The 2021 NFL Draft started off with three quarterbacks in three picks – and a surprise in that group. Other surprises followed.
Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson went 1-2 as expected, but the 49ers then surprised by taking Trey Lance of North Dakota State with the third pick. Did San Francisco make the right decision?
The quarterback’s surprises didn’t end there. The Bears traded with the Giants to get Ohio State’s Justin Fields with the No. 11 pick. This gave the Bears another draft day quarterback. Did Chicago make the right decision?
Mac Jones of Alabama, the fifth quarterback taken in the first round, fell to the Patriots at No. 15. It was the only decision at this point.
Those quarterback decisions weren’t the only source of entertainment in the first inning. Sporting News takes a look at the winners and losers from the first night:
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2021 NFL Draft Winners and Losers
Winners: Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones
The 49ers quarterback debate was a mystery until the choice was made, and Lance was their final answer ahead of Fields and Jones.
The North Dakota state star was a top three pick despite playing a game for the bison last fall, and of the five quarters taken in the first round, he’s in the best win-immediate situation with what should be a healthier San Francisco. team that is a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance.
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Lance will need to win Jimmy Garoppolo’s starting position – and there could be a preparation period in 2021 given that Lance has only made 17 college starts, all at FCS level – but Lance’s dynamic talent has Enough for coach Kyle Shannahan to take a bet.
The Bears traded for Fields, who has been the most watched of any quarterback in this draft. Fields enjoyed a prolific two-year stint as an Ohio State starter, but continued questions about his work ethic, ability to read defenses, and the revelation that he handles epilepsy led him to get out of the top 10. Chicago general manager Ryan Pace needs it. choose for breading; Fields is a double threat talent with high potential.
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Then there’s Jones, who was the last quarterback caught in the first round. He slipped to No. 15, but the good news for him is that he landed with the Patriots and Bill Belichick. Jones will have to beat Cam Newton to be the starter, but the conductor of Alabama’s record-breaking 2020 offense is in a winning situation.
New England could have gone back in time and traded for Garoppolo. Instead, he’ll look to the future with Jones, whom he got halfway through.
Losers: Jimmy Garoppolo, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton
These veteran quarterbacks will likely fall into replacement roles in 2021 following three matching first-round picks.
Garoppolo started in a Super Bowl two seasons ago, but the 49ers reportedly tried to win a draft-day blockbuster with the Packers for Aaron Rodgers before drafting Lance.
Dalton, who was signed by the Bears on a one-year contract during the offseason, will likely be a placeholder at best for Fields. It’s a good bet that the “Red Rocket” will transfer into a backup role like he was with the Cowboys to start 2020. Newton signed an incentive-laden deal with the Patriots last offseason, but Jones might be the better choice for the New England offense.
The 49ers, Bears and Patriots will face pressure to make the playoffs in 2021. Chances are, the rookies will lead the respective charges.
Winners: Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith
Both Alabama receivers landed in the top 10 and they will be reunited with former Alabama quarterbacks.
Waddle, who averaged 18.9 yards per catch in three seasons with the Crimson Tide, will be a vertical threat for second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the Dolphins. Waddle was the most explosive player in the FBS before he suffered a leg injury last season.
MORE: Waddle Explains Why He Ignored Family After Selection
Smith took advantage of Waddle’s absence to shoot a record-breaking season that saw him become the first Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver since 1991. The Eagles traded with the Cowboys for Smith, and now he will be paired with the second quarterback of the year Jalen Hurts.
This marked the second year in a row that two Alabama receivers were taken in the first round, and it was part of a night where six Crimson Tide players were selected in the first round.
Losers: defensive tackles
What happened to the defensive tackles? A talented crop starring Christian Barmore of Alabama, Marvin Wilson of Florida State and Daviyon Nixon of Iowa was ignored in the first round.
It comes just two years after six defensive tackles in the first round. Barmore, Wilson and Nixon will be among the more interesting picks on Day 2, but the position has plunged in value with this class.
Dallas worked in the draft, swapping two spots with Philadelphia and winning a third-round pick.
Dallas then caught Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, the top linebacker in the table. Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season, is expected to help a defense that allowed up 29.6 points per game last season. Longtime linebacker Sean Lee has retired.
Parsons is expected to step in as a starter immediately after owner Jerry Jones resists the urge to trade to make a flashing offensive choice. Give Dallas credit for making the right choice and working with a rival NFC East to make it happen.
The Raiders are no strangers to quirky choices. They took Clelin Ferrell in 2018, and he had 6.5 sacks in two seasons. Henry Ruggs was the pick last season, and he had a patchy rookie year at wide receiver.
This year, Las Vegas took on Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood, who was to be a second-round pick in most of the dummies. General manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden continue to go against the grain and, in this case, they ended up with the streak of tackles in the first round.
Pittsburgh is back on track. Alabama’s Najee Harris is expected to make an instant impact in a running game that was missing in 2020. Pittsburgh averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and the offense stuttered in the second half of the season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back, however, and Harris’ ability to close in the red zone and catch the ball out of the backfield will be a huge plus for a unit looking to keep pace with the favorites of the AFC North, Baltimore and Cleveland. It’s a pivotal year for coach Mike Tomlin, and approaching the game of running was a priority.
Let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter who the Packers chose after the firestorm that arose out of Adam Schefter’s report that Rodgers wants out of Green Bay. The Packers could have traded for a wide receiver, but once Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman left the field, they settled for Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes.
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To be fair, the cornerback was another pressing need, but the drama with Rodgers is far from over. Green Bay must find more immediate contributors on day 2; it’s time to address the recipient. Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore was there for the take. What did Rodgers want?