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4 winners and 2 losers from the 2021 NFL Draft

The longest weekend in the NFL is over and the league looks a lot different as a result. In totality the 2021 NFL Draft was an armchair scout’s dream. What the class lacked in top-end, sure-thing superstar talent it more than made up for with a deep, varied group of players with the potential to be average-to-great starters.

We already recapped the winners and losers after night one, but with all seven rounds in the books things look very, very different. Some of the teams that killed it in the first round fell off considerably when the dust settled, while others who made questionable opening night decisions ended up with monster classes with years of tone-setting potential. Then there’s the Texans, who I’d say tried their best, but I’m not sure they tried their best.

Winner: Carolina Panthers

Rd 1: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Rd 2: Terrance Marshall, WR, LSU
Rd 3: Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
Rd 3: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
Rd 4: Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Rd 5: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
Rd 5: Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
Rd 6: Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama
Rd 6: Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
Rd 6: Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama
Rd 7: Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky

I was extremely critical of Carolina’s decision on night one to take Jaycee Horn. It had nothing to do with Horn the player, who will be a difference maker at corner. It was more that I felt the decision making was resigned and uninspired at a time the team needed to make a splash.

What followed on days two and three was a masterclass in drafting. First year GM Scott Fitterer had an innate understanding of his team’s weaknesses, and worked all weekend long to trade back and amass more capital, while still landing numerous players with starting potential. In isolation no pick jumped off the screen, but in totality the class filled every single one of the team’s needs, without feeling at any point that they really reached to fill a gap.

The Panthers entered the draft with seven selections. They finished with 11 selections, while banking a 2022 fourth round pick from the Texans. This is important, because by trading Teddy Bridgewater for a 6th rounder this year, and getting a future fourth from Houston, Fitterer mitigated the majority of the Sam Darnold trade. The only pick left outstanding is one second round pick in 2022 which they owe the Jets on the balance of the trade.

Whether you believe in Darnold or not is immaterial. The Panthers do, and they showed in by surrounding him with every opportunity to succeed the season. If Terrance Marshall can remain healthy he’ll form a formidable receiving corps with two 1,000 yard pass catchers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, a shaky offensive line lacking depth now has two rotational players who can develop into starters. Tommy Tremble is one of the best pass blocking tight ends in the draft, and Chuba Howard will take some of the pressure off Christian McCaffery.

To do all this on offense, while revamping the secondary with two corners and adding defensive line depth is simply stunning. Fitterer set the Panthers franchise record for draft day trades his very first year in the hot seat, and the Carolina front office has to be over the moon with what they took home.

Loser: Houston Texans

Rd 3: Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
Rd 3: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
Rd 5: Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
Rd 5: Garrett Wallow, LB, TCU
Rd 6: Roy Lopez, DT, Arizona

This draft, much like all of Houston’s decisions for the last year, simply makes no damn sense. The Texans were in a really, really bad spot after trading away DeAndre Hopkins and replacing him with Kenny Stills left them with almost no draft capital.

The smart thing to do in this case is accept things are bad, cut your losses, and do everything in your power to trade back and amass more picks. This was a really deep draft after all, and the Texans needed help at a lot of positions.

Instead, Houston did the opposite. They traded up like there were absolute can’t-miss prospect on the board, not only losing much of their dwindling class, but giving up future assets. Forced to spend their top pick on a quarterback because of Deshaun Watson, the Texans followed with Nico Collins, who underperformed for much of his college career and whose selection is tantamount to a handful of magic beans.

I don’t think any of these picks makes the team better, and if you accept you’ve got to move on with a new QB then why spend a third rounder now, instead of waiting a year, knowing your dumpster fire of a team will be picking top 5?

Winner: Chicago Bears

Rd 1: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Rd 2: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Rd 5: Larry Borom, OG, Missouri
Rd 6: Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Teck
Rd 6: Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina
Rd 6: Thomas Graham Jr, CB, Oregon
Rd 7: Khyisis Tonga, DT, BYU

This was a playoff team in 2020. Do not forget that. Chicago made the postseason in spite of its quarterback play, on the back of stellar defense. It would have been easy to sit and make some incremental improvements, but instead the Bears took big time risks — and I love it.

Now, part of that dice rolling is unquestionably due to Matt Nagy’s seat getting hotter at coach and Ryan Pace being heavily critiqued for his first round picks, but he absolutely killed this draft. Spending five straight picks on offense was absolutely the right move, and whether Fields starts immediately, or preferably sits for a year, whenever he’s ready to step in the team has two starting-caliber offensive linemen in Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom.

I also think Dazz Newsome has potential to surprise and was a great late-round pickup on offense. He’s a project for sure, but has time to grow.

Overall I love drafts that show a team understanding its lot and what needs to happen to take a step forward. The Bears needed to make a splash in offense while their defense was still dominant, and did it. Allen Robinson will LOVE having Justin Fields to throw to him, and I think Fields was such a steal it would have been almost impossible to have a bad draft after that.

Bravo Chicago, you did it.

Loser: Dallas Cowboys

Rd 1: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Rd 2: Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
Rd 3: Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA
Rd 3: Nashon Wright, CB, Oregon State
Rd 3: Chauncey Golston, DE, Iowa
Rd 4: Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
Rd 4: Josh Ball, OT, Marshall
Rd 5: Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford
Rd 6: Quinton Bohanna, DT, Kentucky
Rd 6: Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
Rd 7: Matt Farniok, G, Nebraska

Conventional wisdom says a writer should always grade a Cowboys draft high, because that’s how you get those sweet shares — but I really didn’t care for what Dallas did throughout the draft.

The team didn’t do enough to help Dak Prescott on the offensive line, waiting until the fourth round to get one of two offensive linemen this class. Yes, the Cowboys needed a lot of help on defense too, but each of their picks after Parsons felt like a reach based on the board.

The whole strategy felt a little static. As if the war room had a handful of names they wanted to get, and didn’t really care how the draft fell around it. Also, allowing the Eagles to trade up for extremely fair value so they could take DeVonta Smith was far too generous for a division rival.

Winner: Minnesota Vikings

Rd 1: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Rd 3: Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
Rd 3: Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina
Rd 3: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Rd 3: Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh
Rd 4: Kene Nwangwu, RB, Iowa State
Rd 5: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
Rd 5: Zach Davidson, TE, Central Michigan
Rd 6: Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pittsburgh

This draft really hung on a knife edge as early as the first round, but credit to Minnesota for really having a good grip on where the draft was heading, and getting in front of it. I think it would have been a sensible, solid pick for the Vikings to have taken Darrisaw at No. 14, but trading back, adding more picks and STILL getting him at No. 23 was brilliant.

This deal allowed the team room to play later. Taking Kellen Mond was a sage pick in the third, really being the last of the quarterbacks with NFL potential, and there’s a chance here he could develop into an NFL starter, especially in a situation where he doesn’t need to start right away.

If I were to nitpick I think it’s a shame Minnesota didn’t do more to help their defensive line earlier in the draft, but getting two offensive line starters in Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis was an incredible haul. The rest of the picks were really just gravy.

Winner: Cleveland Browns

Rd 1: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Rd 2: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Rd 3: Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn
Rd 4: James Hudson, OT, Cincinnati
Rd 4: Tommy Togial, DT, Ohio State
Rd 5: Tony Fields II, LB, West Virginia
Rd 5: Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia
Rd 6: Demetric Felton, WR, UCLA

The depth picks are all fine here, but what makes this draft a home run are those first two picks. Sure, Greg Newsome II might have been one of the back-end corners out of the elite, but he was a smart, sensible pick at No. 26.

It’s getting Owusu-Koramoah at No. 52 that’s truly astounding. I understand why he fell, and it’s not for talent — it’s because of a lack of imagination. A hybrid linebacker/safety, I think a lot of teams were spooked by the work it would take to turn him into a defensive weapon in their schemes. The Browns had the guts to say “this kid in incredible, we’ll work the rest out.”

I mentioned earlier that this was a deep draft that was thin with top-end superstar talent, well, Cleveland may have found a way to land two future Pro Bowl players in the first two rounds. When things like that happen you’re not just looking at winning a draft, but winning playoff games — and this was already a playoff team.

Honorable mentions

Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons

Dishonorable mentions

Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets

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