There’s only one day left in the 2021 NFL Draft, meaning that it’s time to start making some sense of what’s already happened. The first three rounds have been completed. The big-name quarterbacks have all found their homes. We’re still waiting to see what happens with the veteran signal-callers who have gotten sideways with their respective clubs — most recently, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers — but those are storylines that will take plenty of time to play out.
This space will be used to talk about some of the more interesting moves in the draft so far. There are plenty that have impressed. There are also a handful that should’ve left more than a few fan bases shaking their heads. That doesn’t mean this is a final verdict on any of these team’s decisions in this year’s draft. It’s simply a quick summation of how this particular writer feels about what’s happened during the first two days of activity.
So here we go …
Three things to love
1) Browns bolster defense: Cleveland continues to show that it’s moved into an entirely new universe when it comes to decision-making. The hiring of general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski last year resulted in winning 11 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Now the Browns are proving that they don’t plan on being one-hit wonders. Cleveland’s first-round pick, Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II, has the size and ball skills to be a productive Day 1 starter. Its second-round pick, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is a versatile talent who easily could’ve landed in the first round. Add those two to a defense that already improved through free agency — with the additions of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and defensive backs John Johnson and Troy Hill — and it’s hard not to love what this franchise is doing. Even if free safety Grant Delpit, last year’s second-round pick, doesn’t have a smooth return from a ruptured Achilles sustained in his first training camp, this defense is going to have a lot more playmakers on it. The Browns broke out last season. They should be even more dangerous this fall.
2) Miami maximizes picks: The Dolphins came into this draft with plenty of capital. They made the most of all of it so far. First-round pick Jaylen Waddle gives this offense the type of explosive wide receiver it desperately needs for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to thrive. Their connection as teammates at Alabama gives them a chance to quickly develop a strong chemistry this fall. Miami also added two nice pieces for head coach Brian Flores to utilize in his defense (edge rusher Jaelan Phillips and safety Jevon Holland), while also selecting an All-American offensive tackle who was a three-year starter at Notre Dame (Liam Eichenberg). The Dolphins checked all the right boxes on Thursday and Friday. Whatever they do moving forward is gravy.
3) Dealing Orlando Brown pays off for Ravens: A lot has been made of Baltimore’s decision to trade disgruntled offensive tackle Orlando Brown to the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that stands in the way of whatever hopes the Ravens have of winning the AFC. Well, Baltimore just revealed why it was so willing to turn Brown into another first-round pick this year. A team that desperately needs to improve its passing attack landed one of the best receivers in the draft when it selected Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman with the 27th overall pick. Baltimore followed that move by using the 31st overall selection, which formerly belonged to Kansas City, to take Penn State outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. The acquisition of the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder is huge because he brings tremendous speed to the position despite still being raw (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at his pro day). The Ravens love to deploy athletic, versatile defenders in their blitz-heavy scheme, so they’ll find a spot for Oweh, especially after losing Pro Bowler Matt Judon in free agency. The bigger question will be whether Bateman can help Lamar Jackson grow as a passer. It feels as if Bateman will go a long way toward doing exactly that.
Three things to question
1) Denver passing on Justin Fields: The Broncos couldn’t have asked for a better situation with the ninth overall pick. Fields, Ohio State’s All-American quarterback, was still available after three other signal-callers had been selected ahead of him. But instead of jumping at the opportunity, Denver decided Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II was the better option. There’s no doubting that Surtain II is a great talent, one that will help the Broncos’ defense immediately. The problem is that Denver still doesn’t have its quarterback situation figured out. New general manager George Paton has been impressed with all the work Drew Lock has put in this offseason. The team also recently traded for Teddy Bridgewater, which means Lock hasn’t impressed his new boss that much. Let’s also not forget that Denver plays in the same division as Kansas City, which has a pretty good quarterback named Patrick Mahomes. To be blunt, it’s not going to matter who is playing cornerback in Denver if the Broncos don’t have a quarterback who can generate plenty of points for that offense as well. Of course, this will be a different conversation if the Broncos wind up landing Aaron Rodgers in a trade. Until that happens, let’s go with this take: Denver will regret letting Fields, who wound up in Chicago, slip through its fingers.
2) The Packers’ approach to placating Aaron Rodgers: Since Rodgers’ name just came up, let’s talk about how Green Bay continues to make a bad situation worse. Rodgers made it clear Thursday that he wants out of Green Bay. Part of his frustration traces back to the Packers’ decision to use a first-round pick on quarterback Jordan Love in last year’s draft and not use any other selection to give Rodgers more help at wide receiver. So how did the Packers decide to make Rodgers feel better about the team this time around? By taking cornerback Eric Stokes with their first-round pick. Stokes may very well be a fine player. The problem is that talented wide receivers like Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. all went in the second round. The Packers eventually selected Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round but it feels too little too late. Rodgers seems to be at a point where he’s simply had enough of the Packers. That first-round pick probably only reminded him of why he’s so bitter right now.
3) The Raiders being the Raiders: The Raiders obviously need to improve their offensive line. They bid farewell to three key members (right tackle Trent Brown, center Rodney Hudson and guard Gabe Jackson) of a unit that played a prominent role in helping quarterback Derek Carr enjoy one of the best statistical seasons of his career. They also decided to address that need by spending their first-round pick on Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, a player nobody was projecting to go that high. This isn’t to knock Leatherwood, who could end up being a good pro; however, there were more highly regarded tackles still on the board when they used that 17th overall pick — like Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw and Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins — and it’s still not clear what position Leatherwood will end up playing in the league. Look, it’s fair to say every team has a different evaluation of a prospect. It’s just hard to fathom why the Raiders thought that highly of Leatherwood when better options seemed to be on the table.
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