Grades, analysis for every first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft
The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books.
As expected, quarterbacks were the dominant storyline with five going in the first 15 picks, including the first three selections, and then both the Bears and Patriots landing new passers.
Offense was the theme of the round, with 18 players going in the top 27, including the first eight picks.
FOX Sports NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang graded every pick in real time, breaking down how each prospect will fit with his new NFL team.
Here are Rang's grades for every first-round selection:
Rang's grade: Literally heads and shoulders above the rest of what is one of the top QB classes this century, the Jaguars are getting the rifle-armed, highly mobile and proven winner every NFL franchise dreams about. Not only physically impressive, Lawrence's poise and fit in Urban Meyer's scheme make this a perfect match for a franchise set to enter its 26th season and still searching for its first All-Pro quarterback. Grade: A+
2020 season stats: 3,153 passing yards, 24 passing TDs, 69.2 completion percentage.
Rang's grade: The most important element of quarterback play is accuracy, and Wilson – both in the pocket and on the move – is remarkably on-target. Wilson has a lightning-quick release and the zip to thread the needle through the tighter windows he'll face in the NFL. If the Jets surround him with talent, Wilson can be the superstar this franchise has been missing at quarterback. Grade: A
2020 season stats: 3,692 passing yards, 33 passing TDs, 73.5 completion percentage
Rang's grade: Question the level of competition all that you want, Lance never threw a single interception while leading his team to a national title in 2018. Boasting a bazooka of an arm with the accuracy on the move that perfectly fits Kyle Shanahan's West Coast-based offense, Lance is an ideal schematic fit, joining one of the NFL's most talented teams. With a steady veteran in Jimmy Garoppolo already in the fold, the 49ers can be patient and not rush Lance onto the field too soon – taking the same approach Kansas City used with Patrick Mahomes. It might take a year before he is the starter, but Lance is going to be a star. Grade: A
2020 season stats: N/A (one exhibition game played). 2019 season stats: 2,786 passing yards, 28 passing TDs, 66.9 completion percentage; 1,100 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry, 14 rushing TDs.
Rang's grade: In today's era of moveable chess pieces, Pitts is a human checkmate. The Florida star boasts an All-Pro-caliber combination of size, speed and a ridiculous catch radius that makes him virtually unguardable. Pitts defies a positional designation, possessing the ability to line up as a traditional tight end, on the move, in the slot or even outside. His addition should add years to the careers of both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and immediately giving Atlanta the offensive juggernaut to jump back into playoff contention one year after finishing an abysmal 4-12. Grade: A
2020 season stats: 43 receptions, 770 receiving yards, 12 receiving TDs
Rang's grade: It is frightening how good Chase can be, especially when you consider that his former teammate, Justin Jefferson, finished fourth among all NFL pass-catchers as a rookie for the Vikings last season. Chase, quite simply, is the better player. His combination of speed and physicality is exceedingly rare, making him a threat to run around, bulldoze through or leap over defensive backs. With the Bengals allowing former first-round wideouts A.J. Green and John Ross to walk in free agency, Chase has the easy path to star immediately in Zac Taylor's up-tempo offense. And he has the built-in rapport with QB Joe Burrow. Grade: A
2020 season stats: N/A (opted out of the season). 2019 season stats: 84 receptions, 1,780 receiving yards, 20 receiving TDs.
Rang's grade: It is difficult to discuss Waddle's speed and playmaking ability and not venture into hyperbole. Comparisons to the Chiefs' super field-stretcher Tyreek Hill are warranted. The Dolphins already boast the league's most expensive receiving corps, however, and, like Hill, Waddle is a sportscar that needs to be finely tuned to run its best. Waddle has durability red flags at just 5-10, 180 pounds. Waddle's upside is sky high but, quietly, his production slipped all three years at Alabama. Grade: B-
2020 season stats: 28 receptions, 591 receiving yards, four receiving TDs (played four games before suffering an injury, returned briefly during national championship). 2019 season stats: 33 receptions, 560 receiving yards, six receiving TDs.
Rang's grade: The most physically dominant offensive lineman in the Pac-12 since the Dallas Cowboys' perennial Pro Bowler Tyron Smith was manning the left tackle spot at USC, Sewell is a mauler at the point of attack with rare size, strength and agility. With the investment made in new quarterback Jared Goff, the Lions had to protect and they just added the best blocker in the draft. Folks, despite what some have argued, the gap between Sewell and the other linemen in this class is significant. Sewell is one of the true blue chips of this class, and those are exceedingly rare on the offensive line. Grade: A
Rang's grade: Boasting rare agility, straight-line speed and the competitiveness that helped his father, Joe, become a Pro Bowl wideout, Horn is the best cover corner in the 2021 draft. The Panthers already have one of the better young corners in the conference in Donte Jackson, and the highly confident Horn is an ideal running mate. It doesn't hurt that new general manager Scott Fitterer went with the relatively local product as well, helping to generate that much more excitement from the fan base. Grade: B+
2020 season stats: Two interceptions, six passes defended, 16 total tackles.
Rang's grade: After all of the talk about quarterbacks, defensive-minded coach Vic Fangio ultimately took a pass thief rather than a passer, nabbing the most proven and pro-ready cornerback in this class. Surtain is an NFL legacy and three-year Alabama starter. It is hard to fault the Broncos for this move considering the road to a division title travels through Kansas City. Surtain might not be quite as flashy as Horn, the corner selected one spot ahead of him, but he's assignment sound and as reliable as snow in Denver. Grade: B+
2020 season stats: 35 total tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception, one TD.
Rang's grade: It isn't often teams select receivers in the first round in consecutive years, but the NFL is entering the era of aerial assaults. With a young quarterback like Jalen Hurts expected to lead the way, Philadelphia has to surround him with dynamic pass-catchers. Smith, the first Heisman Trophy-winning receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991, certainly is that. While critics complain about his slim build, Smith's toughness, wiry strength and remarkable hand-eye coordination make him a cheat code with the ball in the air. He is the new-age security blanket every young quarterback dreams about. The Eagles spent heavily to get him – trading a third-round pick to a division rival – dropping their grade slightly, though I love the fit. Grade: A-
2020 season stats: 117 receptions, 1,856 receiving yards, 23 receiving TDs.
Rang's grade: Skewered throughout the pre-draft process for the misconception he was not a hard worker or accurate enough to be successful in the NFL, Fields is the gritty, composed and dangerous dual-threat passe Bears fans (and coach Matt Nagy) have been waiting for. With veterans Andy Dalton and Nick Foles already on the roster, the Bears don't have to push Fields onto the field too soon, but he'll earn the starting role soon enough. A gutsy pick that will ultimately pay off big for the Bears. Grade: A
2020 season stats: 2,100 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 70.2 completion percentage.
Rang's grade: With all due respect to those selected ahead of him, Parsons had the best tape of any defender in this class – although it came back in 2019, prior to his opting out on 2020. Instinctive and explosive, Parsons is the kind of glass-eating middle linebacker every club is looking to add to its roster, and his sideline-to-sideline speed matches up beautifully with Jaylon Smith. With Sean Lee retiring and former first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch struggling with durability, this isn't just an example of the Cowboys taking the Best Player Available, it also fills a key need. And Dallas acquired an extra third-round pick from Philadelphia in doing so. Dallas might have been hoping for a cornerback initially, but the depth in this class at that position is very good. Only character red flags for Parsons temper my enthusiasm slightly. Grade: A-
Rang's grade: Pegged as a clear fit for the Chargers for months, Slater's light feet, balance and technically-refined, heavy hands make him an exciting blindside pass protector for young star quarterback Justin Herbert. Slater's lack of ideal length had some questioning whether he'll be able to handle the speed he'll face in the NFL – a concern given the edge rushers in Denver and Kansas City especially. Grade: B
Rang's grade: An ideal complement to star left tackle Mekhi Becton, Vera-Tucker will slide back inside to guard, where he starred for the Trojans prior to earning the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best blocker in 2021 at the blindside. Balanced, agile and powerful, Vera-Tucker is pro-ready and exactly the kind of support the Jets need to protect the big investment in Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall. He's the player I had projected to the Jets at No. 23, but with another blocker many projected at guard (Slater) going one pick earlier, give the Jets credit for aggressively moving up to get their guy. Grade: B+
Rang's grade: Cue the Tom Brady comparisons and news flash that Bill Belichick has finally selected a quarterback in the first round (after never doing so previously). After watching every throw (and run) Jones attempted in 2020, I can tell you he is absolutely the accurate, football-savvy decision-maker who fits in beautifully with what Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels prioritize at the position. Jones is deadly accurate from the pocket. People are going to wonder one day how 14 teams passed on this kid and allowed Belichick to steal a perfect schematic (and personality) fit. Grade: A
2020 season stats: 4,500 passing yards, 41 passing TDs, 77.4 completion percentage.
Rang's grade: Kliff Kingsbury gets a lot of credit for his innovative offense, but the versatility his defense will feature with Collins and last year's top pick, Isaiah Simmons, is just as eye-opening. With dual-threat quarterbacks, dynamic running backs and the 49ers' stellar tight end, George Kittle all the rage in the NFC West, the Cardinals nabbed one of the most versatile back seven defenders in the draft. Collins is the first Tulsa player to ever be drafted in the first round. The knock on Collins (like Simmons) is that he's more agile and athletic than aggressive. He'll need to add some nastiness to live up to this pick in this rough and tumble division, but he's a unique athlete at 6-5, 259 pounds. Grade: B
Rang's grade: The Raiders are becoming one of the league's annual mock-busters, and their selection of Leatherwood is likely to be panned by many as a reach. GM Mike Mayock has shown a strong preference for players from blue-blood programs, and Leatherwood's track record at Alabama certainly qualifies. Leatherwood could be asked to move inside to guard or right tackle for the Raiders, who traded away three starters on their line in the offseason. Leatherwood started 15 games at right guard for the Tide back in 2018, but some felt he lacked the nastiness required for the inside. He's a solid player, but one the Raiders likely could have nabbed a little later. Grade: C
Rang's grade: Pegged as one of this year's biggest wild cards due to a history of injuries and other off-field concerns, Phillips might be even more of a roll of the dice than the Dolphins' top pick, wideout Jaylen Waddle. Phillips' upside is undeniable. He was viewed by many as this year's top edge rusher, a position of concern for Miami. Of course, given the proximity of where he evolved in a college superstar, however, GM Chris Grier should know as much about Phillips and his track record as anyone. With multiple first round picks the next couple of years, the Dolphins can afford some gambles. It will be interesting to see if these moves turn out to eventually be viewed as franchise-makers or breakers. Grade: B
Rang's grade: A former no-nonsense linebacker himself, Ron Rivera knows the position as well as anyone. Davis entered the year barely a blip on the radar of most scouts, but his stock soared for the Wildcats last season, and his potential is sky-high. The selection fills a clear need for Washington, especially given all of the stellar running backs in the NFC East. Grade: B
Rang's grade: Lightning quick and adept at turning short throws into big plays, Toney is precisely the kind of playmaker the Giants need to take advantage of Daniel Jones' accuracy on short and intermediate passes. Toney should be able to feast in the middle of the field with free-agent additions Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton drawing attention outside with their vertical game and Saquon Barkley, of course, returning as the featured runner. Toney does have some off-field concerns and is a bit raw as a route-runner, making this pick a bit of a gamble, however. Grade: B-
Rang's grade: After losing nearly half of last year's sacks with Justin Houston and Denico Autry no longer on the roster, the Colts' top need was adding an edge rusher to pair with star DeForest Buckner. Paye didn't produce many sacks at Michigan (11.5), but he has exciting potential, showing burst, power and a relentless motor. His backstory is inspirational, and his upside is obvious. Give him a year or two to develop and Paye could wind up proving a steal outside of the Top 20. Grade: A-
Rang's grade: After letting former first-round pick Adoree Jackson leave town, it was clear Tennessee would be looking for help in the secondary. The Titans found a potential star in Farley still on the board at No. 22. Farley is a gamble, as he has already undergone three surgeries, including for a torn ACL on a non-contact injury early in his college career. His traits, however, are special, and he plays with the intensity to fit right in with coach Mike Vrabel. While some will criticize the Titans for not taking a receiver here, the depth at that position is outstanding, and there aren't many corners with Farley's physical gifts. Grade: A-
Rang's grade: The second consecutive Hokie off the board, Darrisaw is a light-footed tackle with the potential to one day challenge for Pro Bowl honors. He fills a clear area of longtime need for the Vikings, especially given the pass rushers Minnesota faces in the NFC North. Darrisaw is an intriguing talent, one with both quality tape and some clear areas in which he can improve – suggesting he has not yet reached his maximum potential. At this point in the draft, he could wind up proving a steal, just like his former teammate Farley and the Vikings' first-round pick last year, wideout Justin Jefferson. Grade: B+
Rang's grade: Hoping to squeeze at least one more season out of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers did the most logical thing, adding a superstar running back with the hands of a receiver. At 6-1, 232, pounds, Harris looks like a bruiser, and he can play the role. He's also remarkably agile, an eye-popping leaper and possesses terrific hand-eye coordination to adjust to passes and keep his momentum. The fans in Cleveland and football analytics crowd might hate this pick. I love it. And believe me, so will fantasy football enthusiasts. Grade: A
Rang's grade: Given how well James Robinson performed for the Jaguars a year ago, this pick is definitely one of the surprises of the first round. However, remember Urban Meyer has no ties with the former undrafted free agent, and the coach has often been blessed with game-breakers at running back during his collegiate career. What a way to support young quarterback Trevor Lawrence than with his record-breaking teammate? A surprising pick does not make it a bad one, especially when the player is as talented and reliable as Etienne. Grade: B
Rang's grade: With many of the Browns fans in attendance quite familiar with Big Ten football, Newsome deserved the applause he received. Newsome is a dynamic athlete with legitimate cover corner skills, just like the star he'll be playing opposite in Denzel Ward. The durability concerns are not just a red flag, they are a banner – as he has missed at least three games each year at Northwestern, though notably he has never undergone surgery. Given the Browns' pass rush potential with Jadaveon Clowney and superstar Myles Garrett, adding a twitchy, playmaking corner like Newsome could be the kind of move that helps Cleveland take the next step. Grade: B
Rang's grade: Ravens GM Eric DeCosta called it "insulting" that his club might be targeting a receiver in the first round, but perhaps he was using this deception as an acknowledgement of how slippery Bateman is as a route-runner. Agile and possessing sticky hands to pluck the ball outside of his frame, Bateman is the kind of polished, professional receiver that too often get mischaracterized as as a "possession" receiver. The Ravens already have speed on the outside. Now, Lamar Jackson has the kind of consistent wideout needed to take the next step. It should be fun to track how former Big Ten opponents Bateman and Cleveland's new top pick, Newsome, continue their rivalry in the AFC North. Grade: B+
Rang's grade: Almost a carbon copy of current Saints' standout Marcus Davenport, Turner is powerful, long and still just developing his game. It isn't often that an edge rusher is drafted in the first round with just 10 combined sacks over his collegiate career, but Turner's potential is undeniable. He is quick off the snap and smooth changing directions for such a large man (6-5, 270). He also long arms (35 inches) to bat away the short passing game so popular in today's game. Still, for all of his potential, this feels like a player the Saints could have nabbed a little later. Grade: C
Rang's grade: The Packers turned a lot of heads last year, drafting Utah State quarterback Jordan Love and contributing to the mess they now have with reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. This year's top pick also could have Packers fans scratching their Cheeseheads, though, as Stokes boasts all of the athletic upside in the world, but is not yet the polished player his height and speed would suggest. Playing opposite Jaire Alexander is going to get Stokes plenty of attention from opposing quarterbacks. The Packers do, however, boast the pass rush to help the investment in an athlete like Stokes ultimately pay off. Grade: C+
Rang's grade: Bills fans hoping for one more difference-maker to put their club over the top might have just gotten him in Rousseau. His technique is raw, but his remarkable burst, bend and slithery moves to elude pass blockers helped him lead the ultra-talented ACC in sacks and tackles for loss in his first year as a starter. Rosseau created concern by opting out on the season and heading directly to the draft after just one big season. Those red flags only turned brighter after a mediocre Pro Day. He's already a proven difference-maker, however, and he is still just learning how to play the game. With a no-nonsense, defensive-minded coach like Sean McDermott pushing him, Rousseau is just scratching the surface of what he'll become. Grade: B+
Rang's grade: It is perhaps a little ironic that with the main pick acquired in the trade of Orlando Brown Jr. to Kansas City, GM Eric DeCosta took the kind of twitchy edge rusher who could give the aforementioned blocker fits off the edge. If Oweh is able to generate sacks in the NFL, it will be something new for him as he did not collect a single sack a year ago for the Nittany Lions, despite boasting the most exciting combination of speed (4.37) and size (6-5, 257) in this draft. While he had no sacks, Oweh was disruptive, and the Ravens develop rushers as well as anyone in the league. Grade: B
Rang's grade: While some guy named Brady deservedly received most of the credit for the Bucs hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, a dominant defensive line played a huge role. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh aging, it made sense for the Bucs to take advantage of the talented (but raw) edge rushers in this class. Tryon opted out on the Huskies last year, and he's just a "pup," still needing to learn how to harness his combination of burst and power. He has the work ethic (and supporting cast), however, to grow into a monster. Grade: B+