Why provide instant grades on the selections of prospects who have yet to take an NFL snap? Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you? Considering the makeup of every roster and the factors surrounding each pick, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr attempt a division-by-division assessment of the 2021 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that these grades are based on draft hauls alone — picks traded for veteran players were not taken into account. Below is Gennaro’s review of the NFC East.
Draft slot: Round 2, No. 50 overall
After years of dispiriting defense, the 2020 Giants fielded a stout unit in Patrick Graham’s first season as coordinator. Then in free agency, New York gave Adoree’ Jackson $39 million to serve as James Bradberry’s CB running mate. But still, entering the draft, Big Blue lacked a critical component of any truly elite defense: the explosive edge rusher. Ojulari could fill that role — immediately. Still just 20 years old, he offers one of the most advanced pass-rushing arsenals in this class, highlighted by a cross-chop that’d make Yannick Ngakoue proud. So why did such an enticing draft stock fall into the middle of Round 2? First of all, he’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, meaning he probably won’t be putting his hand in the dirt a lot at the NFL level. Secondly, his combine medical reportedly revealed some concerns about a degenerative knee issue that goes back to a high school injury. But he didn’t miss a single game over the last two seasons at Georgia. Seems like a calculated, worthwhile risk, given his immense upside and New York’s crying need for some edge juice.
Most Surprising Pick:
Draft slot: Round 1, No. 12 overall
As the NFL draft has grown into a TV ratings monster in the 21st century, the mock draft has transformed from sports journalism’s red-headed stepchild to an ubiquitous content king. From February through April, it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed without running into a fresh mock. Consequently, we all come to recognize familiar patterns that emerge from one first-round projection to the next. This time around in Mock SZN, Dallas taking a cornerback at No. 10 became positively perfunctory. But then draft night arrived, the top two CBs came off the board at 8 and 9, and the best-laid plans of Jerrah and the ‘Boys went awry. Dallas immediately traded down a couple spots, seemingly needing a minute to gather their thoughts (and draft board), before selecting Parsons at No. 12. Now, let’s get one thing clear: Parsons is an extremely rare talent, as a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with cornerback speed and edge rusher blitzing ability. Still, while he possesses elite athletic traits, Parsons is largely unproven in coverage — a skill set that’s become necessary for modern off-ball linebackers. And then there’s the elephant in the room: Throughout the draft process, Parsons’ name was saddled with vague references to “character concerns” — a narrative apparently stemming from allegations of hazing at Penn State, which the linebacker addressed before and after the draft — leading some high-profile analysts to predict a draft-day fall. Ultimately, though, he was the third defensive player selected. And if Parsons ends up as the best defender in this class, it won’t be surprising, even if his landing spot in Dallas was.
Draft slot: Round 3, No. 73 overall
At 6-3, 284 pounds, Williams put on quite a show at the Louisiana Tech pro day, posting the following numbers:
- 4.63 40-yard dash
- 1.65 10-yard split
- 6.96 three-cone drill
- 4.33 short shuttle
- 38.5-inch vertical leap
- 10-foot-1 broad jump
- 34 bench reps
Jarring stuff from a defensive tackle. In fact, check out how those figures compare to Aaron Donald’s work at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine as a 6-1, 285-pounder:
- 4.68 40-yard dash
- 1.59 10-yard split
- 7.11 three-cone drill
- 4.39 short shuttle
- 32-inch vertical leap
- 9-foot-8 broad jump
- 35 bench reps
So, we can start reserving first-team All-Pro space for Williams, right? Yeah, not exactly. The Louisiana Tech product is a project, entering the NFL in a far less refined state than Donald did back in ’14. But Williams’ athletic traits make you dream impossible dreams.
NOTE: Draft classes are displayed from best to worst within the division.
- (No. 10) DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- (37) Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
- (73) Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech
- (123) Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech
- (150) Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
- (189) Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
- (191) Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
- (224) JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU
- (234) Patrick Johnson, OLB, Tulane
The Eagles ultimately landed one of the top three receivers in the class, but what a long, strange trip it was. The team initially held the No. 6 overall pick, prime position to atone for last year’s lamentable Jalen Reagor-over-Justin Jefferson decision by scooping up Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle or Smith. But then the Eagles moved down to No. 12 in the back end of Miami’s late-March trade two-step, throwing many Philly fans into a tizzy by seemingly exiting the range to nab one of this draft’s elite talent. Then the draft gods smiled upon the City of Brotherly love. When the top two cornerbacks exited stage right before Dallas’ No. 10 pick, the Cowboys immediately looked to trade down with somebody, anybody — even a hated divisional rival. The Eagles, clearly surmising that the Giants were planning to select Smith at No. 11, leaped at the opportunity leapfrog Big Blue and take the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for themselves. Strange bedfellows teaming up to stab a common NFC East foe in the front? Apparently the draft’s a delicious, prime-time soap opera! That wasn’t the only spicy selection by the Eagles, either. In Round 2, Philly grabbed some much-needed O-line help with Dickerson, who could’ve been the first interior offensive lineman off the board if he hadn’t torn his ACL in last December’s SEC title game. The injury history’s lengthy and concerning, but Dickerson’s mix of athleticism and joyful destruction is the kind of stuff that makes an O-line coach fan his collar. And four straight middle-round selections caught my eye as potential value picks: Williams, McPhearson, Gainwell and Tuipulotu.
- (No. 20) Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
- (50) Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia
- (71) Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
- (116) Elerson Smith, OLB, Northern Iowa
- (196) Gary Brightwell, RB, Arizona
- (201) Rodarius Williams, CB, Oklahoma State
Over his first eight drafts as an NFL GM with the Panthers and Giants, Dave Gettleman made a total of 54 draft picks while never — not once! — trading down. This led to NFL Network draft guru Daniel Jeremiah uttering a memorable line in a conference call with reporters last month: “I think we’ll see a right turn in a NASCAR race before we see Dave Gettleman trade back.” Hmmm, anyone know if drivers were flipping the turn signal up last month at Talladega? Because last weekend, “Trader Dave” arrived! Gettleman moved down in New York’s first two draft slots. And in addition to accumulating some valuable draft capital, he landed a pair of premium talents in need areas. The first trade-down, of course, came after Philadelphia jumped in front of New York to seize DeVonta Smith. But Gettleman recovered nicely by eventually landing Toney, whose catch-and-run play-making ability fits very nicely in a receiving corps that already includes a big-bodied pass catcher (Kenny Golladay) and a speedy deep threat (Darius Slayton). The onus now falls on offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to scheme up open-field opportunities for his new toy. But with this receiving corps, RB Saquon Barkley and TE Evan Engram, Gettleman has given his hand-picked signal-caller (Daniel Jones) more than enough weaponry to pay off a prove-it season. After the second trade-down of Gettleman’s life, he checked the box on Big Blue’s biggest draft need by selecting Ojulari to provide a legit edge-rushing presence. If concerns about the 20-year-old’s knee prove overcooked, his slide to No. 50 could be an absolute godsend to New York’s defense. Speaking of that Patrick Graham’s unit, the G-Men added a versatile corner in Round 3 in Robinson, who offers the size, speed and physicality to excel between James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson in the slot.
- (No. 19) Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
- (51) Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas
- (74) Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
- (82) Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
- (124) John Bates, TE, Boise State
- (163) Darrick Forrest, S, Cincinnati
- (225) Camaron Cheeseman, LS, Michigan
- (240) Will Bradley-King, DE, Baylor
- (246) Shaka Toney, DE, Penn State
- (258) Dax Milne, WR, BYU
Are you the type of draft connoisseur who prefers unique athletes? Well, you’ve come to the right place! The Football Team’s first three picks are three of the rarest physical specimens at their respective positions in this draft class. Davis posted some eye-popping numbers at the Kentucky pro day, including a 4.47 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical(!) and an 11-foot broad jump. This is the kind of explosiveness that plays in today’s game, in which linebackers are routinely met with nightmare assignments. There’s room for growth in pass coverage, but Davis has the kind of freaky athleticism that can’t be taught. The biggest question on Washington’s first-round pick: With these physical gifts at his disposal, why did it take until his breakout redshirt junior season to become a starter at Kentucky? Cosmi, on the other hand, started 34 games in his three non-redshirt seasons at Texas, and his 9.99 score in RAS (Kent Lee Platte’s “Relative Athletic Score”) ranks No. 2 among the 1,119 offensive tackles in his database that goes back to 1987. Simply put, the guy’s quite an athlete at nearly 6-6 and 314 pounds. But like Davis, his technique needs some refinement. In Round 3, Washington landed a cornerback with an exceptional mix of size (6-3 1/2) and agility (6.63 three-cone drill). That’s a whole lot of uncommon athleticism packed into three different body types. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brown, who averaged 20 yards per catch and scored 20 touchdowns over his final two seasons at North Carolina. He’ll drop a ball here and there, but the big plays just keep coming.
- (No. 12) Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
- (44) Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
- (75) Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA
- (84) Chauncey Golston, DE, Iowa
- (99) Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State
- (115) Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
- (138) Josh Ball, OT, Marshall
- (179) Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford
- (192) Quinton Bohanna, DT, Kentucky
- (227) Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
- (238) Matt Farniok, OG, Nebraska
Fresh off allowing a franchise-worst 473 points (29.6 per game) in 2020, the Cowboys entered the great college marketplace with a shopping list full of defensive needs. The ‘Boys spent their first six picks — and eight of 11 total — on defenders. Every sentient being on Planet Earth assumed Dallas would target a corner in Round 1, but after Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II were taken with the two picks immediately preceding the Cowboys’ No. 10 slot, Jerry Jones and Co. recalibrated with a quick trade-down before settling on Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 12 overall prospect at No. 12 overall. Parsons packs otherworldly athleticism into his 6-3, 246-pound frame, leading many to believe he’s one of the true blue-chip players in this draft — but he’s not the best coverage linebacker in this Cowboys class. That’s Cox, who could end up being an absolute steal as the kind of three-down ‘backer every team covets in today’s pass-happy NFL. After winning three FCS national championships as a star at North Dakota State, Cox didn’t skip a beat during his grad-transfer season with LSU, as evidenced by his three picks and five pass breakups in 10 SEC games last fall. Wait, though … Does this mean the Cowboys are hitting reset on the linebacker position? Leighton Vander Esch made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018 and Jaylon Smith earned the honor in ’19. But now, Parsons figures to immediately replace one veteran LB, while Cox could steal snaps from the other with his supreme coverage skills. It’s obviously notable that Dallas declined Vander Esch’s fifth-year option this week. And just two years after signing $64 million extension, Smith could also be in a prove-it year, with the dead money significantly dropping next offseason. Meanwhile, after missing out on the top cornerbacks in Round 1, the Cowboys spent a pair of top-100 picks on the position. The pessimist says they panicked and overdrafted both players. The optimist believes Joseph provides invaluable straight-line speed, while the 6-4 Wright is a scheme-perfect welcoming gift to new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
This draft class offers some enticing talent, but it also carries questions in an area that’s admittedly difficult to assess from an outside perspective: off-field issues. As covered this week in the Fort-Worth Star Telegram by longtime Cowboys beat writer Clarence Hill Jr., Dallas drafted three players with character concerns, including its first two picks. Parsons was named — though never charged — in a civil hazing lawsuit brought by a former Penn State player against the university. The linebacker states that he was falsely accused. Joseph, who transferred to Kentucky after being suspended by LSU for violating team rules, says he told the Cowboys “everything” during the pre-draft process. Ball began his career Florida State, but he was suspended by the university following accusations of dating violence and eventually wound up at Marshall. “I believe in second chances,” Jerry Jones said in the wake of the draft. “I believe in people learning from their mistakes. That is what part of the game is about. You get knocked down and get back up. That philosophy held very true here with Ball and anybody else we drafted. If that individual has a real good opportunity with some redeeming things in his life, then I offset.”
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