Jags’ top pick Lawrence headlines AFC draft prospects

Clemson QB could help lift Jacksonville back to respectability

Tanner Curtis, Sports Editor

Last week I reviewed how all of the NFC teams did in the 2021 NFL draft. This week I’m going to be going over how each AFC team did last month.

AFC South

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans didn’t make much of an impact on the draft this year because they didn’t have a first round pick. After being one of the worst teams in the league last year, and having their All-Pro quarterback Deshaun Watson being at risk of not playing because of off-field issues, the Texans are in line for a horrible 2021 season. They did do the best they could to fix the quarterback problem by taking Stanford’s Davis Mills with their first pick, No. 67 overall in the third round. But Mills isn’t ready to carry a team to the playoffs, especially one with as little talent on both sides of the ball as the Texans. Grade: C+

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were a playoff team last season because of their dominant defense, which was supported by an above average offense. With their first round pick, the Colts took Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye, who should make that defense even more dominant. The Colts also got a new quarterback this season after trading for Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, and they did what they could to add a few more pieces around him. In the fourth round they took tight end SMU’s Kylen Grayson and in the seventh round they took a Charlston wide receiver Mike Strachan. The Colts were already close to a Super Bowl and with this draft class they have no reason not to be in the playoffs again. Grade: B

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars had the first overall pick in this year’s draft, so they made the obvious choice and took Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence is one of the most talented quarterback prospects to come out of college in the past 10 years. This Clemson quarterback is NFL ready and should help the Jags improve on that one win season from last season. The Jaguars did have a questionable pick later in the first round when they selected Lawrence’s college teammate, running back Travis Etienne. The Jaguars already had a 1,000 yard rusher last season, so it was a bit confusing when they selected another one. Overall, the Jaguars did improve because of their brand new quarterback and good free agent signings. Grade: B+

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were a playoff team last season because of their great offense led by running back Derrick Henry. They could have been a serious threat if their defense was a little bit better, so the Titans tried to address that in the draft this year. But the first pick they made was very risky with the selection of Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, who has a long history of injuries despite being considered the most talented defensive back in the draft. Coming off of a back surgery, Farley dropped in the draft because of the concerns about his health. But if he can stay healthy, this could end up being the steal of the draft. Grade: B-

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had two first round picks this year after trading Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr, to the Chiefs shortly before the draft. They addressed both sides of the ball with these picks, first by finally getting quarterback Lamar Jackson another receiver with the selection of Minnesota wide receiver Reshaad Bateman. This is a very talented receiver who should give Jackson more options because he can help loosen coverage for other receivers such as Hollywood Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. 

With their other first round pick, the Ravens selected Penn State outside linebacker Jayson Oweh, a very talented pass rusher who has all of the skills to be elite in the NFL. But his production in college was lackluster, recording zero sacks last season. If he can put it all together, Oweh can help an already dominant Ravens defense become better. Grade: A-

Cincinnati Bengals

After losing last year’s top overall pick, quarterback Joe Burrow, to a devastating knee injury in his 10th game last season, everyone assumed the Bengals would be doing anything they could to protect him. But the Bengals decided to draft Burrow’s former college teammate, LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, instead. This pick should give Burrow more options and would have been fine if they addressed their offensive line later in the draft, but they didn’t really do that. 

The Bengals only took one lineman with starting potential, and it was in a position they already had. Hopefully Chase provides a quick target for Burrow this year because he won’t have much time to throw. Grade: C

Cleveland Browns

The Browns had one of, if not, the best draft in the league because of how much they were able to improve their defense. In the first round they were able to add Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome ll. This was a great pick and should add great coverage in their secondary. The Browns then went on to get the biggest steal of the entire draft, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. This was an incredible pick because there was only a one percent chance he would get to pick 30 and they got him at pick 52. The Browns just got a lot more dangerous and have now gotten to the range of Super Bowl contenders. Grade: A+

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers had a horrible run game last season, so their goal was to address that in this year’s draft. They did that by using the 24th overall pick to take Antioch High’s Najee Harris, who starred with Alabama the past four seasons and was considered the best back in the draft. Harris is a great running back who can break tackles and has an incredible scoring ability. The only problem with this was that their run game wasn’t bad because of the running back. It was bad because of their offensive line. The Stelers refused to improve their line in the draft when it mattered, so Harris may struggle to find room to run. Grade: C+

AFC West

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have struggled to find a quarterback to lead their team ever since Payton Manning retired in 2016. This year they had the chance to take Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who was one of the best quarterbacks in the draft. Instead, they decided to draft defense and took Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain ll with the 9th overall pick. Surtain is an incredible cornerback with amazing ball skills, and he should be a dominant player in the NFL for years to come. While this pick did improve their defense, it didn’t solve their problem at quarterback, so the Broncos most likely won’t be a competitive team again this season. Grade: C

Kansas City Chiefs

Last year’s Super Bowl runner up didn’t need much in the draft because they addressed their biggest weakness, the offensive line, in free agency. The Chiefs didn’t have a first round pick, so they didn’t take anyone until pick 58, when they took Misouri linebacker Nick Bolton. This is a decent pick and should add talent to the Chiefs linebacking core. The Chiefs didn’t make a huge splash in the draft but only because they didn’t need to. Grade: B+

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had a star emerge last season with rookie quarterback sensation Justin Herbert winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. So their goal this year was to build a better team around him. They started this off by helping their offensive line and drafting Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, a very talented offensive tackle who should instantly improve the weakest part of the Chargers’ offense, their line. 

In the second round they took Asante Samual Jr, a cornerback from Florida State. Samuel is a great slot cornerback with the ability to move to the outside. This should provide a lot of options for the Chargers defensive scheme. Overall the Chargers absolutely killed it this draft and they may be able to sneak into the playoffs. Grade A+

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders’ first season in Vegas didn’t go as planned, but they did show some promise. After losing a few members on their offensive line, the Raiders decided to take Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick. This selection was a big reach because most draft experts agree they would have been able to get him in the second round. But that doesn’t mean he won’t help the team. Leatherwood was one of the best run blocking linemen in college, so that should help Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake find running room. 

The Raiders also helped out their defense with TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. He had a down year in 2020, but if he gets back to how he was in 2019 then Moehrig will help the Raiders defense very well. Grade: B-

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were very close to going all the way last year, falling just short to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. To help take the next step, the Bills selected with their first pick University of Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau to help out their defense. Rousseau most likely won’t start this season because he is still a very raw prospect. But he is one of the most athletically talented players in the draft, so with proper coaching he should be able to develop into an absolute monster in the NFL. Grade: B+

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were a very good team defensively last season and fell a game short of making the playoffs. They had a rookie quarterback for half of the season last year with Tua Tagovailoa taking over. This year, they wanted to help him out so they took his former college teammate, Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, with the 6th overall pick. Waddle is a very fast receiver with all of the tools to be great in the NFL. He should provide a good safety valve for Tagovailoa .

The Dolphins also added two great defensive players with Miami edge rusher Jaelen Phillips and Oregon safety Jevon Holland. These picks should make their great defense even better. The Dolphins had a great draft and if Tagovailoa puts it all together, look for the Dolphins to reach the playoffs this season. Grade: A

New England Patriots

The Patriots had their worst season in 20 years in 2020. This caused them to go on a massive spending spree in free agency and some even thought they would trade up in the draft to get a quarterback. But they didn’t do this and waited to get Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who is considered to be the ultimate cerebral quarterback. He makes smart decisions and can play in any system; but he is not mobile at all. Many compare him to Tom Brady and if he wants to live up to that, the Patriots are a great place for him. 

The Patriots have never been incredible in the draft, but they have had great quarterbacks over the years.They hope Jones can be the next in line of greats for the Patriots. Grade: B

New York Jets

The Jets have been one of the worst franchises in the NFL for the past decade, but after hiring a new coach in Robert Salah, and having the second pick in the draft, they are hoping to turn that around. With the second pick they took the BYU quarterback Zack Wilson, who has good arm talent and is accurate while being mobile. But he struggled in college when he played more competitive teams. The key to success for Wilson will be getting him to adjust to the NFL as quickly as possible. 

The Jets also selected Arizona State offensive linemen Alijah Vera-Tuckey to protect Wilson and Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore. These picks should give Wilson much needed help on the offensive side of the ball. Grade: B+