The 2021 NFL draft was all about the passing games, with five quarterback selections defining the first round and offensive linemen and pass catchers also flying off the board early.
Which teams did the best with their picks? Here are our choices for this year’s winners and losers:
New York Jets: Give General Manager Joe Douglas a lot of credit. He drafted well last year and he was even more aggressive this year. The emphasis was on offense, and after choosing BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second pick to be the Jets’ quarterback of the future, Douglas was aggressive in trading up from the 23rd pick to No. 14 to land a powerful guard, Alijah Vera-Tucker.
The Jets then selected a good wide receiver, Elijah Moore of Mississippi, in the second round. They caught an even bigger break in the fourth round when North Carolina running back Michael Carter fell to them. That’s a big infusion of talent on offense, with the aim of supporting their rookie quarterback.
Chicago Bears: The jobs of GM Ryan Pace and Coach Matt Nagy may be on the line this year, but they made the type of bold decision that could turn things around. Chicago’s trade up from No. 20 to No. 11 to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was a great move.
They also did well to select right tackle Teven Jenkins in the second round, addressing a major need. There was risk in their decisions, including giving up next year’s first-round pick, but Fields is worth it.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns’ great offseason continued; they added two good players to an already stacked defense. They drafted cornerback Greg Newsome II in the first round, but what put this class over the top was landing versatile linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second. He is a first-round talent.
Edge rusher Myles Garrett said this defense should be scary, and he’s right. On paper, Cleveland might be the AFC North favorite.
Houston Texans: This isn’t Nick Caserio’s fault. Houston’s new GM inherited a bad situation after previous coach/general manager Bill O’Brien traded away this year’s first- and second-round picks.
But the end result is that Houston didn’t come away from the draft with any help for a defense that needs it, and the Texans had to use their first pick, a third-rounder, on quarterback Davis Mills of Stanford because of the uncertainty surrounding Deshaun Watson. They also added Nico Collins to a wide receiver group still reeling from last year’s Deandre Hopkins trade.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers’s frustration with the franchise lands them on this list. I’m also troubled by the fact that the Packers waited until the third round to add a wide receiver. Instead of taking one in Round 1, they selected cornerback Eric Stokes. They took center Josh Myers with their second-round pick before finally choosing a receiver, Amari Rodgers of Clemson, in the third.
Amari Rodgers is a good player, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll ever catch passes from Aaron Rodgers, who has told the team he wants out of Green Bay. The Packers continue to pay the price for last year’s first-round selection of quarterback Jordan Love.
New Orleans Saints: Cornerback was their biggest need and the Saints didn’t address the position until the third round, when they drafted Stanford’s Paulson Adebo. They also didn’t get a wide receiver to replace Emmanuel Sanders.
Making matters worse was the fact that their first-round pick, defensive end Payton Turner, was viewed as a second- or third-rounder by many evaluators. New Orleans did well to get linebacker Pete Werner in the second round, however, and its fourth-round selection of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is interesting.
Teams begin loading up on undrafted free agents
With the NFL Draft over, several teams began the process of adding college free agents.
The New Orleans Saints were among the busiest in acquiring undrafted players with 11 such signings, according to NFL.com. Washington Husky defensive tackle Josiah Bronson is among the more interesting additions to the Saints roster.
Some other intriguing college free agent signings include: The Atlanta Falcons picking up Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks, the Carolina Panthers adding Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher, the Cleveland Browns taking Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and the Kansas City Chiefs adding SMU quarterback Shane Buechele to their quarterback room.
More teams will add undrafted free agents to fill out their rosters for minicamps and summer camp.