Selecting players in the NFL Draft is hard.
Some picks are easy to make, like the Jaguars taking Trevor Lawrence first overall. But it gets more difficult as the draft advances because there’s a difficult balance between picking the guy you want while not reaching for that player. It doesn’t always come out perfect, though.
Below, we’ll go over some of the worst value picks from the 2021 NFL Draft. This doesn’t necessarily mean the pick is a bad player. It just simply means, based on all of the information available, the team likely reached for their selection. In other words, they chose the player much earlier than they were projected to go.
When grading these, there’s obviously more weight placed on the early rounds. You won’t see too many late round selections because, by the time you get to Round 6 and Round 7, it’s hard to have “bad value” — you may as well take a flier on players that late.
We’ll reference NFL.com’s pre-draft grades, NFL Mock Draft Database’s consensus big board, The Athletic’s consensus big board and ESPN’s Seth Walder’s draft projections to help determine value of these picks.
So, let’s get into the picks.
Raiders: Alex Leatherwood, OL
We’re not the first ones to call this pick a reach. The Raiders surprised a lot of people by selecting Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood at 17 overall. He was 40th and 45th overall on the consensus big boards and was viewed more as a Round 2 prospect, but that’s not the only issue. Leatherwood mostly played left tackle at Alabama, and Kolton Miller has that job already for Las Vegas. So Leatherwood will likely need to move to guard, which he did play a bit at Alabama; but it makes the selection even more confusing. Walder’s draft projection said there was a 69 percent chance that Leatherwood was going to be available at pick No. 43 when the Raiders drafted next.
Saints: Payton Turner, DE
Payton Turner is a talented athlete, but not many saw him going in the late stages of the first round. He was ranked 68th and 60th on the consensus big boards, respectively. It was also a curious selection, considering Gregory Rousseau, who also plays defensive end, was still available and was ranked higher on every big board out there. We’ll find out in the long run if the Saints saw something the rest of the NFL Draft world didn’t.
49ers: Aaron Banks, OL
The 49ers took Aaron Banks at 48th overall, which was viewed as “a round too early” by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. He was 93rd and 90th overall in the consensus big boards, which fit Kiper’s suggestion that he was taken a round too early. Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski had this to say of the Banks picks: “Banks is not the type of lineman often projected for the San Francisco 49ers’ zone stretch. Typically, a heavy outside-zone system requires athletic interior blockers who display outstanding lateral movement. Banks isn’t that.” Walder’s draft projection metrics only had Banks at a 3 percent chance to go at pick 48 or earlier.
Packers: Josh Myers, C
Josh Myers only had a 4 percent chance he would be selected at pick No. 62 or earlier, according to Walder’s draft projection. The Packers likely would have been able to wait, as Myers had a 60 percent chance to make it to 92 overall using Walder’s metrics. Kiper agreed on this pick being a reach, saying, “I see him as more of a developmental prospect, not a clear NFL starter. I’m surprised that the Packers passed on Creed Humphrey, my second-ranked center.” Myers was Kiper’s 117th overall ranked prospect.
Chargers: Tre’ McKitty, TE
Tre’ McKitty was the 97th overall player off the board, which is way higher than his consensus big board rankings of 186 and 163. NFL.com’s draft analyst Lance Zierlein had McKitty as a 6th-to-7th round talent, so it was surprising to see him go in the third. Zierlein had a 5.64 grade on McKitty, which means he has a chance “to make end of roster or practice squad.” Which isn’t exactly what you want when you take a player in the 3rd. The Chargers’ pick of WR Josh Palmer could also be seen as a bad value.
Cowboys: Nahshon Wright, CB
Nahshon Wright had the lowest pre-draft grade from NFL.com’s Zierlein out of any player drafted within the first three rounds. Zierlein projected Wright as a 7th-round pick, or as an undrafted rookie free agent. His third-round draft selection shocked many analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who had Wright as his 44th-ranked corner. He was so lowly rated, he didn’t even appear on The Athletic’s consensus big board, which ranked the top 300 prospects (Wright went 99th overall). “I’m really surprised Wright went here, because I didn’t see a starter when I watched his tape,” Kiper said of this pick.
Titans: Dez Fitzpatrick, WR
Fitzpatrick had one of the lower pre-draft grades from NFL.com’s Zierlein out of the players who were selected. Zierlein viewed Fitzpatrick more as a Round 7 prospect, or a potential undrafted free agent. He was the 16th wide receiver off the board and was the 32nd overall wide receiver prospect in the NFL Mock Draft Database big board. What made this move even more interesting is the fact the Titans traded up in order to draft Fitzpatrick. Maybe the Titans knew something the rest of us didn’t.
Washington: John Bates, TE
John Bates had the lowest pre-draft grade from Zierlein out of players selected within the first four rounds. In fact, Bates’ was the fourth-worst pre-draft grade out of all players selected. He doesn’t offer up much as a receiving threat as he’s primarily viewed as a blocking tight end. He was the 124th overall selection, and was the 248th overall prospect on The Athletic’s consensus big board. He was the sixth overall tight end taken despite being the 12th overall tight end on The Athletic’s consensus big board. Based on all of the information available, it certainly seems like Washington could have drafted Bates much later on in the draft.