NFLTR Review: Rapid First-Round NFL Draft Reactions

     

Happy Friday! In this week’s NFLTR Review…

  • The first round is in the books and we’ve got takeaways from every pick
  • What to look for on Day 2
  • Trade fallout from a surprisingly active week

1st-Round Rapid Reactions

1. Jaguars: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

Congratulations to the city of Jacksonville. No one knows how Lawrence’s career will unfold. Quarterback is a hard position to play and the NFL is ultra-competitive. But the Jaguars are getting as good a bet as anyone to not just be an impactful player on the field, but off of it. Lawrence is a franchise quarterback in every sense of the word. 

2. Jets: BYU QB Zach Wilson

As expected, the Jets selected Wilson as they once again took a swing at finding the franchise quarterback that’s eluded them. Now we see if they have learned at all from their many, many mistakes in the past. In theory, Shanahan pupil Mike LaFleur should be a big improvement as an offensive play-caller. 

3. 49ers: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

Wow. After weeks of intrigue surrounding Mac Jones, the 49ers went with what always made more sense given how much capital they surrendered to move up to this pick. Lance is brimming with potential. He’s raw with only a season of starting at the FCS level but he’s also uncommonly polished from a footwork and mechanical perspective. And in Shanahan’s offense, he should have everything he needs to have success. 

4. Falcons: Florida TE Kyle Pitts

Pitts is seen by many as the best player in the draft and adds yet another weapon for the Falcons to go with Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones (for now?). The term “generational” is overused with prospects but for Pitts it very well could be legit. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly he can make an impact, as outside of quarterback, tight end is the hardest position to transition from college to the pros. Highly-touted players like Vernon Davis and Eric Ebron haven’t been immune to that in the past. 

5. Bengals: LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase

Offensive line was Cincinnati’s biggest need this offseason, but this is the way the winds have been blowing for weeks. There are a lot of tackles and other linemen that’ll be available for the Bengals on Day 2. There won’t be another player like Chase, as this draft is heavy on slot receivers, lighter on guys who profile as No. 1 weapons like Chase does. 

6. Dolphins: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

Speeeeeed. That’s what this pick is all about and now the Dolphins have it in spades with Waddle and Will Fuller. Waddle will be a huge mismatch threat from Day 1, and he’s not just a one-trick pony or a straight line threat. He has some of the best contested catches in this class and gears in and out effortlessly when he’s changing speeds. Tyreek Hill comparisons are lofty but Waddle can live up to them. 

7. Lions: Oregon LT Penei Sewell

It might not be as sexy as a receiver but this is an absolute home run for the Lions. Sewell has as much raw talent as any tackle prospect the past few years. This pick gives the Lions a starting five of Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Sewell, which should push for one of the best units in the league. Not a bad way to start a rebuild. 

8. Panthers: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn

Horn wasn’t seen as the top cornerback a few months ago. But he put himself in that conversation during the pre-draft process and Panthers HC Matt Rhule philosophically prefers elite athletes who his coaching staff can develop. Horn fills a massive need in Carolina’s secondary. It can be a tough position to transition to the NFL, however, and Horn has a lot of grabby tendencies he won’t get away with at this level. 

9. Broncos: Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II

Denver passed up Mac Jones (logical) and Justin Fields (less so) to make another sizable investment in their secondary with Surtain. With Surtain stepping into a secondary that already includes Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, Denver is shaping up to be exceedingly difficult to throw against in 2021. If Drew Lock can take another step or Teddy Bridgewater can be a decent game manager, Denver could challenge for a wildcard spot. That’s fine and dandy but the overall ceiling for the team with someone like Fields would have been so much higher. 

10. Eagles: Alabama WR DeVonta Smith

The Eagles traded a third-round pick to swap with the Cowboys, leapfrog the Giants and land Smith. The man they call the Slim Reaper won the Heisman Trophy as a wide receiver in 2020, which is legitimately impressive. Smith is an outlier for other reasons too given his weight at just 166 pounds. It’s a little odd the Eagles didn’t go defense and drafted over a receiver they just took in the first round last year. They clearly felt Smith was a cut above the rest of their board, however. 

11. Bears: Ohio State Justin Fields

The Bears gave up a fifth this year and a first and fourth in 2022 to stop Fields’ slide down the board. Landing spots play a big role in what quarterbacks ultimately find success, so ending up in Chicago might not be in Fields’ favor right now. But he was nitpicked to death this past draft cycle to the point that I think it’s been lost just how high quality of a prospect he is. He’s not perfect but his upside is as high as any quarterback in this class. 

12. Cowboys: Penn State LB Micah Parsons

Dallas had its heart set on defense but once the top cornerbacks were off the board, the Cowboys did well to trade down. Parsons is an elite athlete and provides some insurance for the team at linebacker. Dallas has invested a lot in the position but it was still a weakness in 2020. Sean Lee retired and this pick probably signals Leighton Vander Esch won’t have his fifth-year option picked up. Jaylon Smith is under contract but Dallas can get out of that next year if he doesn’t reverse his slump. 

13. Chargers: Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater

This is a dream for the Chargers to have a blue-chip player at their biggest position of need fall to their pick. Slater doesn’t have the prototypical size for a tackle but he does the most important things for that position — block the guy in front of you. Huge success for the Chargers to nab a left tackle to protect Justin Herbert

14. Jets: USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

The Jets gave up two thirds and got a fourth back to move up from No. 23 to No. 14 with the Vikings. They spent the pick on Vera-Tucker, who probably slots in at guard for them. Vera-Tucker is one of the safest projections in this class and guard is a big need for the Jets. It’s a little weird to see such an aggressive move up for a guard, though. 

15. Patriots: Alabama QB Mac Jones

As all of us were trying to make sense of Jones as a potential top-three pick (which I still believe was legitimate until the scouting staff talked Shanahan out of it), one comparison a few floated was Tom Brady. So it makes sense that Jones lands in New England, as he possesses a lot of traits the team has traditionally valued at the position. Jones has become a polarizing prospect but enough NFL evaluators whose voice I trust see something in him that I think he could be a little underrated, even if he faces an uphill climb as the league shifts away from pure pocket passers.

16. Cardinals: Tulsa LB Zaven Collins

Linebacker isn’t necessarily the biggest need for the Cardinals, but Collins is a freaky player DC Vance Joseph can have a lot of fun with in drawing up blitz looks. They still have to put it all together but there are some pieces in this Arizona front seven that could be a headache for opposing offenses. 

17. Raiders: Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood

Not to toot my own horn too much, but I called this as a possibility in my final mock draft earlier this week, though I stopped short of actually mocking Leatherwood in the first and gave him to Las Vegas in the second. The rest of my mock did not go as well…  As for the actual pick, this is an established MO for the Raiders at this point. Leatherwood succeeded for Alabama at tackle but a lot of NFL evaluators think he’s too stiff and will need to move to guard. The Raiders obviously feel confident he can stick at right tackle but it seems probable they could have traded back and got him, or waited until the second. 

18. Dolphins: Miami DE Jaelan Phillips

Widely seen as one of the top pass rushers in the draft who slipped due to injury concerns, Phillips is a nice swing for the Dolphins who have a ton of picks and can afford to take some risks. He has the athleticism to play all over their front and wreak havoc in HC Brian Flores’ defense. 

19. Washington: Kentucky LB Jamin Davis

Washington HC Ron Rivera is still looking for his franchise quarterback but here he takes a swing at finding his Luke Kuechly cornerstone on defense. Davis was a big riser this past draft cycle and at 6-4 and more than 230 pounds could be an imposing presence in the middle of the defense. I thought Rivera might see shades of Shaq Thompson in Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah but the cleaner fit of a more traditional linebacker like Davis might have won out. 

20. Giants: Florida WR Kadarius Toney

If not for the Raiders, this might have been the biggest surprise of the first round, and at this point we know what to expect from the Raiders. This is probably an indication the Giants were sniped for Smith at No. 11 by the Eagles and wanted to add more weapons for QB Daniel Jones regardless. Despite adding Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency, Toney adds a skillset that no one else on the roster really has, as he’s a dynamo with the ball in his hands. He could be what New York hoped they were getting in Golden Tate

21. Colts: Michigan DE Kwity Paye

Edge rusher is a big need for the Colts and there’s a lot to like about Paye. Off the field, he’s stellar as the network telecasts went into his story of immigrating from Guinea and pursuing football as a means to ensure his mom, who worked so hard to enable his dream, wouldn’t have to work another day in her life again. On the field, he’s not the lengthiest rusher, but he might be the quickest. He didn’t run an official three-cone drill, which would have been blazing, but still rated as an elite athlete for the defensive end position. The Colts haven’t had a lot of success drafting edge rushers under Chris Ballard but I bet Paye changes that. 

22. Titans: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

Farley’s stock was one of the most difficult ones to predict entering the draft, as he’s had two back surgeries in the past two years since the last time we saw him on a football field. From a talent perspective, though, he was worth a top-ten pick. It’s interesting that the Titans weren’t any more risk-averse after getting burned with Isaiah Wilson last year but if Farley can stay healthy, this could be huge for a Titans team that just retooled its secondary this offseason. 

23. Vikings: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw

The Vikings pulled off a coup by moving back nine spots and still getting a player many would have pegged them as being happy with had they stayed at No. 14. Darrisaw probably signals Ezra Cleveland is staying inside at guard and the hope is he can help finally fix and solidify Minnesota’s offensive line. 

24. Steelers: Alabama RB Najee Harris

The Steelers did what everyone expected and took a running back. Setting aside the wisdom of using that high of a pick on the position, Harris is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. He’s a physical runner, can carry a big load and is a deadly receiver. If Pittsburgh was looking for a new engine to run its offense to take pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger, that’s what they’ve found. 

25. Jaguars: Clemson RB Travis Etienne

Running back was not a need anyone had pegged for the Jaguars after the breakout of undrafted free agent James Robinson last year. But new Jaguars HC Urban Meyer loves speed and Etienne has plenty of that. There probably were bigger needs the team could have addressed, however, especially on defense. 

26. Browns: Northwestern CB Greg Newsome 

Newsome drew a lot of attention for his play in the pandemic-shortened season and put out some really good tape that teams noticed when he lit up his pro day. The Browns have Denzel Ward but nothing really locked up behind him between Troy Hill and Greedy Williams. You can never have too many corners, so I like this for the Browns as they try to improve their defense. 

27. Ravens: Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

This is the second first-round pick the Ravens have spent in as many years on a receiver for Lamar Jackson. While they do need more production from the position, at some point they also have to let players on their roster develop. Wideout also isn’t the most critical position given how run-focused their offense is. All that said, Bateman is an underrated receiver and should offer some reliability for Jackson, who only had Mark Andrews and Willie Snead to look to consistently when he needed a play. 

28. Saints: Houston DE Payton Turner

Hours after exercising DE Marcus Davenport’s fifth-year option despite an inconsistent first three seasons, the Saints invested more into the defensive end position by taking an upside swing on Turner. The 6-5, 270-pound defensive end from Houston has an intriguing skillset and was pegged by some analysts as someone who could go higher than expected. The first round is still a bit of a surprise, though. 

29. Packers: Georgia CB Eric Stokes

With all the kerfuffle around their unhappy veteran quarterback, there was a line of thought that the Packers would take a first-round receiver for the first time in nearly two decades to try and help cool the situation down. Honestly, cornerback was probably a bigger need, and Stokes has the length to potentially replace Kevin King after he plays out his contract this year. 

30. Bills: Miami DE Gregory Rousseau

It’s been easy to peg an edge rusher here for the Bills given how old they are at the position. Rousseau is a bit of a wildcard after opting out of this past season, but when we last saw him, the 6-7, 260-pound former high school receiver was racking up 15.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman in his first year playing in the ACC. That’s well worth taking a shot at developing for a season or so, and the payoff for the Bills could be huge. 

31. Ravens: Penn State DE Jayson Oweh

The Ravens took a stab at filling one of their biggest needs at edge rusher with one of the most absurd athletes in this class. You can’t teach 6-5, 252 and a 4.3 40-yard dash. The Ravens are hoping they can teach him how to use those gifts a little better, as Oweh had zero sacks last season. It’s worth the upside shot at this point in the round for Baltimore. 

32. Buccaneers: Washington DE Joe Tryon

With no real glaring needs, the Buccaneers take a pass rusher to groom behind Jason Pierre-Paul with the goal to have him take over when the 32-year-old veteran moves on. When you bring back all 22 starters from a Super Bowl-winning team, this is the kind of luxury pick you can afford. 

This Week In Football

  • Adam Schefter dropped a bombshell on the entire NFL world before the draft with his report about just how unhappy Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is with Green Bay, to the point where Rodgers has told the team he doesn’t want to be back. The Packers so far have maintained they don’t want to trade Rodgers but it seems like he’s intent on forcing their hand. There are plenty more details, from contract negotiations gone poorly to Rodgers’ ideal trade destinations if/when it gets that far. The NFL just got its new top storyline to watch going forward. 
  • Elsewhere, the trade floodgates around the league opened wide this past week, starting with a dead market for Ravens OT Orlando Brown Jr. suddenly coming to life a week ago. It ended with Brown being traded amid a package of pick swaps to the Chiefs. The Ravens gave Brown, their 2021 2nd (No. 58) and a sixth next year. They got Kansas City’s first (No. 31), third (No. 94) and fourth (No. 136) this year and their fifth next year. There’s a lot of moving pieces but the total value comes out to an early second or late first-round pick depending on which trade chart you use. Does that outweigh a year of Brown, especially going to the conference-rival Chiefs? I’m not sure. Probably depends on how the Ravens replace him. 
  • To that end, Baltimore also hosted former Titans OT Dennis Kelly on a visit this past weekend. Kelly started all last season for the Titans at right tackle and would give the Ravens veteran insurance to replace Brown. The Ravens also hosted former Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva, but there’s room for both. Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley apparently is on track to start training camp on the PUP list. 
  • The other big name to hit the trade block was Falcons WR Julio Jones and this comes straight from the mouth of Atlanta’s GM. The team would need to jump through a couple hoops to execute a trade, including waiting until after June 1 to make it official to manage Jones’ dead cap hit. But this is something that has a real shot to happen. We’ll have more as things develop after the draft but my early gut says to pay attention to the 49ers and reunion with Kyle Shanahan
  • In another example of how the Dolphins just do things differently, for better or worse, Miami cut bait on another free-agent addition after just one year, eating $6 million in cash to dump G Ereck Flowers back to Washington, save $2 million and move up 14 slots in the seventh round. Pro Football Focus had Flowers rated as above average for the Dolphins last season but they evidently felt it was time to cut their losses and move on. From Washington’s side, they didn’t particularly need a guard after Flowers’ replacement in 2020, Wes Schweitzer, arguably played better. It’s not like they gave up much, though. 
  • Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater experiment is over after just over a year, as the Panthers ate $7 million in cash and took a sixth-round pick from the Broncos to facilitate a trade. Carolina now moves full steam ahead into the Sam Darnold era. Once that trade happened, Bridgewater to Denver made too much sense, as the Broncos needed a veteran option and new GM George Paton was with the Vikings when they drafted Bridgewater in the first round. 
  • I don’t think it got nearly the attention it deserved when the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain reported that if not for his legal issues, Texans QB Deshaun Watson likely would have been dealt in a massive trade package this past week. After spending all offseason resolutely refusing to even discuss a trade, this would have been a remarkable shift from Houston and signals they might not have tried to outlast Watson in his trade demand. The 22 accusations of sexual misconduct are a significant cloud on Watson’s future but this is a breadcrumb that indicates if or when those clear up, the Texans are ready to let him go. 
  • Tampa Bay continued to bring the crew back together, signing WR Antonio Brown to a one-year deal with a base value just over $3 million. If Brown can get back to the level of play he was at before things started going off the rails for him, that makes the Buccaneers even scarier. 
  • With just a couple of days until the deadline, we have 17 decisions in our 2022 Fifth-Year Option Tracker. Only one has been declined so far, and that’s the Bengals and C Billy Price.

Looking Ahead To Day 2

There’s always plenty of talent left on the board to start Day 2 of the draft. From surprises who slipped out of the first round to key names to pay attention to, here’s what to look for when the draft kicks back up again tonight:

First-round fallouts

The draft is always unpredictable but the challenges of scouting during a pandemic added more this year. A number of players who were consistent names in the first round of mock drafts the past several weeks slipped out and are still on the board. 

  • Oklahoma State RB Teven Jenkins
  • Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
  • Alabama DT Christian Barmore
  • TCU S Trevon Moehrig
  • Georgia OLB Azeez Ojulari

It’s hard to say what exactly caused some of these guys to slip. It might be medical concerns, there was word that Ojulari was flagged for a degenerative lower leg condition. Sometimes it’s more nebulous, like rumored maturity concerns for Barmore. 

Positional value might have pushed Moehrig down the board and Owusu-Koramoah is the type of hybrid defender that can thrive in some systems but get people fired by not being used correctly in others. 

There’s still a reason all of these players were seen as potential first-round picks, though, and they shouldn’t have to wait long to hear their names called tonight. 

There’s a run on tackles coming

Jenkins headlines a terrific and deep group of offensive tackles. For teams like the Bengals, Panthers and Colts who passed on needs on the offensive line to address other positions, that’s great news for their early second-round picks. 

Stanford’s Walker Little, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi, Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg and North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz all could go in quick succession once Round 2 gets underway. Look for there to be more action in the trade market as teams picking lower like Indianapolis look to make sure they secure a promising option at the position. 

There are also a few really promising interior offensive line prospects, headlined by Alabama OL Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey. The Steelers, Falcons, Rams and Jaguars are teams to watch for those guys. 

Getting ahead of the tier drop at WR/RB/TE

There are a few skill position players on offense who are still on the board and are at least publicly seen as being a cut above the rest of the board. North Carolina RB Javonte Williams was seen as part of a trio of backs at the top of this class and the first two have already gone in the first round. The Jets, Falcons and Dolphins still need a running back and are picking back-to-back-to-back to open the round. Perhaps one tries to move to the front of the pack with the Jaguars at No. 33 overall. 

Jacksonville is one of a few teams that could use a tight end but after Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, there’s a big dropoff to the next tier. The Jaguars have two second-round picks, do they use the first one to open the round on Freiermuth and not chance him hanging around until later? 

Finally, Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, LSU’s Terrace Marshall and Purdue’s Rondale Moore are all still available, and while it’s a deep class, all three received some hype as potential late first-round picks. Both Moore’s are probably slot-only receivers in the NFL and Marshall might have some medical flags, so there’s a reason for their drop. But it could benefit some lucky team in Round 2, as we’ve seen time and time again talented receivers get pushed down the board and some of the league’s top wideouts come out of this range. 

Cornering the market

Five cornerbacks went in Round 1 and at least that many should go in the second round. Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. is the headliner, but Georgia’s Tyson Campbell, Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph, Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo and UCF’s Aaron Robinson are all interesting names to monitor. 

There are also a few intriguing safety prospects, like Oregon’s Jevon Holland and UCF’s Richie Grant in addition to Moehrig. The line between safety and corner is blurred more and more in the modern NFL. Safeties often have to become de facto slot defenders, but fortunately for teams Holland and Grant are already experienced in this role. 

Small-school sleepers to watch

There are a few players who could go much higher than expected. It’s a weak defensive tackle class but Louisiana Tech’s Milton Williams shredded multiple workouts in front of scouts this draft season and won some fans. A team starved for interior help like the Panthers could find him appealing, and we’ve already mentioned they love athletes they can coach up. 

Wisconsin-Whitewater C Quinn Meinerz was the big winner of the Senior Bowl and is a compelling option even in a deep class of centers. The Steelers make a lot of sense for him, if he’s available. 

Finally, Northern Iowa OT Spencer Brown shouldn’t be counted out even in a really deep class of tackles. He’s the most athletic tackle to come into the league in the past 35 years. I repeat, the most athletic tackle to enter the league since 1987. He’s 6-8, 311 and still put in a sub-7 second three-cone drill. He might not be ready to play right away but the upside from his tools is undeniable.

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