Winners and losers from Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

April 30th, 2021

Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft is complete, and fortunes are forever changed. 32 new players have officially entered the league and will soon begin their pro careers in earnest.

With the first round concluded, here are two winners and two losers from Day 1.

Loser: Atlanta Falcons

There was some thought leading up to the draft that the Atlanta Falcons may trade the fourth overall pick to acquire additional draft capital, but the presence of "unicorn" Kyle Pitts proved too appealing, and they made him the highest drafted tight end since 1960. It begs the question: Is Pitts really that special?

The Atlanta Falcons already have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to distribute the ball to, and offense is not what kept the Falcons from winning football games in 2020. The Falcons' defense was 29th in yards allowed per play, and they need to shore up that side of the ball if they want to be competitive in the NFC South.

This pick is flashy and exciting, but it feels like a strategy of replicating the Kansas City Chiefs' approach while lacking Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid to see it through.

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals have not been a winning franchise for a very long time. While they flirted with wins during the Marvin Lewis era and made the playoffs five straight seasons from 2011-2015, they have fallen on hard times recently.

In 2020, the Bengals were just 4-12 as rookie quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury, but they are now building something on offense and may be competitive. The Bengals have invested on that side of the ball in recent drafts, and the addition of Burrow’s favorite collegiate weapon, Ja’Marr Chase, will help significantly with those efforts.

Chase is my longshot selection to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors for his freak athleticism and the natural chemistry that will occur when he is reunited with Burrow. He is a Day 1 impact player that knows what it takes to win, and that's an important intangible needed to turn around a losing organization like the Bengals.

Loser: New York Jets

The New York Jets were dead last in the NFL in 2020 in yards per play on offense. They have an underwhelming offensive line, and no explosive No. 1 option at wide receiver. Offseason wide receiver signee Corey Davis is coming off an injury and while 2020 was his best season, he only managed 984 yards and five touchdowns.

Enter second overall pick Zach Wilson, a talented but smallish quarterback that is expected to replace Sam Darnold and solve the franchise’s problems. It is an unrealistic expectation, as he doesn’t really offer much more upside than their last talented quarterback offered.

Wilson has good arm strength, but never really faced immense pressure or a quality defense in college, and will now feel the weight of both NFL defenders and New York expectations. The Jets are a team built on the strength of their defense, but they’ve now used a second overall pick to make what will likely result in little offensive improvement.

Winner: Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have the most recent Offensive Rookie of the Year winner with franchise quarterback Justin Herbert. Fortunate to have a talented young quarterback secured, they have now begun taking the steps to protect him longterm.

With their first round pick, the Chargers selected Northwestern offensive lineman, Rashawn Slater, a Day 1 starter that was the consensus second best prospect in the draft. Slater has tremendous speed and helps fill a need the Chargers have struggled with.

Slater ought to be a multi-year starter that will be able to slide along the line if necessary, and gives the Chargers a perfect fit without having to forfeit any pieces of their own.