What We Learned in the 2021 N.F.L. Draft

The first spherical of the 2021 N.F.L. draft proceeded on Thursday night time in response to the league’s strict hierarchy: quarterbacks got here first, adopted by those that catch passes from them and shield them, with the defenders tasked with stopping them citing the rear.

And simply so as to add some additional drama to the proceedings, a member of the league’s quarterback aristocracy did his greatest to upstage the newcomers.

For the first time since 1999, quarterbacks had been chosen with the prime three picks: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence by the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1, Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson by the Jets at No. 2, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance by the San Francisco 49ers at No. 3.

The Lawrence and Wilson picks had been forgone conclusions weeks in the past. San Francisco’s alternative of Lance over Alabama’s Mac Jones or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, on the different hand, had been a intently guarded secret.

Lance led the Bison to the Football Championship Subdivision nationwide championship in 2019, throwing 28 touchdowns and nil interceptions in opposition to a a lot decrease caliber of competitors than Fields or Jones confronted in their Power 5 conferences. He performed just one recreation in 2020 due to coronavirus-related postponements and cancellations earlier than declaring for the draft. A coach of Kyle Shanahan’s perception, nevertheless, can little doubt precisely consider a small-program prospect with restricted enjoying time.

Lance will change Jimmy Garoppolo, the small-program prospect with restricted enjoying time whom Shanahan’s 49ers traded for in 2017, lavishly overpaid and ultimately grew disenchanted with.

Fields, who led the Buckeyes to consecutive College Football Playoff appearances, dropped to the Chicago Bears, who traded as much as draft him with the 11th choose. He is predicted to shortly supplant Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, the N.F.L.’s variations of Art Garfunkel and John Oates.

The New England Patriots later chosen Jones with the 15th general choose. Jones led the Crimson Tide to the nationwide championship in 2020 underneath practically superb situations; 5 of his faculty teammates had been chosen amongst the draft’s first 24 picks. Now he joins one the most profitable American sports activities franchises of the 21st century. Some guys have all the luck.

Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith had been the final quarterbacks to be chosen with the top-three picks in an N.F.L. draft. Only McNabb had a noteworthy profession, which is a reminder that prime quarterback prospects often find yourself at the mercy of perennially dysfunctional franchises like the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Or, in this yr’s case, the Jaguars and the Jets.

After the quarterbacks got here a run of cross catchers.

The Atlanta Falcons chosen tight finish Kyle Pitts, who caught 12 landing passes in eight video games for Florida final yr, at No. 4. The highest-drafted tight finish in historical past, Pitts is predicted to revolutionize the means N.F.L. offenses use tight ends, simply as Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, Travis Kelce and plenty of others revolutionized the place over the final 50 years. Apparently, the tight finish place has undergone as many revolutions as 19th century Italy.

The Cincinnati Bengals chosen Louisiana State extensive receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth choose, reuniting him with Joe Burrow, Chase’s faculty quarterback and the prime choose in final yr’s draft. If the Bengals remodel into an L.S.U. alumni crew, it should at the least give them an identification for the first time since Boomer Esiason left in 1993.

The speedy Alabama extensive receiver Jaylen Waddle joined the Miami Dolphins with the subsequent choose, No. 6 over all, leaping forward of more-accomplished teammate DeVonta Smith, who was chosen by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 10th choose.

Smith is nicknamed Slim Reaper, which seems like the world’s solely Eminem/Iron Maiden tribute band however refers as an alternative to the undeniable fact that Smith reportedly weighs round 166 kilos, a number of Waffle House breakfasts shy of the minimal N.F.L. threshold. Smith ought to have carried the 45-pound Heisman Trophy he received final season onto a scale with him to place evaluators extra relaxed.

Like Chase, Waddle and Smith can be reunited with their faculty quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa (in Miami) and Jalen Hurts (in Philadelphia). But it’s not likely noteworthy when that kind of factor occurs to Alabama gamers.

By the time N.F.L. groups bought round to drafting some defenders, their greatest decisions turned out to be cornerbacks with well-known fathers.

The Carolina Panthers chosen Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) with the eighth choose. Horn’s father, Joe Horn, was a standout extensive receiver greatest identified for utilizing a cellphone as a prop in a landing celebration in opposition to the Giants in 2003. Horn used a flip cellphone, retroactively making the gag a “dad joke.”

Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) joined the Denver Broncos with the ninth choose. His father performed for the nice Miami Dolphins defenses of the early 2000s, which aren’t nicely remembered principally as a result of their offenses had been dreadful.

Other second-generation cornerbacks can be drafted in later rounds, together with Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., whose dad allowed an Eli Manning interception to bounce off his palms in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII, making him the solely New England Patriots participant eligible for the Giants’ Ring of Honor.

The Jets traded as much as the 14th choose from the 23rd choose (acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in final yr’s Jamal Adams deal) to pick Southern Cal offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, who will present some insurance coverage in opposition to Wilson’s enduring too many early-career hits the means the final umpteen Jets quarterback prospects did.

As for the Giants, General Manager Dave Gettleman opted to commerce down in the first spherical for the first time in his lengthy profession, sliding down from the 11th choose to web an additional first-round choose in 2022, plus change. In their adjusted spot at No. 20, the Giants chosen the Florida all-purpose rusher-receiver Kadarius Toney.

Gettleman said last week that he had at all times been amenable to buying and selling down, however the worth was by no means proper. “I don’t want to get fleeced,” he mentioned.

No N.F.L. persona sounds extra like an crotchety uncle haggling at a used automobile dealership than Gettleman, however he seems to have struck a shrewd deal this time.

A report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter {that a} disgruntled Aaron Rodgers doesn’t need to return to the Green Bay Packers despatched shock waves throughout the league in the hours earlier than the draft. Rodgers, the reigning Most worthy participant and a current “Jeopardy!” visitor host, was not-so-secretly miffed when the Packers drafted his potential substitute, Jordan Love, in final yr’s first spherical and by different organizational choices.

The Packers may have chosen a large receiver with the 29th choose, which might have been the draft-day equal of a diamond brooch and a tearful apology. Instead, they selected Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes.

While the Rodgers scenario continues to be creating, few groups have the sources to commerce for him. And if Rodgers chooses to retire, “Jeopardy!” can be higher off hiring LeVar Burton.

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