Updated: Sep 6, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.