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The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone and this year’s NFL Draft classes will make a huge impact on the upcoming season and the league’s future. While there were plenty of impressive draft hauls, several left us scratching our heads.
When reviewing the NFL Draft classes, it doesn’t come as a surprise that some of the teams with the least amount of draft capital received the lowest grades. Trading future picks for win-now players can pay off, but the Laremy Tunsil and Jamal Adams deals are examples of overpays backfiring on clubs.
But having a first-round pick, even drafting inside the top 20, doesn’t guarantee a team will do well. While the real valuation comes three years after the draft, let’s dive into our preliminary rankings of the worst 2021 NFL Draft classes.
5. Los Angeles Rams
We can credit general manager Les Snead with turning a pair of first-round picks, including this year’t selection, into All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But even when lightly accounting for that acquisition, the Rams’ draft picks still left us baffled.
Los Angeles needed to address its offensive line, with Andrew Whitworth on the brink of retirement and significant questions at other key spots. There are also concerns on the defensive side that will almost certainly result in this unit taking a step back in 2021. Instead of addressing their needs, the Rams drafted a 149-pound receiver.
Tutu Atwell is explosive, but he needs to play the slot to be protected from boundary cornerbacks completely bullying him. The problem with that – even ignoring receiver is the Rams’ deepest position (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson – Los Angeles will need Atwell to block and that’s asking him to lose. The Rams ignored their offensive line the rest of the draft, drafting two more wide receivers, a running back and two edge rushers. Just a baffling use of picks.
4. New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton is certainly confident when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. This is the coach who believes Jameis Winston can be better than Matthew Stafford, compared Taysom Hill to Steve Young and traded a 2021 sixth-round pick to draft Tommy Stevens in Round 7 and released him months later.
Payton drafted Ian Book, a quarterback many thought might go undrafted, in the fourth round. Book doesn’t have the arm strength to be a good quarterback, he isn’t a great athlete, couldn’t make anticipatory throws in college and he’s rather pedestrian in terms of his fundamentals. There is no upside to Book, he might not even be worth of a roster spot, but Payton convinced himself this “gamer” can be an NFL quarterback.
One pick doesn’t define an entire draft class, but that’s where the Saints’ first-round selection comes in. Payton Turner, the No. 73 prospect on our NFL Draft board, was taken with the No. 28 pick. The few times he dominated in college, he was playing vastly inferior talent, but got pushed around by stronger tackles. Widely viewed as a Day 2 talent, the Saints reached for him. They better hope Paulson Adebo, their third-round pick, is ready to step in at corner.
3. Dallas Cowboys
While the Dallas Cowboys might deny it, they were absolutely hoping Patrick Surtain II was available at the No. 10 pick. When he went off the board, Dallas took the best offer it could find. We don’t fault Jerry Jones for the deal itself, though he risked handing Justin Fields to the Philadelphia Eagles, but the picks he made are baffling.
Dallas drafted linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, just two years after selecting Jaylon Smith at No. 34 in 2016. In two seasons with that linebacker duo, the Cowboys are 14-18 and have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Christian Darrisaw, a long-term replacement for Tyron Smith and crucial depth on the offensive line, was available and Dallas went for a luxury position instead.
The decision could be excused if the Cowboys made better decisions on Day 2. While Kelvin Joseph offers great upside, his instincts were extremely underwhelming in college and that’s going to result in alarming inconsistency early in his NFL career. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Dallas made a similar decision by selecting Trevon Diggs in 2020. The Joseph and Nashon Wright picks haven’t made this secondary better and that sets this team up for another disappointing season.
2. Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden loves draft-day decisions that remind everyone why it’s probably best if his role in a front office is diminished. While general manager Mike Mayock holds that title and certainly plays a part in the draft process, it’s evident who makes the decisions. Unfortunately for this fan base, that results in another questionable draft class.
After wiping out one of the NFL’s best offensive lines this offseason, the Raiders reached for Alex Leatherwood. He’s a quality prospect and could start at right tackle, but there’s a lot of work to be done and he’s not the caliber of guard worthy of a top-20 pick. Las Vegas reached for edge rusher Malcolm Koonce, who doesn’t have the pass-rush moves or strength to make an impact immediately, in Round 3. Oh, the Raiders also drafted three safeties in the first four rounds. Why?
1. Houston Texans
We won’t fault Nick Caserio for the mistakes of the old regime. He walked into this job without first- or second-round picks. There’s an argument that he should have traded Deshaun Watson earlier, when so many teams were desperate for a quarterback and willing to overpay, but no one could have predicted how things unfolded. With all that said, the Texans’ draft approach is baffling.
The first pick for every new GM is important, Caserio drafted Davis Mills. The Texans don’t have a great situation for a quarterback to develop to begin with, they have the worst roster in the NFL. Naturally, Caserio drafted a quarterback with below-average athleticism, limited college experience and inconsistent ball placement. There aren’t many tools to inspire confidence that he’ll be anything more than a backup, but Houston made him the No. 67 pick.
The Texans should have focused on trading down to collect 2022 picks. Instead, they reached for Mills and later traded a future fourth-round selection to move up for receiver Nico Collins. We like the Brevin Jordan pick in Round 5, but this is a terrible landing spot for him. Outside of that, there’s nothing to be positive about.