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2021 NFL Draft Review - NFC North

Hello and welcome to the sixth 2021 installment of my annual NFL Draft Review. Here are the links to the reviews for the AFC NorthNFC EastAFC 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 films of each player I’m commenting on and have over seven years of 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 North.

 

Detroit Lions

The Lions had my favorite class in the league. Getting Penei Sewell (5) at No. 7 overall really is a reason to celebrate. I don’t think people realize how historically good the top of this class was, as Sewell has No. 1 overall pick-level talent and might be the best tackle prospect I’ve ever scouted in 15 years. I was shocked when Daniel Jeremiah listed Rashawn Slater as a better prospect.

At 6-6, 331 pounds, Sewell is a behemoth with rare movement skills for his size. Few 330-plus pound humans can move like him, as he shined in the screen game, as a puller, and on the backside of zone runs. Sewell has elite quickness and twitch for his size in addition to exceptional feet. His game is not polished, but there is no doubt his traits translate. As a pass blocker, he has some work to do, as his film shows him struggle to stay stout and place his hands, especially against bull rushes. At just 20 years old, the sky is the limit.

In the second, the Lions get tremendous value with my 19th-ranked player at No. 41 overall. Levi Onwuzurike's film is impressive, as he routinely sheds blockers in both the pass and the run game. He can shock and shed, has strong hands, and is quick enough to knife into the backfield. Utah's interior line had no chance to block him.

He's active in pursuit, actually caught up to the speedy Tyler Huntley, and made tackles against perimeter screens, highlighting his effort. Onwuzurike (4) is a real pocket pusher whose bull rush translates to the NFL in terms of strength. I think he develops into one of the top DTs in the NFL.

In the third, the Lions improved their previously putrid run defense with NC State DT Alim McNeill. McNeill can play 0, 1, or 2i and is very skilled with great balance. He had an amazing pick-six off a deflection, was way stronger than the Virginia Tech center, and showed great pursuit. He needs to get better against reach blocks and double teams, but he has the right mentality to stuff the run. He’s not much of a pass-rusher as a big body that just stands up and is too slow on twists, but they aren’t drafting him to be Aaron Donald. I love taking role players in the third round, where more picks end up busting than people realize.

The Lions also took the toolsy Ifeatu Melifonwu (2) to help their CB room, which struggled mightily last season. My 79th-ranked player, Melifonwu has speed, height, and length that pops on film. He can get his head around against verticals, made a nice PBU on a dig from outside leverage, and won his battle against Dyami Brown. There are traits to work with but he tackles too high and got beat by a post curl on yards after the catch. He may have been a higher pick if teams weren’t scared off by his brother. I don’t think he’s quick enough to match breakpoints and cover the quickest guys, but he has the tools to play cover three and there’s a real upside.

In the fourth, Detroit got one of the best values in the draft with Amon-Ra St. Brown (3). St. Brown projects as a solid slot WR at the next level and should have no issue cracking the starting lineup right away. He's not the biggest (5-11, 197), or fastest (unofficial 4.59 40), but his film shows terrific ball skills and a good feel versus zone coverage. St. Brown is also one of the best blocking WRs in this draft and his toughness overall is evident running routes through traffic. He's not as small, but his ball skills and balance remind me of Tyler Lockett.

The Lions might be picking high again next year, but in this class, they found some key contributors and one mammoth building block in Penei Sewell.  Now let’s go eat some kneecaps!

 

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings came into the draft with a glaring need for a left tackle and did well to trade down and still grab Christian Darrisaw.  No one would have batted an eye if the Vikings stayed at No. 14 and took Darrisaw there, so they did well to secure arguably the best value in the first round with the former Virginia Tech left tackle.

6-5, 313-pound Darrisaw (4) was the starting left tackle for Virginia Tech but doesn't have the typical build of an NFL blindside protector. While his thighs look heavy and he may struggle with quickness, he was rarely exposed as a pass blocker for the Hokies.

When initially scouting Darrisaw, I was curious about where NFL teams would project him. The Vikings answered that question emphatically, as they’ve already penciled him in as Kirk Cousins’ blindside protector. Darrisaw's run-blocking prowess will translate, which is good news for Dalvin Cook. There are reps of him pulling and destroying opposing defensive ends on counter and blocking defenders literally 20 yards downfield. The NC State defensive ends had no chance against him. The best two words to describe Darrisaw are powerful and deliberate. He'll have a long, productive career in Minnesota.

The trade down allowed the Vikings to still get a terrific LT prospect and address their QB quandary. Kirk Cousins is not a bad QB by any means, but his long-term outlook is in question. Drafting a QB before you absolutely need one is a good strategy, and with the reality that third-round picks are generally overvalued, I have no problem taking a shot on Kellen Mond (2).

A lot of college football fans were perplexed by Mond’s status as a legitimate NFL QB prospect. His play was robotic and inconsistent for the majority of his career, and it’s usually not a good idea to hope a college player produces better after jumping to the NFL. He’s worth it as a developmental project because of his traits. His arm talent is evident on film, with some jumping lasers and the ability to make line drives look easy. He also placed a couple of back-shoulder throws well against Alabama. His processing speed is fine for a college QB and he has the athleticism and the ability to throw on the run. His issues are evident in the LSU game, as he was 5 for 15 at one point. His accuracy (think a pitcher’s control) is good, but his placement (think a pitcher’s command) is mostly inconsistent. I like his arm, but his stiffness and placement issues don’t give me confidence that he’ll develop into anything more than a backup with flashes. There’s real upside if he works at his craft as I do like the way he comes off from a mentality standpoint. He was kind of a forgotten man based on how stacked the top of this QB class was. In less-prolific classes, he may have been in the first-round conversation.

Chazz Surrat (2) fits in as a developmental OLB. He doesn’t know how to play LB yet, especially in terms of fitting the run, but he has the athleticism to cover in space. He’s also a good tackler. The best thing about Surrat is that he has the profile to potentially excel on special teams as early as his rookie year.

With their third-round pick, the Vikes added to their OL with Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis (3), who had a roller coaster of a draft process. Commonly mocked in round one this winter, Davis’ stock “dropped” in April, which was really just a case of the Internet overvaluing a player the NFL didn’t love. I’m part of that Internet so when I read the negative quotes in The Athletic, I went back and watched more Davis. I still liked him, so there.

Davis wins most of his one-on-one matchups thanks to plus strength and solid hand placement. He's strong and quick for a guard and shows excellent technique in the Buckeyes' zone-blocking run scheme. Davis understands angles, runs his feet well, and gets to the second level to actually block linebackers. He has some balance issues and his feet sometimes look heavy, so I understand the negatives. He’s still a solid pick in the third as a projected starting guard.

 

Green Bay Packers

The Packers had an interesting draft night to say the least, but regardless of who is under center, they needed help at CB, C, and WR. They filled those needs early.

Eric Stokes (3) has ideal size at 6-0, 194 with over 32-inch long arms. He ran an unofficial 4.29 40 at Georgia's pro day and has all the traits of a solid pro corner. His most glaring weakness on film is that he doesn't get his head around defending verticals. However, with his recovery speed, length, and ability to match underneath routes, Stokes has the ability to be a starting NFL corner. He matched slants step-for-step against Denzel Mims, Henry Ruggs III, and others, twice turning good coverage into pick-sixes.

Josh Myers (3) is an easy starting center for a long time. I didn’t scout him prior to the draft, but if I did, I would have had him ranked only behind Dickerson, Davis, and Carman at IOL. He has the ideal size, temperament, and movement ability for a pro center. He can anchor against bull rushes, pick up twists, and places his hands well in pass pro. He’s just not an overly powerful player and might struggle with elite quickness, but he’ll be solid.

In the third round, the Packers finally addressed their WR room by adding hopefully their next Randall Cobb in Amari Rodgers (2).  Rodgers is a true slot who produced well without Justyn Ross or Tee Higgins for Clemson. He has decent quickness, good balance, and showed off a couple of amazing catches, including a diving grab and an incredible catch radius against Pitt. He stood out against subpar Senior Bowl DBs and has real run-after-catch skills. Unfortunately, his athletic testing wasn’t great, and his late breakout age and draft capital give me pause. He also struggled with re-routes and didn’t show consistent hands.  With Aaron Rodgers, Amari has a chance to be a dependable second or third option. Without him, he’d be a gadget guy and special teamer. Stay tuned.

 

Chicago Bears

Ryan Pace made two major aggressive moves, with mixed results. He traded multiple picks for Khalil Mack, who helped propel the Bears into an elite defensive unit. He also traded up to select NVP Mitch Trubisky, a move that usually would get a GM fired. Justin Fields represents a second chance for this regime, and he undoubtedly has the talent to make Chicago a contender.

The Bears drafting Fields is yet another reminder that tanking is not the only way for a team to find its QB. The Bucs signed Tom Brady, the 49ers traded up for Trey Lance after starting at pick 12, and the Bears ended up with Fields after making the playoffs. The best way to build a winning team is to always try to win. There are multiple ways to acquire your franchise QB.

As for Fields, I wrote about him in-depth in this Prospect Profile with film clipsJustin Fields isn't flawless, but a lot of the critiques of his game are nitpicking. He's super talented with incredible production. The two separating traits in Fields’ game are his speed and ability to throw accurately on the run. The Bears have decent weapons but a questionable offensive line.  Thankfully, they were able to address the tackle position in the second round with a steal. Matt Nagy was unable to develop the toolsy Mitch Trubisky, but Fields is way better. I’ll pick my No. 4 overall player to develop into a Deshaun Watson-level NFL star (on the field).

Teven Jenkins (3) was one of the best value picks in the entire draft. My No. 17 overall player, I always struggle when a guy like Jenkins falls so far. Did I miss something? Was my evaluation flawed? Or did NFL teams just mess this up? Further complicating my projection is that my notes made it very clear that I thought Jenkins was strictly a right tackle. Will he be miscast at LT, struggle, and then make me question my OL scouting ability?

Jenkins has an outstanding mix of strength, balance, and handwork, and shows an understanding of how to climb on zone runs. While he may struggle with length at times, Jenkins showed flashes of dominance against West Virginia and Texas. I’ll stick to my evaluation and pick him to be solid, but I do have some questions about his ability to deal with RE speed at LT.

Many are saying that the Bears won the draft. Even though I like to argue the contrarian opinion, I can’t here. They took my No. 4 and No. 17 overall players, one of which being a supremely talented QB. There is hope in Chicago and for good reason.

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



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