Countdown to Football: NFL Draft 2021 – Thursday Round 1 Recap
SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA, April 29, 2021 — On Wednesday night, the President of the United States said stuff about stuff. Despite 67 minutes of babbling, not one sentence of his remarks related to football. Like most political speeches unrelated to football, his remarks were quickly forgotten. The real remarks came with the NFL Draft 2021.
NFL Commissioner Goodell said the seven words leatherheads have waited months to hear.
“The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock.”
Pandemic be damned, it was time for grown men to get together and make telephone calls. It was time for sports media pundits to speculate on what was on those phone calls. The 2021 NFL Draft was back. While it is not the Draft as we have known it for years, it was also closer to the real thing than the virtual 2020 Draft.
Gone was Jerry Jones commanding decisions from his death star yacht. Gone was Bill Belichick’s dog, although rumors have it the dog is healthy and happy off camera.
Last year Commissioner Goodell was in his basement and being talked into doing a TikTok dance video. This year was about football.
The most important position in football and perhaps in all of sports, is the quarterback.
1983 and 1999 were years where multiple quarterbacks were taken early and often. 1983 produced three Hall of Famers and two other above-average signal-callers. 1999 produced a majority of busts. The 2021 NFL Draft had the worst teams grabbing the best quarterbacks without much surprise.
The real quarterback news came before the Draft even started in an intense offseason free agency period. The Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams swapped quarterbacks, with Jared Goff going to the Lions and Matthew Stafford going to the Rams.
Sean McVay took the Rams to the Super Bowl in his second season as head coach. Yet since that magic carpet ride in 2018, McVay has now jettisoned running back Todd Gurley and Goff. Despite being several years older than Goff, Stafford is expected to make the Rams an instant Super Bowl contender. The quarterback carousel spun in Carolina, where the Panthers picked up Sam Darnold from the New York Jets and dealt Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos.
For the first time in 16 years, the New Orleans Saints will have a new starting quarterback.
Drew Brees retired as the all-time passing leader. Seeking to replace the first-ballot Hall of Famer are Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.
The biggest quarterback drama came in the most surprising of places. Aaron Rodgers has led the Green Bay Packers to consecutive 13-3 records and trips to the NFC Title Game. He is the reigning NFL MVP. The idea that he would be traded after a year of throwing 48 touchdowns and five interceptions is insane.
Yet the rumor mills had Rodgers demanding a trade.
The three teams he was supposedly interested in were the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, and Las Vegas Raiders.
The 49ers have been looking for any excuse to get rid of Jimmy Garoppolo, despite going to the Super Bowl with him in 2019. Unconfirmed rumors had the 49ers offering a king’s ransom and the Packers turning it down.
Green Bay management has insisted that Rodgers is not going anywhere, despite Jordan Love waiting in the wings. If Rodgers was upset with last year’s selection of Love, he had to be enraged with the Packers’ top choice in 2021. Despite insisting that he needed more offensive weapons, the Green Bay brass went with defense.
They chose cornerback Eric stokes of Georgia.
The Draft itself began as expected, with the quarterbacks going in the top three spots.
Trevor Lawrence of Clemson was the consensus top pick, and the Jaguars took him as expected. The Jets then grabbed Zach Wilson of BYU with the second spot. The 49ers moved up to the third spot before the Draft and took North Dakota State’s, Trey Lance. The buzz then instantly became whether Lance would hold a clipboard for a year or push Garoppolo out of town.
The Chicago Bears risked having angry fans burn down Soldier Field if Mitchell Trubisky was the 2021 starter. The Bears traded with the New York Giants to move up to the 11th spot. That allowed Justin Fields of Ohio State to be the fourth quarterback to be taken off the board.
Virtually every Draft has one wild card quarterback who is raw, unpolished, and controversial.
This year it was Mac Jones. Jerry Jones (no relation to Mac) either drafts this type of player or gets tackled by Stephen Jones (Jerry’s son and team Vice President) to avoid such a pick. Yet with Dak Prescott firmly entrenched as the Dallas Cowboys starter, Jerry had no temptation to resist.
The other question mark would be whether the Evil Hoodie Bill Belichick would pull the trigger. After 20 seasons of Tom Brady, Belichick suffered through a losing season last year with Cam Newton. The Patriots surprisingly brought Newton back, but he is a short-term bridge.
Belichick pushed his chips to the center of the table and drafted Jones (Mac, not Jerry or Stephen) with the 15th pick.
The Draft is often about head fakes, and some teams were rumored to be considering quarterbacks when that was not necessary.
Those rumors turned out to be hot air. The Atlanta Falcons with the fourth pick did not pick a replacement for Matt Ryan. Yet with Julio Jones possibly being trade bait, the Falcons picked tight end, Kyle Pitts, out of Florida. Several analysts ranked Pitts as the very best player in the Draft.
The Denver Broncos held the ninth pick, and team President John Elway was certain to pick a replacement for quarterback Drew Lock. Instead, the trade for Bridgwater meant Elway could shore up the defense.
Cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. received high marks. His father was a solid player in his day.
Whether in Oakland, Los Angeles, or now Las Vegas, the Raiders can always be counted on to offer drama.
Every year Jon Gruden (allegedly) creates rumors that he is replacing quarterback Derek Carr. Then he denies those rumors that came directly (allegedly) from him. Backup Marcus Mariota returned to the Raiders as a backup, agreeing to a payout from $10 million to $3 million. Although the Raiders need a ton of help on defense, they usually have a solid, stable offensive line.
That was true until this offseason when Gruden took a keg of dynamite to that line. He got rid of center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson, and tackle Trent Brown. All three of those players are Pro Bowlers. The only rationale would be to get younger and save money, but Gruden in the past has been known for relying on older players in free agency.
Backing themselves into a corner of their own making, Gruden and Mike Mayock opted to select offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood of Alabama with the 17th pick. Some analysts said Leatherwood was drafted too high, but the Raiders desperately needed some wedges of beef to protect Carr.
Through the first seven picks, there were no trades and not one defensive player chosen.
The Panthers finally took one with the eighth pick, cornerback Jaycee Horn of South Carolina.
The beginning of the Draft was about quarterbacks.
The worst teams have the top picks because they are the worst teams. A quarterback is the first building block to constructing a winning roster. Yet the cliche is defense wins championships. The last five picks were all defense.
The last three picks by the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, and Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were all edge rushers.
The president’s speech, the rebuttal to the speech, and the 2021 NFL Draft first round are all in the history books. The president’s speech has already been forgotten. The rebuttal will be talked about for a few days. The first round of the Draft will be debated for years to come.
Although it is an agonizing four and one-half months until kickoff, our appetites have been whetted. Now leatherheads can look forward to rounds two and three on Friday and rounds four through seven wrapping up with Mr. Irrelevant on Saturday.