The first round of the 2021 NFL draft was another wild ride, with teams making bold moves all over the board in hopes of improving their franchise for next season and beyond.
Who were the biggest winners and losers from Thursday night’s action?
Here are our picks:
Winner: Chicago Bears
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The Bears finally drafted a good quarterback. After dealing with misery for years, the city of Chicago can finally rejoice knowing that Justin Fields is their new signal-caller. Fields’ slide was a bit of a surprise, but the Bears’ decision to move up nine spots to get him was not. Even though the team sacrificed next year’s first-round pick, finally having a quarterback with Pro Bowl potential was worth it. Teams in the NFC North will have to deal with a player who has impressive accuracy to every level of the field and shines with his athleticism on the ground for years to come. Consider this one of the steals of the past decade.
Loser: Las Vegas Raiders
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The Raiders continue to Raider in the draft. You would’ve thought that general manager Mike Mayock would learn his lesson after over-drafting players like Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette, but he did not. Mayock drafted offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, who was viewed as a second rounder, with the No. 17 overall selection. Leatherwood is a good player, don’t get me wrong. He should be a contributor along the interior, but based on where he was projected to be selected, this will go down as another reach by Mayock.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
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On the other hand, the Vikings found themselves in a situation where they traded back nine spots, got two third-round picks and still ended up with the guy who might’ve been their top-ranked target all along was a steal. Minnesota desperately need help along the offensive line and Christian Darrisaw will upgrade the left tackle position with a quality player who is strong both in the pass and run-blocking department.
Loser: Green Bay Packers
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Even after the reports of quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay, you would think the organization would get him a player to throw to or block for him. Well, think again. Yet again, the Packers had a different mindset with their selection, drafting cornerback Eric Stokes. There’s a lot to like about Stokes and he presents plenty of upside, but he’s not a can’t-miss prospect. A piece on the offensive side of the ball would have made more sense.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
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The Chargers did a fine job of rebuilding their offensive line prior to the draft, signing Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi. All that was left to complete the construction was finding a starting left tackle. After seeing a surprising slide, Los Angeles jumped on former Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 overall selection. There were concerns with his lack of height and arm length which had many plugging him in as a guard, but the tape shows a guy who can get the job done on each snap at a high level out on the edge. Just ask Chase Young, who Slater gave fits to in 2019. Ultimately, if Slater doesn’t pan out as a tackle, he can easily slide inside where he can still perform at a Pro Bowl level.
Loser: Arizona Cardinals
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For the second year in a row, the Cardinals spent their first-round pick on a defensive player with no clear position fit at the next level. Much like last year’s top-10 pick, Isaiah Simmons, Collins is a linebacker-edge defender ‘tweener with intriguing physical tools and immense competitiveness, but the fit just doesn’t make much sense here. The Cardinals needed corner help, and perhaps a true edge rusher to pair with Chandler Jones. The offensive line could have used more help, or even a running back like Najee Harris. Another “where does he play” linebacker, especially at No. 16 overall, feels like a loss.