The 2021 NFL draft began Thursday and continues through Saturday (ABC/ESPN/ESPN App). We have the pros and cons for each of the 32 first-round picks. The Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off the draft in Cleveland by selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick. The New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers also went QB at Nos. 2 and 3 with Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, respectively.
The draft continues with Rounds 2-3 on Friday (7 p.m. ET) and concludes with Rounds 4-7 on Saturday (noon ET).
Here is the first round of picks, analyzed by our ESPN NFL Nation reporters.
Why they picked him: Lawrence is the most polished QB prospect since Andrew Luck, and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him behind John Elway, Peyton Manning and Luck among QBs he’s graded. The Jaguars’ offense the past decade has been awful, and QB play is a big reason. The Jaguars were last in points scored and ranked 30th or worst in QB completion percentage, Total QBR, passer rating and passing yards in the league from 2011 to 2020 with Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew II, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon taking snaps. Lawrence was 34-2 as a starter at Clemson and threw for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions in three seasons. He won a national championship as a freshman and led the Tigers to two more playoff appearances.
Biggest question: There’s no such thing as a perfect prospect, but Lawrence is close. Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, when asked what he learned about Lawrence that he didn’t know during the pre-draft process, said: “No negatives.” There was a brief stir about Lawrence’s comments in a Sports Illustrated piece that he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder and his high school coach’s comment that Lawrence could walk away from the game and be fine. That may have riled up some fans, but Lawrence addressed those comments several days later and reassured everyone that he is motivated and does want to win. — Michael DiRocco
Why they picked him: The Jets traded Sam Darnold, in part, because they believe Wilson can be a franchise quarterback. Among the QBs not named Trevor Lawrence, Wilson stood out to them because of his arm talent and ability to make quick reads in and out of the pocket. The Jets’ quarterback clock is officially reset — again.
Biggest question: Can he really be a Week 1 starter? The NFL could be culture shock for Wilson, who dominated weak competition in 2020. The smart move will be to ease him in slowly, letting him learn from a vet — assuming they add one at some point. — Rich Cimini
Why they picked him: The 49ers were unafraid to make a bold trade up the board to No. 3 and equally unafraid to take the player who is the draft’s biggest mystery. That would be Lance, who fits the bill of “biggest, fastest and strongest” quarterback coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s looking for. At 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, Lance brings a powerful right arm, quick feet, quick processing skills and the maturity to handle everything Shanahan will ask him to do in his offense. Lance’s lack of experience — with 17 starts at the FCS level — is offset a bit by the fact that he spent more time under center running Shanahan staples than any of the other top quarterback prospects. Lance’s ball security is also appealing to the 49ers after he went 287 consecutive attempts without an interception in 2019. There’s plenty of risk here, but the reward could be huge.
Biggest question: Can Shanahan and the 49ers get Lance to reach his potential? That lack of experience against top competition makes Lance the biggest unknown quantity among the top quarterbacks in this draft. While Lance has drawn comparisons to Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen because of his physical traits, he also comes with accuracy questions (50% completion rate in 2020, 67% in 2019) similar to those Allen had when he arrived in the NFL. Lance’s floor might be lower than those of the other top quarterback prospects, but his ceiling might be higher, especially if he gets the chance to settle in behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a season before becoming the starter. At 20, Lance is just scratching the surface on his potential, which puts the onus on the 49ers to help him reach it. — Nick Wagoner
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida | Highlights
Why they picked him: Pitts might be the most talented non-quarterback in the draft — and perhaps the most gifted player regardless of position. He might be listed as a tight end, but he has the traits of a dominant big receiver at 6-6, 245 pounds with a reported 4.44-second 40-yard dash time. He can line up all over the formation for coach Arthur Smith, who came up as a tight ends coach. Pitts can play out wide, in the slot or in line as a tight end and be a matchup issue throughout. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot called him “a special player” Wednesday.
Biggest question: Tight ends typically don’t go this high in the draft (Vernon Davis had been earliest selection for a TE at No. 6 overall in 2006), and the transition from college to pros is a difficult one that usually takes a year. But Pitts is going to be looked at to be a Day 1 impact player, so he’ll have to defy history. The question is whether the Falcons did the right thing taking Pitts over a quarterback with Matt Ryan turning 36 on May 17. Only time will tell. — Michael Rothstein
Why they picked him: The Bengals are looking for this year’s first-round pick to be an immediate contributor. Chase showed a knack for that in his final season at LSU (84 catches, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs in 2019), when he and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow led the Tigers to a national championship. Chase is another big-play wide receiver who could open up the team’s offense.
Biggest question: Will Chase’s physical style still be successful in the NFL? Also, as good as Chase could become, Cincinnati will need its pass protection (Burrow was sacked 32 times before his season-ending knee injury) to improve in 2021 in order for Burrow and the passing attack to be effective. — Ben Baby
Why they picked him: A need for speed. Waddle is believed to be the draft’s fastest player even though he didn’t test because of a fractured ankle. With elite run-after-catch and deep-ball ability, Waddle is a good example of the game-changing playmaker the Dolphins need to help QB Tua Tagovailoa. When faced with a choice between reuniting Tagovailoa with one of his two former Alabama receivers, they leaned toward the bigger, faster and more electric Waddle over the more productive and polished DeVonta Smith.
Biggest question: Can Waddle become a complete No.1 receiver? Waddle was never the most productive receiver at Alabama, with Jerry Jeudy holding that title in 2018 and Smith dominating in 2019 and 2020. Lofty pre-draft comparisons to Tyreek Hill made headlines, but Waddle is far less advanced as a route runner and against press coverage than Hill, so he’ll have to make big jumps there to become Miami’s No.1 receiver. — Cameron Wolfe
Why they picked him: Sewell was arguably the best available option at his position throughout this entire draft class. Detroit has added another strong option, who will likely be an instant starter, to an already good offensive line to give extra protection to new quarterback Jared Goff. He fits the mold of what the Lions are building under new general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell with toughness and grit by selecting the 2019 Outland Trophy winner — which is awarded to the nation’s best interior lineman.
Biggest question: Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, so it remains to be seen how that will affect him. Although Sewell is quick on his feet, some might wonder whether his strength and technique will translate to this stage, but he seems to be the safe bet at No. 7 under the new Lions regime. — Eric Woodyard
Why they picked him: A press corner was the one position general manager Scott Fitterer believed could help the roster the most outside of tight end Kyle Pitts and left tackle Penei Sewell. In Horn, the Panthers have a physical, big corner with great reach, something Seattle believed in when building its championship teams when Fitterer was there. With injury-prone Donte Jackson entering the last year of his contract, the Panthers have a long-term solution at one of the corner spots.
Biggest question: Quarterback Sam Darnold had better be good, because the Panthers had a shot at Justin Fields, a player many believed to be at worst the third-best quarterback in the draft. This pick shows Carolina believes in Darnold and is going to give him every chance to succeed. It also shows the Panthers believe a player such as Horn can help them win now. — David Newton
Why they picked him: With the trade for Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday, the Broncos turned to their defense with their first pick of the draft. Broncos coach Vic Fangio has said consistently that the key to playing defense in the NFL is to have as many topflight cornerbacks as possible. Surtain, given his versatility as a man-to-man cornerback, or in zone and as a run defender, will be a walk-in starter. He was one of the most complete prospects on the board.
Biggest question: Many of the team’s faithful will be asking why the Broncos would pass on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones to add to the defense? The only question many scouts had about Surtain, and it is a small concern given his ability, is whether he was a “plateau” player, given the level of coaching he had received at Alabama, or did he still have room to grow in the seasons to come? For the Broncos, he was the most ready-made NFL player on the board. — Jeff Legwold
Why they picked him: With both of the top corners off the board, the Eagles moved up from No. 12 to No. 10 to grab the most prolific receiver in the draft. Smith led the NCAA in receptions (117), receiving yards (1,856) and receiving TDs (23) en route to a Heisman Trophy in 2020. With smooth route-running skills, sudden feet and sure hands, he’ll make an immediate impact in coach Nick Sirianni’s West Coast-style offense.
Biggest question: Smith’s current weight is said to be under 170 pounds. A big part of the NFL game is getting off the line of scrimmage against man-press. Although he had few issues at Alabama, it’s yet to be seen whether he can do it at the next level. — Tim McManus
11. Chicago Bears (from New York Giants)
Why they picked him: The Bears haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman retired in 1950. After the Mitchell Trubisky experiment fizzled out after four seasons, the Bears were under enormous pressure to find their next quarterback of the future. Chicago signed veteran Andy Dalton, who might open the year as the starter, but Fields will be the No. 1 sooner rather than later. Plus, the Bears had to find a way to energize their fan base, which reacted to the Dalton move with a collective yawn. Mission accomplished.
Biggest question: When will Fields start? The Bears rushed Trubisky into action before he was ready back in 2017 because the veteran they signed as their bridge quarterback (Mike Glennon) was terrible. In a perfect world, the Bears probably want Fields to sit behind Dalton for a short period of time. But the pressure to play Fields will be too great to ignore. The Bears believe they have the right quarterback room and coaching staff to develop a young quarterback. We will soon see whether they are correct. — Jeff Dickerson
12. Dallas Cowboys (from Philadelphia Eagles)
Why they picked him: Coach Mike McCarthy said the Cowboys needed to get faster on defense. Parsons ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. He was an impact player at Penn State and considered one of the best athletes in the draft. He had 19 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and 5 pass deflections in two seasons. The Cowboys were focused on corners, but Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II went right before their pick, leading them to move down in a trade with Philadelphia.
Biggest question: How will he fit with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in 2021? He has some pass-rush ability, so will the Cowboys use him in a designated pass-rusher role? Smith is on the books for a guaranteed $7.2 million in 2020, while the Cowboys are likely to pass on picking up the fifth-year option on Vander Esch, which needs to be exercised by Monday. — Todd Archer
Why they picked him: Slater has played left and right tackle, and the Chargers love his versatility. He likely will start at left tackle and will be tasked with protecting franchise quarterback Justin Herbert. He’s NFL-ready and strong at the point of attack.
Biggest question: He’s the first offensive lineman drafted by the Chargers since D.J. Fluker in 2013. He opted out of 2020, but the Chargers must have felt confident enough to select him this high in the draft. His interior pass protection against quick defensive ends is suspect. He has the tools, but the question remains how he’ll transition to the Chargers’ offense after taking the year off. — Shelley Smith
Why they picked him: If you’re going to pick a new franchise quarterback (Zach Wilson), it pays to protect that investment. Vera-Tucker, expected to replace Alex Lewis at left guard, will improve the offensive line. He and LT Mekhi Becton, last year’s No. 1 pick, will form a rock-solid left side of the line. This was a smart pick.
Biggest question: How badly did the Jets want Vera-Tucker? They traded up nine spots, giving up their two third-round picks (66 and 86) and receiving a fourth-rounder from the Vikings (143). It’s a lot to give up for a guard, but the Jets saw him as one of the safest prospects in the draft. — Rich Cimini
Why they picked him: The Patriots have been looking for Tom Brady‘s replacement since he departed in free agency, and Jones’ strengths most mirrored Brady among the top QB prospects in the draft. He’s accurate and known for his decision-making, which are two of the top things coach Bill Belichick values most at the position. He has also played some of his best football in high-stakes, high-pressure situations.
Biggest question: Jones was a one-year starter who wasn’t viewed as a first-round-caliber prospect entering 2020. He also had NFL-caliber skill-position players around him, which sparked questions as to how much of his success could be attributed to his teammates. — Mike Reiss
Why they picked him: Collins is a safe pick and drafting him gives Arizona serious depth at outside linebacker. He gives the Cardinals their outside linebacker of the future, and he can learn from Chandler Jones and Isaiah Simmons. Collins is versatile and a hard hitter, which will give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph plenty of options to use him in packages.
Biggest question: Why did they pick Collins when there were other pressing needs, and when will he get on the field? There’s now a logjam at outside linebacker with Jones, Simmons and Markus Golden, but Simmons can even play off the edge. This was a pick for the future, but Arizona needs to win now. — Josh Weinfuss
Why they picked him: The Raiders traded away starting center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Trent Brown this offseason and had a pressing need at right tackle. And, apparently, they liked Leatherwood so much that they stood pat at No. 17 to select him, rather than try to trade back, get more picks and still get him — unless there were no takers.
Biggest question: Is Leatherwood the cornerstone right tackle, or might he slide inside to right guard with the re-signed Denzelle Good moving to right tackle? Drafting a defensive player at No. 17 and then trading up from No. 48 in the second round to get a player such as Leatherwood, the fourth offensive lineman selected (though he was not a consensus top-5 O-line prospect), seemed to be a better proposition. — Paul Gutierrez
Why they picked him: The Dolphins’ biggest defensive need was an edge rusher who can win one-and-one consistently while holding up against the run. Enter Phillips. Many scouts viewed Phillips as the draft’s best edge rusher and a potential top-10 prospect in the draft if he didn’t have medical issues. He played right down the road at the University of Miami and was the most productive pass-rusher in college football last season.
Biggest question: Phillips was forced to medically retire at UCLA two years ago because of concussions and he’s had a wrist injury in the past, too. Phillips says he had two concussions in college and he was forthright with teams in the pre-draft process. The Dolphins clearly were comfortable with his medical history, but health is the biggest question for Phillips. — Cameron Wolfe
Why they picked him: Davis’ skill set and versatility made him a desired fit at linebacker. He can play inside, something the team really wanted, and he can play in its sub-packages with his ability to cover. Davis runs well, something Washington absolutely needed at linebacker, and is considered a hard worker and disciplined player — that will go a long way with coach Ron Rivera. Washington wants to build a special defense, and Davis should make the back seven better.
Biggest question: He started for only one season at Kentucky, so he’s inexperienced, and he’ll have to become more of an attacker in the run game. Rivera likes to say if you can’t stop teams on the ground, you’ll always be in bad passing situations. — John Keim
Why they picked him: “Explosive” is how an executive described the Florida playmaker. He’s an offensive weapon the Giants can use all over the field, including in the backfield. They wanted to give quarterback Daniel Jones another weapon, and Toney was the best on the board at No. 20.
Biggest question: Should the Giants have taken Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, someone they viewed as perhaps the best edge rusher in the draft? It seems the Giants were intent on getting Jones more help, whether it be a wideout such as DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle or more protection with an offensive lineman. Paye, perhaps, would have filled a bigger need. — Jordan Raanan
Why they picked him: The Colts are desperate for help in the pass-rush department after losing a combined 15.5 sacks with the departures of Denico Autry (Tennessee) in free agency and veteran Justin Houston, who remains unsigned.
Biggest question: Paye lacks consistency, and he didn’t put up eye-popping sack numbers while at Michigan, with only 11.5 sacks in three-plus seasons. But he did have the best pressure percentage of any edge rusher in the draft. — Mike Wells
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Why they picked him: Farley is one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, with a blend of size, skills and speed that makes him more than capable of being trusted in man coverage.
Biggest question: How healthy is Farley after having back surgery? If he comes back strong from injury, he is the best man-to-man cover corner in this draft. — Turron Davenport
Why they picked him: With Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater off the board at No. 14, the Vikings chose to move back nine spots in a trade with the Jets (No. 23) and picked up two third-rounders in the process while still landing one of the draft’s top-rated offensive tackles. Minnesota needed to address the offensive line early in the draft with a player who can contribute immediately for a unit that allowed 39 sacks last season. Darrisaw is a “pure left tackle,” according to general manager Rick Spielman, and his physical skills and fit in a zone-blocking scheme make him a strong candidate to fill the void at left tackle in 2021. The Vikings felt as if they needed not just an athletic blocker but someone with the size to handle speed rushers and powerful defensive linemen. Darrisaw’s 6-5, 322-pound frame, coupled with his length, is what Minnesota was looking for.
Biggest question: It appears the Vikings have four of five positions set on the offensive line with Darrisaw penciled in at left tackle and Brian O’Neill staying at right tackle, according to coach Mike Zimmer. The biggest question on the O-line this offseason has been where Ezra Cleveland will play in 2021 after he was drafted in the second round last year after three seasons playing left tackle at Boise State. The Vikings still need to find a starting left guard, a spot they could address on Day 2. But for now, a few questions seem to be closer to being answered with the selection of Darrisaw. — Courtney Cronin
Why they picked him: The league’s worst running game needed an overhaul, and the Steelers identified Harris as the best running back in the field early in the draft process. He’s an every-down back, ready for contact on Day 1. He’ll give Pittsburgh a much-needed lift on the ground.
Biggest question: Do the Steelers have the offensive line to protect him? The line lacks star power and experience up front. The one player who stands out, David DeCastro, is 31. Pittsburgh will be trusting its scheme and a deep receiving corps to provide balance for Harris. — Jeremy Fowler
Why they picked him: Urban Meyer talked about adding speed at receiver and running back, and Etienne was a dynamic playmaker at Clemson. He’s the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leader in rushing (4,952 yards), rushing TDs (70) and scrimmage TDs (78). Etienne will be involved heavily in the passing game: His 588 receiving yards last season were the second most among FBS running backs. He could spend time in the slot, too.
Biggest question: The Jaguars had bigger needs on defense — especially interior defensive line and edge rusher — and they’re gambling that they’ll be able to grab a player at those positions in the second round. James Robinson ran for more than 1,000 yards last season as an undrafted rookie and now the team has added Etienne in addition to Carlos Hyde in free agency, so there’s some uncertainty about his future. — Michael DiRocco
Why they picked him: The Browns have dedicated this offseason to bolstering a defense that ranked 19th in efficiency last year. Newsome solidifies a revamped secondary, having allowed a QBR of 3.4 as the primary defender in coverage last season, third best in the FBS.
Biggest question: Will Newsome start right away opposite Denzel Ward? He’ll have a chance, provided he can beat out 2019 second-round pick Greedy Williams, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. — Jake Trotter
Why they picked him: The Ravens give Lamar Jackson a Keenan Allen-type weapon who creates separation with slick route running, and Bateman catches everything he can get his hands on. This marks the first time in Ravens history that they have three first-round wide receivers on their roster (Bateman, Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins), which should help Baltimore avoid a third consecutive year of ranking last in catches and receiving yards as a wide receiver group.
Biggest question: Does Bateman address the need of a big target for the Ravens? Bateman measured at 6 feet at his pro day after being listed at 6-2 in college. At times, he doesn’t play big, failing to battle for contested catches. Baltimore has struggled to find a sizable wide receiver for Jackson, missing on Miles Boykin (third round, 2019) and Dez Bryant (free agent last season). — Jamison Hensley
Why they picked him: The Saints just picked up the fifth-year option for 2022 for former first-round DE Marcus Davenport on Thursday. But they lost a lot of depth on their defensive line this offseason, parting ways with DE Trey Hendrickson and DTs Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown. Turner (6-6, 268) has the size and length the Saints covet in their 4-3 DEs, and he should have the versatility to move inside to DT as well.
Biggest question: Did the Saints miss out on both a bigger need and better value? This was a surprise pick since few analysts projected Turner to go in Round 1 and since the Saints’ needs at CB, LB, WR and even QB were more glaring. Also, Turner battled injuries in college. But ESPN’s Adam Schefter just reported Thursday morning that he could be a Round 1 surprise after teams got positive medical reports. — Mike Triplett
Why they picked him: Remember when Tom Brady torched Kevin King and everyone else in the secondary not named Jaire Alexander in the NFC Championship Game? Yes, the Packers re-signed King, but it’s just a one-year deal ($5 million). This is about a long-term cornerback partner for Alexander. It gives them two speedy corners who can cover for new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Stokes allowed the second-lowest completion percentage (18.2%) and second-lowest Total QBR (1.3) in press coverage in the FBS last season. Alexander yielded a 45.9 passer rating and a completion percentage of 46% as the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats. All other Packers cornerbacks allowed a 95.9 passer rating and a completion percentage of 63% as a nearest defender.
Biggest question: It has nothing to do with Stokes. The only question that matters today, tomorrow and until the situation is resolved is what happens with Aaron Rodgers now that ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Rodgers has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the Packers? Poor Stokes. On a night when the Packers should be able to extol his virtues, they’ll instead spend most of it answering questions about Rodgers and likely providing no concrete answers. — Rob Demovsky
Why they picked him: Rousseau was highly productive during the 2019 season in which he recorded 19.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks. He has the size and length the Bills covet at defensive end and could develop into an elite edge rusher with proper coaching.
Biggest question: Can he continue to develop while playing a relatively new position? Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season and is still raw; he played safety in high school and missed time in 2018 with an ankle injury. Rousseau has potential but will need to refine certain aspects of his game to overcome his lack of quickness. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Why they picked him: After losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the Ravens addressed their biggest need by grabbing a pass-rusher with off-the-chart physical traits and a tremendously high ceiling. Oweh is explosive, rangy and fluid with rare top-end speed. How much does Baltimore like him? Oweh is the first pass-rusher drafted in the first round by the Ravens since Terrell Suggs 18 years ago.
Biggest question: How productive will Oweh be at the NFL level? Oweh is the first FBS defensive lineman in seven years to get drafted in the first round after not recording a sack in his final collegiate season. ESPN’s Todd McShay said he believes Oweh is more disruptive on tape than the stats would suggest. But the lack of sacks shows Oweh is a raw prospect. — Jamison Hensley
Why they picked him: The Bucs positioned themselves to draft the best available player by re-signing all 22 Super Bowl starters on offense and defense. But there’s a drop-off after Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, with JPP entering the last year of his contract. Tryon’s in a great spot to contribute right away to their pass rush without the pressure of starting right away.
Biggest question: The Bucs left Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari and Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore on the board. Barmore would have brought youth and versatility to an aging interior defensive line, and Ojulari might be a better run defender. But they don’t need Tryon to be a finished product. He has room and time to develop. — Jenna Laine
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