It’s too early to determine what a drafted player will be in the NFL, but it’s never too soon to evaluate whether a team addressed its needs or not in the 2021 draft.
Take a look at how Dolphins columnist Omar Kelly grades each team’s 2021 draft, and forecasts what they should expect from the rookie class:
Arizona Cardinals: B-
The Cardinals followed up an aggressive free-agent process by adding one of this draft’s top defenders in linebacker Zaven Collins, and one of the classes’ top-five receivers in Purdue’s Rondale Moore. While receiver wasn’t a need, Moore positions Arizona’s offense to survive injuries. UCF’s Tay Gowan, the Cardinals’ sixth-round pick, is a top-10 cornerback, and center Michal Menet (seventh round) has some upside.
Atlanta Falcons: B
While not selecting a quarterback could be the second-guess special of the Falcons draft, Atlanta provided Matt Ryan a dynamic playmaker with first-round pick Kyle Pitts, and got him some young talent for the offensive line with third-round selection offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield and fourth-round pick center Drew Dalman. And some NFL evaluators believe UCF safety Richie Grant, the Falcons’ second-round selection, was one of the draft’s biggest sleepers.
Baltimore Ravens: A
The Ravens annually draft better than all but a handful of teams because their scouting department is stellar. They restocked the deck by adding six players — receivers Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, DE Odafe Oweh, OG Ben Cleveland, cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade — who could become starters in a year or two with the proper development.
Buffalo Bills: B-
The Bills spent the organization’s first four picks addressing needs — adding edge rushers Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr., and offensive tackles Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle. The strategy was sound, but there were better players on the board when Buffalo made those selections. The rest of the draft class can be viewed as filler.
Carolina Panthers: A
The Panthers have this year’s best collection of draftees, using the team’s Senior Bowl exposure to replenish the roster with 11 talented players. More than half of them — cornerback Jaycee Horn, receiver Terrance Marshall Jr., offensive tackle Brady Christensen, tight end Tommy Tremble, running back Chuba Hubbard, defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, offensive guard Deonte Brown, receiver Shi Smith — have the talent to become NFL starters in their first two seasons.
Chicago Bears: C
The Bears underwhelmed the NFL when they selected quarterback Andy Dalton as the team’s free-agent upgrade over Mitch Trubisky, then doubled down on bad decisions by overpaying on a first-round trade up to land Ohio State quarterback Justin Field with the 11th pick. If Fields isn’t good, it will likely cost general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy their jobs. Offensive tackle Teven Jenkins (second round), and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (sixth) were good value picks.
Cincinnati Bengals: C
Reuniting receiver Ja’Marr Chase with quarterback Joe Burrow, who he helped win the national championship and the Heisman Trophy two season ago, is a wise approach. Those two should have instant chemistry. But the Bengals didn’t make great selections to fortify the offensive line because Clemson OT Carman Jackson, East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith and Georgia center Trey Hill aren’t ready to become Day 1 starters, and Burrow needs better protection.
Cleveland Browns: A
The Browns made it to the playoffs last year, and have seemingly added enough pieces this offseason to get them back there. First-round pick Greg Newsome II, and second-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have the talent to start as rookies, and receiver Anthony Schwartz (third round), defensive tackle Tommy Togiai (fourth round) and tailback Demetric Felton (sixth round) are developmental projects with huge upside.
Dallas Cowboys: B+
Based on last offseason, the Cowboys seemingly needed to replenish the defensive side of the ball, and Dallas achieved that in the 2021 draft with eight talented newcomers. Linebackers Micah Parson (first round) and Jabril Cox (fourth round), defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa were rated amongst the draft’s best talents at their position. Dallas’ lone miss is the caliber of cornerbacks they added in the draft. The hope is one of the three defensive backs — Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright or Israel Mukuamu — Dallas selected will be good.
Denver Broncos: A+
The Broncos had the best draft class of 2021 because their haul features six players who could become instant starters, if not NFL stars. Patrick Surtain (first round) was the best cornerback in the draft. Javonte Williams, the Broncos’ second-round pick, is the draft’s third-best tailback. Quinn Meinerz, who was selected in the third round, is this draft’s fourth-best center. And linebacker Baron Browning, safeties Caden Stern and Jamar Johnson each have tremendous upside, and fit perfectly into Denver’s aggressive style of play.
Detroit Lions: B
The Lions spent the team’s first three picks building up the trenches by selecting offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round, and defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike (second round) and Alim McNeill (third round) in the second day. Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (third round), receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (fourth round), and tailback Jermar Jefferson (seventh round) were good value picks that will help Dan Campbell transform Detroit’s culture.
Green Bay Packers: C+
Even though Aaron Rodgers, or his people, dropped a bombshell on the NFL right before Thursday’s first round started, letting word leak out that he no longer wants to play for the Packers, the organization’s decision-makers didn’t let his power play influence their draft strategy. Green Bay added quality youngsters in cornerback Eric Stokes, center Josh Myers, receiver Amari Rodgers and offensive tackle Royce Newman, who in time will eventually grow into being decent starters. The problem is, there were better talents to be selected with most of Green Bay’s picks.
Houston Texans: C-
The Texans weren’t a part of the draft’s first day because of the Laremy Tunsil trade, and made an attempt to find a replacement for Deshaun Watson with the third-round selection of Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. Michigan receiver Nico Collins (third round) and Miami tight end Brevin Jordan (fifth round) were excellent value picks, but the rest of Houston’s Day 3 picks should be viewed as filler.
Indianapolis Colts: C
Indianapolis had a meat-and-potatoes style draft, adding two edge rushers Kwity Paye (first round) and Dayo Odeyingbo (second round) who should be immediate contributors. But the rest of the Colts draft class is underwhelming. All five of Indianapolis’ other selections were taken a round or two higher than most draft experts projected.
Jacksonville Jaguars: B
Reuniting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with tailback Travis Etienne, making both Jacksonville’s first-round picks, was a brilliant strategy. Rebuilding the defense from the backend in with cornerback Tyson Campbell (second round) and safety Andre Cisco (third round) is also a smart approach. But the rest of Jacksonville’s picks require some imagination to see why it made those selections.
Kansas City Chiefs: A
The team that has everything made a wise decision by acquiring Orlando Brown from the Ravens with its first-round pick. Linebacker Nick Bolton and center Creed Humphrey were both second-round steals. And if it wasn’t for his blood clots issue, Tennessee guard Trey Smith would have been a second-day selection, and not sitting there in the sixth round waiting to be rescued by the Chiefs.
Las Vegas Raiders: C+
The Raiders passed on other offensive tackles to take Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood with the 17th pick, which could be a mistake. Landing safety Trevon Moehrig in the second round was a gift from the football Gods, but it made little sense to select two other safeties — Virginia Tech’s Divine Deablo (third round) and Missouri’s Tyree Gillespie — unless the plan is to turn one of them into a linebacker, and that could be the case with Deablo.
Los Angeles Chargers: B
The Chargers stand out as one of the early winners in this draft with the selection of offensive tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round, and FSU cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in round two. Receiver Josh Palmer (third round) and edge player Chris Rumph II (fourth) were good finds in the middle of the draft, but the rest of the Chargers haunt is just filler and it appears better selections could have been made.
Los Angeles Rams: B-
The Rams continue to ship their draft picks away for veteran players like Jalen Ramsey and Matthew Stafford, and that approach works as long as their personnel department keeps hitting on late-round selections. It certainly seems as if that was the case this year considering receiver Tutu Atwell (second round), linebacker Ernest Jones (third round), and defensive tackle Bobby Brown III (fourth round) all have the makings of NFL starters. But from there the Rams draft fizzled out.
Miami Dolphins: B+
The Dolphins used their first four selections to select four players — receiver Jaylen Waddle, defensive end Jaelan Phillips, safety Javon Holland and offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg — who were all viewed as possible first-round picks, and pulled in a future first-round pick (2023) and fourth-round selection (2022). All four players will likely be put in position to start as rookies if their health holds up. Tight end Hunter Long, who was taken in the third round, is also a draftee whom evaluators have a high opinion of. What prevents this draft from being better is Miami didn’t add a center, and failed to select a tailback — which was a major need for the second straight offseason — until the seventh-round selection of Cincinnati’s Gerrid Doaks, who never rushed for more than 700 yards in his four seasons with the Bearcats.
Minnesota Vikings: A
The Vikings trading back from No. 14 and still securing Christian Darrisaw at 23, landing the player they would have likely targeted at 14. Minnesota also added one of my favorite quarterbacks (Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond), and one of the better inside linebackers (Chazz Surratt) in the third round. Every selection made by the Vikings, right down to the sixth-round pick of Pittsburgh edge Jylen Twyan, was great value, and should reinforce Minnesota’s roster depth.
New England Patriots: B-
The Patriots have been drafting poorly for nearly a decade, but few analysts noticed because Tom Brady masked all their shortcomings when it came to talent procurement. Brady’s no longer a luxury for the Patriots, so the hope is that New England stops whiffing on early draftees. Selecting Alabama (Mac Jones and Christian Barmore) and Oklahoma (Ronnie Perkins and Rhamondre Stevenson) prospects early should improve the Patriots hitting percentage in the draft. But this draft is a bust if Jones doesn’t eventually unseat Cam Newton for the starting quarterback job.
New Orleans Saints: D
Houston pass rusher Payton Turner was the biggest surprise as a first-round pick. While he’s a physical 6-foot-6, 270-pound athlete with 35-inch arms, there’s a lot of polishing that needs to happen with his game. The Saints had to wait until the third round to address the team’s biggest need, taking Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo. Notre Dame’s Ian Book, who New Orleans selected in the fourth round, was taken too high. His play style got by at the collegiate level, but it is not suited for the NFL.
New York Giants: A
The Giants added a receiver in Kadarius Toney whose run-after-catch skills will make things easier for Daniel Jones, who needs to prove he’s more than an average quarterback this season. Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari (second round), UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson (third round) and Northern Iowa pass rusher Elerson Smith (fourth round) were the best picks made in each of those rounds, which indicates that the Giants have good talent evaluators.
New York Jets: A
BYU’s Zach Wilson was worthy of the second overall selection, but will need time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game. The Jets have thrown a lot of resources at their offensive line the past few years, but USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker (taken with the 14th pick) might be the finishing piece. Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore (second round) and UNC tailback Michael Carter (fourth round) have the talent to become immediate starters for the Jets. And FSU safety Hasah Nasirildeen could be a late-round gem because he would have been taken earlier than the sixth round if he were healthy.
Philadelphia Eagles: B-
The Eagles made a handful of bold selections, which will either speed up their rebuilding process, or put it a year behind schedule. Receiver DeVonta Smith (first round), center Landon Dickerson (second round), tailback Kenneth Gainwell (fifth round) and defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (sixth round) have the talent to contribute right away. But the Eagles should have selected a quarterback to push Jalen Hurts because Joe Flacco no longer has what it takes to be an NFL starter.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A
The Steelers shocked absolutely nobody when they selected Alabama tailback Najee Harris with the 24th pick in the draft. If he turns into the second coming of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers offense will take off again. Plenty of Pittsburgh’s other selections — tight end Pat Freiermuth, center Kendrick Green, offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr., linebacker Buddy Johnson, outside linebacker Quincy Roche — are typical Steelers picks, and will likely become starters, if not regular contributors in two years.
San Francisco 49ers: A
The 49ers gave up a lot — three first-round picks and a third-round selection — to selected quarterback Trey Lance third overall, but nobody will be second guessing this decision if he becomes the next Patrick Mahomes in two years. The 49ers also landed three of my favorite prospects in the 2021 draft, taking Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks in the second round, Ohio State tailback Trey Sermon in the third, and Louisiana Lafayette’s Elijah Mitchell in the sixth. This is more proof that some teams just know how to evaluate talent better than others.
Seattle Seahawks: C
The Seahawks were paying the freight for the Jamal Adams trade made last season, so Seattle’s first selection wasn’t until late in the second round, where they chose Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge, an undersized but extremely polished as a route-runner with great footwork. Seattle’s other two picks were Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown (fourth round), and Florida offensive tackle Stone Forsythe (sixth round).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
Some teams had Washington’s Joe Tryon rated as their top pass rusher, and the Buccaneers got him with the 32nd pick. Florida QB Kyle Trask, who was taken in the second round, will make the perfect understudy for Tom Brady. And late-round picks like offensive linemen Robert Hainsey, receiver Jaelon Darden and KJ. Britt were huge value picks and should be great scheme fits for the Super Bowl champions.
Tennessee Titans: B-
If Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley had a clean medical report, he would have gone within the first 10 picks. But his back issues make this first-round selection a risky one. Evaluators were all over the place on North Dakota Sate’s Dillon Radunz, but considering the Titans have featured one of the NFL’s best offensive lines for the past three years, it’s pretty safe to conclude they know what they’re doing when it comes to selecting linemen. Elijah Molden, one of Tennessee’s two third-round picks, has what it takes to become an excellent nickel cornerback, especially for a team looking to rebuild its defensive backfield.
Washington Football Team: B
This draft class is a bit of a head scratcher because Washington might feature the NFL’s best pass rushing unit, yet WFT added two more (William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney). Samuel Cosmi (second round) is easily one of the most athletic offensive tackles in this class. He should push for the starting left tackle job. The rest of this draft class has a meat-and-potatoes feel to it.