Biggest winners and losers from the 2021 NFL Draft
With the 2021 NFL Draft complete, we take a look at who benefited and who didn't.
Winner: Very small wide receivers
So much for any doubts about the little guys, eh? If there's one thing this draft made clear - aside from a top-heavy emphasis on quarterbacks - it's that NFL teams no longer fear the prospect of a very small wide receiver who's very capable of doing very dangerous things in the open field.
First, Jaylen Waddle (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) went sixth overall to the Miami Dolphins. Then DeVonta Smith (6-foot-1, 170) was taken at No. 10 after the Eagles traded up for him (while also preventing the rival Giants from getting him instead). That was followed by Rondale Moore (5-foot-7, 180) and Tutu Atwell (5-foot-9, 165), who both went in the second round, with Moore going to the Cardinals 49th overall and Atwell to the Rams at No. 57.
It's long been a passing league, and rule changes that protect pass-catchers make it easier for these smaller wideouts to thrive. Tyreek Hill set the standard, and it seems more teams around the league have noticed.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
You read that right. Cleveland won a playoff game for the first time in 26 years, and by all indications, the Browns are not going away. After acquitting themselves well in free agency by picking up safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill, the Browns drafted cornerback Greg Newsome II before trading up to snag Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - a top-20 prospect with hybrid linebacker/safety skills who slipped into the second round because of medical concerns.
The addition of Newsome solidifies what now looks like one of the league's best secondaries, while Owusu-Koramoah is exactly the kind of fly-all-over-the-field linebacker the Browns were sorely missing. Cleveland still has a huge decision to make on Baker Mayfield's second contract this offseason, but after serving as a punching bag and a punchline for longer than most of us can remember, this team's set up to succeed. Get used to it.
Loser: Carson Wentz
The Colts think they can salvage Wentz - and it's not an unreasonable proposition. Head coach Frank Reich once worked well with Wentz in Philadelphia, and the Colts are a stable, well-run organization with a win-now roster - except at left tackle, a position they noticeably did not address with any of their seven draft picks.
Anthony Castonzo's retirement left the Colts with a need at left tackle, and while they did sign ex-Los Angeles Charger Sam Tevi to a one-year deal for just $2.51 million, PFF graded Tevi as the 47th-best pass-blocker in 2020. There's been talk that all-world left guard Quenton Nelson might slide over to tackle, but it looks like that's not happening. Owner Jim Irsay told reporters the team thinks Tevi "can do a solid job." The Colts - and Wentz - better hope so.
We interrupt this analysis of winners and losers to remind anyone with strident takes *cough* *cough* that most teams don't draft well, and that many of the players selected this weekend - no matter the position - won't pan out.
The draft is a spectacle because it offers fans the promise of a better tomorrow, but it's easy to forget that projecting the futures for so many young athletes and their various fits with so many teams and organizations is a tricky proposition. But, by all means, be optimistic about what your team did! Now's the time!
Winner: Justin Herbert
The Chargers discovered last year that Herbert is their quarterback of the future. They've subsequently spent the offseason doing everything they can to protect him and to surround him with weapons, which is a pretty darn good strategy.
The run on QBs early in the draft allowed left tackle Rashawn Slater - No. 10 on theScore's big board - to slip to the Chargers at No. 13, where they didn't hesitate to scoop him up. This after L.A. already added center Corey Linsley and guard Matt Feiler in free agency. The Chargers then used their third-round pick on Tennessee's Josh Palmer, a big, speedy, athletic target whose stock rose at the Senior Bowl.
Loser: Houston Texans
The Texans entered the draft in purgatory - a roster lacking in top-tier talent, no first- or second-round picks, the lingering uncertainty around QB Deshaun Watson, to name just three issues - so to razz on them is to pick at low-hanging fruit. But they didn't help themselves by using a portion of what little draft capital they had to trade up on multiple occasions.
No matter how the Watson situation plays out, it was one thing for Houston to use its first selection of the third round on Stanford QB Davis Mills. Then the Texans traded three picks - including a 2022 fourth-rounder - to move up 20 spots to take Michigan wideout Nico Collins. Not ideal, but somewhat understandable.
But then the Texans used four picks to trade up twice to choose TCU linebacker Garret Wallow in the fifth round. Houston initially sent a pair of sixth-rounders (Nos. 203 and 212) to the Bills for pick No. 174 while No. 161 was on the clock, only to then trade Nos. 174 and 233 to the Rams for pick No. 170, which they used on Wallow.
Why they didn't simply make one trade at the time they intended to pick Wallow is anyone's guess, but congrats to the Texans on their status as the NFL's easiest team to point and laugh at.
Winner: Chicago Bears
The Bears not only made a bold move to jump up to grab Justin Fields as the potential quarterback they've long been waiting for, but they also used a pair of picks on tackle Teven Jenkins and guard Larry Borom to protect him. That they later tacked on running back Khalil Herbert and wideout Dazz Newsome as additional weapons was icing on the cake.
Loser: Kirk Cousins
To be clear: The Vikings had a solid draft. They traded down to get an additional pick and still landed offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw at No. 23. But they also used the third-round selection they acquired from the Jets to take Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond, which ought to put Cousins on notice.
Granted, the Vikes have committed $31 million this year and $45 million in 2022 to Cousins - all fully guaranteed, per Over the Cap, and therefore unmovable - but good on them for doing something to light a fire under him while also finding a potential successor.
Neutral: Now vs. later?
The pandemic placed some serious limitations on the scouting process, which created a dynamic that led to some interesting decisions for teams on how to approach selecting players.
"There's two different philosophies today," analyst Daniel Jeremiah said at one point during NFL Network's day-long broadcast Saturday.
"There's some teams that believe, 'Let's get as many picks next year as we can because we don't know as much about these guys (this year).' But then there's other teams, they're collecting a bunch of what they're calling 'lottery tickets' today because maybe you're going to stumble upon somebody that would have gone much higher had we had that normal process in a normal year."
Two conflicting strategies. Who's right? Who knows! That's the magic - and the mystery - of the draft.
Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.