2021 NFL Draft paves the path for young stars

Declan McDaniels

After years of hard work and dedication, many young football stars heard their name called this past weekend on one of the biggest sports stages in the world. Hosted in Cleveland, Ohio, this year’s NFL draft did not disappoint, displaying an abundance of talent across the draft board. After last year’s draft was held virtually due to COVID-19, fans and players were thrilled to see a return to normal, carrying on yearly traditions such as booing commissioner Roger Goodell. With many teams drafting future starters and potential Pro Bowlers, there will be major implications resulting from draft night.

Hopeful that he will turn around the franchise, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. (Courtesy of the National Football League)

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was the clear choice for the Jacksonville Jaguars, making the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft to no surprise. Lawrence has been called the best quarterback prospect in years by most college scouts, often being categorized as a “generational talent.” At 6’6” and 220 pounds, Lawrence has all the best attributes of a star quarterback both physically and mentally: a phenomenal throwing arm, high football IQ and strong leadership skills. He won the College Football Playoff National Championship his freshman year and finished his college career with 11,041 total yards, 108 total touchdowns and an astounding passer rating of 164.3 all in just 40 games. 

Lawrence was not the only quarterback selected early in the draft, as five quarterbacks were selected in the top 15 picks. The New York Jets got their guy in Brigham Young (BYU) quarterback Zach Wilson at number two overall, after trading away the former 2018 third overall pick, quarterback Sam Darnold. With this move, the Jets became the first team in the common draft era to select two quarterbacks in the top three picks within a four-year span. Following the Jets, pick number three is where things got interesting. The San Francisco 49ers traded up with the Miami Dolphins with the intentions of grabbing a quarterback. The consensus around the league was that they had three main options: Justin Fields from Ohio State, Trey Lance from North Dakota State and Mac Jones from Alabama. After weeks of public speculation, the 49ers selected Lance, leaving Fields to fall to the Chicago Bears at pick 11 and Jones to the New England Patriots at pick 15.

49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch pose with their third overall pick, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. (Courtesy of the National Football League)

This pick from the 49ers has many fans excited for the future, as the 2020 NFC Champions are eager to make another run at the Super Bowl. Lance only started one full season in college, deciding to opt-out of his last season to train for the draft after North Dakota State announced it would not play football in the fall. Despite this, the 6’4”, dual-threat quarterback finished his 2019 season with 3,386 total yards and 42 total touchdowns, enough to impress 49ers General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. Due to a potential need for further development with Lance, the Niners are expected to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to start the upcoming season. Shanahan was confident with his pick at number three, and voiced his excitement to get to work with his new quarterback in a press conference after the first round.

“I think [Lance] is very impressive in terms of his intellect, how he deals with people [and] how he handles a social situation. I looked at him as a CEO of a company, if I ever knew anything about that stuff. You put that to the side, and this is a hell of a quarterback, and this is someone that I believe in and I want to go to work with,” Shanahan said.

Quarterbacks weren’t the only star players to be selected at the top of the draft, as many teams filled their roster needs and drafted some immediate starters. The Atlanta Falcons took Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with their number four overall pick, regarded by many as a top three draft prospect and a player expected to make an instant impact on both the Falcons offense and fantasy football rosters. The Cincinnati Bengals reunited quarterback Joe Burrow with his receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, from his 2019 Heisman season at LSU at pick number five. While many experts stressed the need for an offensive lineman, the Bengals gave Burrow his number one receiver in hopes that he can count on him to make big plays and addressed the offensive line need in round two, selecting offensive tackle Jackson Carman. 

13 first round prospects attended the 2021 NFL Draft, after last year’s draft was held virtually. (Courtesy of the National Football League)

At picks six and seven, the Dolphins selected Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle and the Detroit Lions took Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, resulting in the first time in NFL history in which the first seven players taken in the draft were on offense. The next two picks selected were cornerbacks, both of which are sons of NFL players: Jaycee Horn to the Carolina Panthers at eight and Patrick Surtain II to the Denver Broncos at nine. The top ten was capped off with the Eagles trading up to select the 2020 Heisman winner, Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith, who will attempt to overcome the doubts about his undersized  6’1”, 174 pound frame.

There are many other talented 2021 first rounders who will look to make an impact for their new teams, such as Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, Steelers running back Najee Harris and Ravens receiver Rashod Bateman, among many others. While the first round of the draft often holds the most exciting prospects, players selected in the later rounds should not be overlooked. Amongst all active players from the 2020 season, 66% of them were drafted in rounds four through seven, or not drafted at all. The 2021 NFL draft was a success for many teams across the league, and these young rookies will get a chance to prove themselves on an NFL roster next season.