2021 NFL Draft - Hits & Misses
In his debut article for TNFF (@TrueNorthFFB) Jason Ferris (@jferris72) takes a look at the 2021 NFL Draft where he will provide you with his insight on a few draft selections that he believes were hits for a few teams and, others that were a miss.
For football fans, and fantasy players in particular, the NFL Draft is as close to Christmas as you can get. The air is abuzz with anticipation and excitement for weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. We make our lists, we check them twice, and hope to draft that one player that will take our team to a championship. Draft Day, and all of the research that goes into it, helps to fill that horrible gap that exists between the Super Bowl and the following seasons' opening kickoff.
Full of the usual pomp and circumstance, this years’ draft edition did not disappoint. Some teams stuck to their script, while others wheeled and dealed, and some just marched to the tune of their own beat. Now that the draft is done, it’s time to sit back and analyze the results. Let’s take a look at some landing spots that made a lot of sense and some that just missed the mark.
Pick 11 - Chicago Bears (via NYG): QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)
Heading into this year’s draft, Bears GM Ryan Pace, and his staff were drafting to essentially keep their jobs. In 2017, with perhaps the worst draft day move in NFL history, Pace infamously moved up to the #2 spot to select QB Mitchell Trubisky. Passing up on Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson is a blunder that Pace will never live down. Some might argue it was outright negligence. But with their first pick in the 2021 draft, Pace and the Chicago Bears showed that lady luck may have just been on their side.
As soon as QB Trey Lance was selected with the third overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers, Pace began looking up the board for a trading partner. He knew that the next probable landing spot for a QB was going to be the Denver Broncos at the #9 spot. But when the Broncos and GM George Paton decided that they were ‘happy’ with what they had at the QB position in Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, CB Patrick Surtain II unexpectedly became a Bronco. With wheels turning at a furious pace (yes pun intended), Pace pulled the trigger on a deal that sent a bevy of draft picks over to the New York Giants for their pick at #11. The Bears could not hand in their draft card fast enough with Justin Fields’ name on it.
Fields, ranked either second or third in most of the pre-draft scouting QB boards that I had seen (except for Chris Simms’), fell into the Bears lap. At Ohio State University (and Georgia briefly), Fields threw for 5,701 yards, ran for 1,133 more, and scored 86 touchdowns. He played in all of the biggest games, and famously outdueled Trevor Lawrence in the 2020 CFB Playoff game, throwing for 385 yards and 6 TDs. In short, the Bears have finally landed themselves a bonafide professional at the QB position.
VERDICT - HIT
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Pick 12 - Dallas Cowboys (via Philly): LB Micah Parsons (Penn State)
I did not need to move very far to find my favourite defensive selection of the draft at pick #12 (the Dolphin’s selection of Jevon Holland at #36 was a close second). Normally Jerry Jones’ taste in draft picks doesn’t sit well with my palette but this year he hit a home run. The Cowboys finished 28th in total team defense in 2020, so drafting Parsons definitely addressed an immediate need.
Parsons is a 6-foot-3, 245lb tackling machine that ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. For context, Tyreek Hill ran a 4.29 at his Pro Day in 2016. Parsons has elite WR speed in a linebacker’s frame. In three seasons at Penn State, Parsons created havoc on the field. He tallied 191 tackles, 18 of them for loss, with 6.5 sacks, 5 passes defended, 6 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Parsons is a defensive coordinators dream.
How does Parsons fit from a fantasy perspective, especially since the Cowboys already feature outstanding linebackers in OLB Jaylon Smith and OLB Leighton Vander Esch? The answer is simple. You can never have enough speed and tackling ability on defense. The Cowboys will face Saquon Barkley, Antonio Gibson, and Miles Sanders twice in 2021. As an IDP flex or straight up LB, Parsons will have plenty of opportunities to make plays week in and week out, especially with other teams keying on Smith or Vander Esch with their blocking schemes.
VERDICT - HIT
Pick 25 - Jacksonville Jaguars (via LA Rams): RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)
When Urban Meyer and his crew made Travis Etienne the 25th pick of the draft, James Robinson fantasy owners let out a massive groan that was heard around the world. Etienne came into the draft highly touted and hovered in the top four of most experts draft boards. As an added bonus, Etienne was Trevor Lawrence’s old college teammate, whom the Jaguars selected with the first overall pick in the draft. On paper the pick seems a perfect fit.
Problem is, the Jaguars already have an outstanding young running back. James Robinson, an undrafted free agent, had a phenomenal rookie year in 2020. Robinson finished 5th in the NFL with 1070 yards rushing, 344 yards receiving, and scored 10 total touchdowns. Robinson finished the season with a sizzling 4.9 yards per touch. His 2021 sophomore season looked promising.
The Etienne pick accomplished two things for the Jaguars. It added depth to a position that was not an immediate need and it neglected a gaping need in another. The Jaguars were an atrocious 31st in total defense in 2020 giving up 492 points and a bazillion yards all over the field. Since the trade of lockdown corner Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams, the Jaguars have struggled in the defensive backfield. The pick at this spot should have been safety Jevon Holland from Oregon or cornerback Eric Stokes from Georgia.
VERDICT - MISS
Pick 57 - Los Angeles Rams: WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville)
The offseason for the Los Angeles Rams got off to an exciting start when Jared Goff was traded away to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. With Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, and DeSean Jackson filling out the WR depth chart, the dinner table was pretty much set for Stafford in 2021. And with no first round picks to their name, the Los Angeles Rams were looking to add some much needed depth to the offensive line or to bolster their linebacking corps. Instead, Sean McVey and the brain trust in Los Angeles selected 5-foot-9, 155-pound wide receiver Tutu Atwell.
To say this is a reach at #57 is an understatement. With linebackers Nick Bolton and Peter Werner still on the board, not to mention a slew of offensive lineman, drafting an undersized wide receiver just didn't make any sense. And if WR was an absolute must on your draft board, how do pass up on Terrace Marshall Jr. from LSU? Fantasy owners in any format need not bother with Atwell unless your roster is miles deep.
VERDICT - MISS
Pick 88 - San Francisco 49ers: RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)
49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan seems like a fun guy to me. The kind of guy who really doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about him or how he runs his business. So when Trey Lance was selected by Shanahan with the third overall pick of the draft, it really didn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I thought it was a smart move. But when he took a second Trey, running back Trey Sermon from Ohio State, I literally had to give a tip of the cap to the selection.
We all have that Grey Goose friend. The one that for some reason, just has to have the best of a particular thing. For Shanahan, that luxury has always been a backfield stocked with thoroughbreds. With the selection of Sermon in the third round, Shanahan now has a running back room that features Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Wayne Gallman, and now Trey Sermon. In his four years with the Oklahoma Sooners/Ohio State Buckeyes, Sermon averaged an incredible 6.5 yards per carry while finding the endzone 26 times. He will make an excellent change of pace back and adds depth to the position, one which is vital in Shanahan’s offensive scheme. Now that’s what I call a Grey Goose RB room right there. Well done Shanny. Well done indeed.
VERDICT - HIT
We all have our thoughts and opinions on who were the big winners and losers in the 2021 NFL draft. The greatest part of it all is that we get to sit back and watch it all unfold. I hope everyone enjoyed the three day draft festivities and, ultimately only time will tell which picks will hit and which ones will miss.
Thank you for reading my debut article for TNFF and, be sure to check out all of the great written work from the team at True North. Do you agree or disagree with any of my hits or misses? Please leave a comment or message me on Twitter @jferris72
Editor: Joe Simonetti (@joesimonetti77)
Graphic work: Dan Made Graphics (@DanMadeGraphics)