2021 NFL Draft: First-Round Surprises and Best Players Available


We hyped it up for months. The NFL draft delivered. After the first two picks went off as expected, San Francisco pulled the first surprise of the draft and we were off and running. Three receivers went in the top 10. Four if you count Kyle Pitts. The Raiders ruined everyone’s mock draft, as we have come to expect by now. In short, it was a wild and exciting night.

I will continue to say, it is too early to hand out draft grades. At some point in the near future, I will go back and regrade the 2016 NFL draft. You need about five years to evaluate a draft class, and even then, that might not be enough.

Still, there is plenty of room for initial reactions to everything that just went down in Cleveland. Let’s review the biggest surprises from Thursday and take a look at the best players still available.

San Francisco fooled (almost) everyone
Shortly after the 49ers traded up to the No. 3 pick, it came out that Kyle Shanahan loved Mac Jones as a prospect. For weeks, speculation ran wild that Jones was going to be the pick. He fit the mold of what Shanahan loved in a quarterback and would give San Francisco a chance to win now with a healthier roster. Jones is pro ready and brought a lot of similar traits to Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan found success with in Washington. It just made sense. Then, the narrative started to change. Rumors started to circulate that the 49ers were undecided on the pick, weighing Trey Lance and Justin Fields as well. As it turns out, they were not set on Jones. My initial reaction is that John Lynch and the front office got this absolutely right. After a few years of feeling like they were leaking information, we all knew the 49ers liked Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk last year, San Francisco kept a lid on their draft plans for this year.

Philly and Dallas made a trade with … each other?
What in the world just happened? Apparently, the Cowboys hate the Giants more than they hate the Eagles. Philadelphia sent a third-round pick to Dallas to jump New York, taking the Heisman trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. The move reunites Smith with his college quarterback back at Alabama in 2017 and part of 2018. Jalen Hurts was replaced by Tua Tagovailoa before Smith was really part of the starting lineup, but there is at least some familiarity there. It is an interesting move by Jerry Jones. I guess he decided that he would rather take the extra third round pick if he was going to play against Smith twice a year regardless. Overall, savvy move by both sides that forced Dave Gettleman to trade down for the first time ever as a general manager.

Why do we even bother mocking picks to the Raiders anymore?
Speculation about what Las Vegas could do with the 17th pick was all over the place. I thought Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a great fit. My co-host on the Draft Season Never Ends podcast James Schiano predicted the Raiders would tab Teven Jenkins. He was closer, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden shocked everyone again by taking Alex Leatherwood. I had a late second-round grade on Leatherwood, ranking him 59th overall. ESPN showed a graphic that said its draft prediction algorithm gave the Alabama tackle a 60 percent chance of still being available when Las Vegas picked in the second round at 46. It was another head-scratching move, but this is what Mayock and Gruden do. In 2019, they stunned everyone by selecting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall. Last year, Las Vegas reached to draft Damon Arnette in the first round. This organization clearly has a very different outlook on the scouting process than everyone else in football.

Clemson backfield reunited in Jacksonville
Everyone and their fiancée had the Jaguars selecting Trevor Lawrence first overall in their mock drafts. It was a done deal. What we didn’t expect was for Jacksonville to take a running back with its second pick of the first round. Travis Etienne is an electric player in the open field and there was some speculation the team could look to add a complementary running back to support James Robinson. Taking Etienne in round one is a stunner though. As the league as a whole continues to devalue the position, Jacksonville suddenly has two starting-caliber options. Urban Meyer said he was going to take the best player available, but this is puzzling. Especially when you consider that Meyer told reporters that Etienne was going to be used as a third-down back. Excuse me? Very bizarre roster-building strategy indeed. Love the player, just wonder if maybe the Jaguars could have used the pick to fill a more pressing need on a roster with a lot of holes.

Payton Turner sneaks into the first round
I did not see this one coming. I had heard some buzz earlier in the day that Payton Turner could be a potential first-round pick, but I chalked that up to draft day noise. Turns out, it was spot on. He had been trending up recently, according to NFL Mock Draft Database. Only The Score had him ranked in the first round from what I can find, with his average ranking topping out at 68 overall. Turner was the second-to-last player to earn a third-round grade from me. He is long and agile though, so I can see the appeal for New Orleans, especially after losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency. Turner is also a really good fit in the Saints’ 4-3 system. However, considering that the team has Cameron Jordan and former first-round pick Marcus Davenport already on the roster, this has to go down as a bit of a surprise given the team’s other needs at corner, linebacker and receiver.

No JOK on Day 1
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was viewed as a lock by many in the media to go in the first round. He was a rangy coverage linebacker who could line up at safety and nickel corner. He is my top-rated player still available heading into Day 2. Did Isaiah Simmons’ struggles as a rookie sour the whole league on Owusu-Koramoah? It seems unlikely, but I am unsure how else to explain why one of the fastest linebackers in this class fell out of the first round. As the NFL has trended more and more toward linebackers who are lighter and quicker, JOK felt like a perfect fit for the modern NFL defense. He could easily go No. 33 overall to the Jaguars, who could use someone with his coverage ability in their defense. Much as I said about Josh Jones last year though, it is unclear when exactly his slide will stop.

Best Players Available

That is what stood out to me from the first night of the NFL draft. There are still 227 more picks to be made though, so the draft is really only getting started. With that in mind, here are my top remaining prospects:

16. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
24. Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
27. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (first-round cut off)
29. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
30. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
31. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
32. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
33. Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame
35. Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest
36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
38. Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
42. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
43. Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
44. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
46. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
47. Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
49. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
50. Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
51. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
52. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
55. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
56. Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
57. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
58. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
60. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
61. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
62. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
64. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
65. Peter Werner, LB, Ohio State
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
67. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
68. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
69. Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC
70. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
71. Richie Grant, S, UCF
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
73. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
74. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
75. Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
76. Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
77. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
78. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
80. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
82. Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
85. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
88. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
89. Dyami Brown, WR, UNC
91. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
95. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
96. Quinn Meinerz, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
98. Jackson Carmen, G, Clemson
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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