Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft was filled with drama and intrigue in Cleveland. We already knew who the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to take at one with the New York Jets locked in at two.
The drama started with the San Francisco 49ers at three after they moved up from the 12th selection. In the end, San Francisco added North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. He’s now in a great position. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears got what might have been the steal of the draft.
On the other side, the Las Vegas Raiders and New York Giants made major reaches in Round 1 while the Green Bay Packers could be on the verge of losing their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
These are among the winners and losers from the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has rightfully received a lot of flack for his issues finding anywhere near a capable starting quarterback. It has led to both Pace and head coach Matt Nagy finding themselves on the hot seat despite leading Chicago to a playoff appearance a season ago. It also led to speculation that Chicago’s ownership group would not approve a massive trade up for a quarterback.
As we saw throughout Thursday evening, these narratives were thrown out the window in a big way. Chicago moved up from the 20th selection to No. 11 for Justin Fields. Here’s a quarterback who some had as high as the second-best quarterback in the class. We’re talking about a dual-threat signal caller with a cannon of an arm and a huge football IQ. Giving up a future first-round pick and two mid-round selections was a steal to land Fields, who could start over Andy Dalton Day 1.
What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. Of course, that’s unless you’re the Raiders and continue to bomb out when it comes to the NFL Draft. Selecting 17th overall and with a player at a need position in Kwity Paye on the board, the Raiders opted to reach for former Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood. Heck, a better prospect in former Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw was on the board.
It’s not that Leatherwood can’t be a good player in the NFL. He has a solid skill-set. It’s also not that the Raiders don’t need help in the trenches after moving 60% of their starting offensive line earlier in the offseason. It’s all about value and need. Las Vegas could have added more heralded players at need positions and then looked offensive line in the second round.
Minnesota found a way on Thursday night to move down from the 14th selection with the New York Jets while still acquiring a player at a position of both need and value. With the 20th selection, the Vikings added former Virginia Tech standout offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. That was made possible after Las Vegas reached for the aforementioned Leatherwood.
To say that Minnesota needs help on the offensive line would be an understatement. The team surprisingly released starting left tackle Riley Reiff and needs someone to protect an immobile Kirk Cousins. While Darrisaw could initially start inside, he’s a future blindside protector. Adding two third-round picks for Friday in this trades helps, too.
For the first time in his long career as an NFL general manager, David Gettleman actually traded down in the first round. He moved off the 11th pick with the Chicago Bears for the 20th selection, acquiring two mid-round picks and a 2022 first-round pick in the process. On the surface, that seemed like a major win for New York.
Instead, the Giants opted to go with a second-round talent in former Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney. It was not only a major reach, but lacked the “need” factor after New York signed Pro Bowl receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency. The aforementioned Christian Darrisaw comes to mind as someone who could have represented more value and need for the Giants here.
What an absolutely perfect situation Trey Lance finds himself in with the San Francisco 49ers, who selected the former North Dakota State star No. 3 overall on the 2021 NFL Draft. Boasting pretty much the highest ceiling for any quarterback in the draft class, Lance is raw. He also played against less-than-stellar competition in college and has not thrown a pass in a game since 2019.
With all of that said, Lance will now likely sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie before taking over in 2022. He fits Kyle Shanahan’s offense to a T, and will be eased into the process of being the 49ers’ franchise signal caller. It’s a similar situation to when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft.
These Packers were losers even before the 2021 NFL draft got going Thursday evening. That’s because reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers seemingly requested a trade from the organization. While the Packers continue to push back against the idea of trading Rodgers, it’s rather clear that the future first ballot Hall of Famer is not a happy camper. In fact, he doesn’t want to play for the team again.
All of this could have been avoided. Rodgers simply wanted a long-term commitment from Green Bay after the team selected Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They wouldn’t give him a commitment. Now, the team’s fan base is on pins and needles waiting for a blockbuster trade to happen. To make the times even more dark in Green Bay, the Packers reached for former Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes at the end of Round 1. That’s sure to make Mr. Rodgers happy.
We’re not in a position to conclude that Mac Jones is going to be a franchise quarterback. There’s a lot to like and dislike about the reigning Heisman finalist. Primarily, Jones is an old breed quarterback without any real mobility. There’s also some off-field concerns.
With that said, the former Alabama star was slated to go as high as No. 3 overall to the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers in Thursday’s NFL Draft. When San Francisco took Lance and the Bears traded up for Fields, Jones fell right on to the Patriots’ laps at 15. After weeks of suggestions that New England was looking to trade up, it landed one of the top-five signal callers in the middle of Round 1. Bill Belichick might now have his long-term solution at quarterback after Tom Brady’s departure last year.