2021 NFL Draft: Biggest surprises from the first round
Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft was full of surprises, even before the event got started.
Tim Tebow reappeared in headlines, making waves with reports indicating the potential for him to return to the NFL as a tight end.
Aaron Rodgers news shocked the football world, with ESPN reporting that the Green Bay Packers quarterback was unhappy with the team, and indicating that he may not return for the 2021 season.
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But, despite all of that madness, the league was still able to give fans loads of chaos when the start of the 2021 NFL Draft finally arrived.
Three consecutive quarterbacks were selected with the first three overall picks, college reunions in formed in various offenses, and each franchise did their best to ensure a bright future ahead of the 2021 season.
As it goes every year, however, there were plenty of surprising selections throughout the first round, with some positively impacting teams, and others having negative effects.
Now that the dust has cleared and the first round is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to evaluate the biggest surprises from Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
- San Francisco 49ers take Trey Lance with the third overall pick
When the San Francisco 49ers traded up for the third overall pick ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, fans figured the franchise was looking for its quarterback of the future.
Rumors began to swirl around Jimmy Garoppolo’s status as the team’s starting quarterback, and the debate around which quarterback the Niners were looking at raged on.
There appeared to be interest in Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, and fans viewed Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields as a top-tier pick.
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But, lurking in the back was North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
49ers general manager John Lynch swooped in on the NDSU product, surprising many who believed the team would take Jones, the prospect widely thought of as one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks, to replace Garoppolo ahead of the 2021 season.
Instead, it appears as if Lance will linger in the depth chart for a season, learning behind Garoppolo as the Niners look to return to the top of the NFC.
The decision had major ripple effects, impacting two other quarterback-needy franchises with real estate in the first round.
- Cincinnati Bengals opt for a wide receiver, rather than offensive line help
One team that doesn’t need a new quarterback heading into the 2021 season is the Cincinnati Bengals. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any other needs to fill.
After Joe Burrow, the team’s first overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, saw a rookie season full of heavy hits end as a result of a torn ACL, those following the team saw a blatant need on the offensive line.
The stars seemed like they would align perfectly, as Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell was on the board when Cincinnati went on the clock with the fifth overall pick.
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Instead, the Bengals opted for a college reunion in their offense, drafting wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, a former teammate of Burrow’s from their time at LSU.
While giving weapons for Burrow to work with is important, giving him the time to throw the ball seems like a solid priority to consider, as well.
Instead, Sewell, the draft’s top offensive lineman, surprisingly fell into the laps of the Detroit Lions, and the Bengals now have to hope that their offensive line will hold up enough for Burrow to succeed in his sophomore season.
- Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields falls as the Chicago Bears rise
Around the time of the College Football Playoff National Championship game, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields’ stock was rising at a rapid rate. There was a legitimate thought that he could supplant Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the first overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Then, his value seemed to drop more and more as the draft inched closer, and fans wondered whether or not he would even go in the top three.
Even with all of that doubt, it was surprising to see three quarterback-needy teams pass on Fields with the first three picks in the draft, and even more shocking to see Fields fall out of the top 10 in the process.
Then, the Chicago Bears seemingly came out of nowhere.
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Despite putting out a tweet after signing former Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton that said “QB1,” the Bears jumped at the opportunity to bring the Ohio State product to the Windy City.
They traded up to land the New York Giants’ 11th overall pick, and took Fields to add another quarterback to their depth chart.
Bears fans rejoiced at the thought of having a star quarterback for their future, and the top three teams in the 2021 NFL Draft will have to hope they made the right decision by passing on Fields.
- Alabama quarterback Mac Jones lands with Bill Belichick and the Patriots
As Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones fell out of the top five picks, New England Patriots fans watching the draft likely became very nervous.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had never taken a quarterback in the first round of the draft throughout his tenure in New England, but 2021 represented the franchise’s best opportunity to do so since picking Drew Bledsoe in the 1990s.
So, as the teams in need of a change under center each made their selections, the Patriots found themselves with the potential for some options to consider with the 15th overall pick.
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Their interest in Jones was clear when they attended the quarterback’s Pro Day ahead of the draft, and Fields’ talent was undeniable, despite where he landed in the order. As each pick passed, many expected that the Patriots would try to trade up to swoop in on one of the two quarterbacks.
Instead, the Patriots let it all play out on its own. Fields fell to the 11th overall pick and saw himself join the Bears, and Jones surprisingly was still on the board when the Patriots went on the clock.
Belichick pulled the trigger on his friend Nick Saban’s former quarterback, and the Patriots added Jones to a quarterback room that already includes Cam Newton and third-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
With Jones being viewed as one of the most NFL-ready quarterback in the drafts, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him suit up as New England’s starter when Week 1 rolls around. If that happens, it’ll make the Alabama alum’s drop to the 15th overall pick seem that much crazier.
- Jacksonville Jaguars use one of their two first-round picks on a running back
The Jacksonville Jaguars picking up Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick was undoubtedly the least-surprising move from the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Jags using the second of their two first-round picks on another Clemson alum was…a little more out of left field.
After finding a solid running back in James Robinson in 2020 and adding Carlos Hyde in 2021, adding to the backfield didn’t seem like a priority or necessity for Urban Meyer’s bunch.
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But, instead of going for depth elsewhere on offense or trying to bolster their defense after big departures in recent years, the Jaguars picked Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick.
It created another college reunion on a night chock-full of them, pairing Lawrence with his old Clemson teammate.
But, it also led to some head-scratching from fans around the league, especially when Meyer said in his post-round press conference that he figured Etienne could get some reps on third down.
Similar to the Bengals, building up an offensive line to protect Lawrence and help the running game will likely be a big priority ahead of the 2021 season.
But, the Jaguars deciding to wait to fill those needs helped cap off a first round full of surprises.
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