How well will your team fare in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft? Sporting News has you covered in tracking all the picks and issuing grades in real time Thursday night.
Going on the clock in Cleveland, the spotlight again is on the quarterbacks, starting with the first two three picks. But there’s plenty of franchise-changing talent at other positions both in terms of immediate impact and long-term shine.
The key questions to ask right away: Did the team get the right player at a position of need? Did it pass on someone else who could have been a better fit? Was the player it took worthy of that high of selection vs. the promise of similar prospects? Based on our evaluations, we’re providing answers for what the picks mean now and later.
From No. 1 through No. 32, this is your hub for in-depth live reaction in Round 1, grading every team and player fit. Keep checking back for updates throughout the entire first round.
NFL Draft grades 2021: Live picks, analysis from Round 1
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Jacksonville can’t do better than this after earning the first overall pick and a generational talent at the position who stands out even in a top-heavy draft class. Urban Meyer begins his pro career with a strong-armed passer, great athlete and exceptional leader with plenty of winning pedigree. Lawrence, with the right support soon, can be an ace starter for several seasons.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Jets surprised some by locking into Wilson so soon to replace since-traded Sam Darnold over Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. But they like his combination of arm and athleticism with a dash of dazzle. Wilson is confident after an accurate breakout season and is a great cerebral fit for the new offense of Mike LaFleur.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The 49ers pull off a mild shocker by going with the high-ceiling prospect vs. the high floor of Mac Jones. Lance is also a highly intelligent passer capable of making all the throws and offers a special brand of athleticism Jones can’t. Lance needs some development to hone his skills, but he gets into a great passer-friendly system and inherits a loaded supporting cast to boost him under Kyle Shanahan. Look for Lance to start sooner rather than later and take a top offense to an unprecedented level.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Falcons stick with their guns to help Matt Ryan and land a unique dynamic pass-catcher to complement Julio Jones (assuming he’s not traded) and Calvin Ridley. New offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith featured athletic tight ends well with the Titans and will turn Pitts into an immediate-impact intermediate target all the way through the red zone, where he dominated for the Gators. Pitts makes it difficult to handle Atlanta’s passing game in every situation.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Joe Burrow gets the help he needs, just a little different from what many expected. Chase is an excellent all-around receiver who can line up everywhere and make big plays like a true No. 1. He has great established chemistry with Burrow from their explosive production together at LSU. Chase will make big Tee Higgins and slot ace Tyler Boyd even more dangerous against lesser coverage. The minus is simply for making the tough decision to go weapon over protection for Burrow in the form of an offensive tackle.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Eagles): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Dolphins reunite Waddle with former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, taking a cue from the Bengals with Burrow and Chase the pick before. He was preferred in the end over DeVonta Smith because of ability to add a necessary big-play element, both using his speed to get downfield and using his quickness in the open field as a Tyreek Hill-style receiver. He is the ideal complement to top wideout DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki.
7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Lions were a good bet to take the best player available for their total rebuild under GM Brad Holmes. Taylor Decker is still at left tackle, but he’s getting older and Sewell can start and immediately upgrade right tackle with Halapoulivaati Vaitai moving to guard. He’s smooth in pass protection and also a long-term rock for the running game.
8. Carolina Panthers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Panthers, with Sewell off the board, were pushed into their glaring defensive need for a cornerback to help shore up the pass defense behind Brian Burns and next to Jeremy Chinn. But with safe, “sure thing” Patrick Surtain II on the board, they opted to look elsewhere in the SEC, down the road to Columbia for a different son of a former NFL player, in this case Joe Horn. Jaycee is a natural big playmaker who rose up boards late because of his comparable size, but Surtain had the ultimate pedigree and a little better shutdown potential.
9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
There’s nothing wrong with the selection of Surtain, the strong defender in the top 10. But for a team that needed an upgrade at QB and several other positions, Denver goes for corner despite adding Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby for Vic Fangio in free agency. Surtain should be a special player with shutdown skills to open up the blitz packages, but the Broncos get knocked a little by going for a future-minded quasi luxury pick.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from Cowboys): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Eagles couldn’t ignore the potential of reuniting Smith with former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts, so much so they traded with a division rival to get in front of another division rival. They did use a first-rounder on Jalen Reagor last year and have Greg Ward back for the slot, but they needed a reliable route-running No. 1 with some big-play flair for new offensive-minded head coach Nick Sirianni. Hurts, like Burrow and Tagovailoa, gets to throw to a familiar dynamic target from college.
11. Chicago Bears (from Giants): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Bears had to give up a first-rounder next year and two additional picks to move up nine spots from No. 20, but it was well worth it to change their QB fortunes with Andy Dalton serving as the veteran bridge. Fields didn’t really “fall,” as simply Lawrence, Wilson and Lance had natural team fits early. He’s a tough, experienced winner with the necessary arm and athleticism to be a viable dual threat in the NFL. He just needs work on handling pressure better and getting the ball out more quickly, but Fields has all the physical tools to solve Chicago’s long-standing QB problem with the right coaching support.
12. Dallas Cowboys (from Eagles): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Dallas makes a curious superfluous pick to add to its linebacker strength with Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, going back to the program that produced venerable retiree Sean Lee. Parsons is a rangy playmaker who excels at covering and blitzing. He can line up everywhere to help their defense in another way, but cornerback and true edge rusher were much bigger needs for Dallas and there also were strong options for the offensive line still on the board.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Los Angeles has to be thrilled Slater remained on the board to complete its offensive line overhaul to better protect Justin Herbert in Year 2. Slater, who opted out of the 2020 season, stood on excellent athletic tape that included him holding Chase Young in check on the edge. He will start opposite Bryan Bulaga right away, with Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler and elite center Corey Linsley rounding out the new-look line. Slater looks like a sturdy 10-year rock like Sewell will be.
14. New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
16. Arizona Cardinals:
17. Las Vegas Raiders
18. Miami Dolphins:
19. Washington Football Team:
20. New York Giants (from Bears):
21. Indianapolis Colts:
22. Tennessee Titans:
23. Minnesota Vikings (from Jets)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams):
26. Cleveland Browns:
27. Baltimore Ravens:
28. New Orleans Saints:
29. Green Bay Packers:
30. Buffalo Bills:
31. Baltimore Ravens (from Chiefs):
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: