Chicago Bears: Chicago had the most to shout about after the dust settled in Cleveland. The Bears executed the finest move of the weekend when they traded up to snag Justin Fields at the expense of first- and fifth-round picks this year, and a first- and fourth-rounder in 2022. Aggressive decisions like this are often a desperate reach but getting such an all-round talented quarterback at No 11 feels like an unmitigated steal.
Fields being given breathing room to learn while veteran Andy Dalton starts in September points to a very bright future. Indeed, Bears head coach Matt Nagy saw the same blueprint work when he was at the Kansas City Chiefs, and Patrick Mahomes acted as Alex Smith’s back-up in his rookie season. Chicago followed up the Fields pick by addressing their threadbare offensive line in the second round with right tackle Teven Jenkins, who should be an instant starter and will be a much-needed upgrade in Chicago’s run and pass blocking. Finally, the Bears may have pulled off another solid-gold steal when they picked Thomas Graham Jr down in round six. The cornerback opted out in 2020 but his previous three stellar seasons with Oregon point to a sky-high upside.
New England Patriots: The scrutiny of Mac Jones’ shrank the moment San Francisco passed on him at No 3. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan might have decided he needed more juice, in the form of Trey Lance, or San Francisco might have never been in the market for Jones at all. But, as Jones tumbled all the way down to 15, all of negativity aimed his way was wiped away.
New England are now the proud owners of the most accurate quarterbacks available, a perfect fit for Bill Belichick. Jones has little running ability but he is excellent when working from inside the pocket, and the comparison with Tom Brady is naturally hard to avoid. Obviously Jones is not guaranteed even a sliver of Brady’s success but Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be delighted to be working with a talent who would have fit so easily into his pocket-passing schemes from New England’s glory years.
The draft only got better for New England in round two. I had defensive tackle Christian Barmore pegged for the Pats with their first pick, so for him to slide all the way to No 38 was a huge surprise. He was comfortably the best interior lineman going, a consistently fearsome pass rusher for Alabama. Barmore’s small sample size from college, with production against small schools, offers some risk but his athletic ability is undeniable. Barmore is another steal, and New England look set to rise from the mat quickly and be a serious contender in 2021.
Los Angeles Chargers: Los Angeles round off the weekend’s big winners with the eye-catching addition of offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, Asante Samuel Jr at cornerback and a solid third option at receiver in Josh Palmer. Completing the offensive line rebuild for quarterback Justin Herbert may have been a no brainer for the Chargers but the record-breaking rookie’s second season can only be enhanced with Slater, who was a true star in college. He was a true blocking menace, and allowed no sacks and only five pressures in 355 snaps when pass protecting in 2019. Slater is a 300lbs miracle for Herbert, who was hostage to 21 pressures per game in 2020.
Samuel Jr is a welcome boost on the other side of the ball for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, too. Los Angeles’ new-look zonal defense now boasts a cornerback with a forced incompletion rate of over 20% across his career with Florida State. The Chargers’ brutal record of seven one-score losses last season could be reversed with Slater on receiver patrol.
Finally, the Chargers should be thrilled by pilfering Palmer with the 77th pick. The receiver’s stock suffered from having poor production but that is more an indictment of his quarterback in Tennessee than anything in his control. Palmer has searing pace, demonstrated when beating new Denver cornerback Patrick Surtain II deep last season. He is another new face for Herbert to get excited about, a serious target behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh’s reputation as master draftsmen took a significant dent this year. Yes, the Steelers need a running back, and they may finally have a legitimate successor to Le’Veon Bell in Najee Harris, but he may end up routinely brutalised behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. A running back in the opening round is a consensus reach, one Pittsburgh should have avoided. James Robinson’s jump from scrapheap to show stopping 1,000 yard season for the Jaguars last season should have been a recent enough example to help avoid an itchy trigger finger. Harris is an excellent pass catcher but not a three-down back, and is the second-worst pick of the draft considering the Steelers’ holes at corner and on the edge as well as o-line. As for the worst pick? Your wooden spoon is in the mail for Alex Leatherwood, Las Vegas.
Green Bay Packers: Amari Rodgers meet Aaron Rodgers (hopefully). The Packers finally picked up a pass catcher for their great quarterback but it could be much too little, too late. The reigning MVP’s desire to leave Green Bay was arguably the draft’s biggest story, but whatever happens the waters appear, at minimum, temporarily muddied to the detriment of the team. Should Aaron stay, Amari is an excellent slot receiver and should ease the unceasing workload on Devante Adams’ shoulders. Elsewhere the Packers addressed the need for help at corner and center in round one and two respectively but with head-scratching selections in Eric Stokes and Josh Myers. Better prospects at both positions were available, notably Asante Samuel Jr at cornerback.