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Revisiting the 2021 NFL Draft: One of the best classes ever?

Jesus Christ Trevor Lawrence Jaguars Draft
Revisiting the 2021 NFL Draft: One of the best classes ever? Trevor Lawrence looks like a legit prospect after a huge playoff win!

One of the most fun exercises to do in draft circles is look back at past drafts and analyze how each teams picks faired.  The 2021 NFL draft class is already a memorable one and could turn into one of the best draft classes ever.

So, without further ado let’s kick it off with Trevor Lawrence at number one.

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1 Jac Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson

If you did this exercise a year ago, grading this selection would be very difficult.  Lawrence was looked at as a generational talent coming out of college, but a very underwhelming rookie season had Jaguars fans concerned.

However, this season he has taken a major step, elevating his game under a much better coaching situation with Doug Pederson stepping in.

Lawrence has lead the Jaguars to an AFC south crown and a wild card win.  He’s firmly a top 15 quarterback in the league at this moment and even has a case to be considered top 10.  

Regardless of where you rank them now I think everyone can agree he still has much room to grow.  With Calvin Ridley joining a young team on the up swing I think he’ll take yet another step up again next season.

Grade: A

2 NYJ Zach Wilson QB BYU

There was a lot of hope around New York that Zach Wilson could be their franchise quarterback and perhaps even turn into one of the games best.

All of that hope is completely lost now however after an absolute disaster of a season from Wilson.

I don’t like writing quarterbacks off so early in their career, however with Wilson getting benched multiple times throughout the season it’s not too early to declare him a bust.

I don’t want to criticize the Jets too much as it’s essential to take shots on quarterbacks, but you have to wonder where this team would be with Justin Fields at quarterback.

Grade: F

3 SF Trey Lance QB North Dakota State

With just three full starts under his belt after an ankle injury ended his season this year it’s very hard to evaluate Lance at this point in his career.

With Brock Purdy playing well right now, it’s up in the air on whether Lance will be the starter next season.  So, it’ll be very interesting to see how the 49ers handle that next season.

Grade: INC

4 Atl Kyle Pitts TE Florida

Coming into the NFL, Kyle Pitts was one of the best tight end prospects ever.  Given all that hype, it’s reasonable to say that his career so far has been a bit underwhelming so far.

He had 1,026 yards as a rookie, but wasn’t utilized as much in his second season as he recorded 356 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 10 games before a knee injury ended his season.

It’s hard to assign a grade to this selection as I still have a lot of faith that Pitts can be an elite tight end, but the main question will be if moving forward the Falcons can utilize his talent in their offense better than they have so far?

Grade: C+

5 Cin Ja’Marr Chase WR LSU

This was one of the most highly debated picks in draft circles at the time of the 2021 NFL draft and there’s no question at this point that the Bengals hit a home run with Ja’Marr Chase.

Chase set a rookie record for receiving yards with 1,455 yards in the regular season last year.  This led to him being named offensive rookie of the year and being regarded amongst the top echelon of receivers in the NFL already.

This year he has been phenomenal as well as he missed four games with a hip injury but still managed to eclipse 1000 yards.

Grade: A

6 Mia Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama

Waddle unfortunately broke his ankle in his last season at Alabama, but his skill set and talent was still apparent enough for the Dolphins to take him at sixth overall.

Waddle had a productive rookie season as he caught 104 passes for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns.

With Mike McDaniel joining the Dolphins as their head coach and Tyreek Hill forming one of the scariest receiving duos in the league alongside him, Waddle made a very strong case to be considered a top 10 receiver in the league as he was seventh in the league in receiving yards.

Grade: A

7 Det Penei Sewell OT Oregon

The fact that Penei Sewell was still on the board at seventh overall, just goes to show how much talent this draft class had.  Sewell is good enough to be the first non-quarterback off the board in some drafts.

Sewell has certainly lived up to his hype as well.  Playing offensive tackle, he doesn’t make as much headlines as the other players in this class, but he has quickly developed into a very good offensive tackle.

This season, playing right tackle for the Lions he graded as the 10th offensive tackle in the league with a grade of 80.6.

Grade: A

8 Car Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina

The first defensive player to come off the board in this draft was South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn.

Horn unfortunately missed most of his rookie season after a broken foot in just his third game.  His second year was a very good one however as he proved himself as one of the better corners in the league already before a broken wrist ended his season late in the year.

Horn isn’t quite the player Pat Surtain II is who went right behind him in this draft.  You can’t knock this selection however as Horn is already a very good player.

Grade: A-

9 Den Patrick Surtain II CB Alabama

As I just mentioned, the next player off the board in this draft was Pat Surtain II.  This was obviously a very good pick as he has quickly developed into one of the best corners in the game.

He had a good rookie season that would have been worthy of a defensive rookie of the year most seasons if he wasn’t in the same class as Micah Parsons.  He followed that up with a phenomenal second year as he was named first all-pro.

Grade: A

10 Phi Devonta Smith WR Alabama

Devonta Smith had a story book career at Alabama as he became the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991 and won two national titles, including catching the game winner in overtime in one of them.

Smith has not disappointed one bit on the Eagles either as he has put together two very good seasons and is one of the best route runners in the league.

Smith alongside AJ Brown form one of the best receiver duos in football as the Eagles have their sights set of on taking home the Super Bowl this season.

Grade: A-

11 Chi Justin Fields QB Ohio State

As with the Lawrence selection this would have been a lot harder to grade after Fields’ rookie season.

It’s hard to evaluate Fields too harshly for a subpar rookie season as he was put in a difficult situation and not many rookie quarterbacks find success right out of the gate.

Fields still has a lot of growing to do so I can’t go too high with this grade but after a very good second half of the season it’s looking promising that with a better supporting cast and more time in the NFL he’ll develop into the player he was drafted to be.

Grade: B+

12 Dal Micah Parsons LB Penn State

This is the easiest pick to grade in the entire article as it’s absolutely no secret the Cowboys hit a grand slam with this pick.

Parsons has transitioned into an edge rusher where he is already one of the leagues best players and quite frankly has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the history of football.

Parsons’ rookie year was one of the best in league history as he was excelled in an off ball linebacker role which he was drafted to be but flourished as an edge rusher which is where he takes most of his snaps now.

Playing more exclusively on the edge (738 DL snaps, 171 box snaps)  Parsons was once again one of the leagues best players as he tied for the league lead in pressures in the regular season with 90 and was once again named first team all pro.

Just to put into perspective how good Micah Parsons is, he actually changed the grading into this process for me.  There are many picks that I felt deserved an A+ grade but I felt with Parsons being on another level than even the other elite players in this class that he should receive the only A+ grade.

Grade: A+

13 LAC Rashawn Slater OT Northwestern

The second offensive tackle off the board in the 2021 draft was yet another elite prospect in Rashawn Slater.  The Northwestern star was drafted to be Justin Herbert’s blindside protector and he has certainly lived up to that expectation so far.

Slater was lights out in his rookie season, so much so that he was named second team all-pro.  Unfortunately, a biceps injury in week three kept Slater on the sideline for the rest of the Chargers’ season this year.

What Slater did his rookie season is more than convincing enough that Slater has an excellent career ahead of him.

Grade: A

14 NYJ Alijah Vera-Tucker OG USC

Unfortunately for the Jets this is where the run on elite prospects ends as they traded up for USC offensive linemen Alijah Vera-Tucker.  

Vera-Tucker has been solid thus far for the Jets.  His rookie season he started all 17 games at left guard and was inconsistent as a pass protector but overall he had a solid rookie year.

This season he played a different role as he played snaps at left tackle, right guard, and right tackle over seven games before a triceps injury ended his season.

Grade: C+

15 NE Mac Jones QB Alabama

This selection was one of the more difficult to grade as Jones looked good as a rookie.  He had in fact the best rookie season out of all the quarterbacks in this class.

This season he took a big step back however as he struggled quite a bit under new offensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

I haven’t written Mac Jones off yet as I believe in the right situation he can be a solid quarterback.  With that being said however with his struggles in year two you can’t give them a good grade for this selection.

Grade: C-

16 Ari Zaven Collins LB Tulsa

To round out the top half of the first round the Cardinals selected Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins.  The Cardinals paired him alongside 2020 first round pick Isaiah Simmons.  Both are starting quality players, but it’s fair to assume the Cardinals expected more out of their first round picks thus far.

Up to this point in his career Zaven Collins has been somewhat underwhelming.  That’s not to say that he can’t turn it around, but when you take a linebacker in the top half of the first round you expect better than what Collins has produced so far.

Grade: D+

17 LV Alex Leatherwood OT Alabama

No matter how good a draft class is there’s always going to be certain picks that just don’t work out and this is certainly one of them.

Leatherwood was a complete disaster as a rookie for the Raiders as he graded out as amongst the worst offensive linemen in football.  He surrendered eight sacks and 65 pressures, leading to him being cut for the 2022 season.

The Raiders deserve all the criticism they get for this selection as it was seen as a big reach on draft night and what’s transpired since has backed that up.

Grade: F

18 Mia Jaelan Phillips DE Miami (FL)

Another unique thing about this draft class was how long it took for am edge rusher to come off the board as Jaelan Phillips was the first off the board at 18.

Phillips was a bit of a project coming out of college as he was a former number one overall recruit who struggled with injuries in college.  Phillips ended up transferring to Miami (FL) and had a great season in 2020 which propelled him to being a first rounder.

He has not disappointed as in his second season he has taken a big step and was very productive for the Dolphins defense.  In the regular season he finished 7th in the entire league in pressures with 70.

It’s hard to ask for much more from the 18th overall pick as Phillips is already one of the best players at one of the most valuable positions in the league in just year two.

Grade: A

19 Was Jamin Davis LB Kentucky

Of all the first round picks this is one of the harder selections to evaluate two years later.  The reason I say that is because Jamin Davis was drafted more as a project and wasn’t necessarily expected to pay dividends this early in his career.

As a rookie, Davis was a bit up and down as he wasn’t a full-time starter, but still played a lot of snaps.  This season, Davis became a full-time starter and showed improvement.  Davis is currently a starting quality linebacker with room to grow into something more.

So, as of now I definitely wouldn’t call this selection a home run, but it wasn’t a miss either.

Grade: C-

20 NYG Kadarius Toney WR Florida

The Giants traded down from the 11th pick to the 20th pick and picked up three additional picks including a first rounder in 2022 which turned into the 7th overall pick. They picked up good value in that trade, but they obviously missed on this pick as Toney is no longer on the roster.

Toney is still a talented player who has a chance to carve out a good career for himself in Kansas City. With that being said, looking at this from the Giants perspective there’s no other way to evaluate this than as a failure.

Grade: F

21 Ind Kwity Paye DE Michigan

Kwity Paye came out of Michigan and into the NFL with a high ceiling, especially as a pass rusher. He made headlines in draft season with a ridiculous unofficial 3-cone time of 6.37, which would of ranked as the best of any edge rusher since 1987.

Paye is still developing as a pass rusher and hasn’t shattered first round expectations so far. However, he’s still been a solid player who you’re comfortable with playing a lot of snaps. With this in mind and potential for Paye to develop as a pass rusher, I think that makes this a solid pick.

Grade: C+

22 Ten Caleb Farley CB Virginia Tech

Caleb Farley was one of the most highly debated prospects in the 2021 draft class. From a talent perspective he looked like a top 10 pick, but injury concerns caused him to drop out of the top 20 before the Titans took him 22nd overall.

Unfortunately for Farley and the Titans has played just eight games so far in his career due to injuries. His 2021 season came to an end after tearing his ACL and his 2022 season ended with a back injury.

This is another pick that’s impossible to evaluate because of the injuries, but given that his injury concerns were apparent coming into the NFL and he’s been injured in both of his seasons you have to be critical of the pick.

Grade: D

23 Min Christian Darrisaw OT Virginia Tech

Christian Darrisaw may not be the first name thought when this draft class is mentioned. However, with the season he put together this year he is firmly apart of the group of stars in this class.

Darrisaw came in as a rookie as the starting left tackle for the Vikings and had a very promising season. He wasn’t quite on the same level as other rookie tackles like Sewell and Slater his rookie year, but this season he took a big step up to one of the games best offensive tackles.

On PFF he graded out as the second best offensive tackle in the NFL with a grade of 90.3. That type of production in a players second year is rare, making this a home run type of draft pick.

Grade: A

24 Pit Najee Harris RB Alabama

In the 2020 season the Steelers were very inefficient running the ball, so they drafted Najee Harris to help fix their run game.

In Harris’ rookie season they made a commitment to make him a focal point of the offense as he not only was second in the league with 307 rush attempts in 17 regular season games, but he also had 74 catches. His workload went down in 2022, but he was still fifth in the league in attempts with 272.

Harris has been a solid back for the Steelers the past two years. However, he hasn’t reached top 10 running back status, which to me is necessary in order to make selecting a running back in the first round good value.

Grade: C-

25 Jac Travis Etienne RB Clemson

With their second pick of the first round the Jaguars selected the other half of the Clemson backfield duo in Travis Etienne after taking Lawrence number one overall.

Unfortunately, Etienne injured his foot and missed his rookie season. This season Etienne has been a pretty productive back, especially in the mid to late portion of the season as he’s had six 100 rushing yard performances in the last 13 games.

However, as I said with the Steelers selection of Harris unless a running back is producing like a top 10 back it’s not worth taking them in the first round.

Grade: D+

26 Cle Greg Newsome II CB Northwestern

The Browns selected Greg Newsome II to build their secondary and compliment Denzel Ward. In his first two seasons with Cleveland Newsome has done just that pretty well as versatile defensive piece who can cover from the slot and outside.

I wouldn’t call the pick a home run as he isn’t amongst the very best players at his position like a lot of players in this class. However, getting a good CB2 at this point in the draft is good value.

Grade: B

27 Bal Rashod Bateman WR Minnesota

The Ravens drafted Rashod Bateman to give Lamar Jackson some weapons to work with in this offense. Bateman missed some time at the start of rookie year with a groin injury, but had a promising rookie year.

After trading Marquise Brown, the Ravens looked to Bateman to develop into the top wide receiver in the offense. He got off to a good start to the season, but unfortunately a foot injury ended his season after six games.

The injury last season makes this pick very tough to evaluate. I do think Bateman can show why he was a first rounder if he can stay healthy, but for now I can’t give them any higher of a grade.

Grade: C-

28 NO Payton Turner DE Houston

Payton Turner was a bit of project coming out of Houston as a late first rounder. However, there’s no sugar coating it that’s he has been underwhelming in his two seasons with the Saints so far in his career.

In his 13 career games for them so far he’s played just 315 snaps. He’s yet to start a game for them, which is understandable with Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport on the roster. But, you’d still expect more production to date out of a first round edge rusher.

Grade: D

29 GB Eric Stokes CB Georgia

After losing the NFC Championship to the Buccaneers primarily due to lack of depth at corner it made sense for the Packers to add a corner.

Eric Stokes had a solid rookie season, especially when you consider that it’s typically harder for corners to transition to the NFL than other positions. This season he started the first nine games before knee/ankle injuries ended his season.

Overall, this is another player that has shown some promise so far who plays a high value position, so this looks like a solid pick so far by my standards.

Grade: C+

30 Buf Gregory Rousseau DE Miami (FL)

The tail end of round one saw a run of edge rushers come off the board as Gregory Rousseau was one of four edge rushers to come off the board in the last five picks.

Rousseau had a solid rookie year as he started every game and played nearly 600 games for Buffalo. He followed that up by taking a step up in year two as Von Miller going down he ended up leading the team with 51 pressures.

Grade: B+

31 Bal Odafe Oweh DE Penn State

Odafe Oweh was one of more intriguing prospects in the 2021 draft. He didn’t produce quite as much as you’d expect out of a first rounder, but he rose up draft boards with an incredible showing at his pro day in which he ran a 4.36 40 yard dash at 6-foot-5, 257 pounds.

In his first two seasons with the Ravens he’s been pretty productive as he recorded 49 pressures in 2021 and 43 pressures this season. Given this and how he still has more room to improve, this looks like a solid pick for the Ravens.

Grade: B-

32 TB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka DE Washington

With the majority of the pieces from the Super Bowl winning team in 2020 coming back the Buccaneers were in an interesting spot with this pick as they didn’t really have a clear weakness to address. They decided to add some depth to the edge rushing group.

As a rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka was a big part of the edge rotation as he played 608 snaps. This season with Jason Pierre-Paul going to the Ravens he played a big role in the defense as he played 884 snaps and led the team in pressures with 48.

Grade: C+

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