of nickel (with basically two linebackers out of the group of three). One of them is the odd man I worry that Parsons will not see the field, nor will they have the right plan for him. With that said, this is one of those picks that may look better in four years than it does immediately following the draft. 

Grade: B-

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

This is one of those picks that will cascade across the offense line and make every spot better. Slater was a top-10 player and can play left tackle or guard. He offers the Chargers the ability to put the best five players out on the field and should hit the ground running in pass protection. Ultimately, the Slater pick gives the Chargers a shot at a franchise tackle to protect Justin Herbert

Grade: A

14. New York Jets (via Minnesota Vikings) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC 

I like the idea of getting another immediate impact player to protect quarterback Wilson, but am worried the team gave up too much. Overall, they gave up two additional third-round picks for a guard, and you have to wonder how much value there is. Grading the player himself, Vera-Tucker is outstanding and gives the team an immediate upgrade. He’s a great pass blocker and has the movement skills to make this a top left side of an offensive line in the NFL with Mekhi Becton. The pick gets a B as the trade was quite a lot for a guard, but New York still got a talented player. 

Grade: B

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

Patriots are taking shots at a future quarterback while not giving up future capital. Jones has the potential to be the future starter but doesn’t offer much outside of structure. However, Jones did play well and made plays inside the pocket, and allowing him to sit for a year will be the best thing for his development. So the player lowers this grade slightly, but the process was good. 

Grade: B+

16. Arizona Cardinals – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

The pick is nerve-wracking considering that the Cardinals couldn’t find a role for Isaiah Simmons last year. Collins has the potential to be a pro bowl linebacker but has to develop. This pick gets a C+ as the scheme makes me wary of whether the team can get him snaps and if they can develop him properly.

Grade: C+

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

Leatherwood fits a big need at right tackle, but many considered this pick a reach. It is true that Leatherwood isn’t perfect and struggles with balance, but he fits what they want to do and is a big ‘Gruden Grinder’. Leatherwood offers the team excellent upside and a bookend with Kolton Miller. Overall, there were better players on the board, but this still fills a need. 

Grade: C+

18. Miami Dolphins – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami

Similar to the Caleb Farley pick later, the Dolphins are getting either a A+ pick or a D pick, as Phillips comes with significant red flags. He was medically retired with concussions and plays a position that has contact every play. Overall, Phillips has the potential to be the best edge rusher in this draft, but the concerns are significant, thus the grade gets a B. 

Grade: B

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

Getting a dynamic player who can make a difference in the run and pass game is important. Davis has the tools and athleticism to be an excellent linebacker, but the experience and nuances of the linebacker are still aspects he’s learning. The only thing stopping this from being a A grade is that the linebacker position is becoming more and more difficult to play and its value as a whole is decreasing. Overall, this is an excellent pick and has the potential to transform their defense if Davis’ development continues. 

Grade: A-

20. New York Giants (via Chicago Bears) – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

I love the process of this pick for two reasons. First, you are giving Daniel Jones another weapon – allowing the Giants to determine if he’s the guy or not. Second, if Jones isn’t the guy, you traded back and accumulated a first-round pick next year, of which you can use both picks to trade up. Process aside, Toney is a good player and while there were other receivers higher on my board, he fills a need and will be able to effectively slot into the Golden Tate role.

Grade: B

21. Tennessee Titans – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Farley is either an A+ or D grade, so you split the difference with a B. Similar to Jeffery Simmons, the Titans take chances on highly talented players with injury concerns. If Farley is healthy, he would have been the top corner in this draft. The concern comes from not playing football since 2019 and having back surgery in March 2021. The ultimate question is if his body can hold up through training camp, 17 football games, and playoffs. 

Grade: B

22. Indianapolis Colts – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Paye was the ninth-best player on my big board and for him to fall to 22 is crazy. Paye is one of the few athletes who have the potential to be an elite player. The tools and traits are there, what remains to be seen is the consistency and development of tools. The reason this gets an A+ is Paye’s physical prowess could make this defense faster and give them a versatile pass rusher. 

Grade A+

23. Minnesota Vikings (via New York Jets) – Christain Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The process for this pick was excellent. Not only did the Vikings get two more starters, but they also got a starting left tackle. Darrisaw fell due to an injury, resulting in core surgery completed in January. Darrisaw was one of the top offensive linemen for this draft and someone that should be an immediate starter and improve the pass protection for Kirk Cousins. This grade gets an A, for the two additional starters and one of the top linemen. 

Grade: A

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Steelers got themselves Le’Veon Bell 2.0, simple as that. Harris is more than the surface analysis presents, he’s an effective pass catcher and short-yardage back. He has extremely underrated receiving skills where he has nice body control and reliable hands, but also he can run routes effectively while lined up at wide receiver. As a running back, he offers power and vision along with significant contact balance. While many say running backs in the first round don’t deserve a high grade, this pick makes sense, and allow the Steelers to get a workhorse back.

Grade: B-

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

This pick is either excellent or not good at all. Etienne will give Lawrence some comfort in the NFL and he is the most explosive back in the draft. Thus, I think Urban Meyer drafted him with the expectation that he will be the Curtis Samuel-like gadget in the offense, which is extremely valuable. He can score from anywhere on the field and catch well, thus the pick is B+ if he’s used in more of that capacity. The grade is a C+ if he’s used as a regular running back and takes away carries from James Robinson. It averages to a B where I think Etienne will add an explosive element to this offense. 

Grade: B

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

The process of this pick is excellent, as it allows the browns to build a top secondary unit. Newsome II will battle Greedy Williams for a second corner position, which is incredible considering some analysts (myself included) believe Newsome II has the tools to become a corner that blankets top receivers. The Browns may now have two excellent cornerbacks and deserve an A grade with the value they got. 

Grade: A

27. Baltimore Ravens – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Bateman provides a taller target for Lamar Jackson. Moreover, he’s one of the most well-rounded receivers in this draft, boasting great run after catch skills, nice contested catch ability, and reliable hands. The pro comparison is a smaller Allen Robinson and gives the Ravens an A- grade for allowing the draft to come to them and picking one of the best receivers. 

Grade: A

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

This was a reach by most standards, but you have to ask why did they take Turner higher than expected. Turner has the tools to be an excellent player, we just have not seen him put it all together yet. He’s a developmental player and proper development may make a difference on an already strong Saints defensive line. 

Grade: C+

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

The Packers value stopping the run more than they value stopping the pass, and with the limited number of corners in this draft, they made a good pick here. Stokes is fast and offers what the Packers want to do – play more zone but have a player who can press on important downs. Stokes is still getting better and could make this one of the best duos of cornerbacks with Jaire Alexander.

Grade: B

30. Buffalo Bills – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

The Bills get a high-upside pass rusher who is still improving. Rousseau has versatility and gets pressure from all positions on the line which is something I trust the Buffalo coaching staff to maximize. The only fault is if Rousseau can develop to become a complete pass rusher. It might take a year or two before we see him get consistent pressure. 

Grade: B

31. Baltimore Ravens (Via Kansas City Chiefs) – Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

This is a Ravens special: Draft a high-upside defensive linemen and then let him be a full-time starter year two or three. Except Oweh’s tools are much higher than any linemen they have taken in the past five years. His athleticism is special, and if he learns nuances of pass-rushing, he could be a dominant edge rusher. 

Grade: B

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

Tyron was drafted higher than where the consensus had him. I agree he was a reach at this point, but it was a reach at a valuable position. Tyron is still developing, and the tools are intriguing similar to the Saints’ Turner. So similar to that grade, the grade is a C+ as there is a lots to like, but still a reach. 

Grade: C+

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