49ers earn high marks for taking risk with top draft pick

Quarterback Trey Lance will be groomed to replace Jimmy Garoppolo

Tanner Curtis, Staff Writer

After taking place remotely last year, the NFL Draft was back in person and in full swing April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, and it didn’t disappoint, especially for San Francisco 49er fans.

Here’s my breakdown and grades of how each NFC team did in the draft and how much they improved heading into the 2021 season. Look for my AFC breakdown next week.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers were one of the biggest stories heading into the draft because of a trade that moved them up from the 12th pick to the third pick so they could nab one of the top quarterbacks. There were a lot of questions heading into the draft on who they would take between the more NFL ready quarterback prospect in Alabama’s Mac Jones or the longer term project with a higher ceiling in North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. The team ended up going with the more risky pick in Lance, but with the proper coaching it could pay off in the long run.

The 49ers didn’t make any other huge splashes in the draft. They just added more depth at positions like guard and running back, which after last season being so full of injuries should be helpful. Grade: A

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals needed to improve their lackluster defense in the draft this year, and they tried to do this spending five of their seven picks on defensive players. Their first round pick was a linebacker from Tulsa named Zaveen Collins. This was an average pick because while Collins is a good prospect, there were better players in his position still available.

The Cardinals were very close to making the playoffs last season and with their improved defense they hope to take that next step this year. Grade: C+

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams also didn’t have a first round pick this season because of a trade with the Jaguars a few seasons back for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But the Rams did make some strong picks later in the draft by getting a solid third receiver in Tutu Atwell for their new quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams made their biggest improvement before the draft when they sent Jared Geoff and future draft picks to the Lions for Stafford. Grade: B-

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks didn’t have many picks this year because of their trade with the Jets to acquire safety Jamal Adams.  Since Seattle only had three picks it couldn’t make many impactful changes to the roster. The Seahawks took a wide receiver named D’Wayne Eskridge with their first pick in the second round. He is a good player but in a position they didn’t need that badly, especially when their star quarterback is complaining about a poor offensive line. Grade: C

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off of an injury ridden season where they lost key players such as quarterback Dak Prescott for 12-plus games with a broken ankle. Even with these injuries their offense was still able to contend in most games, but their defense was the worst in the league, so that was what they addressed in the draft. The Cowboys took with the 12th pick Penn State linebacker Micha Parsons, who was considered to be the best defensive player in the draft. With their second pick they got a much needed cornerback named Keldon Johnson from Kentucky. Johnson, better known by his rapper name of Bossmanfat, is a very talented prospect but he has been known to have some off field issues. 

If these top two picks pay off the Cowboys could have a much better defense making them strong contenders. Grade: B-

New York Giants

The Giants came into this draft after having a very strong free agency signing in wide receiver Kenny Golliday and cornerback Adoree Jackson. They were targeting one of the three top ranked receivers in the draft but when they were all taken before the Giants were able to pick they traded down with the Bears. With the 20th pick they were able to take Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney. He is a very strong prospect with a similar build to former Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 

The Giants also helped out their defense with Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari. This was a great pick for them in the second round because many people believed he wouldn’t fall that far.

Grade: A

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles main goal in this draft was to start off this rebuild they are entering as strong as possible. They got off to a good start after taking Alabama wide receiver and Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith, who does have some size concerns with his 6-foot, 170-pound frame. But looks like he could be an incredible player with his speed and catching ability. The Eagles also went heavy on the defensive picks this year with six of their nine picks being defensive players. Grade: B-

The most notable player was Texas Tech cornerback Zech McPhearson. The Eagles secondary was horrible last season and this fourth round pick should be able to help them out this season.

Washington Football Team

The Washington Football Team was one of the surprises of the league last year. After being considered one of the worst teams at the start of the season, they ended up making the playoffs and nearly beat eventual Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay in the opening round. They were able to succeed with their stellar defense which was led by their first pick in last year’s draft, Chase Young. 

This year they took another strong defensive player in Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis. The Football Team could be serious threats this season, especially if they get good quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and their strong draft will help quite a bit. Grade: A

NFC North

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears were one of the biggest winners of the draft this year because of a very good trade. The Bears had been in desperate need of a quarterback for the past several seasons, so when Ohio State’s Justin Fields, ranked the second best quarterback in the draft, fell down to the 11th pick,  they had to make a move. The Bears traded up to get the Giants pick and took Fields, who is a little bit of a project, but with the large amount of talent around him on both offense and defense should be able to develop and thrive in Chicago. Grade: A

Detroit Lions

The Lions are on track to be the worst team in the NFL this year after losing both of their top two receivers and their longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have been rebuilding for years and just encountered another speed bump this year. But they did make a great pick in the first round by taking Penei Sewell, who is considered to be an All Pro offensive tackle for years to come. This Oregon offensive lineman will be dominant in the NFL and should be a great piece to build around. Grade: A-

Green Bay Packers

The Packers had a rough draft weekend mostly because of the news surrounding their Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers saying he no longer wants to play for the team. This was building up ever since last year’s draft when the Packers used their first round pick on Rodgers’ eventual replacement Jordan Love. This year, the Packers took Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes with their first pick. This was a good pick because they needed a new cornerback, but when they have a disgruntled quarterback who has been asking for a new receiver it may have been smarter to take a receiver with their pick. Grade: C+

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings hit big in last year’s draft when they got the runner-up for rookie of the year in wide receiver Justin Jefferson. This year, they went after offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech. This was a good pick and should add more security on their line. The biggest story from their draft was when they drafted a new quarterback in the third round named Kellen Mond. The Texas A&M quarterback gained a lot of  popularity leading up to the draft because of his great athletic ability. This came as a surprise because they already have a quarterback Kirk Cousins who they have been paying a lot of money to and many people believed they wanted to keep him for a longer time. It looks like the Vikings might be looking to replace him sooner than expected. Grade: B

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were a question mark going into the draft this year because people didn’t know if they were going to take a new quarterback with the fourth overall pick to be the successor of Matt Ryan, or if they wanted to stick with what they had and take another offensive player. They ended up going with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who is widely considered to be the second best player in the draft behind Trevor Lawrence. The Falcons have struggled to close out games but with the addition of Pitts they should be able to win a couple more games. Grade: B+

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers took a defensive player with every pick in the draft last year and they continued that trend this year in the first round when they selected South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn, who is going to improve their secondary. If he can improve his technique a little more, Horn could be a top 10 cornerback in the NFL in the next few seasons. The Panthers took some criticism for not drafting an offensive linemen in the first round, but they addressed that need in the later rounds with BYU tackle Brady Christenson. 

The Panthers had a good draft and if new quarterback Sam Darnold, who Carolina dealt for in a pre-draft trade with the Jets, performs as well as they hope, the Panthers should be strong contenders. Grade: A-

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are not going to be the powerhouse team they have been in the past after quarterback Drew Brees retired after last season. With their first pick they took Houston defensive end Payton Turner. This was a questionable pick because the Saints didn’t need a player at this position that badly. They also reached a little bit for this pick. The Saints are in a tricky spot this year and their draft might not help them out all that much. Grade: C-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers won games last year because of their stellar defense, and they didn’t waste any time adding to it. With the 32nd pick they took Washington outside linebacker Joe Tyron, who should be a good addition to Tampa Bay’s already outstanding linebacking core. They also drafted Tom Brady’s successor in the second round when they selected Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. Trask is a little rough around the edges as a prospect but has one of the greatest players of all time to learn from in Brady Grade: A-