Draft grades are in as the 2021 NFL draft comes to a close. The season kicked off with a ton of frantic action as star players were implied in trade rumors and the experts submitted their final mock drafts. Then, the draft began, with teams trading up and down the whole first day. Day two featured plenty of steals, as teams began to separate their draft grades from their competitors. The third day, saw many teams strengthen their benches and shoring up their weakness. Today, I’ll take a shot at assigning draft grades to the 16 AFC teams.
Before I start randomly assigning draft grades to each team I will fill you all in on some of my criteria for the grading system. I will be looking at how well the picks fall into each of the following categories: draft starting talent, fill needs, maximized draft position, built for future, player fits the system, and fills the greatest need with elite talent.
Buffalo Bills – Draft Grade: C+
The Bills entered this draft needing to find a way to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback and find an RB. If the Bills expect to overtake the Chiefs, they need to do it as the Bucs did in last year’s Super Bowl, with intense pressure on Patrick Mahomes.
The Bills met that challenge with their first two picks, drafting a pair of elite ER talents in Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. Sadly, they did not pick up any help for their running game. All the same, the offense will still be dynamic and the defense much improved.
Miami Dolphins – Draft Grade A
The Dolphins hit on pretty much every pick. They needed a big-time weapon for Tua to throw to: they reunited him with one of his favorite WRs from college. I know a few people questioned why Jaylen Waddle and why not Heisman teammate DeVonta Smith, but I honestly think they got it right here. Waddle should step in immediately a great gadget player, with explosive downfield skills. He should also not issue taking over the return duties.
It is not just Waddle though. Jaelan Phillips’ impact should be immediately felt at ER. Hunter Long gives Tua another great weapon at TE. Even Gerrid Doaks could provide a useful talent in helping to bring depth to that backfield. At least five of these players should have an opening day impact.
New England Patriots – Draft Grade B
The Patriots waited patiently in the first round and had Mac Jones their future QB fall to them. They followed it up with a very strong presence to anchor the center of their defense in Christian Barmore. Ronnie Perkins also offers upside on the DL, joining ERs Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy as a run-stopping force.
They filled their few remaining needs that they did not fill in free agency with serviceable talent, but a lot of their draft grade does come down to how much of a steal you believe Mac Jones at 15th to be. Either way, their team is very much improved.
New York Jets – Draft Grade A
The Jets improved their team drastically through this draft. In fairness, they had a lot to improve even after a strong free agency period, but it was nonetheless remarkable. Everyone knows and has an opinion about them securing Zach Wilson with the second pick overall, but many agree that the Jets have found their QB of the future.
The much more impressive moves they made came after that pick. They traded up to ensure they got Vera-Tucker, the most versatile OL player in the draft. Then, they stole Elijah Moore to start the second, giving Wilson an explosive playmaker. Whether is with RB Michael Carter in the 4th or CB Jason Pinnock in the 5th, they got strong value with most of their picks.
Baltimore Ravens – Draft Grade B-
The Ravens came into this draft, needing to get Lamar Jackson an offensive weapon and needing to add a strong pass rusher on defense. They addressed both of those issues in the first two rounds.
Bateman gives the Ravens a strong WR who can break tackles and make plays over the center of the field. There was a lot more explosive talent available at this point, however, Bateman fits the Ravens grind-it-out system much better than the other talent available.
Jayson Oweh gives them an immediate impact ER with a very high ceiling. After losing Judon and Ngakoue in the offseason, Oweh should help to salvage the Ravens’ sack total. He should develop into a fine starter by the end of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals – Draft Grade D+
It seems like a lot of experts loved the Bengals draft, I believe the only thing that will salvage it is the Burrow to Chase connection whenever Burrow gets back and IF he can stay healthy. And even then, I hate the Chase pick. They need to go either Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater there and instead got a weapon.
The priority for the Bengals this draft HAD TO BE protect Burrow. They failed. The OT they picked up in the second round was a drastic reach, with several more talented left on the board, same with the other they selected in the fourth. For some reason, they put a lot of effort into the DL, overreaching to add head-scratching pieces. They also completely ignored the fact that they have a very questionable LB core. I did not like their draft.
Cleveland Browns – Draft Grade A-
Cleveland rocked its home-field advantage at the draft. Their fans controlled the volume, booing every Steeler affiliate and several Ravens that came forward to announce the picks. And their front office was even better.
They needed a physical CB that could cover the deep ball, they got exactly that in Greg Newsome. They needed a brutal, sideline to sideline tackler, they stole first-round value Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah later in the second round. Almost everyone agrees that he was the steal of the draft. And they beefed up that interior D even more, with the later additions of LB Tony Fields and DT Tommy Togiai.
They even added the fastest player in the draft, Anthony Schwartz, to an already impressive Cleveland offense. It’s official, the Browns can now beat you in almost any way they want to.
Pittsburgh Steeler – Draft Grade C
I said it before, but I’ll say it once more, Harris and the Steelers fit each other perfectly. The Steelers go from being a really good offense to one of the best in the NFL, this year. I am concerned by the fact that they did not address Big Ben’s backup, nor did they address any surefire way to help keep on the field. The OL “improvements” were very shakey reaches.
Come to think of it, a lot of the Steelers’ picks after the second round was a stretch. They added the two weapons in Harris and TE Pat Freiermuth but got little value until the punter they selected in the seventh. By the way, P Pressley Harvin is a great value pick.
Houston Texans – Draft Grade D
When your franchise is as screwed over and Bill O’Brien left it, it is easy to see how you can get such a poor draft grade. He traded away their future for nothing, leaving them without a pick until the third round. What’s worse, all of the current drama with Deshaun Watson leaves the Texans wondering who their opening day QB will be.
The confusion surrounding Watson made drafting Davis Mills almost essential. I couldn’t tell you if he’s going to be the answer, but you could at least see them attempting a plan. That plan was strengthened by the addition of the strong, physical target Nico Collins. Truth be told, though, most of their draft was just too little, too late.
Indianapolis Colts – Draft Grade C-
The Colts needed a pass rusher and a pass protector more than anything in this draft. They checked off one of those boxes emphatically and lost focus. First, the good. Kwity Paye will join a Colts D that was one of the tops in the league last year without getting a ton of pressure on the QB. And he brings that pressure with him, as someone who should be impactful from week one onward.
From there the Colts took another ER who is incredibly talented but coming back from an Achilles injury. Then, they took another TE and a backup QB after trading for a starter at the end of the season. They did not address their need for an OT until late in the seventh, you know, the place where you always find your stud OT for your injury-prone QB. Well, at least they got his backup…
Jacksonville Jaguars – Draft Grade B-
It is hard to pick apart someone’s draft when they land a generational talent like Trevor Lawrence or a star RB like Travis Etienne, but I feel like they didn’t maximize their picks as well as they could have. As a matter of a fact, I feel like their pick quality actually declined each pick through the fourth round.
With that said, my biggest issue with the draft goes back to one of the most talented players they draft in Etienne. James Robinson was already on your roster and RB was very much not a need. Considering guys like Azzez, Owasus-Koramoah, and Elijah Moore were all available I really scratch my head at that pick. There was too much talent left at positions they actually needed to fill.
Tennessee Titans – Draft Grade B+
Many wanted the Titans to make a splash on a big play WR, but personally, I can’t argue with the route they went. I know that their offense just lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, however, their secondary lost Malcolm Butler, Adoree Jackson, and Desmond King. And considering that the Titans’ pass defense was near the bottom of the league last year, something drastic needed to be done.
And that they did. Caleb Farley provides elite CB talent and Elijah Molden will add to their depth at that position. When you add in the pressure that 5th round steal Rashad Weaver should be able to add, you have a pass defense that is already looking significantly better. Dez Fitzpatrick also has the ability to develop into a strong possession WR with the proper development. That, and the Titans O still has Henry and Brown.
Denver Broncos – Draft Grade A-
The Broncos shocked the NFL when they didn’t select Justin Fields with the ninth pick overall, but they definitely had a plan in not doing so. And they executed that plan brilliantly. Before I talk about that, however, I will address those who are criticizing them not taking the QB.
With Aaron Rodger and Deshaun Watson very much in flux right now, and Denver’s willingness to trade for elite QBs in the past (Peyton Manning), I’m not sure that the Broncos don’t have a trick up their sleeves. Either that or they really believe in Teddy Bridgewater and think he was just unlucky with Carolina last year.
Onto what they did right. Through the draft, I believe the Broncos built one of the stronger defenses in the league. Patrick Surtain II is an NFL-ready lockdown CB. Baron Browning will be a three-down NFL LB under Fangio’s tutelage. Even an S like Jamar Johnson I have hopes will be a starter by the end of the season. And they are all the style of player that works really well in a Fangio D.
Let’s also not forget that they added a punishing G in Quinn Meinerz and a talented RB in Javonte Williams to be a one-two punch with Melvin Gordon.
Kansas City Chiefs – Draft Grade B+
The Chiefs did not have a lot to work with this draft with no first or third-round picks, but they maximized almost every pick they had. Nick Bolton will be a day-one, three-down LB for them and should lead the team in tackles next year. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith will add great blocking for Parick Mahomes and help to keep him healthy and upright this season. Smith goes down as on the absolute steals of the draft after being selected in the sixth round.
As for weapons for Mahomes, Reid got him another WR who is great at getting open downfield and is strong in running after the catch. Cornell Powell should fit that offense nicely.
Las Vegas Raiders – Draft Grade D+
Chucky’s draft strategy is rumored to be one of the top ten most impossible concepts to fathom in the known universe. Let’s reach for guys on every pick. Everyone will think we’re insane but know we’re geniuses. But also, let’s get a great steal with our second-round pick to completely throw them off of our tracks. We will win with fear and confusion.
Trevon Moehrig is the only real bright spot in the draft as that second-round steal at S. I wish I could comment further, but honestly, very few of the players he took were even on my radar. Alex Leatherwood, though drafted too early, should be a great piece for their offensive line.
Los Angeles Chargers – Draft Grade A
Nothing bad can be said about the Chargers draft. They did everything right. They held their position and were still able to pick up monster OT Rashawn Slater in the first round. They provided Herbert with more than enough protection to excel in year two. They got him nice weapons in WR Josh Palmer and TE Tre’ McKitty. That offense should be unstoppable this year.
And they did all of this without sacrificing the defense. The addition of CB Asante Samuel Jr gives them an elite talent who can potentially cover the explosive Chiefs’ WRs they need to cover twice a year. Look for the Chargers to challenge for a wild-card in the AFC.
The AFC East was a dominant force in the 2021 NFL Draft, as the Dolphins and the Jets had near-perfect performances. Add this to the significant improvement seen by the Jets and Patriots in free agency, and this should be an incredibly fun division to watch in the 2021 season.
The Chargers and Steelers really take steps forward in the offensive departments, expect both to have top ten if not top five offenses by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the Browns and Broncos built defenses that could easily fall in the top five at the season’s end.
Of the teams that didn’t do well, they all found their unique ways of doing so. Texans didn’t have as a result of past failures, Bengals ignored their needs, and the Raiders rolled a d100 whenever it was their turn to pick. However, no one lost more by the end of the draft than Roger Goodell’s lazy boy. This chair was victimized by at least 236 butts within a 72 hour period.
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