Boom or bust? Why the 2021 first-round picks will or won't succeed
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Boom or bust? Why the 2021 first-round picks will or won't succeed

Most first-round picks look good on paper, but it takes a combination of talent, focus, ability, and the right team for each to succeed. Here's a look at why each 2021 NFL first-rounder could boom or bust at the next level.

 
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No. 1 | Jaguars: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

No. 1 | Jaguars: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
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Boom: Considered one of the best quarterback prospects in the modern era, Lawrence has been a top prospect since he set foot on the Clemson campus and never disappointed. He's a proven, consistent winner with the arm talent, accuracy, and mobility to succeed in any NFL offense.

Bust: The Jaguars have long been a losing franchise for a reason. Despite spending this offseason, they still don't have elite talent around him, and new head coach Urban Meyer has no experience in the NFL. Often, poor organizational fit is what ruins quarterback prospects, and it's unclear how the fit will be in Jacksonville.

 
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No. 2 | Jets: BYU QB Zach Wilson

No. 2 | Jets: BYU QB Zach Wilson
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Boom: Wilson can consistently make plays that can't be taught a la Patrick Mahomes, and he demonstrated elite accuracy last season, completing over 73% of his passes. He has a strong arm and ample mobility.

Bust: The Jets have a track record of ruining young quarterbacks, most recently Sam Darnold. While they've brought in a new coaching staff with head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur coming in with high acclaim, we won't know the fit until it comes to fruition. The team is also lacking much offensive talent around him to this point, though signing wideout Corey Davis this offseason does help.

 
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No. 3 | 49ers: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

No. 3 | 49ers: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
David Dermer / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Lance enters a perfect situation with an offensive mastermind in head coach Kyle Shanahan, great young weapons with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk, and time to develop behind Jimmy Garoppolo. For a player with limited playing experience and raw skills, Lance couldn't have asked for anything better.

Bust: Drafting quarterbacks remains an inexact science, and Lance has played limited college games against inferior competition. Even the perfect situation might not be enough.

 
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No. 4 | Falcons: Florida TE Kyle Pitts

No. 4 | Falcons: Florida TE Kyle Pitts
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Boom: Pitts is seen as arguably the best pass-catching tight end prospect in history. He has incredible physical tools at 6-foot-6 with a sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash, great hands, and two seasons of elite production for the Gators. He also has an optimal offensive situation around him with offensive-minded head coach Arthur Smith and proven quarterback Matt Ryan.

Bust: Pitts had issues with concussions last year, and injuries can be unpredictable in the NFL. Tight ends are also often slow to develop in the NFL.

 
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No. 5 | Bengals: LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase

No. 5 | Bengals: LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase
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Boom: Chase reunites with former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, joining what's already a formidable wide receiver room with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. He showed elite stats, speed, and hands in college, and the transition should be made easier with his familiarity with Burrow.

Bust: While Chase is seen as a can't-miss wideout prospect, his opt-out of the 2020 season does add a bit of risk. If he has some rust after a year away from games, that could impede his development.

 
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No. 6 | Dolphins: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

No. 6 | Dolphins: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
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Boom: The speed Waddle has drawn comparisons to Tyreek Hill for his great speed and playmaking ability. He seemed uncoverable at times in college, averaging 18.9 yards per catch and scoring 17 touchdowns in three seasons. Waddle is also set to reunite with former Bama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Bust: Waddle is a relatively small receiver who already suffered a major ankle injury last season, so injuries are a concern. Tagovailoa's development is also still in question at the NFL level, which could also slow down the development of Waddle.

 
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No. 7 | Lions: Oregon OT Penei Sewell

No. 7 | Lions: Oregon OT Penei Sewell
Troy Wayrynen / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Sewell looks like one of the best offensive line prospects to enter the draft in years, showing dominant run-blocking ability for a grinding Oregon offense. His repertoire as a big, dominant tackle with great footwork seems to fit the vision of new Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

Bust: While Sewell might be the safest player in this year's draft, there's always risk entering the league with a new coaching staff. The Lions don't exactly have the best track record of developing NFL players.

 
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No. 8 | Panthers: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn

No. 8 | Panthers: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
Dale Zanine / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Horn shot up draft boards due to his blazing speed, and is set to step in at a major need for the Panthers. He has the pure talent to be an excellent corner and the pedigree as the son of former NFL wideout Joe Horn.

Bust: Cornerback can be a tough position for the NFL transition, and even elite physical tools don't always translate. There's pressure on Horn to develop and play immediately for the Panthers, but he won't truly know if he's ready until he shows up on the field.

 
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No. 9 | Broncos: Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II

No. 9 | Broncos: Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A huge cornerback with the ability to play any defensive scheme, Surtain joins an already talented secondary with Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Justin Simmons. He's shown the size and pure coverage ability of Rams elite corner Jalen Ramsey.

Bust: There have been questions about Surtain's speed. He answered them with a great 40 time during his Pro Day, but it's still a question covering the likes of Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, and Henry Ruggs in the AFC West.

 
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No. 10 | Eagles: Alabama WR Devonta Smith

No. 10 | Eagles: Alabama WR Devonta Smith
Kyle Robertson / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Smith capped off an incredible career at Alabama with nearly 4,000 career years and 46 receiving touchdowns. He has above-average speed, great hands, and elite route-running ability.

Bust: The Eagles aren't a great team for a receiver right now with Jalen Hurts developing at quarterback, and new head coach Nick Sirianni's ability to develop players remains to be seen. There are also major questions about Smith's lack of size and how it could impact his durability at the next level.

 
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No. 11 | Bears: Ohio State QB Justin Fields

No. 11 | Bears: Ohio State QB Justin Fields
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Boom: Fields is an elite athlete who showed excellent accuracy and mobility while at Ohio State. He completed over 70% of his passes last season and showed toughness, overcoming multiple injuries. Bears head coach Matt Nagy is a former quarterback coach who was hired for his ability to develop offensive players.

Bust: The Bears already struck out on 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky, and Fields will still need time to develop as a passer. His ability to throw on the run is seen as a weakness, and it could take him time to fix it. He also doesn't have elite talent around him, with offensive line and receiver depth issues in Chicago, plus Nagy could be entering a make-or-break year that could further complicate Fields' development.

 
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No. 12 | Cowboys: Penn State LB Micah Parsons

No. 12 | Cowboys: Penn State LB Micah Parsons
Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Parsons was a possible top-three pick before opting out last season, showing elite playmaking ability in 2019 with 109 tackles and five sacks at Penn State. He has elite athletic ability and a chance to contribute immediately to a defense that struggled last season. Joining Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys have a chance to show off one of the best linebacker groups in recent memory.

Bust: The Cowboys defense has numerous holes on the defensive line and secondary, and will be in yet another transition with their third coordinator in as many seasons. Going from sitting out last season to the pressure of fixing the defense this year, Parsons could have his development partly stunted.

 
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No. 13 | Chargers: Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater

No. 13 | Chargers: Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Slater has a chance to immediately step in at left tackle, a major need for the Chargers. He has great athleticism and held his own against elite competition in the Big Ten.

Bust: After opting out last season, Slater has a lot of pressure getting up to speed and likely protecting the blindside of young quarterback Justin Herbert in Week 1. He's also relatively small for a tackle at 6-foot-4, so there's a chance Slater eventually moves to guard.

 
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No. 14 | Jets: USC OG Alijah Vera-Tucker

No. 14 | Jets: USC OG Alijah Vera-Tucker
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A strong, mauling offensive lineman, Vera-Tucker played multiple positions in college but will likely kick inside after the Jets took Mekhi Becton last year. He fills a major need for the Jets.

Bust: The Jets have put together a promising coaching staff on paper, but their organization track record is bleak. Multiple holes on the offensive line remain, which along with a rookie quarterback, could put more pressure on Vera-Tucker early in his career.

 
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No. 15 | Patriots: Alabama QB Mac Jones

No. 15 | Patriots: Alabama QB Mac Jones
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Boom: Jones was an incredibly accurate passer at Alabama, completing over 77% of his passes last year and turning himself into an elite NFL prospect. He has enough arm strength and presence to be a solid pro.

Bust: Lacking the athleticism that teams are looking for in the modern quarterback, Jones is a classic pocket passer. He has a great coaching staff around him but several new receivers that could take time to mesh, as well as an offense that might be in transition if the more mobile Cam Newton remains the starter to begin 2021. That could make his development more difficult.

 
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No. 16 | Cardinals: Tulsa OLB Zaven Collins

No. 16 | Cardinals: Tulsa OLB Zaven Collins
Brett Rojo / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A great tackler who made plays all over the field for Tulsa, Collins helped his draft stock last season by recording 54 tackles, four sacks, and four interceptions last season. Coordinator Vance Joseph's unit made nice progress last season, and have likely upgraded their run defense with this pick.

Bust: It takes a lot for a run-stuffing linebacker to fulfill mid-first round expectations. Collins probably isn't going to be a regular pass rusher in the NFL and could have a learning curve with the jump from Tulsa.

 
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No. 17 | Raiders: Alabama OL Alex Leatherwood

No. 17 | Raiders: Alabama OL Alex Leatherwood
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Leatherwood was a solid, consistent guard and tackle at Alabama. He fills a major need for the Raiders either at right tackle or guard, with the support of veteran offensive line coach Tom Cable.

Bust: The Raiders have been known to overdraft players during Jon Gruden's tenure, and Leatherwood was a surprise at No. 17 overall. That's not to say it was a bad pick, but his weaknesses as a pass blocker could an uphill climb that's not usually present at this spot in the draft.

 
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No. 18 | Dolphins: Miami (FL) DE Jaelen Phillips

No. 18 | Dolphins: Miami (FL) DE Jaelen Phillips
Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Phillips goes across the street to the Dolphins after a great 2020 season with eight sacks and 45 tackles. He's an elite athlete joining a squad run by defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores.

Bust: Injuries. Phillips briefly retired from football due to multiple injuries at UCLA before transferring, and his history brings major risk as a first-round pick.

 
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No. 19 | Washington: Kentucky LB Jamin Davis

No. 19 | Washington: Kentucky LB Jamin Davis
Brad McClenny / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Davis is coming off a huge year for the Wildcats with 102 tackles and three picks, and he has more than ample size at 6-foot-4. He also enters a very good situation with elite talent on the Washington offensive line and good defensive coaching, led by Ron Rivera.

Bust: Barely on the NFL radar before his breakout 2020 season, Davis hasn't performed at an elite level in multiple years. That brings some risk to projecting him.

 
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No. 20 | Giants: Florida WR Kadarius Toney

No. 20 | Giants: Florida WR Kadarius Toney
Randy Sartin / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Toney was a breakout player in 2020, showing elite ability with the ball in his hands. He has 1,145 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 11 games and was also used as a returner. The Gators couldn't do enough to get the ball in his hands, and he's a similar fit for a Giants team that has impressive weapons now with Toney, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram.

Bust: Toney's ability as a true wide receiver is in question, and he will likely need time to develop his route running. There's also concern about his durability in the NFL with his penchant to take on tacklers.

 
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No. 21 | Colts: Michigan DE Kwity Paye

No. 21 | Colts: Michigan DE Kwity Paye
Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A powerful edge rusher who looks like a strong fit at defensive end for the 4-3, Paye has elite athleticism and the production to make in the four games he played last season. His upside resembles that of Jadeveon Clowney.

Bust: Edge rushers often take time to develop in the NFL, and Paye will likely need it with a limited pass-rushing repertoire. That's no consolation for a Colts team that needs pass rush help immediately.

 
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No. 22 | Titans: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

No. 22 | Titans: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
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Boom: A lanky, athletic corner who can play press coverage and has the ball skills to be an elite takeaway corner as a converted wideout. Farley has all the physical tools to prosper in the NFL.

Bust: With limited cornerback experience, opting out of the 2020 season probably wasn't the best thing for Farley's development. He will face pressure to perform immediately for a Titans team that desperately needed cornerback help, and that might not be the best thing for his confidence and development.

 
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No. 23 | Vikings: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw

No. 23 | Vikings: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
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Boom: Darrisaw is a great fit for the Vikings after losing Riley Reiff this offseason, filling a major need. He's a great run blocker, which is a perfect fit in Minnesota.

Bust: The Vikings have more pass blocking issues than one offensive lineman can fix, but it does put more pressure on Darrisaw in his early development. Pass blocking in the NFL will certainly be a tougher task for him.

 
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No. 24 | Steelers: Alabama RB Najee Harris

No. 24 | Steelers: Alabama RB Najee Harris
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: The writing was on the wall for this pick, and it's a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been in search of a running back since losing Le'Veon Bell, and Harris has a similar dynamic skill set as a big, slashing runner who also has excellent pass-catching skills.

Bust: The Steelers offensive line has taken some major hits this offseason, and Harris won't be handed the starting job with recent draftees Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland also showing flashes recently. The team expects to compete again with Ben Roethlisberger possibly entering his final year, and can't afford to give Harris much time.

 
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No. 25 | Jaguars: Clemson RB Travis Etienne

No. 25 | Jaguars: Clemson RB Travis Etienne
Bob Donnan / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Etienne joins his college quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, in Clemson to make an impressive tandem at the NFL level. The running back excelled in college, showing unique breakaway speed and receiving skills.

Bust: Etienne had a disappointing senior season, averaging only 5.4 yards per carry, leading to questions about whether his past workload has already caught up to him. This also wasn't a position of need for Jacksonville, with rookie James Robinson breaking out last season. Robinson is a formidable obstacle for snaps early.

 
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No. 26 | Browns: Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II

No. 26 | Browns: Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II
Nikos Frazier / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A smart, polished corner who can play man or zone, Newsome has enough size and athleticism to make a seamless transition to the NFL.

Bust: Newsome joins a crowded secondary with corners Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Troy Hill. He will need to impress in the preseason to see significant snaps early, and cornerback draftees can be a crapshoot in the NFL. Newsome's prospects are complicated by injury issues in college, as well.

 
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No. 27 | Ravens: Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

No. 27 | Ravens: Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman
Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A big, speedy wideout who was an elite performer in 2019, Bateman has terrific hands. He also has the versatility to play outside or in the slot, making him a nice fit for the Ravens.

Bust: Baltimore isn't the most pass-friendly offense with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, and they've repeatedly failed to develop young wide receivers in recent history. Bateman looks like a nice complementary receiver to 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown, but his opportunities could be limited.

 
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No. 28 | Saints: Houston DE Payton Turner

No. 28 | Saints: Houston DE Payton Turner
Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Turner is a huge defensive end who might be the best physical fit of a 4-3 end in the draft. A breakout season in 2020 with five sacks in five games playing the edge pushed him off draft boards.

Bust: While he looks like a solid pro, the upside for Turner as a pass rusher could be somewhat limited. He's also inexperienced as a defensive end, so it could take Turner time to develop.

 
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No. 29 | Packers: Georgia CB Eric Stokes

No. 29 | Packers: Georgia CB Eric Stokes
Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Stokes is a tremendous athlete who runs a sub-4.3 40, and has shown an eye for the ball with four interceptions last season.

Bust: Stokes isn't a big corner, so his bit fit might be inside. The lack of size also exposes him as a tackler. He might be a role player more than a star.

 
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No. 30 | Bills: Miami (FL) DE Gregory Rousseau

No. 30 | Bills: Miami (FL) DE Gregory Rousseau
Sam Navarro / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A tall end who was dominant in 2019, Rousseau recorded 15.5 sacks in 13 games before opting out of 2020. He enters a good situation in Buffalo behind veterans and with good coaching from Sean McDermott and company.

Bust: Rousseau has limited experience after converting to defensive end in college, so the year off really doesn't help. He will probably need development time.

 
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No. 31 | Ravens: Penn State OLB Jayson Oweh

No. 31 | Ravens: Penn State OLB Jayson Oweh
Matthew O'Haren / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: Baltimore has been an edge rusher factory in recent years, so Oweh is in the right place. He showed raw pass-rushing skills with elite athleticism in college.

Bust: Oweh regressed last season like the rest of the Nittany Lions, failing to record a sack. He's a relative upside flier who will need time and patience.

 
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No. 32 | Buccaneers: Washington DE Joe Tryon

No. 32 | Buccaneers: Washington DE Joe Tryon
Jennifer Buchanan / USA Today Sports Images

Boom: A big defensive end prospect who was highly productive in 2019 with eight sacks in 13 games, Tryon is in the prototypical mold as a tall edge rusher with great speed.

Bust: The 2020 opt-out might have hurt Tryon's development, and he seems unlikely to contribute much in his rookie season, as a result. That's probably fine for the Super Bowl champs, who are set on the edges with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, with the ability to mix in Tryon occasionally.

Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.

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