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2021 NFL Draft Review - NFC East

Hello and welcome to the fourth 2021 installment of my annual NFL Draft Review. Here are the links to the reviews for the AFC EastAFC South,  and NFC South.

Every year after the draft, I write a way-too-long review of each team’s draft. The purpose of this draft review is to give predictions for the careers of each team’s drafted players.  The vast majority of 4th-7th round picks don't amount to much, so I stick to the first three rounds.  I’ve watched film of each player I’m commenting on and have over seven years NCAA coaching experience. Draft grades are overly optimistic and unrealistic. Unlike the majority of post-draft coverage out there, I will pick busts. Keep in mind that 19% of all first-round picks bust.

Over the years I've had some impressive hits (like picking both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota to underwhelm) and embarrassing misses (like underestimating Justin Jefferson).  I stick to my process and usually hit on some unpopular predictions.  I enjoy arguing the contrarian opinion, but will only do so when my evaluations allow me to.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

 

Overview

Each player will receive their career prediction in parentheses following their name. For example, Kyle Pitts (5). Here's how the picks break down:

5 – All-Pro: Starter who has performed at an elite level at his position.
4 – Above-Average: Starter who has been among the best at his position.
3 – Solid: Starter or valuable back-up with significant positive production.
2 – Replacement Level: Below-average starter or back-up who made minor contributions.
1 – Bust: Player who didn’t amount to anything positive.

Next up, the NFC East.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles continue to torment the Giants, conspiring with Dallas of all teams to jump New York and take DeVonta Smith.  If you remember, in Week 17 the Eagles benched Jalen Hurts, screwing over the Giants in the process.

I don’t care about his weight or breakout age.  I’m going to pick DeVonta Smith (5) to be one of the best WRs in the league.  He’s just too skillful.  He has venus fly traps for hands.  That’s literally it.  Just watch him play.  Am I worried about his durability at that size?  Yes.  But I’m willing to take that risk on his talent.  Am I concerned with how he’ll deal with physicality?  Kind of.  But you can’t contact receivers past five yards in the NFL and his press release repertoire is just fine.  I don’t love Philly as a landing spot but Smith is one of the best WRs I’ve ever seen on a college field.  You can read my full Prospect Profile of Smith with film clips here.

In the early 2nd, the Eagles made another high-upside choice with Landon Dickerson (3).  An easy starting OL, Dickerson would be a no-brainer plug-and-play if not for an extensive injury history.  He has great balance and knee bend, shows the ability to anchor, and is great in space for his size.  OL are expected to just get in the way in the screen game but Dickerson actually gets to CBs and blocks them in space.  There’s nothing he can’t do as an interior OL.  There’s a good chance he’ll rehab and come back fine off a torn ACL suffered in the SEC Championship, but he also struggled with injuries at Florida State.  This is a risky pick but one that I expect will pay off with some bumps in the road during the early portion of his career.

Milton Williams (1) has a decent first step and some quickness, but he’s a poster-child for my Reverse Planet Theory, which warns us about penetrating DTs who made most of their plays against college guards.  In the NFL he’ll have to face off against converted tackles and the best guards, and his quickness/size/strength mix won’t be such a huge advantage.  Williams was destroyed by a Georgia Southern double-team and a couple of base blocks, so it’s fair to wonder how he’ll fare against guys like Zack Martin.  He got jolted back against the run way too much for my liking, at times literally turning his back instead of playing his gap.  I also saw him jog in pursuit.  He has some nice traits, but I’ll pick a bust in here in a poor DT class.

 

New York Giants

Everyone is piling on the Giants and I get it.  The optics are bad.  They did not contact Dallas about moving up one spot to secure DeVonta Smith and reports have indicated that they were actually upset they didn’t land him.  I would be too.

In a vacuum, their trade down to get a 2022 first was a good move, because they didn’t technically pass on any blue chip prospects.  Both the top CBs and Smith were gone.  Is it fair to question passing on AVT or drafting Kadarius Toney (2) over Rashod Bateman?  Sure.  Let’s focus on Toney though, because despite the backlash, he does have a chance to be special.

I usually love (and probably have overvalued) players like Toney.  He’s a human joystick with incredible twitch, quickness, and run-after-catch skills.  When I started studying this class, I originally had him stacked in the top-15.  His film is that exciting.  I had no issue ignoring breakout age, thinking he’s an outlier due to the ridiculously stacked Florida WR situation the past two years.  Then the Senior Bowl happened and he dropped a bunch of passes, which was odd, but not a deal-breaker.

But then, the Florida Pro Day happened.  It was the weirdest thing ever but Toney DID NOT look comfortable catching the ball.  It was like he was fighting it or even scared of it.  I tweeted about it, but no one else seemed to even notice.  It kind of reminded me of when Josh Rosen struggled with throwing drills at the combine and with all the draft coverage in the world not one analyst even mentioned it.  So is Toney afraid of the ball or something?  Are his hands too small?  I didn’t even note anything about his hands after scouting his film, so surely I’m just going crazy right?  To this day, I have no idea why he looked so scared and unnatural catching the ball.  But it worried me enough to drop him to No. 35 on my board.

The film, however, is spectacular.  Toney is a human highlight reel, showing a devastating dead leg and nasty return route on film. He didn't run a full route tree at Florida, but there were instances of him getting literal yards of separation in the quick game. Toney plays with energy and an edge, showing grit and effort as a blocker even with his slight frame. He dug out a defensive end after short motion, an uncommon play from a 6-0, 194 speed-based receiver.

I just don’t know how his game translates to this particular Giants offense.  Can he be a productive full-time slot?  Does he have the hands, strength, and route-running chops to consistently win as a receiver?  Because to be clear, Toney is going to be playing a completely different game as an inside receiver in an NFL offense.  Is Daniel Jones going to be the guy to help develop his game as a trustworthy slot?  Did the Giants spend a top-20 pick on a gadget guy?  There are just too many questions for me to pick a star, but Toney is too talented to not have some game-breaking moments.  I just can’t predict he develops into a true slot WR worthy of a top-20 selection.  I do think losing out on Smith was the last straw for Dave Gettleman and that the 2022 1st he acquired will be used by the next Giants GM (probably Louis Riddick) to get their QB of the future.

In the second, the Giants got possibly the steal of the draft in Azeez Ojulari (3), who fell due to injury concerns.  Ojulari was my EDGE1, but there are question marks besides durability that caused him to fall, including curiously poor agility and jump testing numbers.

Ojulari is long and physical, with a solid mix of play speed and play strength on the edge. He plays with spirit and energy, has a good first step, and is stout at the point of attack against the run. As a pass rusher, he has an effective inside move and pull-down handwork but lacks elite bend. At times, he can be a block magnet and didn't have his best film against Alex Leatherwood and Alabama.  The Giants defense is pretty good, and Ojulari might be the piece that turns them into an elite unit.

In the third, the Giants upgraded their nickel corner position with one of the best cover men in the draft in UCF’s Aaron Robinson (3).  Evaluating DB film is tough to do, especially when I’m stuck with just the broadcast angle, so I was so happy when people uploaded Senior Bowl one-on-ones to YouTube.  Robinson displayed his quick feet and terrific coverage instincts in competition with Senior Bowl WRs and especially how much better he looked than Senior Bowl DBs.  The film wasn’t eye-popping, but he can play trail technique, made a TFL, and got his head in there on a tackle after trailing a dig.  He was a bit reactive in zone so I think he’s more comfortable in man, but he’s better than Darnay Holmes and was a solid pick in the third.

 

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have been one of the more predictable teams in the draft in recent years, and while acquiring talent has been much of an issue, coaching and staying healthy has.  This year they probably wanted one of the top CBs, and I’m pretty sure that Aaron Rodgers’ availability contributed to Denver adjusting their draft plans and ultimately taking Patrick Surtain II.  The Cowboys moved down a couple of spots and still got the best defensive player in the draft, so it worked out.

Still, it’s fair to wonder about the pick in terms of positional value.  The Cowboys seemed to have whiffed on Leighton Vander Esch in 2018, and recently paid Jaylon Smith.  They also signed Keanu Neal and drafted Jabril Cox.  I’m a proponent of BPA, but I understand an argument against committing so many resources to off-ball LB.

The good news is that Micah Parsons (4) isn’t your typical off-ball LB in that he can be a dynamic blitzer, and possibly rush the edge on occasion as well.  Dan Quinn has had success with Bobby Wagner and Deion Jones in Seattle and Atlanta, and Parsons has just as much, if not more, physical talent as those guys.

Parsons opted out in 2020 but was the most impressive linebacker in the country in 2019. He absolutely dominated the game the last time he was on a college field, creating nightmares for the Memphis offense in the 2019 Cotton Bowl.  Parsons' burst is special, and he is a true sideline-to-sideline force, with uncommon 4.39 speed at 6-3, 246. His film shows an ability to stay square and slip blocks, run and hit, force turnovers, and make plays in the backfield. Parsons is a better prospect than Isaiah Simmons was last year and immediately steps in as the heart-and-soul of a hopefully refurbished Dallas defense.

In the second round, the Cowboys did indeed address the CB position, selecting Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph (3).  Joseph was thought of as one of the most talented CBs in this class, with some fringe opinions actually putting him in the top-3.  His length is perfect for Dan Quinn, and he has the speed and athleticism that translates for sure.  He also has great feet and is willing to be physical and win one-on-one tackles in space.  He slipped in press, then recovered well, showcasing that speed against Georgia.  He had a pick-six versus a field out against Tennessee.  He also had a pick against Mac Jones on a DeVonta Smith crack-corner route.

On the other hand, his Florida film was uneven, getting torched by Kyle Pitts on a post and generally being way too grabby, one rep resulting in a DPI.  Joseph has skills but was just OK against the best talent.  There’s no doubt he has the physical tools, but I wonder about a guy who was a bit inconsistent.

Skipping to the other CB they drafted, Nahshon Wright (1) thinks he can be Richard Sherman, and he does have some similar traits.  However, Sherman is one of the smartest DBs in history, and Wright’s film doesn’t show that level of instincts.  Wright’s height is great but he’s not what you want as a starting CB as his change-of-direction is severely limited.  He can skate backwards in zone and made a nice pick sinking on a ball in cover two, but he’ll be targeted immediately if he’s ever in man.  As a purely developmental pick, it’s fine, but Sherman is the extreme outlier as a relatively slow but elite CB.

Osa Odighizuwa (3) has great size and fits in perfectly along a Dallas DL that just needs guys.  He can use his length and quicks to be Red Bryant on the interior.  His effort is arguably his best trait.  Chauncey Golston (1) also has some length, but his fit is questionable as a tweener.  He needs to put on weight to play five-technique and even then I don’t know if he has enough juice to actually rush the passer.  He’s similar to Osa in terms of dismissive hands but he’s not going to be winning with any high swim moves like he did against Purdue tackles.

Overall, the Dallas defense clearly got better in this draft.  Dan Quinn could be the Cowboys version of Todd Bowles.  Now they just need the players to develop.

 

Washington Football Team

The Washington Football Team came into the draft with a need at QB, but chose not to offer future picks in a move up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones.  Time will tell if it was a mistake, but there’s no question they are building a talented skeleton roster for whenever they insert the future of the franchise.

In the first they took Jamin Davis (4), who was the 29th ranked player on my board. Davis is a violent off-ball LB with rare athleticism for his size at 6-3, 234. He made a ton of plays for Kentucky, including a pick-six versus Tennessee and a blocked kick. His speed and acceleration help him fit the run and show well in coverage. He's not going to take on blocks that well (watch Georgia's OL get into him), but he can be a force if kept clean and his skill set fits today's more spread-out NFL.  Ron Rivera may have found his Luke Keuchly lite.  The WFT defense is going to have offensive coordinators screaming WTF.

In the second, Washington took Texas tackle Samuel Cosmi  (1) to develop into their next blindside protector.  Cosmi was the 68th ranked player on my board, but possibly the best pure LT prospect available at No. 51.  My notes are mostly negative, as there’s a reason a guy with his size-to-athleticism mix wasn’t a first round pick.  The film was filled with flaws and poor technique.   He ducked his head and didn’t get there on the backside of a zone run, used his shoulders in pass pro, and was generally not very powerful.  He backpedaled and had poor hand placement in pass pro as well.  I could keep going, but you get the idea.  I expect to see more failed angles in the run game and issues in protection.  If he can get stronger and drastically improve technique he can be something, but I’ll pick a bust here.

Benjamin St-Juste (2) has the ideal mix of height, length, and size, and his film shows good change-of-direction.  He can click-and-close, and made some nice PBUs against Wisconsin and Penn State.  However, I think there’s tightness and reactiveness in press that will limit him in terms of playing man.  He can excel in Cover 3, but I expect him to get beat, especially by in-breaking routes, like he did by Dwayne Eskridge and others at the Senior Bowl.

A lot of people were high on Dyami Brown (1), and some even considered him a possible first-round selection.  I didn’t really understand any of that, so his “fall” to the mid-third didn’t surprise me.  Brown has talent, but his film didn’t inspire me in terms of translatable football traits.  Some of his highlights, including the TD along the left side against Clemson, were against college DBs peeking in the backfield.  Others were with double-moves, which obviously is a positive, but you’d prefer those in conjunction with other route-running wins.

Brown is quick, fast, and athletic with good ball-tracking skills.  But he didn’t get much separation against Syracuse, had some drops, body catches, and double-catches, and frequently pushes off, even called for OPI on one rep.  If Brown was drafted in the mid-second, I’d be more worried about picking him to bust.  But the fact that so many teams passed so many times makes me think my initial reaction to his translation wasn’t far off.  I may regret this, but I don’t think Brown will develop into a starting WR at the NFL level.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the other divisions in the coming days.



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This premium article is part of our 2024 Fantasy Football Draft Kit and a free sample of the expert analysis loaded up in RotoBaller's Draft Kit. Enjoy this premium article for free for a limited time. All other Premium Tools can be accessed on the premium dashboard. Sleeper remains a mythical word that can mean... Read More


Isiah Pacheco - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Running Backs

Fantasy Football League Winners - Best Ball Draft Targets (2024)

Fantasy football best ball drafts continue to build momentum as an entertaining way to play fantasy football. As the hype around drafting teams grows throughout the preseason, the appetite for more BB contests continues to grow without putting more in-season management on drafters' plates. Best ball is a format where you draft a team and... Read More


James Cook - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Fantasy Football Fades and Avoids for Best Ball Drafts (2024)

Fantasy football best ball drafts and contests continue to grow and grow each year. The number of tournaments and strategies deployed surrounding the format is exploding, which means we must stay sharp! Social media is filled with best ball builds and screenshots of different approaches. It's everywhere! But before you can win these leagues, you... Read More