NFL Draft First-Round Winners and Losers

Now that draft season has come and gone it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers of round one.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

Despite the Mac Jones smoke screen, Trey Lance ended up being the guy for the 49ers. I believe that it was Lance all along as he was the most talented quarterback available behind Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Lance’s ceiling is incredibly high as a dual threat quarterback that has the ability to make plays with his arm and legs. Additionally, he fits Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast system that incorporates a lot of pre-snap reads and motion. 

Draft Winners and Losers: The 49ers select the third best quarterback prospect in the draft

Despite giving up a large amount of draft capital to move up to number three, the 49ers now have their quarterback of the future. It appears likely that Lance will take a developmental year as a backup behind Jimmy Garoppolo this season. In my opinion, it would be foolish for San Francisco to trade Garoppolo before the season unless they received an offer that blew their socks off.

Loser: Carolina Panthers

This is not a Jaycee Horn bash. Horn and Patrick Surtain II were neck and neck as the most promising cornerback prospects in the draft. Horn exited the board first and was also the first defender selected in round one. Horn is great. The Panthers are losers here because of the front office passing up on Justin Fields. It is hard for me to believe that Darnold will improve to become a better quarterback than Justin Fields. 

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People will tell you until they’re blue in the face that Sam Darnold was poorly coached by Adam Gase, that he had a horrible offensive line, and that there were never any weapons surrounding him in New York. Undeniably, there is truth in all of those statements. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Darnold has provided no evidence that he might become a franchise quarterback. Additionally, Darnold’s cap hit against the Panthers this year is a little less than $5 million. To make matters worse they picked up his fifth-year option and are now on the hook for $18.9 million in 2022 even if he plays horribly this season. Hope it works out for the #KeepPounding crew.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles somehow snuck away with the best Alabama wide receiver at number ten. It was quite a reach when the Dolphins drafted Jaylen Waddle at number six. If you run the tape back and watch, it was clear that DeVonta Smith was the more polished receiver coming out of Alabama. Waddle is dynamic with the ball in his hands and possesses blazing speed, but he’s still a bit rough around the edges as a pass-catcher. There’s no question in my mind that Smith and Waddle should have been picked in reverse order.

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Mr. Hesiman is headed to the Eagles who are in desperate need of a true number one receiver. Smith should be able to come in and immediately be a playmaker on the outside for Philadelphia. He joins Jalen Reagor who the Eagles drafted late in the first round last season. He battled injury throughout the year, but was also disappointing considering where he was drafted. The wide receiver trio in Philly is now expected to be Smith, Reagor, and Travis Fulgham. Smith will also be rejoining former Alabama teammate Jalen Hurts. The two played together in 2017 and 2018 before Hurts transferred to Oklahoma. This pick was a big win for Philly.

NFL Draft Winners and Losers: DeVonta Smith fills an immediate need for the Eagles

Winner: Dallas Cowboys

While the Cowboys had more of a pressing need in the secondary, they were still able to draft an extremely talented linebacker in Micah Parsons. The trio of Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith has the potential to be one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL.

Winner: The Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears have been a quarterback-deprived franchise since 2015 when Jay Cutler put up some respectable numbers. The Mitchell Trubisky era is finally over, and the Bears now have their quarterback of the future in Justin Fields. However, acquiring Fields didn’t come cheaply as the Bears traded their 20th pick, a fifth-rounder this year, and a first and fourth next year to get him. 

Draft Winners and Losers: The Bears finally have their quarterback of the future

Read More: Bears Wide Receiver Allen Robinson is so Good He’s QB Proof

Chicago’s head coach, Matt Nagy, is known for being a creative play-caller that uses a lot of pre-snap motion and RPO’s to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. Fields excelled in the RPO game at Ohio State and that skill should translate nicely to the NFL. Nagy will finally have a quarterback that has the skill to execute his offense.

Loser: Las Vegas Raiders

The draft’s winners and losers in the first round would not be complete without some entertainment from the Raiders. The Raiders reached again in the first round with their selection of Alex Leatherwood. This is starting to become an annual draft experience like no other with the Raiders. Past reaches have included Clelin Ferrell, Damon Arnette, and arguably Henry Ruggs III. Leatherwood is a fine player that has the versatility to play guard and right tackle at the next level. The Raiders selected him because he fits the mold of the offensive linemen they look for. He’s massive and is extremely physical in the run game. The Raiders struggled running to the right side last season, Leatherwood should be able to improve that.

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While Leatherwood may be a fine player in the NFL, it doesn’t change the fact that his selection was still a reach. Christian Darrisaw was still available and it was a fairly unanimous opinion that he was a more sought-after tackle prospect than Leatherwood. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden better hope that Leatherwood exceeds the expectations of most draft experts or this selection might be one that they aren’t able to live down. 

Loser: New York Giants

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman did a solid job of trading down and acquiring draft capital when he flipped the 11th pick to the Bears. However, he took that 20th pick and turned around to select Florida receiver Kadarius Toney. It makes sense that the Giants would want to pair a speed receiver alongside Kenny Golladay, but Toney was a reach at 20. Wide receivers still available at the time were Rashod Bateman and Elijah Moore. I would have preferred both of those players over Kadarius Toney if I were a Giants fan. Toney still has a bit of polishing to do as a route runner and at Florida he reaped the rewards of Kyle Pitts being consistently double covered.

Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars selection of Travis Etienne at number 26 made little to no sense. The Jaguars have the services of James Robinson who rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns as an undrafted free agent last season. While Etienne may shuffle in from time to time on first and second down, he pegs to be more of a third-down back in the NFL. Etienne’s value was more in line with a selection somewhere in the middle of the second round. Drafting running backs in the first round usually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This pick is even more head-scratching than most first-round running back selections though.

NFL Draft Winners and Losers: Travis Etienne joins his college teammate in Jacksonville

Winner: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens stuck it out at 27 and drafted receiver Rashod Bateman from the University of Minnesota. Some wondered if this pick might be an edge rusher, but their need to get Lamar Jackson some help outside was more pressing. In a team needs article I wrote for the Ravens I had Bateman going to them at 27, and I’m a huge fan of this pick. Bateman’s physicality at the point of the catch and in the open field will provide Lamar Jackson a receiving weapon that has not been present in Baltimore for the last couple of years. He should pay dividends almost immediately.