Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft came with plenty of surprises. The draft began as expected: Quarterbacks were off the board within the first three picks. The Falcons, Bengals, and Dolphins went with offensive playmakers to round out the top-6.
Pick No. 7 was where the fun started. The Lions were predicted to trade down with a quarterback-needy team to accumulate more picks for their rebuild, but instead took the top offensive lineman in the draft in Penei Sewell. The Lions pick kicked off a run of unpredictable picks and draft fallers that leaves Day 2 of the draft filled with talent.
So which teams made out with the best value and which teams reached with their first round pick?
Best Round 1 Picks:
Pick No. 11: Chicago Bears – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Chicago Bears got the steal of the draft at pick No. 11 when they traded up to select quarterback Justin Fields. Many of us watching couldn’t believe the former Ohio State standout slipped out of the top-10 picks without a team trading up to grab him. I fully expected to see the Denver Broncos pick Fields, or the New England Patriots to trade up from No. 15. Neither of those scenarios played out, and the Bears were ready to jump at the opportunity.
Chicago gave up a first- and fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, as well as 2022 first- and fourth-rounders to move from No. 20 to the Giant’s spot at No. 11. This is not an astronomical price considering what other teams, including the Bears for Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, have given up to grab a top QB.
I had Fields ranked as the second best quarterback in this class behind Trevor Lawrence. He has pinpoint accuracy with his passes to all levels of the field. Pair that with his 6’3″ 225 lbs frame and 4.44 speed and you have a prospect that doesn’t come around often. In most other draft classes, I would be advocating for Fields to be the first overall selection.
It’s easy to see why this is Round 1’s best pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Pick No. 23: Minnesota Vikings – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Another pick via trade makes it on this list of best values for round 1, this time a trade back. The Minnesota Vikings traded back from pick No. 14 to pick No. 23 with the New York Jets, acquiring multiple round 3 picks in the process.
The best part of this trade for the Vikings is they still got a great player at a position of need. I would bet that Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw was the player they had in mind at No. 14, so to get him in the 20’s while picking up extra draft capital is a huge win for Minnesota.
Darrisaw did not allow a single sack during his final season with Virginia Tech. In fact, he didn’t allow so much as a quarterback hit from his left tackle spot. The level of defensive lineman for Darrisaw in the ACC was no easy task either. The Vikings filled a major need with their first pick of the 2021 Draft.
Pick No. 26: Cleveland Browns – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
The Browns were fortunate to have a player of Newsome II’s skillset fall to them at pick No. 26. A roster with very little holes to fill allowed the Browns to stand pat and let the draft come to them. And there were plenty of great options at No. 26 with prospects like Newsom II, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Rashod Bateman still on the board.
Newsome II will join a secondary that is quickly becoming one of the most talented in the NFL. Denzel Ward, Ronnie Harrison, and newly acquired free agents John Johnson III and Troy Hill make up the likely starting lineup for the Browns in 2021. Not to mention their 2020 second round pick safety Grant Delpit, who lost his rookie season to injury before it had a chance to begin. Newsome II will compete with Greedy Williams and Troy Hill for snaps at cornerback as a rookie. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start opposite Ward sooner rather than later.
Pick No. 13: Los Angeles Chargers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Pick No. 18: Miami Dolphins – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Pick No. 27: Baltimore Ravens – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Biggest Round 1 Reaches:
Pick No. 17: Las Vegas Raiders – Alex Leatherwood, T, Alabama
It feels like I will be writing about the Raiders’ first round pick as a reach as long as John Gruden is in charge. We’ve seen this movie before. Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, Henry Ruggs II, and Damon Arnette are all recent first round picks for the Raiders that were much lower on consensus draft boards when picked by Las Vegas. Many of their first round selections were either reaches based on talent, or players at low value positions.
Alex Leatherwood is likely to be a serviceable right tackle for the Raiders for many years to come. My issue with this pick is the value they got for the No. 17 overall pick in the draft. It feels like, yet again, the Raiders picked someone they could have had on day two.
The Raiders have reached for the stars in Round 1 before and nothing changes in this year’s draft.
Pick No. 20: New York Giants – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The Giants have made it clear they want to surround quarterback Daniel Jones with as much talent as possible to see if he is their quarterback of the present and future. I admire that strategy, and trading down from No. 11 to No. 20 while still grabbing a playmaker is smart business. It’s the playmaker they got that I am not a fan of, at least not in their offense.
Toney is a human joystick on the field, a true gamebreaker with the ball in his hands. But I don’t see the fit in this New York Giants offense. Nothing I have seen from their scheme leads me to believe they could get the best out of a player like Toney. Of course, that could be due to the fact they have not had a player with Toney’s skillset in the past. I expect the Giants to implement some designed touches for their new wideout in his rookie season.
Value is where I struggle to understand this pick. The Giants spent big on wide receiver Kenny Golladay to be their number one outside target. He will pair with Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard will continue his slot role. That doesn’t leave many snaps for Toney. From a scouting perspective, I think Toney is a true boom or bust player. He likes to add extra shimmys and jukes to his routes that throw off his quarterback’s rhythm. Toney will need to polish his route running to be able to get open consistently at the next level.
Pick No. 25: Jacksonville Jaguars – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
The Jaguars could not possibly screw up their first pick in the draft, it was always going to be Trevor Lawrence. The chance to grab a generational prospect in Lawrence was a catalyst for the hire of Urban Meyer, who will attempt to bring his high flying offensive scheme from college to the NFL.
Meyer clearly had speed and offense in mind with his second selection of the first round, going with Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Running back value in the first round arguments aside, the Jaguars already had a breakout rusher with 2020 undrafted free agent James Robinson. With so many needs on defense, the Jaguars surprised everyone by pairing Clemson’s two biggest stars in Jacksonville.
Pick No. 16: Arizona Cardinals – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Pick No. 19: Washington Football Team – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Pick No. 24: Pittsburgh Steelers – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
What do you think? Who were the best picks and biggest reaches in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft? Let us know in the comment section below!