Pete Marasco's Observations from the 2021 NFL Draft


With the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft and free agent signings some final thoughts and observations before looking ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft.  After reviewing each team’s selections and undrafted free agent signings it has become apparent that certain teams neglected their most glaring needs.  This can happen by the way that the board falls to a team and they decide to go for the best player available or decide to fill another need as the player that they like has a higher grade than the best player available at their most glaring need.  But even with that, the average fan can still question the moves that certain teams make.  For instance:


The Pittsburgh Steelers had the worst running game in the NFL in 2020; and thus addressed this in the 2021 NFL Draft by selecting Najee Harris, RB, from Alabama in the 1st Round.  This could be, however, be putting the cart before the horse as after the season, the Steelers had their pro bowl Center,  Maurkice Pouncey, retire; starting LG Matt Feiler split for the Chargers in free agency and LT Alejandro Villanueva was let go by the Steelers and he has since signed with the Ravens.  The Steelers still retain Pro Bowler David DeCastro at RG and are high on LG Kevin Dotson, a 4th Round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft who was an All-Rookie selection at LG, and drafted offensive lineman in the 3rd and 4th Rounds but who are not guaranteed to  be plug and play selections.  My thought was to trade back in the 1st Round, pick up some additional choices, take offensive lineman early and then take one or even two Running Backs later.  The Steelers have been a playoff team but now are up against the improving Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in their division and will be tested to make the playoffs this season.  And can Najee Harris, who was a warhorse at Alabama hold up for 17 games and the playoffs if the Steelers do in fact make it to the playoffs.


The Kansas City Chiefs recognized the need for having a strong offensive line after losing the 2021 Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because of the failure of its offensive line.  The Chiefs didn’t just address it during the off-season, they attacked it by pursuing quality offensive lineman by trading for LT Orlando Brown, signing Guards Joe Thuney and Kyle Long during NFL free agency; and drafting Center Creed Humphrey in the Second Round of the 2021 NFL Draft.


Every analyst has agreed that the New York Giants had a very good draft by trading back and drafting electric WR Kadarius Toney from Florida in the 1st Round, then acquiring much needed Edge Rusher Azeez Ojulari from Georgia in the 2nd Round and even still Nickel CB Aaron Robinson from UCF in the 3rd Round.  GM David Gettleman also addressed another need in drafting RB Gary Brightwell in the 6th Round as a backup to Saquon Barkley.  Brightwell isn’t well known as he played for a 0-5 team but still showed some promise.  HOWEVER, the most glaring unit need for the Giants was the offensive line; and there were no offensive lineman selected with their six draft picks and this position also wasn’t adequately addressed in free agency.  When GM Gettleman took the GMs job three years ago he promised to fix the OL; and now he and Head Coach Joe Judge have stated that they are content to go with what they have and the expected improvement in their offensive lineman will make a difference in protecting embattled QB Daniel Jones.


Back to the New York Giants for which the expectations are quite high for the 2021 season as the team has spent over 180 million dollars in NFL free agency and Co-Owner John Mara has expressed his impatience with not making the playoffs.  But did the Giants make enough improvement to gain on or surpass their division rivals in the NFC East, namely the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles?  The Cowboys and Washington Football Team arguably had stronger rosters entering the 2021 Draft and the Eagles are always angling for improvement.  And the Eagles were acclaimed by noted draft analyst Dane Brugler as having the best draft of all 32 teams and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah gave the Eagles and A+ for their draft.  Also keeping in mind that Dak Prescott was on course for a 6,000 yard season in passing before going down with an injury so the Cowboys offense seems set and during the draft the Cowboys selected 8 defensive players out of their 11 picks to bolster their weak defense.  Washington had 10 selections during the draft, the Eagles had 9 compared to the Giants 6.


And for New York fans, did the Giants or Jets get the best Slot Receiver with Kadarius Toney (Giants), or Jets (Elijah Moore)?


Being initially critical of the Cincinnati Bengals for selecting WR Ja’Marr Chase of LSU instead of Tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon with the 5th overall pick in this draft, I changed my thinking after scrutinizing the Wide Receivers to be available in the 2022 NFL Draft and realized that there are none comparable to Ja’Marr Chase.  However, if QB Joe Burrow goes down with another injury, the Bengals will be criticized for not drafting Penei Sewell.


The San Francisco 49ers traded up to the No. 3 spot by giving up a lot of draft capital to draft a Quarterback.  Initially, the rumors were that that QB was to be Mac Jones of Alabama as 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan wanted a QB who would see what he sees on the field and thought that Jones was that guy.   After the 49ers selected QB Trey Lance of North Dakota State it was revealed that the scouting department convinced the coach and GM that Lance is more equipped to run rollouts and has a higher upside than Jones.  On the other hand, Lance only played one year at North Dakota State and at a lower level of competition than any of the other top rated quarterbacks.  That one year would not meet with Bill Parcells criterion that a QB have three years of starting experience before he would draft him.


The New Orleans Saints drafted Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner in the Second Round with Pick No. 60 while Baron Browning, another Ohio State linebacker was drafted by Denver in the 3rd Round with Pick No. 105, or 45 picks later.  To me, Browning was coming on at the end of the 2020 season and at the Senior Bowl and has more potential to be an impact player than Werner.  And that is why the draft is a subjective projection in the evaluation of players.  Or as Joe Judge, the New York Giants head coach has stated in so many words, that none of these players are NFL ready, it is all a projection.


Another confounding pick was the Green Bay Packers selection of Josh Myers, a Center from Ohio State with the 62nd pick in the Second Round; while leaving higher rated Centers Creed Humphrey of Oklahoma and Quinn Meinerz of UW Whitewater still on the board.  Humphrey went 1 pick later to the Kansas City Chiefs while Meinerz was drafted by Denver in the third round.  In addition to being rated higher, Meinerz would also have been a fan favorite as being from Wisconsin and who had a well publicized unique workout regimen in preparing for the Senior Bowl and the draft.  ESPN’s Todd McShay on his big board had Humphrey at 55, Meinerz at 61 but didn’t have Myers in his top 100.  Pro Football Focus had Meinerz at 53, Humphrey at 70 but also didn’t have Myers in their top 100.


The 2021 NFL Draft had what I considered the greatest collection of Slot Receiver types ever assembled and this was reflected in the first round with Miami selecting Jaylen Waddle from Alabama and the NY Giants taking Kadarius Toney of Florida.  Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith is one that I consider to be a Wide Out though he could play the Slot.  In the Second Round, Arizona selected Rondale Moore, all 5’7” of him from Purdue while the LA Rams took Tutu Atwell of Louisville who checked in at 5’9” and 149 pounds but whom I noted was virtually unstoppable from getting open.   Also in the 2nd Round, the NY Jets took the aforementioned Elijah Moore of Mississippi who had a tremendous year against all SEC opposition, and the Seahawks grabbed D’Wayne Eskridge of Western Michigan.  Following up in the 3rd Round, Green Bay took Amari Rodgers of Clemson (no relation); and the Browns took Anthony Schwartz of Auburn, considered to be the fastest player in the U.S. 

The 4th Round found Detroit selecting Amon-Ra St. Brown; Tampa Bay taking Jaelon Darden of North Texas, a real jitterbug and the 5th Round had the Vikings taking Ihmir Smith-Marsette of Iowa.  Concluding with the 6th Round we have the Browns doubling down on Slot types by taking Demetric Felton of UCLA, the Bears taking Dazz Newsome of North Carolina, the Panthers taking Shi Smith of South Carolina and the Bills taking Marquez Stevenson of Houston, who might have been drafted higher but was slowed by an ankle injury.  In addition to these drafted Slot Receivers there were a few more who were signed as Undrafted Free Agents.

So obviously, the NFL teams have a need for these smaller shiftier types to compliment the taller wideouts, H-Backs and Split Tight Ends in their varied offenses.  


SLEEPERS - these are underrated players whom always emerge to become starters on NFL teams.  For instance, Michael Onwenu, Guard, from Michigan, who was a Sixth Round pick of the Patriots last year and became a starter at RT but may end up back at Guard this year.  To qualify as a Sleeper the player should be a Day 3 draft choice (Rounds 4 thru 7), or Undrafted Free Agent.  One who I won’t count as a Sleeper is Jabril Cox, LB, and a 4th Round choice of the Cowboys as he was widely known and was an absolute steal in the 4th round. Some players who would be good to take a gamble on are the following: Talanoa Hufanga, DS, USC, taken by the 49ers in Round 5; ; Zech McPhearson, CB, from Texas Tech, by the Eagles in Round 4; Larry Borom, T/G from Missouri, by the Bears in Round 5 and Khalil Herbert, RB, from Virginia Tech, also by the Bears in Round 6, while Detroit took LBer Derrick Barnes from Purdue, in the 4th Round and he could be a bargain; Jacoby Stevens, DS/LB from LSU by the Eagles in Round 6 with pick 224; and Roy Lopez, NT, from Arizona, by Houston in Round 6.  And the biggest Sleeper being Jacob Harris, WR from UCF, a player who received very little recognition on draft boards and was relatively unknown to the average fan but was noticed by the LA Rams who selected him in the 4th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft.