After such a long wait, the first round of the 2021 NFL draft is done just like that.
Well, actually, it wasn’t ‘just like that,’ as the league and the NFL Network squeezed every single second of broadcast time they could out of this event to stretch the 32 picks across four long hours. The first pick wasn’t made until 30 minutes in, but it’s not like we didn’t know who that was going to be anyway.
The Jacksonville Jaguars tried to keep the suspense but we all knew Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence would be their pick at No. 1 overall—and that’s exactly what Urban Meyer and company did. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow that up with an offensive lineman to help protect their shiny new franchise quarterback, instead going with a running back at No. 25 overall.
They took Lawrence’s Clemson teammate Travis Etienne there even though they had signed veteran Carlos Hyde in the offseason and still have the surprise of the 2020 season, the undrafted James Robinson, also in that running back room. It was a bad decision by the Jags, and one that Lawrence hopefully doesn’t pay for next season.
After Lawrence, the New York Jets predictably went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at No. 2. After trading a big ol’ package of picks to move up to No. 3, the San Francisco 49ers took North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who has an enormous ceiling but is likely to sit and learn behind current starter Jimmy Garropolo this season.
It’s rare to draft in the top three while still having decent odds to win the Super Bowl, but that’s exactly the situation in which the Niners find themselves. They’re sitting seventh on 888sport’s odds table with +1,200 NFL odds to win it all in 2021, likely with Jimmy G at the controls.
At No. 4, the Atlanta Falcons landed Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who many pundits had ranked as the second-best player in the draft after Lawrence. The Falcons might have considered going with a quarterback as well, but instead gave 36-year-old Matt Ryan yet another world-class weapon. He hasn’t done much with the ones he already has.
At No. 5 the Cincinnati Bengals drafted a wideout in the first round for the second straight season, following up Tee Higgins last year with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase this season. Considering Cincinnati’s offensive line needs and the fact that their quarterback is coming off of major knee surgery, this was another wildly ill-advised pick.
The Miami Dolphins, who had moved down into the teens after their trade with the Niners, traded back up to the No. 6 spot and took Alabama wideout and absolute speed demon Jaylen Waddle to help give second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa every chance at success in 2021.
The Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos all resisted the urge to draft flashier names at No. 7, No. 8, and No. 9. Instead the Lions got the top-rated o-lineman in the draft, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, and the Panthers and Broncos both took cornerbacks with NFL fathers in Jaycee Horn of South Carolina and Patrick Surtain II of Alabama at No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.
An intra-division trade between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at No. 10 saw Philly take Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, who should be a very welcome addition to a weak receiver room. At No. 11 we saw another trade, this time with the Chicago Bears jumping nine spots to snare freefalling Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
At No. 12, the Cowboys filled a need with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, and the same can be said with the Los Angeles Chargers selection of Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13, and the New York Jets’ choice of USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 14.
The New England Patriots were on the clock at No. 15 and they ended up being the ones to take Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who was one of the biggest wild cards on Day 1 of the NFL draft. Jones will likely start the season behind Cam Newton, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the youngster has been given the reins by the end of the campaign.
Seven of the next eight picks saw teams draft offensive lineman or defenders as franchises filled out what are the less sexy but most important (after QB, of course) positions on a football team with college studs.
The Arizona Cardinals took linebacker Zaven Collins at No. 16, the Las Vegas Raiders went with offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips stayed local as he was taken by the Dolphins at No. 18, linebacker Jamin Davis went to the Washington Football Team at No. 19, defensive end Kwity Paye was sent to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 21, corner Caleb Farley joined the Tennessee Titans at No. 22, and the Minnesota Vikings snared offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw at No. 23.
The New York Giants were the exception during that run, taking Florida wideout Kadarius Toney with the No. 20 pick as they continue to try to surround Danny Dimes with talent at the skill positions.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finally did something about their running game issues by using their top pick on Alabama running back Najee Harris, whose varied skill set has some in the Steel City thinking they might be in for the second coming of Le’Veon Bell.
Rounding out the first round for the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns took corner Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern at No. 26, and the Baltimore Ravens selected Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman at No. 27 as well as Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh with the penultimate and 31st pick of the first round.
In New Orleans they also went with a defensive end with their No. 28 overall pick, acquiring Houston defensive end Payton Turner with a pick that started a run of five straight defensive players being taken off the board to finish the first round.
Turner was followed by Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes going to the Green Bay Packers at No. 29, Miami defensive end Greg Rousseau shipping out to the Buffalo Bills at No. 30, and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers adding to an already dominant defensive line with Washington defensive end Joe Tryon with the 32nd and final pick of the first round.
The draft resumes with the second and third rounds going down on Friday night on NFL Network starting at 8 pm Eastern Time.