The first round of the draft last night could be described in one word – wild.
Between the 49ers taking Trey Lance, the Bengals taking a wide receiver over offensive line help, Dave Gettleman actually trading back and more, the first round of the 2021 NFL draft was ridiculously fun to watch.
There are hundreds of thoughts and reactions cycling through my head right now, but here are the ones that stuck out to me.
49ers take Trey Lance at pick three
Admittedly, I was in the camp that Mac Jones was the pick for the 49ers for the better part of a month now. I knew Trey Lance would probably be the better fit for Shanahan, giving that offense an entirely new dimension but all the breadcrumbs led me to believe that Jones was the pick.
Nevertheless, I think Lance is a great fit (as literally any of the quarterbacks would be) for the 49ers offense. His combination of football IQ and athletic traits gives him probably the most upside of any non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback in the draft.
People still wish it was Justin Fields here, but I am not sold on Fields as much as Lance if I’m being completely transparent. I am very interested to see how Lance plays next season and what week Shanahan yanks Jimmy Garoppolo and inserts their third overall pick.
Bengals take Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell
While everyone seemingly was trashing the Bengals for being incompetent by not drafting offensive line help for their ACL rehabilitating quarterback Joe Burrow, I kind of liked the pick.
It’s no secret that Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow lit up college football in 2019 and pairing the two together in the NFL has potential to help Burrow take the next step.
The Bengals were among the worst in the league in explosive play rate last year, and Joe Burrow’s passer rating 15+ yards downfield last season was well below average last season, as you can see in the chart above.
Adding someone like Chase who has that connection with Burrow and is an explosive weapon that can win at all levels of the field makes that offense a lot scarier.
Their real need on the offensive line is on the interior, having two first round tackles in Riley Reiff and Jonah Williams anchoring the tackle spots. While adding Sewell and pushing one of those two guys inside wouldn’t be the worst scenario, in a deep offensive line class like this the Bengals can feel confident that they can find a starter on the inside with their day two picks.
If they fail to add a lineman to protect Burrow today, that’s where the problems begin.
Cowboys trade with the Eagles?
This was the wildest move of the draft in my opinion. It was pretty obvious that the Cowboys were eyeing one of the top two corners, Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain, but after seeing them go off the board it feels like they panicked.
The Cowboys had one of the worst statistical defenses in NFL History last year, and their depth chart at the corner position is Trevon Diggs and no one else of note. So, to recoup for their losses of Horn and Surtain they decided to basically give up DeVonta Smith, another wide receiver that they won’t be able to cover, to a team that they play twice a year for basically nothing.
Makes very little sense to me given the circumstances but then they used the 12 pick on linebacker Micah Parsons when they already have a good amount of money wrapped up in their linebacker position. I think Parsons will be fine in the right scheme, but I don’t quite understand their sequence of moves last night.
Dolphins knocked it out of the park
With their first pick last night, the Dolphins passed on Penei Sewell to draft wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Maybe it’s my love for Waddle speaking, but I think this pick was a homerun for Miami.
Tua Tagovailoa didn’t have a crazy receiving corps to work with last year, but that passing offense was stale. Tua averaged 6.3 yards per pass attempt last year which was 31st in the NFL. If the Dolphins truly want him to take the next step in 2021, they need to have a field stretcher to make him throw the ball downfield more. They already signed Will Fuller, but reuniting the former Alabama teammates gives Tua another weapon to let it start flying down the field.
At pick 18 they took for my money the best edge in the class with Jaelan Phillips. Phillips has injury concerns which definitely pushed him down the board, but when healthy is a top five player in this class. He has a bevy of pass rush moves in his arsenal and defends the run as well as anyone in this class. Phillips is the perfect chess piece that can be moved all around the formation for Brian Flores’ multiple-front defensive scheme.
As a Patriots fan, it hurts to say this, but I think the Dolphins had the best draft of anyone last night.
Ravens did their thing again
Much like the Dolphins, the Ravens had a fantastic first round (what else is new).
Picking one of my favorite players at 27 in wide receiver Rashod Bateman gave Lamar Jackson the “X” receiver that offense hoped Dez Bryant would be last year. They still will be a run-heavy team (as they should) with J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson running the show, but a receiving corps with Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman immediately elevates Jackson back into that MVP conversation.
At pick 31 (acquired from the Chiefs) they selected one of the bigger projects in the class in edge defender Jayson Oweh. Oweh is a freak of nature at the edge position, running a high 4.3 40-yard dash who packs a punch at the point of attack. While I don’t think Oweh is going to come in right away and be a difference maker, with the right coaching I can see him becoming a dominant force in the league for years to come. The Ravens have a vast history of taking raw but talented edge defenders and turning them into bonafide studs, and Oweh is next in line for that role.