It is time to cure everyone’s football hangover and desire for yet more football by letting everyone know which teams scored the first touchdowns of the 2021 season during this past weekend’s NFL Draft.
Every year there are more players to evaluate than there is time, which is why teams tend to have ten or more college scouts to cover the entire country. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, out of the 22 evaluations I did this year for Draft Diamonds, it took me around 6 hours to evaluate and write each report. Math was my absolute worst class in school (because I was too busy studying the sports page underneath my math book), but that represents 132 hours (a little over three normal work weeks). That may not sound like much, but I also hold down a 60 an hour work week job on the side, write for Sports Illustrated ALL LIONS, and am on a number of podcasts as well. I tend to put in around 70-90 hours a week and think about a strategy on how to become a GM next season during my spare time. However, out of the players I did evaluate for Draft Diamonds and the other media outlets I am involved with, here are the teams I feel did the best.
New GM Terry Fontenot and Head Coach Arthur Smith struck gold with hybrid TE/WR Kyle Pitts from the Florida Gators. He is a cross between Aaron Hernandez (I have his autograph tattooed on my right hand) and Shannon Sharpe. He has the speed of a wide receiver in the body of a tight end – and his strong alpha male personality and chip on his shoulder makes him even tougher to deal with. Look for Pitts to dominate against smaller corners and linebackers who cannot run or change direction as quickly as he can. In the fifth round, the Falcons scored again when they selected return specialist (CB) Avery Williams from Boise State. As the first special teams scout in NFL history (my 3rd season with the Jets), and someone who grew up learning about the importance of special teams from Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs, this will turn out to be a big time selection (9 TD returns at Boise). The Falcons have not had a return guy like this since Deion Sanders. He can also block kicks. Williams loves special teams and aspires to be a special teams coordinator someday. I had the chance to personally interview him and I loved what I saw in him – on film and his personality. Williams has the balance, vision and instincts to get Falcons fans out of their seats on game day.
The ‘Phins landed one of the biggest catches in the draft when they selected Jaylen Waddle, my WR1. He is not only the best pure football player in the draft, but he also has the best YAC (yards after the catch ability) I have seen in 40 years of watching the game outside of legendary receivers Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Gary Clark. Waddle is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball. He excels at all three route levels (short, medium and deep) and he has a frightening second gear that leaves corners in the dust. Waddle is also one heck of a punt returner.
The cats in the southeast picked off the best corner in the draft – hands down. Jaycee Horn is a superior talent compared to “Bend, but don’t break” Patrick Surtain II and he gets the nod over the rigidity in Caleb Farley’s hips. Horn looks like a skilled receiver in an aggressive, athletic and physical corner’s body. He is a true shut-down, lock-down corner, which was evident in all the games I watched. Only Auburn challenged him and they paid the price as Horn turned in one of the very finest games I have ever seen from a corner – he put on a clinic. Horn changes the complexion of the Panthers defense and eliminates one side of the field for opponents.
Never in my lifetime did I think I would see the Dallas Cowboys help out the Philadelphia Eagles, but that is exactly what happened when they helped them trade up to grab WR Devonta Smith. Not only did Dallas fail to get one of the top corners, but by helping Philadelphia get Smith, it will cost them every single time the Eagles are on their schedule going forward. Smith has the longest arms I have ever seen on a receiver, and he knows how to use them – along with his hands. He is a dangerous receiver who destroyed Ohio State in the National Championship game. He does a great job setting up corners and making them react to him and he changes directions quickly and crisply at the breakpoints of routes. Smith also has 4.27 speed. Hurts-to-Smith. Get used to hearing that.
Thanks to the hype machine, my QB1 fell right into the laps of DA BEARS. Within the first two minutes of watching QB Justin Fields on film, I knew he was dramatically better and more pro-ready than Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. Fields could very well turn out to be the best QB in franchise history – he has that type of ability. He looks smooth and intelligent in the pocket and he is a legit dual-threat every time he takes a snap – which is bad news for NFL defenses and their game plans. Fields has an NFL arm and more importantly he has phenomenal accuracy. He places the ball very well. Expect him to replace QB Andy Dalton early and lead the Bears to the playoffs his rookie season. He is Kyler Murray, only he is 6-3 instead of 5-10.
Los Angeles Chargers
The lightning bolts quietly scored the top LT in the draft by selecting Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern. It is not even close. While Slater had “the less sexy name,” thanks to the hype machine, he has dramatically better hand and footwork than “the other guy,” who I project will eventually be moved to guard in Detroit. Slater is a true technician who won all the snaps I watched on film. This guy is a 10-15 year starter who very well may end up in Canton someday. It is funny, because when I was watching him, “Jim Lachey,” popped into my mind as a comparison. Lachey was one of the best to ever do it and ironically, he too played for the Chargers. Funny how it works out. If I had to guess, one of the happiest guys in Los Angeles has got to be the equipment guy for the Chargers because QB Justin Herbert’s jersey will be a lot cleaner with Slater holding down the fort on his blindside.
New England Patriots
Once again Bill Belichick and Nick Saban outsmarted the rest of the league by getting my QB2 up to New England. In the opening of my pre-draft scouting report about Mac Jones (when I also correctly predicted he would end up in New England), I wrote, “Prolific, decisive, and pro-ready traditional pocket passer field general type with a good arm, touch, and accuracy. Jones is a QB who absolutely thrived in the biggest of games at the highest level of college competition under the brightest of lights.” Look for the washed-up Cam Newton to give way to Jones sooner than later and look for Jones to lead New England to the playoffs his rookie season. Also, at the same time, look for teams and fans across the league to be kicking themselves – again. I absolutely laugh when I see people on social media say Jones is just a system QB surrounded by great players. Correction, Jones is the one who made everyone look great last season and it appears the greatest coach in the history of the NFL agrees with me.
The way I see it, Jaycee Horn is better, but I liked my CB2, Caleb Farley as well. I had this to say about him in my evaluation, “Dynamic game-changing pure cover corner with good height, play-making ability, recovery speed, short-area burst, some tightness in his hips who reluctantly provides support outside of his assignments.” Farley is a guy who is in the mold of former NFL CB DeAngelo Hall and he is somebody who has gone through and overcomes the gut-wrenching loss of his mother to cancer. A former receiver who turned corner in college, Farley has excellent ball skills and instincts when the pass is in the air. He also shows the attitude and confidence it takes to succeed. If he stays healthy, he will turn out to be one of the better ones in the league.
The altitude is pretty high and so are the chances of the Broncos winning more games after they landed two big-time players in the 2021 NFL Draft. First, they traded up and got RB Javonte Williams, who is my early pick for Rookie of the Year. He is an absolutely punishing runner who is a legit downfield receiving threat as well. Williams delivered some devastating shots on defensive backs that reminded me of how Walter Payton used to run the ball back in the day. A good modern-day comparison would be Aaron Jones (GB), but only better. In the third round, Denver turned around and got one of the biggest steals in this draft, C/G Quinn Meinerz out of Wisconsin Whitewater. You have never seen anything like his workout film. Who could not love a guy like that? Plus, his nickname is “The Gut.” He is an offensive linemen who could have played in any era and a guy like John Madden would have gone crazy for if he was still broadcasting games. Outside of the fanfare, Meinerz is a guy who burst onto the scene and kicked ass at the Senior Bowl practices against top 100 prospects, which is what really catapulted him in the eyes of league evaluators. In my evaluation, I wrote, “He sets up well after the snap, and sinks his hips well. Concrete anchor. Nobody is going to Bull-rush this guy. Long arms and lightning-fast hands that strike like a stun gun.” I personally had the opportunity to interview “Mr. Pancake,” as I like to call him – and he is exactly the type of offensive lineman I would have jumped out of my chair for if I was pulling the trigger for a team. Do not be surprised if you see this aggressive mauler in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
In the third round, Jacksonville scored a real ball hawk for their secondary when they intercepted safety Andre Cisco from Syracuse. He chalked up a whopping 13 interceptions and 14 passes defended (2018-2020) and he looked every bit as good on film as his stats read. Cisco also has an aggressive and attacking nature and he can roll down into the box and light things up. Look for Cisco to start and be a high-impact player on the Jaguars’ defense.
While I will never understand how the underachieving LB Micah Parsons got selected before the dynamic (LB) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but the Browns sure will be happy it worked out that way. Kudos to the Browns organization for looking outside the box and the measurables and selecting this dynamic play-maker. Look for Owusu-Koramoah to become the top cover LB in the NFL. He is the best cover LB I have seen in 40 years. He is like a lightning fast safety trapped in the body of a linebacker. Notre Dame even put him on receivers a couple of times. He is that good. In the mold of Jaylon Smith (DAL), Owusu-Koramoah can also close fast when blitzing.
Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC Champions landed a linebacker who hits like a sledgehammer when they got Nick Bolton. I wrote in my evaluation, “Bolton is what I call lightning in a bottle. He is dynamic, instinctual, athletic, explosive, and downright nasty. Bolton has All-Pro written all over him. Guys like this do not come along every day, and they are tough to pass up. Bolton delivers some wicked shots. He changes the complexion of a defense.” The Chiefs defense just got even better by adding this play-maker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The rich just got richer as the defending champs landed my QB3 when they stole Kyle Trask in the second round. I had him rated pre-draft ahead of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. I watched every single pass and run Trask made over a four day period of time and took pages of notes. This is exactly the type of player a lot of scouts will miss because while it is not always pretty, Trask gets the job done. Trask is an extremely instinctual quarterback who throws some absolutely beautiful touch passes. He is also loaded with intangibles. He reminds me of a cross between Tim Tebow and Brett Favre and he is someone who actually played somebody on his schedule, which is more than I can say for Wilson or Lance. Suddenly, the unorthodox Trask finds himself in the best position of any rookie QB, sitting and learning from Tom Brady as he awaits his chance. I would not be at all surprised if Trask ends up having the best career of any QB in this draft class. I want to say a special thank you to Head Coach Bruce Arians for affirming what I saw on film.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.