The 2021 NFL Draft is officially over, and so is our general interest in the NFL for the time being.
Hopefully, your team did well. Opinions regarding each AFC North teams’ draft class vary greatly, but really, judgments made of a draft class prior to that class actually taking the field is premature and often incorrect. There’s a recent adage that says assessing a draft class prior to three years later is pointless, and I tend to agree, having savaged a number of my own teams’ draft picks previously, only to be proven wrong later (all apologies to Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley, who’s more than justified his selection at #6 overall in 2016 and who I foolishly labeled as “soft”). Likewise, many picks are assessed highly and prove to be busts (no apologies to former Ravens S Matt Elam, one of the worst first round draft picks in NFL history). While I don’t believe the draft is a “crapshoot”, as many pundits would have you believe, the difference between boom and bust for prospects is probably much thinner than we outsiders know, and sometimes, even the most qualified scouts miss in their player assessments.
With some exceptions, the Steelers have been generally praised for their highly-telegraphed initial selection of Alabama RB Najee Harris with their first pick, but have received few accolades for the remainder of their draft, with most critics attacking their lack of depth along the offensive line. While the Steelers did address some other obvious areas of need (T, TE, C, EDGE), the general consensus seems to be that none of the picks after Harris are ready to start, although C Kendrick Green and TE Pat Freiermuth will most likely see extensive playing time in 2021. This is definitely a case of “wait and see” where the majority of this class is concerned.
The Ravens engaged in their biennial ritual of drafting a WR in the first round with their selection of Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman at #27. While Bateman may prove to be a fine addition, the logic of selecting a WR in the first round on a team that recently traded its Pro Bowl RT is somewhat dubious, especially for a team with a poor track record drafting wideouts. The rest of their draft is receiving praise, although outside of Bateman and third-round behemoth G Ben Cleveland, the team seems to have concentrated on athletic potential more than proven skill sets. The majority of this class definitely falls into the “three years later” analysis bucket, as several of them have to mature into their respective positions to make an eventual impact.
With no specific needs beyond “defense” for the first time in recent memory, the Browns had the luxury of taking the best player available, which translated to selecting Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II. Newsome will effectively provide injury insurance and secondary depth should the Browns experience another spate of broken players in the defensive backfield. They also managed to provide additional depth at every level of the defense with two LBs and a sizable (and sorely needed) DT. Fan and critic response has been positive, as the Browns appear to have focused on depth, which may have been their biggest weakness in 2020.
The Bengals settled their only real draft question in short order with the selection of the draft’s consensus best WR Ja’Marr Chase at #5 overall, who will team with holdovers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to round out a formidable receiving corps for hopefully-recovered QB Joe Burrow, who appears on track to start the season as scheduled. Despite Burrow’s injury and frequent battering last year, the team felt confident enough in their current offensive line to bypass standout LT Penei Sewell, a decision that will have to play out over the next few seasons to fully know whether selecting Chase instead was the right move. The second-round selection of T Jackson Carman should dull the urgency somewhat, although it remains to be seen if he can outplay holdover T Jonah Williams or free agent pickup T Reilly Reiff for a starting job, at least right away. Reviews like this one are the norm for the Bengals this year, and deservedly so.
So let’s meet again in three years. Maybe the dust and our assessments of this class will have finally settled by then.
Enjoy the week!