Who Had the Best Draft?

I don’t do mock drafts, because after the top 6-7 picks it’s basically a crapshoot. Nor do I do “draft grades”, and this is because I think the idea is fundamentally stupid. You’re grading teams on their picks before their picks have even taken a snap in so much as an NFL offseason rookie minicamp? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

I was also moving over this past weekend so it was hard to really dig deep into the draft.

What I will do, though is briefly highlight some teams whose drafts I liked. No deep dives yet; just a cursory evaluation of the stand-outs. And I’m not going to do the drafts I didn’t like because, again, we haven’t seen these kids play a single snap in the NFL. Who am I to act like I know better than the teams themselves if a pick of theirs is going to pan out or not? To me, doing draft grades is presumptuous. So I’ll just be highlighting some drafts that I really liked.

  • Cleveland: The Browns’ focus in free agency was defense, and their focus in the draft was defense. Andrew Berry is making some very aggressive moves to upgrade the defense. I like the Greg Newsome pick, and I like the Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah pick in the second round. He’s a first-round talent but had some heart issues apparently that scared teams away from him. But he’s been cleared to play, and the Browns rolled the dice. I also really liked the Tommy Togiai pick in round 4, the big defensive tackle from Ohio State that was wreaking havoc against Clemson. Andrew Berry–by the way, a Harvard grad–really seems to know what he’s doing despite being just 34 years old. I don’t know anything about the WR from Auburn they took in R3, Anthony Schwartz, but Berry deserves the benefit of the doubt.
  • Chicago: With his back against the wall, Ryan Pace delivered. The whole city of Chicago is ecstatic about the Justin Fields pick, and getting Teven Jenkins in the second round was the cherry on top. The QB of the future and an absolute mauler at the tackle spot. Plus an offensive lineman from Missouri later in the draft, Larry Borom. While it may not work out, the fans love when their GM gets aggressive and tries to make things happen. There are no sure things in the NFL draft; the only thing you can do is identify the guys you like and do everything you can to acquire them. That’s what Ryan Pace did and I respect it.
  • Carolina: I love what Carolina did, too. Jaycee Horn wasn’t my top defensive player in the draft or even my top corner in the draft, but he was up there. And if Carolina fell in love with him, they took him close enough to where I thought his “fair value” was to still consider him a good pick. They then got Terrace Marshall, a WR from LSU; an offensive tackle from BYU named Brady Christensen who I know nothing about but am assuming is pretty good; RB Chuba Hubbard, who was a stud in college; a D-lineman from Iowa Daviyon Nixon; and then that massive offensive lineman Deonte Brown from Alabama. They were all over the place with their picks and I loved it. They even took a long-snapper from Alabama. After going all defense last year, they spent the top pick this year on defense and then took a lot of Big Boys in the later rounds. You can never have enough Big Boys up front, especially playing in that division with Tampa and all their pass rushers.
  • Dallas: They went defense with their first 6 picks, 8 of 11 overall, and got the guy I consider the best defensive prospect in the draft, Micah Parsons, the linebacker from Penn State. And they traded back and still got him. People ripped them for their draft, but they addressed their defense in a major way, traded down when they needed, and got some great defensive players. I love what Dallas did, especially after the rumors about them trading up for Kyle Pitts.
  • Jacksonville: Obviously when you get the #1 overall prospect and a guy considered to be the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, you have to be included here. But I like their other picks, too. You pair up Lawrence with Travis Etienne, his college running back. I love that pick. You pick up Tyson Campbell, CB from Georgia, in the second round; then an offensive lineman from Stanford, Walker Little; and then DL Jay Tufele from USC (a guy Urban Meyer tried to recruit to Ohio State). I really like what the Jaguars did. It’s hard to screw up when you have 5 picks in the top 65, but I think Jacksonville had a very strong draft.
  • NY Jets: Regardless of what you think about Zach Wilson, the Jets got their QB of the future, then they traded up for a great o-lineman in Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round. Then they got Elijah Moore, a good WR from Ole Miss. I think the Jets upgraded in a major way. They got a running back, Michael Carter from North Carolina, then a safety named Michael Carter II from Duke, which is kinda funny. I really just like those top 3-4 picks for them, though. They made moves and went all-in on Zach Wilson.
  • New England: Remember when Mac Jones was a “lock” to go at #3 to San Fran? Look how things worked out. The earliest mock drafts back in like January-February had Belichick grabbing Jones at #15, and it turns out they were right. Belichick didn’t have to move up at all to get his QB of the future, and you know he’s got the inside scoop on Jones through his old buddy Nick Saban. I think people need to cool it on the whole “next Tom Brady” stuff with Jones, but you knew it was inevitable given where he wound up. Beyond Jones, I loved them getting Christian Barmore in round 2. I know there were some questions about Ronnie Perkins, the DE they took in round 3, but if Belichick thinks he can play, then I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Rhamondre Stevenson, the Oklahoma RB Belichick took in round 4, is a BIG OL’ BOY and probably reminded Bill of LeGarrette Blount. It felt like a “nostalgia” draft in New England: a QB that reminds people of Tom Brady, a running back that reminds people of LeGarrette Blount, and a D-lineman in Barmore that people say reminds them of Richard Seymour.
  • Baltimore: They’re one of the best drafting teams in the league every single year. I feel like the Ravens always nail it with their picks. I wasn’t sure about Rashod Bateman, but if the Ravens like him, then I like him. They also took Jayson Oweh, the freak athlete outside linebacker from Penn State. Like that pick a lot. The guard, Ben Cleveland from Georgia, I like that pick. And I think they got great value on Shaun Wade, the cornerback from Ohio State, in the 5th round. Now I know Wade didn’t really live up to the Ohio State “DBU” hype and has not been nearly as highly-touted as his predecessors like Marshon Lattimore, Jeffrey Okudah and the rest, but 2020 was a weird year for Ohio State and Wade wasn’t even supposed to play. He’s in a great spot in Baltimore where he can get coached up and potentially turn into one of the big steals of the draft.
  • Miami: I loved them trading back to #6, and they ended up getting a top-flight WR prospect in Jaylen Waddle to pair with Tua. It helps a lot that Waddle and Tua played together at Bama, but I’m just worried that maybe Tua isn’t equipped to take advantage of Waddle’s speed and home-run ability. We’ll worry about that later, though. The Dolphins also took Miami DE Jaelan Phillips with their later first round pick, and he was a late riser on draft boards who happened to be a home-grown talent for the Dolphins. Love that. Plus, Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg; Notre Dame just pumps out rock-solid offensive lineman. Anytime you draft a Notre Dame O-lineman, I’m a fan of the pick. He might not pan out, but he comes from a program with a great history at the position. I’m all about it. Really liked Miami’s draft.
  • LA Chargers: I feel like they got great value on Rashawn Slater at #13 as well as with Asante Samuel Jr. at #47. I liked both players and it feels like the Chargers stole them given where they went. The fact they filled positions of need for LAC made it that much better.

So those were the 10 drafts I thought stood out from the rest, in no particular order. I also liked Pittsburgh’s draft but not enough to put it in the top 10. A lot of people ripped the Najee Harris pick, but Pittsburgh is a franchise that always needs to have a beast at running back, and Harris certainly looked like that kind of guy at Alabama. It’s just not Steeler Football without a bruising running back. Harris fits perfectly in Pittsburgh. And the Penn State tight end they drafted in the second round, Pat Freiermuth, would’ve gotten a lot more hype this year if it wasn’t for Kyle Pitts being a once-in-a-decade talent at TE.

I know I said I wasn’t going to list off the drafts I didn’t like, but there is one team I want to comment on– the Bengals, who I was imploring to take Penei Sewell. They went and took Ja’Marr Chase with their #5 pick. I’m sure they had to get the O.K. from Burrow on that one. I mean there’s no way they didn’t get his approval on that pick, right? It’s his ass on the line out there.

If it was any other wide receiver, I would’ve said no way. But Chase, who set records with Burrow at LSU in 2019, is a special situation. So while I personally would’ve still gone with Sewell at #5, I can totally understand why they went with Chase.

And the Bengals did take Clemson OT Jackson Carman in round 2, but they did so after trading back from pick 38 to pick 46. Between 38 and 45, three offensive tackles were drafted: Teven Jenkins (Bears), Liam Eichenberg (Dolphins) and Walker Little (Jaguars). Then the Bengals got Carman at 46.

I just feel like the Bengals owed it to Joe Burrow to really place a high emphasis on getting him some protection via the draft, yet they did not appear to have any urgency to protect their franchise QB. They could’ve had the #1 offensive lineman in the draft, instead they wound up with the 10th offensive lineman off the board. Trading down in the second round almost feels like a slap in the face to Burrow given that three offensive tackles went between the pick the Bengals originally had (38) and the pick they traded back to (46). How can the Bengals claim they were prioritizing protecting Burrow when they had the chance to draft either Teven Jenkins or Liam Eichenberg, and they traded down?

Again, I like the Ja’Marr Chase pick. He replaces AJ Green, and he was electric with Joe Burrow at LSU. But it feels like the Bengals are going to ruin Joe Burrow’s career by not prioritizing offensive line. I feel like we’re all watching it happen in real time and it sucks.

So those are my initial thoughts on the 2021 draft. Maybe in the future we’ll get more in-depth.

If I had to pick one team that had the best draft, meaning which team improved the most through the draft, it’s a very tough question. Because while I really like that the Jets got a QB, an offensive lineman and a receiver, those picks don’t make them Super Bowl contenders. They won 2 games last year. It’s not like three rookies are going to transform a 2-win team into a playoff team (although it’s possible). But they may well have set the team up for sustained success starting maybe in 2022 and potentially for the next 2-5 years until those rookie deals expire.

Plus, you also have to take free agency into account here. The draft is just one part of the whole offseason process in the NFL through which teams upgrade, dismantle or tweak their rosters. You also have to take a look at free agency along with the draft. So from this perspective, I’m tempted to say the LA Chargers because not only did they get a great offensive lineman in the draft and add a good cornerback to replace Casey Hayward, they also added an All Pro Center in Corey Linsley from the Packers, former Steelers guard Matt Feiler, and tight end Jared Cook who came over from New Orleans. The Chargers massively overhauled the offensive line, and they were already pretty good as it is, going 7-9 last year with 7 of those 9 losses coming by one possession.

It’s hard to say rookie players can put a team over the top, but look at the Buccaneers last year: their two best draft picks in 2020 were OT Tristan Wirfs and S Antoine Winfield Jr.–both guys started for them in the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Chargers’ top picks were at similar positions, plus the defensive back the Chargers drafted (Samuel Jr.) is, like Antonie Winfield Jr., the son of a former great player. By no means am I saying things will play out in LA like they did in Tampa last year. While Justin Herbert is really good and has a ridiculously bright future ahead of him, he’s not Tom Brady. The Chargers don’t have the GOAT factor, nor do I think their defense is on the same level as Tampa’s.

So I want to say the Chargers had the best draft from the perspective of taking the team up a level or two, from middle-of-the-pack into playoff contender, and possibly even Super Bowl contender if Justin Herbert keeps progressing.

But then you look at a team like the Jaguars, and they got a ton of great draft picks. I know it’s a cop-out to say the team that was picking #1 had the best draft, but if Trevor Lawrence is as good as he’s cracked up to be, then how could it be anyone but Jacksonville? They also added a great running back in Travis Etienne, an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a cornerback–they hit all the important spots.

I think the answer has to be the Jaguars for who had the best draft.

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