The 2021 NFL Draft is well and truly done at this point, but there is still much ink to spill as we parse out the various storylines from a wild draft weekend and what they could mean going forward.
While the ultimate proof of what the 32 teams did will be in the results between now and 2024, Mike Sando of The Athletic polled executives from around the NFL on their reactions to the draft. Friday he released the “unfiltered” opinions (subscription required) of what those anonymous executives on what each team accomplished during the draft.
How do they feel about the moves made by the New York Giants and the rest of the NFC East?
On the Giants’ draft
The story of the Giants’ draft really is the team maneuvering the draft board and acquiring a future first round draft pick. Just before the draft kicked off, we heard that the Giants were targeting Alabama receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, as well as cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn. With each of those four players going in the seven picks before the Giants on the clock at 11th overall. So they were faced with the question of whether to take Micah Parsons or Rashawn Slater (or whoever was the next-highest rated player on their board), or trade down.
At least one executive believes that the course the Giants took signaled that they weren’t sure on the players left on the board after the first 10 picks.
“Anyone is willing to give you a future one, you better really know about the guy you are going to take if you’re going to turn it down,” an exec said. “That is hard to pass up.”
“They got a one and they got Toney, that is fine,” another exec said. “Those two will track. Would you rather have Toney and next year’s one or DeVonta Smith? Time will tell on that.”
Time will certainly tell. As we’ll find out later, at least one executive believes the Giants narrowly missed out on the second-best player in the draft in Smith. How the move looks will also depend on how Chicago finishes. Sando reports that multiple executives believe that the the pick could turn into a top-10 selection in 2022, though it will also look significantly different if Fields becomes a franchise quarterback.
Multiple execs said they thought the pick from Chicago could be in the top 10, welcome currency for the Giants if they find themselves in the quarterback market.
“The Giants are under the radar a little bit,” an exec said. “The back (Saquon Barkley) is coming back, they got Kenny Golladay, the defense is already good. If they can score 23 points per game, they’ll be in the mix.”
On the rest of the NFC East
Speaking personally, I have a love-hate relationship with the Cowboys’ draft. I love it, because I very much wanted the Giants to draft any (or all) of Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Osa Odighizuwa. I hate it because I really like all of those players and the Cowboys have an annoying tendency to draft players I really want to be Giants.
Several executives agreed with me on Parsons, though (in a trend we saw several times), wondered why Dallas only traded back to 12th overall instead of back to 20th with the Bears.
“Parsons was my highest-graded defensive player in this draft,” an exec said. “If they liked him that much, then so be it. But they could have done the Bears trade there. Would that have been interesting to them?”
“Parsons will be phenomenal,” an evaluator said. “He is like a chess piece. Bruce Irvin was explosive and muscular, but stiff. This guy can drop into coverage. On passing downs, you can use him like Yannick Ngakoue. I think he’s just getting started, and his best days are ahead of him.”
The question of where Dallas will play Parsons did arise, as they will likely be adopting something like the Seahawks’ “Hybrid” defense, which melds 3-4 and 4-3 personnel and concepts.
A GM said he saw Parsons as a 3-4 outside linebacker coming out of Penn State. A personnel director thought Parsons would play SAM linebacker, rushing the passer in sub packages.
“They might see him playing more ‘Will’ and ‘Mike’ linebacker,” the GM said. “I think he would be a helluva Leo. Just really talented. It’ll be interesting to see where he will end up.”
Sando begins the Eagles’ section by relaying a potential alternate universe in which the Eagles make a number of trades back, including the one executed by the Giants with the Bears.
In an alternate universe, the Eagles would have resisted trading up two spots to select DeVonta Smith, who some see as the best receiver in this draft. Philly instead would have traded the 12th pick to Chicago for the Bears’ 2022 first-rounder, plus a couple mid-round picks. The Eagles in this alternate universe would enter next offseason with their own first-round selection, one from Chicago, another acquired from Miami for moving back from six to 12 and one from Indy, contingent on Carson Wentz meeting playing time thresholds.
“They would have had four first-round picks next year and could have gotten Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson,” an exec said. “I mean, I can’t think of a team that has ever had four first-round picks in one year. They literally would be in the driver’s seat to get the first overall pick if a quarterback is there or get one of these veterans who will be available next year. Who could offer something better than four ones?”
The Giants might be “livid” that Philadelphia sacrificed a third-round pick to jump them for DeVonta Smith, but I think Giants fans might prefer this reality to one that includes Rodgers or Wilson quarterbacking Philly.
Speaking of Smith, one executive has high praise for the receiver the Eagles jumped the Giants to acquire, saying:
“I thought DeVonta Smith was better than Jaylen Waddle,” an exec said. “I thought he was the best player in the draft next to Trevor Lawrence.”
The Washington Football Team had the dubious honor of “winning” the NFC East in 2020, and therefore missed out on a number of opportunities to address their quarterback position or add to their offense. Instead, they used their first round pick to add one of draft’s most explosive linebackers to an already-scary defensive front.
“I understand why they took the linebacker, and I thought he was a first-round talent,” an exec said. “Me personally, I couldn’t take a linebacker that high, but I think they’ve done a good job overall.”
Washington did, however circle back to the offense on the second day of the draft, adding a much-needed offensive tackle, receiver, and then tight end in the fourth round. Those moves were appreciated by the executives, and Washington could be heading in the right direction if they can get their quarterback situation figured out.
Execs liked receiver Dyami Brown in the third round for Washington. In a draft packed with non-traditional gadgety receivers such as Kadarius Toney, Rondale Moore and Tutu Atwell, Brown provides traditional straight-line speed to a receiving corps featuring Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. One exec compared Brown to Michael Gallup, the Cowboys receiver with 1,950 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
“You respect the way they’ve gone about building that roster,” an exec said. “They can get after the passer and then you look at those vertical threats on offense, they are better.”
On Justin Fields
The Giants’ trade back with the Chicago Bears came up in quotes regarding several teams, usually with the executive pondering why that team didn’t take the “Chicago deal”.
Considering how big of a role in the Giants draft Fields has played, we should probably take a moment to look at how the polled executives felt about him. After all, this deal could look significantly different if Fields emerges as another Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahommes.
“I had Fields ahead of Zach Wilson and Trey Lance,” an exec said. “The body of work was certainly better. Trey Lance requires a lot of development. The key for Fields will be putting some weapons around him and featuring his mobility. The guy is a running back with the skillset to play quarterback. You get the run game going, with his ability to execute play-action and hit the deep ball, and he is very intriguing.”
This is in line with our own Mark Schofield’s ranking of the quarterbacks. And in a conversation with Dan Pizzuta, he told me Fields was his “QB 1.5”, or only just behind Trevor Lawrence thanks to Fields’ absurd 67:9 career touchdown to interception ratio (as well as 68.4 completion percentage and 9.2 yards per attempt).
However, Fields’ draft stock also took a big hit for some following OSU’s loss to Alabama in the National Championship game.
“I like Fields better than Mac Jones but feel Mac Jones is set up for better success in New England,” an exec said. “Chicago just lost their first-round pick from next year, they are not in a great cap situation, their offense kind of stinks, their run game stinks. I don’t know if they have a Greg Roman-type coach to maximize the skills of their quarterback.”
“Fields is tough and has grit, and I think he will play through things and come out the other side,” an evaluator said, “but I don’t see the pocket awareness or instincts as consistently. When you don’t react as naturally, your talent has a harder time taking over. I do think he is eventually a starter, but what level of starter, we will find out. Chicago really didn’t have much choice, right?”
Sando reiterated the belief among “several executives” that Chicago could finish with a top-10 pick in 2022 several times. The Giants will want to keep an eye on Fields and his development over the course of the 2021 season. Despite a less-than-ideal quarterback situation with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, Chicago still managed to eke out an 8-8 record. And considering the potential turmoil in the NFC North (particulary if Aaron Rodgers’ career arc takes him from succeeding Brett Favre to succeeding Alex Trebek), the opportunity could be there for the Bears to win the NFCN if Fields performs anything like he did at Ohio State.
As with everything else about the draft, we’ll just have to see how it all plays out.