One round down into the 2021 NFL draft and we have seen a fair share of fireworks. Nick Saban’s reign atop college football only grew as a record tying six former Tide players were taken in the first round. The big five of quarterbacks stayed on the board later than expected, with the last one falling all the way to #15. There were three trades just last night, with a few more coming before the draft. With all of this action, some teams obviously made the right choice and shined above others. here are the most significant successful teams out of Thursday’s first round in no particular order.
New York Giants
Known to have been targeting either Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith at their original pick of #11, the Giants had to scramble when Waddle went to Miami at 6 and the Heisman winner Smith was snatched by the rival Eagles via a last second trade up at #10. Despite losing out on their two top targets, Big Blue made the best of their situation. For the first time in his career, Dave Gettleman traded back in the first round as he brought in a haul from the Chicago Bears. In total, the Giants sent the 11th pick to the Windy City for the 20th pick, a fifth round pick this year, a first rounder next year as well as an additional fourth. For moving back nine spots, this is an absolute heist for New York. Gettleman took advantage of a Bears team in emergency need for a true talent at QB and with Ohio State signal caller Justin Fields falling unexpectedly to 11, it was a very smart move for New York to move back for major draft capital. However, trading back isn’t the only win of the night for them. Drafting Florida WR Kadarius Toney at #20 was a small reach, but being the best wideout left on the board combined with his immense talent sure makes up for it. Even though New York made a splash in free agency by acquiring All Pro pass catcher Kenny Golladay and having young threats in Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepherd in the WR room, picking up a deep threat like Toney to place in the slot gives Daniel Jones yet another vital tool to help him succeed in this offense. Toney makes up for his undersized frame with blistering speed and elusiveness that will give the NFC East fits for years trying to cover. With 4 legitimate wideout weapons and the much anticipated return of Saquan Barkley at running back, the Giants look very intriguing entering 2021. For a team considered to be on the rise, the Giants had an outstanding first round that looks good for both today and in the future as they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
New England Patriots
Much like last year, pre-draft rumors were rampant in Foxborough surrounding a potential trade up for the Patriots to draft the successor to Tom Brady at QB. Turns out, they didn’t even need to move as 2020 national champion and Heisman finalist Mac Jones fell right into Bill Bellichick’s hands at pick 15. Once thought of as the favorite to go #3 to San Francisco, Jones slid down the draft after Kyle Shanahan went with Trey Lance and the Chicago Bears traded up for Justin Fields at 11. However, this very well could be a blessing in disguise for the former Alabama signal caller. While it is likely that veteran Cam Newton will be the starter in New England come September, Jones is in the absolute best system for his play style and future development. After all, this is the same franchise that drafted and developed the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, who draws many similarities to Jones in terms of accuracy and locker room leadership. Though there are questions concerning how much of Mac Jones success at Alabama in 2020 was owed to DeVonta Smith and his offensive line, they weren’t the ones throwing pinpoint dots all over the field en route to the highest single season completion percentage (77.4%) in the history of college football. Playing two less games than Tua Tagovailoa in his phenomenal 2018 season, Jones still set the Alabama record for single season passing yards surpassing 4,500 while compiling a 203.06 passer efficiency rating, higher than Joe Burrow’s former NCAA record of 201.96 set in 2019. Clearly, New England is getting a fantastic QB to build around for the future and one that fits Bill Bellichick’s winning culture. Standing pat at 15 ends up being the right choice as although Justin Fields is a better prospect than Jones, it would not have been worth giving up two first round picks and two more mid round selections just to move up four spots with the Giants as the Bears did. After stocking up on offensive weapons in Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, Mac Jones is being given all the tools necessary to succeed from day one in New England as the Patriots hope he can lead them to success in the post Brady era.
We knew somebody was going to trade up to get one of the five coveted quarterbacks in this draft class and Chicago is the one who pulls the trigger. The Bears have been desperate for a franchise QB for decades and have not had even a reliable man under center since Jay Cutler as former #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky never panned out. While the team did go out and sign Andy Dalton last month, he couldn’t be a long term solution as his 33 years of age suggest. Picking 2oth and with Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy’s seats hotter than the sun, the Bears had no choice but to get bold. That is exactly what they did when they traded with the New York Giants to move up to the 11th pick, and select Justin Fields. A dual threat with all the tools, Fields became the best QB in the Big Ten from the moment he arrived on campus. In a Heisman worthy 2019 season, Fields tossed 41 total touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions in 14 games, not to mention 20 more scores from his evasive work on the ground. With a 181.4 QB rating, Fields trailed only Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts as the most efficient QBs of the 2019 campaign and joined those two in the College Football Playoff, going 13-0 with a Big Ten championship before falling to Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers in the semifinal. In just 6 regular season games of the shortened 2020 season, Fields still was sixth in the nation with a 70% completion rate along with 27 total touchdowns. Even with less games to play, he still led Ohio State back to the CFP and even got his revenge on Lawrence, torching the elite Clemson defense for 6 touchdowns on 385 passing yards as the Buckeyes eliminated the Tigers in the semifinals. By the way, he played that game after taking a rib crushing shot early on and still gave his most signature performance to date in pain while missing one total play. One thing scouts and GM’s love about QB prospects is the toughness and guts to get back on the field and fight for his team. Fields certainly has them. The downside to Chicago landing Fields though, is they surrendered an absolute haul to New York to move up nine spots, requiring two first round picks, a fourth and a fifth. Even though the bears significantly risked their future with this deal, it was necessary as the Bears offensive woes of the last few seasons have been the main factor holding them back from true contention in the NFC. With Allen Robinson on the outside, Fields will have an elite tier weapon to throw to off the bat but one has to wonder if Chicago’s offensive line will hold up in 2021 after giving up 2 sacks per game in 2020. It is still unclear whether or not Fields or Andy Dalton will be the Bears lead man under center come September but this move shows Ryan Pace is hanging his hat on the former Buckeye and if he is given the proper protection and weaponry to work with, Chicago could very well have their first franchise QB since Jim McMahon.
Before the draft even started, it was already pretty evident Miami was going to come out of it looking great. The riches of the Laremy Tunsil trade paid off in spades this month for the Dolphins as they took Houston’s third pick and turned it into two first round picks in the next two drafts, while only moving down three spots this year. By trading down, Brian Flores is showing he is committed to Tua Tagovailoa as Miami’s QB in 2021 at least and the focus of the offseason was giving him the tools to thrive in South Beach. Picking up the streaky Will Fuller in the offseason was a nice addition, but their biggest new weapon in the WR room comes in the man they took at number 6. Jaylen Waddle, despite missing eight games of the 2020 season, is an absolute game changer for this team. The nation’s best deep threat by far, Waddle starred in his time at Alabama with his blazing speed and crazy elusiveness. If it weren’t for a costly ankle injury that derailed this past season, Waddle without a doubt would’ve made the Tide much better than they already were (they won a national championship by the way) and maybe even steal the Heisman away from teammate DeVonta Smith. With their own first round pick coming at #18, the Dolphins sured up an already fantastic defense with local standout at Miami Jaelan Phillips. The first edge rusher off the board, Phillips recovered from a near career ending series of medical issues at UCLA before transferring back east and terrorizing QB’s all year for the Hurricanes. With 8 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2020, Phillips was undoubtedly the best at his position in this year’s draft class and he fits very well with Brian Flores defense, with Kyle Van Noy now out of town. Lining up opposite 2020 breakout Emmanuel Ogbah (9 sacks of his own last year), and with an elite secondary featuring Xavien Howard and Byron Jones behind him, the hometown kid makes the Dolphins defense even more lethal than it already was. Overall, two top tier talents at positions of need were filled by Miami in this first round and for a team that won 10 games and just missed the playoffs last year, the Dolphins just took yet another significant step to return to the top of the AFC East for the first time since 2008. The scariest part about all of this though, this team is just getting started as their average team age is just 26 and they own the rights to four first round picks in the next two drafts. South Beach is on the rise ladies and gentleman.
Image: USA Today