NFL Draft Grades: Round One

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1 Pick 1 Jacksonville Jaguars- 

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Grade: A

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the Jaguars snagged the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Jacksonville needs to build a winning culture, and getting a quarterback whose only losses in college were in championship games is an excellent start.

Round 1 Pick 2 New York Jets- 

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Grade: B

New York made some noise trading Sam Darnold to Carolina and left themselves with no franchise quarterback. They rectified that situation by taking one of the most exciting players who had a prolific year at BYU. There are questions as to how Wilson will handle the transition, especially given his lack of top-tier competition in college. If the Jets coaches can simplify their playbook, and protect Wilson, he has a chance for some excellent growth in his first season.

Round 1 Pick 3 San Francisco 49ers- 

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

Grade: B+

The San Francisco 49ers made an aggressive move to get up to the top three and selected their guy in Trey Lance. Lance, who only started 17 games at the FCS level in college, will need some time to adjust to the NFL. Luckily, the Niners have a bit of leeway there and a very good team already. Lance has all the physical tools to succeed and now he’s in the perfect position to do that.

Round 1 Pick 4 Atlanta Falcons- 

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Grade: A

Pitts is arguably going to be the best player in this draft when all is said and done. An athletic and physical freak who presents matchup problems wherever he is on the field. Atlanta reportedly is already looking to move on from Julio Jones, but Pitts fills his absence immediately.

Round 1 Pick 5 Cincinnati Bengals- 

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Grade: B

The Bengals got Joe Burrow an excellent weapon, and familiar face, in Chase. The two were unstoppable in LSU’s 2019 Championship run and the hope is that Chase will immediately make Burrow’s job in Cincy easier. The only real question with this pick is whether the Bengals should have taken an offensive tackle to keep Burrow’s surgically repaired knee healthy.

Round 1 Pick 6 Miami Dolphins-

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Grade: B+

Another wide receiver who is very familiar with his “new” quarterback. The Dolphins obviously feel that to help Tua Tagovailoa out, they needed to bring in a YAC machine in Waddle. One of the fastest men in college football, Waddle should be a great slot option and gadget player, but don’t let that fool you, he has some polish as a receiver as well.

Round 1 Pick 7 Detroit Lions- 

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Grade: A

The Lions were the center of a lot of speculation to trade back out of the seventh overall pick. However, they stayed put and selected the best offensive tackle in this draft class. Sewell has the ability to immediately step in and make the Lions offense better in the pass and the run. A monster on the edge, Sewell should quickly become Jared Goff’s best friend and give Detroit a chance to be competitive for the next 5-10 years.

Round 1 Pick 8 Carolina Panthers- 

Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Grade: B+

Carolina needs defensive back and help and they got that in the form of Jaycee Horn. The only reason this pick isn’t graded higher is because Patrick Surtain was still available at the time. Horn is excellent, but slightly less pro-ready than Surtain.

Round 1 Pick 9 Denver Broncos- 

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Grade: A

The Denver Broncos took a bit of pressure off themselves by acquiring Teddy Bridgewater from the Carolina Panthers. This opened them up to not have to take a quarterback at this spot and instead snag the best corner in the draft. Surtain should make an immediate impact and give Denver a chance to challenge for an AFC wild card spot out of the gate.

Round 1 Pick 10 Philadelphia Eagles (via Dallas)- 

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Grade: B

The Eagles needed a receiver, especially after the Justin Jefferson fiasco last year. Smith is the first wide receiver to win the heisman since Tim Brown in 1987. The Eagles obviously felt it necessary to move up to make this selection. The question is, was it worth the capital to take the third receiver off the board?

Round 1 Pick 11 Chicago Bears (via New York Giants)

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Grade: B-

Chicago gave up a lot to get their presumed quarterback of the future, stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Unlike Mithcell Trubisky however, Fields is an excellent thrower with tons of arm talent. For the fans sake, I hope Fields pans out as much better than what Chicago currently has, but it was a lot of capital to give up for one player.

Round 1 Pick 12 Dallas Cowboys (via Philadelphia)- 

Micah Parson, LB, Penn State

Grade: B

Jerry Jones and company moved back a few spots and still got their guy. Parsons is the best linebacker in the class and fills the void left by the retirement of Sean Lee. Dallas understands that their offense should be fine with a healthy Dak Prescott and Parsons makes their defense competitive right away.

Round 1 Pick 13 Los Angeles Chargers- 

Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

Grade: B+

The Chargers are another team that has found their answer at quarterback in the personage of Justin Herbert. By taking Rashawn Slater here in the first, they’ve committed to making their offense even better and protect their most important asset. Slater also has the frame to move people and should help in the run game as well.

Round 1 Pick 14 New York Jets (via Minnesota)- 

Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Grade: B

New York doubled down on solving their offensive woes by taking the most versatile lineman in this first round. Ver-Tucker can play all positions up front except center. However, he projects best at guard at the moment. The Jets gave up a good chunk of capital to Minnesota top move here. So, the pick gets a slight knock for cost and Vera-Tucker projecting as an interior lineman.

Round 1 Pick 15 New England Patriots- 

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Grade: C

Bill Belichick found his quarterback. Unfortunately for him, it’s the worst quarterback in the first round. Jones certainly has a lot of similarities to Tom Brady, but doesn’t do anything as well as the GOAT. So, I’ll give BB a passing grade here, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Round 1 Pick 16 Arizona Cardinals- 

Zavon Collins, LB, Tulsa

Grade: B-

Collins draft stock has been skyrocketing in recent weeks and the culmination is him being a top-20 pick. Arizona may have snagged a steal here;, Collins is a physical monster. However, he’ll need to make the adjustment to the speed of the NFL and work on his mental game of diagnosing and attacking plays. 

Round 1 Pick 17 Las Vegas Raiders-

Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

Grade: D

The Las Vegas Raiders continue to surprise every year at the NFL Draft. Leatherwood, who many thought was a lock for the early to mid-second round, is nabbed in the mid first. Leatherwood has the tools to play in the NFL and should be a decent day one starter, but drafting this high was a reach and a half. Not only was Leatherwood not likely to go in the first, he wasn’t the best tackle available when LV made their pick.

Round 1 Pick 18 Miami Dolphins- 

Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami 

Grade: B-

The road to the NFL has been tough for Phillips. He retired from football in 2018 after suffering a concussion on the field and a wrist injury off the field. Phillips is an excellent player with a high motor, but there’s going to be medical questions until he can put together a couple full NFL seasons. The Dolphins may have found a diamond here, but it will take some time to see what the payoff is.

Round 1 Pick 19 Washington Football Team- 

Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky

Grade: B-

Davis joins an already stacked WFT defense. This pick is solid all-around, if not for the real area of concern for the team being the offense. Davis probably wasn’t the best player available at this spot, but he does fill a need in that defense. He also fits head coach Ron Rivera’s style and personality well.

Round 1 Pick 20 New York Giants (via Chicago)- 

Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Grade: B+

This pick is one of my favorites of this first round. Toney is an absolutely electric playmaker who should be an easy target for Daniel Jones to throw drags to and gain a ton of RAC yards. The one real knock on Toney is his exclusivity to the slot due to his size, but that is not a problem that the Giants have to worry about just yet with Kenny Golladay still with the team.

Round 1 Pick 21 Indianapolis Colts- 

Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Grade: B+

Paye was the best edge on the board, and Indianapolis didn’t even need to budge to get him. An excellent value pick, Paye should eat at the next level with his physical tools and pass rush moves. 

Round 1 Pick 22 Tennessee Titans- 

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Grade: B

If Farley plays a full NFL season in 2021 and doesn’t have nagging injuries hinder his play, this is the steal of this first round. He is arguably the best defensive back in this class, but injuries kept him from being a higher pick. The Titans decided to take a chance on him and hope for no medical issues.

Round 1 Pick 23 Minnesota Vikings (via New York Jets)- 

Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Grade: A+

Admittedly, I have some homer bias on this pick, but it is an excellent one. Darrisaw was the top pass blocker in this class, something that Minnesota hasn’t seen much of this century, and the Vikings moved back and still got him. Rick Spielman had fans scared that the offensive line would be neglected again, but instead he gained more mid-round picks and got one of the best tackles in this draft. 

Round 1 Pick 24 Pittsburgh Steelers- 

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Grade: B

The Steelers need a running back for their offensive to click. So, it’s no surprise that they take the best one in the class in Alabama star Najee Harris. Anytime a running back is taken this high in today’s NFL, it comes with high expectations. If Harris stays healthy and lives up to his hype, this pick becomes an A.

Round 1 Pick 25 Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams)- 

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Grade: C+

Counter to the Steelers pick, this is a reach for a running back. Etienne is a great player, and maybe wouldn’t have made it to the Jags next pick, but it was still pretty unlikely. I like the pick, and the Jags did already get their man in Trevor Lawrence, but I felt they could have filled a bigger hole here and still gotten Etienne with the first pick in the second.

Round 1 Pick 26 Cleveland Browns- 

Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Grade: B

Newsome should be a solid day one option in Cleveland. He’s not gonna set the world on fire with his athleticism, but his instincts and mental game is second to none. The Browns probably snagged their secondary’s captain for the next several years. 

Round 1 Pick 27 Baltimore Ravens-

Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota 

Grade: A

The Baltimore Ravens just gifted Lamar Jackson a new and exciting toy. Bateman had a rough 2020 season, but his 2019 season was incredible and showed all that he does well. He has the speed to be a deep threat, the route running to put anybody on skates, and the RAC ability to put even the best slot receivers to shame. He truly is my favorite athlete of this class and should form a legendary pair with Jackson.

Round 1 Pick 28 New Orleans Saints- 

Payton Turner, DE, Houston

Grade: C-

The New Orleans Saints are obviously looking to retool their defensive line after the loss of Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, and Malcom Brown. However, this pick was a bit of a reach. Turner has the physical tools to be a great defensive end, but Rousseau, Oweh, and Tryon were all taken after this and all better players. 

Round 1 Pick 29 Green Bay Packers- 

Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia

Grade: B

The Green Bay Packers seem to have had more important things than the NFL Draft going on with the news of Aaron Rodgers wanting out dropping just hours before commissioner Goodell took the stage. Despite this, the Packers brass held firm on their commitment to build a sterner defense. Stokes is a solid pick and impressed the entire football world with his crazy athletic pro day. Unfortunately for him, he may just have to live up to “the guy they drafted the day Rodgers demanded out.” Best of luck Eric, hope you don’t end up as the name of some crazy Packer curse.

Round 1 Pick 30 Buffalo Bills- 

Greg Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

Grade: B

Rousseau is an excellent fit into a Bills team that wants to push their way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl. The Bills may have gotten a great value here with Rousseau being thought of in the same company as Phillips and Paye. Of course, Rousseau is still a bit raw and in need of some help with his technique before he can be a full-time starter. However, for now he can fill a role as a “turn him lose” pass rusher as he learns the finer side of rush defending and pass rush counters.

Round 1 Pick 31 Baltimore Ravens (via Kansas City)- 

Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

Grade: B+

Pretty much everything I said for Rousseau and the rawness, could go here too. However, one interesting cog to this is that Oweh could make a huge impact for a Ravens team that didn’t create much pressure without blitzing last season. Basically, I like both the picks, but Oweh gets a slight edge because of the situation he’s going into.

Round 1 Pick 32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 

Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

Grade: B

The first round finishes with three of the same type of player. Tryon has excellent physical traits, but needs some work with NFL coaches to get him up to speed. This is a luxury pick for Tampa no matter how you slice it. They could have gone for a new toy on offense, but instead they took the guy with the body to become and all-pro pass rusher. You get to do that kind of thing if you just won the Super Bowl.