NFL draft grades: Bears, Jets among best team classes in 2021 while Raiders among worst
Welp, it's about that time … when I reluctantly break out the red pencil – not pen – to assign reactionary grades to the just-completed NFL draft.
Of course, as we know, it's an annual exercise in futility, any draft needing roughly three years to be fairly evaluated. Heck, it was only 2018 when the Cardinals seemed to be sitting pretty with their new Josh Rosen-to-Christian Kirk connection … or the Jets lucked into Sam Darnold as their latest savior.
But first impressions are what they are – we'll call them grades if we must – and who am I to not give the people what they want? (However, let's strive to pull back for a big-picture look at each club's draft rather than judging them in a vacuum that doesn't include trades and other considerations that more accurately frame each haul.)
So, with that, here are your ridiculously premature 2021 NFL draft grades, with team classes ranked from best to worst:
Hard not to roll the eyes when you hear new coach Urban Meyer bloviate about all the research they invested in No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence … but sure, cross your T's and dot your I's, coach. End of the day, even if the only prerequisite to obtain Lawrence was going 1-15, getting a generational prospect like the Clemson star pretty much makes this a near-perfect draft with the subsequent picks serving as gravy – even if the gravy here is scrumptious. As for Lawrence? He seems uniquely suited to elevate this franchise in the win column and at the gate with the persona to handle such pressure even at 21 years of age.
Keeping first-round RB Travis Etienne, another Clemson product, teamed with Lawrence makes perfect sense, while second-round OT Walker Little and third-round S Andre Cisco have significant upside if fully healthy. Second-round CB Tyson Campbell has great physical traits but needs to polish his football skills … but, again, gravy. Grade: A+
New York Jets
This draft will ultimately be defined by whatever success No. 2 pick Zach Wilson has compared to what Darnold, now a member of the Panthers, does with a bona fide supporting cast – which NYJ GM Joe Douglas could have built for his former QB by dealing the second pick for a king's ransom, which was apparently on the table. Be that as it may, Darnold is hardly a proven NFL commodity – and by going the Wilson route, Douglas maintains far more financial flexibility than if he had to speculate on the inevitable mid-tier compensation (at minimum) Darnold has coming sooner than later.
And give Douglas credit – he may have hit a home run with Wilson, who has awe-inspiring arm talent that gives him the ability to make just about any throw from just about any area of the field, whether or not his feet are set. But he'll have to prove he can do it against better competition than BYU played while using his athleticism to preserve his 6-2, 214-body from NFL poundings as much as possible. Oh, and there's that Big Apple pressure cooker factor, too. However overcoming such obstacles should all be easier given Douglas has started doing for Wilson what he didn't have time to do for Darnold – import supplementary talent, which will include first-round OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, second-round WR Elijah Moore and fourth-round RB Michael Carter. (And Douglas already has multiple first- and second-round selections in 2022.) Given the path the Jets have chosen, you have to like how they're navigating it so far. Grade: A
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