Redrafting the 2021 First Round

Updated: Sep 6

Redrafting the 2021 First Round

Written By: Aaron Ussery


Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Well in this case, hindsight is for 2021. With nearly a calendar year removed from the 2021 NFL Draft, you can't help but wonder what teams would do differently with the knowledge they have now.


Wonder no more! Instead, read on as I take you back through the 2021 draft's first round and see what might have gone differently if teams had a second chance.


Note that, in order to keep things simple, I have stuck with the final order for the first round -- including the trades that happened the day of.


Without further ado, let's get into it.

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1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson


Actual Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson


Now obviously T-Law's rookie season didn't go according to plan. But it's still a little too early to hit the proverbial AZ-5 button on him as a player. "The Athletic" put out a great article earlier this week highlighting the details of Urban Meyer's ineptitude.

So, let's see what Lawrence does in a marginally better working environment before we start losing our minds. He was seen as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck for a reason. All of the traits that made him special, both tangible and intangible, are still there.

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2. New York Jets - Mac Jones, QB, Alabama


Actual Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU


I know what you're thinking. "Well if Lawrence gets a pass for a bad rookie season, why doesn't Zach Wilson?" Well ... Wilson wasn't the same prospect. He came into the league with a ton of questions, particularly regarding his tendency to overextend plays to the point of disaster. And guess what? That was a huge problem for him in 2021, particularly in the early going.


Mac Jones, on the other hand, had the best season of the rookie QBs by a fair margin. He played clean, simple, and mistake-free football the entire way through. The Jets ultimately want to employ a Kyle Shanahan-style offense, meaning lots of outside zone rushing concepts and a passing game that mainly works as a counter to that. The QB isn't supposed to do much in this system other than make the right reads and take what the defense gives him. That's precisely what Zach Wilson struggles with, and what Mac Jones excels at.

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3. San Francisco 49ers - Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State


Actual Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State


I'll be honest, I had no clue what to make of this one. I think the 49ers got roughly what they expected from Lance as a rookie. Which is, to say, nothing. Lance was only 20 years old when he was drafted, he only had 17 starts in college, lost essentially all of his 2020 season to COVID-19 restrictions, and played for Division-II school to boot. In other words, he wasn't supposed to be ready.


So with that in mind, I don't think that the Niners would change their mind here. The plan is still to start Lance in 2022 after having a season of relative "grooming", and it seems like nothing has really happened to push them off of that.

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4. Atlanta Falcons - Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU


Actual Pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida


The Falcons were looking a bit thin at wide receiver last offseason after dealing away Julio Jones. This was obviously before Calvin Ridley stepped away during through the season.


But now? Ridley is suspended at least a year for betting on games, and thin doesn't even describe the state of the receiver depth chart. It's basically air. It's transparent. I'm not even sure it exists. The Falcons are in dire need of a new WR1. And look, I understand that Kyle Pitts basically is a receiver. But despite how good he was as a rookie (and he was very good!), Ja'Marr Chase was just flat out better.

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5. Cincinnati Bengals - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern


Actual Pick: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU


I think we can say the Penei Sewell vs. Ja'Marr Chase debate landed firmly in Chase's favor. The wideout set rookie receiving records, performed at an All-Pro level, and played a tremendous part in getting the Bengals to the Super Bowl. If the Bengals could draft him again, there's no question they'd do it.


But alas... he is not here.


Instead, the Bengals wind up with the best rookie left tackle from this year's class. Which ironically was not Penei Sewell, but rather Rashawn Slater. He was a second team All-Pro as a rookie (at a position where that almost never happens), and his presence would have helped the Bengals stabilize their offensive line during their playoff run. For how good Joe Burrow was last season, imagine what he would have been like if he wasn't the most sacked QB in the NFL!

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6. Miami Dolphins - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon


Actual Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama


Miami is obviously now hoping they've solved their LT problem with the signing of Terron Armstead, but let's not forget they had a chance to do so last season. And for much cheaper, too.


Jaylen Waddle was a fine addition to the offense, and it's certainly exciting to now imagine him paired with Tyreek Hill. But I still can't help but scratch my head at Miami's choice to pass on Penei Sewell in favor of him. Sewell took a bit to adjust last season, but once he got his feet under him his play was absolutely superb. He looks well on track to become the caliber of player that everyone projects him as. And that caliber of player is one that you don't pass up a second time.

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7. Detroit Lions - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida


Actual Pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon


With the likes of Chase, Sewell, and Slater off the board, Detroit opts to go with the best player available in this redraft. And with the upmost respect to Micah Parsons, I think that's still most certainly Kyle Pitts.


There's not much to overthink here. Detroit was, and still is, in full-on rebuild mode. That means accumulating as many good players as you can. Yes TJ Hockenson is already on the roster, but why not have both? There's plenty of targets to go around, and Pitts has the ability to function as a true number one X receiver despite the tight end moniker. He'd give the Lions' offense the type of dynamic weapon that it currently lacks.

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8. Carolina Panthers - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State


Actual Pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina


I think we can safely bet that Carolina would take a QB if they could have a do-over. Justin Fields, like Lawrence and Wilson before him, had a lot of growing pains during his rookie season. But the little nuggets of stellar play that he showcased have given Bears fans hope for the QB position.


Think about that for a second. Bears fans currently have hope at the QB position.


That's certainly more than you can say for Matt Rhule right now, as he remains knee-deep in a Sam Darnold/PJ Walker quagmire. It remains unclear to me why Carolina didn't go with him the first time around, but in this redraft it's an easy choice. Sorry Chicago.

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9. Denver Broncos - Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State


Actual Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama


It's hard to be upset with how Patrick Surtain II performed in 2021, but you can't argue with what Parsons did. He was one of the best defensive players in the league, period. He made in impact in nearly every aspect of defensive football - from his pass rushing savvy to his range in coverage to his instincts when sniffing out gap assignments. He was just spectacular in every way.


Denver nabs him here, creating a frightening pass rush tandem alongside Bradley Chubb.

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10. Philadelphia Eagles - Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama


Actual Pick: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama


And the Eagles say "thank you very much."


Look, there was nothing wrong with Devonta Smith last season. He performed exactly as advertised, and you'd figure with some more consistent QB play he's capable of even more. But what ultimately got the Eagles shredded in the postseason was their inept pass coverage. They still lack a true number two corner opposite of Darius Slay. Patrick Surtain II would put a stop to that problem instantly. He's just simply too good to pass up.

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11. Chicago Bears - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU


Actual Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State


Look, the Bears traded up to this spot to get a QB. And a QB they shall have.


Of the four first round QBs who actually logged starts for their teams last season, Wilson had some of the ugliest overall performances (throwing 4 interceptions against the Patriots in Week 3, for example.)


But it wasn't all bad! In fact, Wilson's game looked a lot more stable after he returned from his mid-season knee injury. Only two of his 11 interceptions on the year came following his Week 11 return. It's reasonable to think that, as the game slows down for him more, he can continue to progress towards his ceiling. A ceiling that is still very, very high. That's enough to convince the Bears to take a flier on him here.

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12. Dallas Cowboys - Creed Humphrey, IOL, Oklahoma


Actual Pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State


With no Parsons on the board, the Cowboys go in a different direction. As players like Tyron Smith and Zach Martin continue to age, the team needs to make some moves to reinvigorate this once-vaunted offensive line.


Creed Humphrey would help with that. He may have had the best 2021 season of any player at his position, playing like a seasoned pro right out of the bat. He already knows how to make blocking adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He plays with near perfect pad level every single snap. And he has very impressive movement skills when asked to get lateral and down the field. Tyler Biadasz has been a serviceable starter, but there's no question Humphrey would be an upgrade.

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13. Los Angeles Chargers - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech


Actual Pick: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern


The Chargers were obviously over the moon when Rashawn Slater fell to them last year, but even with him not an option they still have a chance to find a long-term starter at left tackle.


Injuries kept Christian Darrisaw out of the lineup for Minnesota throughout training camp and early on in the season -- but once he took the job over in Week 6, he performed very well. He was a rock steady presence for the Vikings, allowing only five sacks and committing just three penalties on the year. He may never hit the level of Slater or Sewell, but he still looks like natural left tackle who can play at a plus-starter level for a long time - similar to the likes of Ryan Clady or Duane Brown.

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14. New York Jets - Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama


Actual Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC


Alijah Vera-Tucker was rock solid last season, and likely will be for a long time. That's exactly what you should get from a first round guard. But it's also tough to ignore how depleted the Jets offense looked towards the back half of last season. It's obvious that Joe Douglas believes in building through the trenches, but that becomes harder to defend when your team also doesn't have a single player log more than 550 receiving yards in a 17 week season...


Now some of that is also due to Elijah Moore's season-ending quad injury. He was a very good player when healthy, but why not take someone even better? Jaylen Waddle essentially was the Dolphins' offense in 2021, proving to be a reliable crutch for his former college teammate Tua Tagovailoa. Here, he has a chance to do the same -- also with one of his former college QBs following the Jets' selection of Mac Jones.

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15. New England Patriots - Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama


Actual Pick: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama


The Patriots strike out on the first round QBs from last season. Would that mean they try and reach on someone like Davis Mills? Would that even be a reach, given how Mills played last season?


Maybe not... but I think that with Devonta Smith available in this scenario the Patriots would have a tough time passing on him. They may also have a tough time passing to him with no clear starting QB on the roster (Cam Newton doesn't count), but at least Smith would give them the bonafide number one wideout they've been sorely lacking. Not to mention he'd be a tremendous culture fit.

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16. Arizona Cardinals - Trey Smith, IOL, Tennessee


Actual Pick: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa


For the second year in a row, the Cardinals spent a first round pick on a "hybrid" style linebacker. For the second year in a row, the team spent the rest of the offseason talking about all the exciting things they were going to do with him.

And for the second year in a row, it turned out the Cardinals actually had no idea what to do with him.


With Zaven Collins having been a disappointment, I'm forced to point the Cardinals in a different direction. Trey Smith was fantastic for the Chiefs, starting 17 of 17 games and only allowing 4 sacks on the year. Kyler Murray struggles with pressure right in his face, for obvious reasons. Having someone like Smith upfront to help keep the likes of Aaron Donald and Vita Vea at bay would do wonders for helping the Cardinals seriously compete in the NFC.

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17. Las Vegas Raiders - Jevon Holland, S, Oregon


Actual Pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama


I'm not sure people realize just how good Jevon Holland was last season. He was an absolute force in the Dolphins secondary, accounting for 48 solo tackles, two sacks, and a total of five turnovers.


That's exactly the sort of presence the Raiders secondary was largely missing heading into the 2021 draft, especially at safety. The team used three draft picks at the position in 2021 (Trevon Moehrig, Divine Deablo, and Tyree Gillespie). Since they were clearly in the market, why not give them the best rookie safety from the class?

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18. Miami Dolphins - Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami


Actual Pick: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami


There's not much to hate about how this one turned out. Phillips took a bit to come on during 2021, but was an overall sturdy presence at EDGE rusher for the Dolphins. He was able to maintain consistent QB pressure throughout the season, and managed to log 8.5 sacks on the year. He looks like someone who can stick in the league as a very good pass rusher for a long time, and those are the types of players you want to keep around.

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19. Washington Commanders - Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern


Actual Pick: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky


Washington's defense didn't live up to expectations last season, due in no small part to underwhelming play from the back seven. LB Jamin Davis simply didn't look ready in 2021, with things appearing to move way too fast for him. At the same time, CB William Jackson III was a huge disappointment after signing a massive deal in free agency.


It's clear at this point that some reshuffling is needed, and I think if Washington had a do over they'd love to grab someone like Greg Newsome II. The Northwestern product was one of the top rookie defensive performers last season, and his presence in the Commanders' secondary would have drastically improved their woeful pass coverage.

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20. New York Giants - Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC


Actual Pick: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida


I'm not sure if you guys knew this, but the New York Giants offensive line wasn't very good last season. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. In fact, it hasn't been good since guys like David Diehl and Shaun O'Hara were suiting up.


In this redraft, I'm going to go ahead and do something about that. Vera-Tucker looked right at home playing left guard for the Jets last season, starting 16 of 17 games on the year and only allowing a total of two sacks. Plugging him in next to the improving Andrew Thomas would go a long way towards finally stabilizing things up front.

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21. Indianapolis Colts - Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia


Actual Pick: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan


Indy had a lot of trouble in pass coverage last season, allowing the second most touchdowns through the air on the year (32, behind only Washington's 34). A big reason for that was a lack of talent at outside corner. Rock Ya-Sin continued to struggle, so much so that he was traded away this offseason for EDGE Yannick Ngakoue.


And while Kwity Paye had some good moments for the Colts last season, he was nowhere near the standout player that Eric Stokes was for the Packers. He allowed a completion on only 49.5% of passes thrown his way, one of the best marks in the league. He'd make a tremendous difference to a struggling Colts CB room.

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22. Tennessee Titans - Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC


Actual Pick: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech


In spite of an onslaught of injuries, the Titans still managed to finish the year ranked 17th in total offense. That said, the passing offense certainly could have performed better. Julio Jones didn't pan out as a WR2 option to AJ Brown and was subsequently released this offseason.


Robert Woods has since been brought in as a replacement, but he's set to turn 30 this year and is coming off an ACL tear. Having a shot to find a younger, cheaper, and more long-term option opposite of Brown would be huge. That's what Amon-Ra St. Brown would offer. The 4th round pick was one of the steals of the 2021 draft, vastly outperforming his selection spot and leading the Lions in nearly every statistical receiving category.

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23. Minnesota Vikings - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina


Actual Pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech


Left tackle was a big need, and one that Darrisaw seemingly solved. But with him gone, and no clear option who could step in and replace him, the Vikings are forced to try and fill another need.


Despite all the heavy investment Mike Zimmer sank into the position during his tenure, Minnesota still lacks a true number one CB. At the same time, Jaycee Horn has fallen in this scenario due to the season ending foot injury he suffered in Week 3. Prior to the injury, however, Horn had been looking every bit the rare CB prospect he was expected to be. He showed excellent fluidity and coverage instincts, and had already logged an interception in just his second game. Having him on board would give the Vikings the type of shutdown corner they've been lacking ever since Xavier Rhodes left town.

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24. Pittsburgh Steelers - Davis Mills, QB, Stanford


Actual Pick: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama


Look, we all saw Ben Roethlisberger last season. If the Steelers could do the whole thing over again, they'd probably have preferred not to have trot him out there in 2021. But it's tough to call either Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins better options given what we've seen from them to this point.


Davis Mills wasn't perfect as a rookie, but he certainly outperformed expectations. Having him behind center would have served as an upgrade over Big Ben last season, and could provide the team a potential long term solution moving forward.

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25. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame


Actual Pick: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson


If we're doing a redraft, then JOK is absolutely going in the first round. He should have gone in the first round last season, but medical flags dropped him into the second. Then he went out and performed like a first rounder anyway. How about that?


He falls right into Jacksonville's lap this time around. They are in a similar position to Detroit, simply needing to take as many good players as possible to build this roster up. Owusu-Koramoah would provide an excellent centerpiece on the defensive side of the ball, to go along with Lawrence as the centerpiece for the offense.

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26. Cleveland Browns - Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss


Actual Pick: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern


The Browns miss out on their top two picks in this redraft, with both Greg Newsome and JOK off the board. Rather than force a selection at CB or LB, let's pivot instead to the offensive side of the ball. At this point last season, things were already in a strange place with Odell Beckham, with the star wideout suffering an ACL tear during the 2020 season and already having some rumored discontent with Baker Mayfield (and we all know how that turned out in the end).


This time around, the Browns get ahead of things by selecting Elijah Moore. Though he missed time for the Jets last season, he still managed to log over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in only six starts. That correlates to an awful lot of production if he can stay on the field. A player with his gamebreaking ability is exactly what Cleveland could have used to soften the blow of Beckham's eventual departure.

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27. Baltimore Ravens - Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa


Actual Pick: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota


Injuries hit the Ravens everywhere last season, but almost nowhere was hit as hard as the offensive line. OT in particular was a bit of a mess, as Ronnie Stanley missed time yet again and left players like Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips to try and pick up the slack.


Spencer Brown, meanwhile, started 13 games for the Buffalo Bills and - while he certainly had some growing pains - generally performed well. He only gave up one sack on the year, and showcased some incredible athleticism when executing blocks in space. Someone with his durability and overall ceiling would have been welcome on the Ravens patchwork O-Line last season.

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28. New Orleans Saints - Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Penn State


Actual Pick: Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston


The Saints were hoping Payton Turner could help make up for the loss of Trey Hendrickson, but in the end his rookie season was largely lost to injuries. I think if the Saints had a second chance, they'd still try to take and EDGE here - but this time around they take a flier on Odafe Oweh's rare athleticism.


Oweh put said athleticism to good use for the Ravens last year, logging a whopping 49 QB pressures in 2021. He had moments where he absolutely took over games last season (see: Sunday Night Football against the Chiefs in Week 2). If he manages to develop more consistency, Oweh has what it takes to be special.

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29. Green Bay Packers - Landon Dickerson, IOL, Alabama


Actual Pick: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia


Similar to the Ravens, the Packers O-Line was also decimated by injury in 2021. David Bahktiari, Elgton Jenkins, and 2021 draft pick Josh Meyers all missed considerable time -- leaving a paper thin unit that could have used an injection of talent.


In steps Landon Dickerson, who started 13 games for the Eagles at guard last season and generally played at a high level. Plugging him inside for 2021, as well as for the future alongside players like Jenkins and Bahktiari, would be tough for Green Bay to pass up here.

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30. Buffalo Bills - Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina


Actual Pick: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami


Honestly, there was nothing wrong with how Gregory Rousseau played in 2021. And yes, I understand that EDGE is a more valuable position than RB. But I needed to get Javonte into the first round in this redraft. He was just that good as a rookie.


While Najee Harris may have gotten the Pro Bowl invitation, a quick glance at the tape easily shows you who the more dynamic player was between the two. Williams and Harris ranked 1 and 2 in the league last season in broken tackles, with 31 and 30 respectively. The big difference? Javonte broke his 31 tackles on only 203 total rushing attempts, compared to Najee's 307.


Now imagine Buffalo's offense with Williams in the backfield, getting the touches that normally go to Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. That's a scary, scary thought.

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31. Baltimore Ravens - Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami


Actual Pick: Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Penn State


Baltimore sticks with EDGE here, opting to go with Rousseau now that Oweh is off the board. It's a very solid consolation prize, as Rousseau enjoyed a strong rookie season in his own right. He racked up a total of 30 pressures on the season, while deploying a more versatile overall skillset than that of Oweh. His ability to rush both inside and out would have provided Wink Martindale with a lot of creative options when deploying the long-armed pass rusher in blitz packages.

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32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, EDGE, Washington


Actual Pick: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, EDGE, Washington


Rounding things out, I have the Bucs -- like the Saints and Ravens before them -- sticking with their original plan to draft an EDGE in the first round. Unlike the Saints and Ravens before them, however, I have them sticking with their original player.


Joe Tryon-Shoyinka showed a lot of potential in limited snaps for Tampa Bay last season, totaling 29 total pressures and 4 sacks on the year. That was two more pressures and just four less sacks than Azeez Ojulari, despite logging over 200 less snap counts on the season. The potential for him is still largely untapped, and now that Jason Pierre-Paul is no longer on the roster the Buccaneers are still likely looking forward to seeing just what they have in JTS.