Plenty of fans should be happy with what their teams did in the 2021 NFL Draft, but several Super Bowl contenders still have glaring flaws that weren’t adequately addressed.
Not every NFL roster is going to be perfectly constructed, and massive quarterback contracts or other pricey veterans can have a lot to do with that. The constricted 2021 salary cap doesn’t help, and it’s not like drafting for pure need guarantees a rookie will plug a gaping hole.
Nevertheless, let’s look at five probable contenders who made draft decisions that are grounds for doubt and questioning, because they could’ve at least placed a greater priority on investing in depth at key spots.
Indianapolis Colts: Left tackle
A big reason why Carson Wentz flamed out in Philadelphia in 2020 was due to a banged-up offensive line that couldn’t protect him. The pass-catchers around him didn’t help, but a perpetually collapsing pocket kept Wentz in constant chaos.
Although the Colts have had a strong offensive line in recent years, headlined by the talents of All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, they lost left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement. There were plenty of viable tackles who could step in, even as first-year NFL players, to fill the void in the 2021 draft class. However, general manager Chris Ballard didn’t address the position at all.
Instead, Indianapolis went with two edge defenders in Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, the latter of whom is essentially going to redshirt due to a torn Achilles. In Round 2, Ballard could’ve instead traded up for someone like Liam Eichenberg, Samuel Cosmi or Dillon Radunz. Those latter two went 51st and 53rd overall before Odeyingbo was chosen at No. 54.
Wentz is going to need blindside protection. The Colts are either planning a big move, or have faith in an in-house solution. It’s not looking great right now.
New England Patriots: Wide receiver
Getting Mac Jones in the first round at 15th overall was a savvy move by Bill Belichick. Whether Jones is pressed into action or Cam Newton keeps the starting QB job, though, doesn’t The Hoodie realize he needs better receivers?
Tom Brady consistently elevated mediocre pass-catching groups. Now, Belichick is trying to recreate some magic of the Brady heyday by bringing in two exceptional tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. While that should help the cause on offense, the Patriots’ receiving corps is still a problem.
It’s not like teams were in bidding wars for wideouts like Nelson Agholor or Kendrick Bourne, with all due respect to them. Nevertheless, that’s who Belichick brought in to lead New England’s crew in 2021.
The assumption was that the Pats would address the position before the seventh round. Alas, they did not. Even in the fourth round, they could’ve had players like North Texas speedster Jaelon Darden or prolific Oklahoma State star Tylan Wallace. Instead, the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up for Darden, and the Baltimore Ravens let Wallace fall to them to give Lamar Jackson another viable, young weapon.
Several picks higher than that, New England kicked off Day 3 by investing a luxury pick in a position in which it had a surplus: Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson was their guy at 120th overall. It looks like the Patriots’ receiver woes may well persist.
Seattle Seahawks: Defensive front
Despite Seattle re-signing Carlos Dunlap and Poona Ford, and acquiring Kerry Hyder on the open market, there’s still not a lot of depth on the Seahawks’ defensive front.
Before you point to how well they played in the second half of 2020, here are the opposing quarterbacks Seattle faced in the final six weeks: Wentz, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, Jared Goff and C.J. Beathard. World beaters they are not.
Instead of nabbing a versatile inside-out defender like Carlos Basham Jr., a quick-twitch presence like Milton Williams or a special athlete at nose tackle in Alim McNeill, the Seahawks reached in Round 2 for Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge. Russell Wilson has routinely thrived with no-name receivers, and already has Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
Just check out Seattle’s recent draft history, particularly their first picks. It’s not pretty, and the 2021 draft was no exception.
Kansas City Chiefs: Edge defender
Considering that Frank Clark is in the midst of a five-year contract worth over $100 million, he’s been inexcusably bad. Clark ranked 93rd out of 109 qualifying edge defenders last season, per Pro Football Focus, and was 68th the year before that.
That’s an awful return on investment. Beyond Clark, the defensive end spot doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The hope seems to be that Chris Jones’ unique interior pass-rushing abilities will keep offsetting deficiencies on the edge, but he can only do so much.
With two second-round picks, the Chiefs selected linebacker Nick Bolton and center Creed Humphrey. Austin Blythe left the Los Angeles Rams for Kansas City and just posted PFF’s ninth-best grade among centers in 2020. The Chiefs invested a second-round choice at Bolton’s position with Willie Gay Jr. in the previous draft.
Basham was still on the board, along with a versatile chess piece in Joseph Ossai who played on the edge and off-ball linebacker at Texas. Also available at that time: Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins, who had PFF grades of over 90 as a run defender and pass-rusher this last year. He wound up going to the Patriots in Round 3.
Sure seems like the Chiefs could’ve gone EDGE with at least one of those two second-round choices rather than of readdressing other positions.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive line
It’s gotten even worse after Tuesday’s news that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is joining the AFC North rival Ravens. That means the Steelers have now lost Maurkice Pouncey (retired), previous starting guard Matt Feiler and Villanueva — three starters from 2020.
That unit was already responsible for the NFL’s dead-last rushing attack. Instead of addressing its run blocking, Pittsburgh decided to invest a first-round pick in Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Harris is a special all-around back who can play all three downs. The problem is, as the o-line stands right now, Harris is going to have nary any room to run. Immobile QB Ben Roethlisberger will be a sitting duck in the pocket, too.
Now, the Steelers did invest a third-rounder in Kendrick Green to presumably take Pouncey’s spot, yet to expect him to immediately play up to that level isn’t realistic.
Usually Pittsburgh seems like a team with most of the answers and few roster holes, always build to contend. It’s a different vibe this offseason after so many losses in the offensive trenches.