Fields and Jones fall, Bears and Eagles move up, and Trey Lance goes to the 49ers, but who ended up with the best and worst selections of the night?
The 2021 NFL draft’s first round started with the usual boos for Roger Goodell and ended on the Super Bowl Champ Bucs taking Joe Tyron from Washington. However, it is what happened in between that made this first round one of the more interesting and exciting rounds in recent memory.
Everyone knew the draft started at #3 with the 49ers selection. For weeks people had linked Alabama QB Mac Jones to the 49ers, with Trey Lance also gaining traction leading up to the draft. NFL insiders had heard that the 49ers personnel staff wanted to select Lance, but that Kyle Shanahan wanted to select Jones. I was disappointed to hear this news as I really wanted the 49ers to select Justin Fields, who I still believe is the second-best QB prospect in this draft, even with Lance’s extreme upside.
The 49ers ended up listening to team personnel and selected Trey Lance, the 20-year-old extremely raw QB prospect from North Dakota State. I was relieved to see this selection because even though anyone can succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s offense including Mac Jones, he just wasn’t the guy to take at #3 and it would have been a colossal mistake to select him since he has no upside. There is no question that Trey Lance is a very raw prospect with the most boom-bust potential of any player in the draft. It is also evident that assuming Jimmy Garroppolo remains on the team, Lance, even with all of his physical tools and ability, will need to sit out next season and learn under Garroppolo to adjust to the NFL.
Either way, the Bears shocked everyone by trading up and stealing the second-best QB prospect in the draft at #11 in Fields. Even though many expected the Patriots to move up and select Fields, they sat back at remained at #15 knowing that they would take whichever of the top 5 QB’s were left, which happened to be Mac Jones. Philadelphia got Jalen Hurts help by trading up two spots to select DeVonta Smith, while the New York Jets also traded up to get #2 overall selection Zach Wilson some help in Alijah Vera-Tucker who may become the best offensive tackle/lineman in this draft. There were also some obvious losers in the first round as both Carolina and Denver passed on Justin Fields in favor of cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II.
Winner: Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears
Wow. Just wow. The Bears actually made a good quarterback decision and traded up to select Justin Fields, the dual-threat QB from Ohio State. No selection comes even close to being as good as this one. The Bears desperately needed a game-changing QB and Justin Fields will be that right away in Chicago. The quarterback position was the Bears’ biggest weakness and they have now fixed that. Justin Fields also wins because he gets to go to a playoff-contending team right away with a lot of talent. Sure, Fields would have made more money and would have liked it better if he was selected in the top 5, but at least he goes to a team that is built to win now.
Winner: Trey Lance
Anyone who was selected by the 49ers here would have won. It’s very simple, Lance wins because he enters one of the best offensive schemes in the NFL with arguably the best play-caller in the NFL in Kyle Shanahan. Lance also wins because as good as he is, he needs a year to adjust to the NFL and learn. With rumors of Lance being the hardest worker in the draft having the “first one in, last one out” mentality, he should be able to eventually thrive and become a star quarterback in the NFL under Kyle Shanahan.
Loser: Carolina Panthers
I know some of you are reading this and asking why? They have Sam Darnold, they don’t need Justin Fields. Well, that’s not entirely true and there are more than two reasons why the Panthers botched this #8 overall selection. First, as good as Darnold can become with a reputable offensive line and an actual NFL scheme, Justin Fields will be better than him anywhere he plays. Fields has the ability to be an all-pro and although I think Darnold can be very good, it is doubtful that he will ever be an all-pro quarterback. I think adding Fields could have been smart here, but that is not the full reason why they lost in the first round. Micah Parsons was linked to the Panthers for weeks as he is undisputedly the best defensive player in the draft and the Panthers need some depth at the linebacker position. But no, they selected Jaycee Horn, a cornerback, who by the way wasn’t even the best cornerback available at the selection. Patrick Surtain II would have been a much better selection here, but Parsons was the guy Carolina should have chosen. They really missed out because of their incompetence.
Loser: Denver Broncos
Why are they losers? Isn’t Patrick Surtain II the best corner in the draft? Yes, but the Broncos desperately need a quarterback and they botched this pick by not selecting Justin Fields. Plain and simple. Drew Lock is not getting it done, and Justin Fields will be a game-changing QB at the NFL level, so why go with a corner here instead of taking your franchise QB? Looks like Denver won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, especially since the next two drafts are filled with some of the weakest quarterback prospects in the last twenty years. Sorry Bronco fans.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars
Both the Steelers and the Jaguars selected running backs in consecutive picks. At #24, the Steelers took Najee Harris, a big-bodied, elusive, quick, and athletic back who reminds a lot of people of Derrick Henry. At #25, the Jaguars selected Travis Etienne, who is a pass-catching back who can run routes like a receiver and pick up tremendous amounts of yardage from the backfield. The Steelers have an obvious depleted run game and needed to improve it to continue to compete for a Super Bowl. Sure, they could have gotten a QB since Big Ben is regressing, but we all know they will select Davis Mills or Kyle Trask tomorrow in the second or third round.
The Steelers get Harris, who is one of the best running back prospects in recent memory as he has all of the tools to be a star in the NFL from day one. He is just that good. I know in recent years running backs have fallen because of the consistent injuries around the league at the position, but Harris is built to last and the Steelers stole Harris at #24, who five years ago would have been selected in the top five. The Jaguars picked up Etienne, who is an offensive superstar, and has played with their new franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence for three years in college. Oh, we also can’t forget that they selected the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck in Trevor Lawrence with the #1 overall pick. Although it may take time for this offense to become elite, snagging both Lawrence and Etienne is a huge step forward for the future.
Loser: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers expressed his frustration with the organization earlier in the day, telling some officials in the Packers organization that he did not want to return to the Packers next season. After this conflict ensued and was documented in the media, instead of getting Rodgers another playmaker on offense, the Packers instead selected Eric Stokes, a corner from Georgia. Stokes wasn’t even rated as a top ten corner in this draft, yet they still selected him at #29. Not only did they fail to draft a playmaker like Elijah Moore or Rondale Moore to pair with Rodgers, but they also took a second or third-round talent corner in the first round. Even though I do think that the Packers and Rodgers will figure out their differences, this was a bad selection for a team that wants to make it to the Super Bowl next year.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
DeVonta Smith available at #10? If you would have said that would happen before the draft I would have called you crazy. The Eagles did not expect this to happen either, so they pounced on the opportunity to trade up to select Smith, and only had to move up two spots to do so. Smith is the best receiver in the draft. Yea I said it. And I stand by it. Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle are elite don’t get me wrong. But DeVonta Smith is on another level. He is the toughest and most talented receiver in this draft. Smith also had the best season for a receiver in College Football History which resulted in a Heisman Trophy and a National Championship. The Eagles got Jalen Hurts a serious playmaker who will undoubtedly become a pro-bowler within three seasons.
Loser: New Orleans Saints
The Saints are obviously a great organization and maybe they saw something none of us did in Payton Turner, the defensive end they selected from Houston with the #28 overall pick. But seriously? Both Jayson Oweh and Gregory Rousseau were available and are leaps and bounds better than Turner. Whatever though, this team has enough talent to still be elite even with botching their first-round pick. I’m rooting for Turner to prove me wrong, but I just don’t see him outplaying Rousseau or Oweh in the NFL.
Winner: Kyle Pitts and the Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts is the best player in this draft, even a better prospect than Lawrence in my opinion. He is going to be a Hall of Famer, and anyone who tells you that the Falcons should have taken a quarterback here probably hasn’t seen Kyle Pitts play football. With the elite play of Tom Brady at 43, I believe that Matt Ryan has a bunch of good years left, even though he is by no means on Brady’s level. Julio Jones and Kyle Pitts on the same team? Yeah, this offense is going to be seriously dangerous.