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2021 NFL Draft

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Recapping the 2021 NFL Draft’s wild first night

From the Rodgers drama to the Bears moving up for a quarterback, it was a wild night across the NFL and in the NFC North in particular.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft is underway, and night one on Thursday had the intrigue fired up hours before the Jacksonville Jaguars went on the clock with the first pick. Much of the drama circled around the Green Bay Packers and their relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who reportedly no longer wants to return to the team for the 2021 season.

While Rodgers was not traded on Thursday — and therefore is unlikely to be traded this weekend — plenty of picks changed hands once again, with the first trade of the night coming at the 10th selection. In total, there were three trades in round one, two of which involved divisional rivals of the Packers in the NFC North.

Here’s an in-depth rundown of Thursday’s events to set the stage for the second night, which starts Friday at 7:00 PM Eastern.

The Packers’ Evening

What a ride Thursday was. Around 3 PM Eastern, bombshell reports surfaced from ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that quarterback Aaron Rodgers apparently wants out of Green Bay and does not plan on changing his stance. That set off a firestorm of speculation around whether the Packers would trade Rodgers on draft night, with the Denver Broncos emerging as a particularly plausible suitor in the hour or so before the start of the draft at 8 PM.

Instead, the Packers stood pat, both with Rodgers and with the 29th overall pick. General manager Brian Gutekunst would say after the first round concluded that the Packers only received one call on Thursday inquiring about a trade for Rodgers, suggesting that the team shot down that request immediately.

Furthermore, the Packers did not make a move in the first round for the first time in Gutekunst’s tenure as GM, sticking with the 29th pick and selecting Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes. One of the fastest players in the 2021 Draft class, Stokes had an excellent year of production in Athens last fall, recording four interceptions and taking two back for scores. Stokes comes out of a strong Georgia defense that saw him play press-man, true zone, and pattern-matching zone coverages, so he should be capable of fitting into any scheme that new defensive coordinator Joe Barry might throw at him.

Of course, a cornerback is not a wide receiver, a position that plenty of Packers fans (and perhaps a certain disgruntled quarterback) would have rather the team drafted instead. Perhaps the Ravens’ selection of Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman at 27 affected the Packers; perhaps not. But there are still plenty of talented receivers on the board, including Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, and North Carolina’s Dyami Brown, to name a few.

Heading into night two, the Packers still hold two picks, at 62 in round two and 92 in the third. With two picks each in rounds four, five, and six, however, do not be surprised if the Packers still look to move upwards if they zero in on a prospect on Friday evening.

Around the NFC North

The Packers’ path to getting into the Detroit Lions’ backfield got tougher on Thursday, as Detroit pounced with the seventh pick when Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell was still on the board. The Miami Dolphins surprised a bit at 6 by taking Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, leaving the draft’s top tackle available for Detroit.

That presents an interesting challenge for the Lions now in deciding on a starting offensive line. They already have a franchise left tackle under contract through 2024 in Taylor Decker, while another former Oregon player, Tyrell Crosby, manned the right tackle spot well in 2020. Perhaps Crosby will slide inside to guard, where the Lions need help, with Sewell slotting in at right tackle.

The other two divisional teams moved in opposite directions on Thursday, as the Chicago Bears traded up for a quarterback while the Minnesota Vikings moved back. Bears GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy will apparently get another shot at developing a QB as they climbed the ladder from the 20th pick to the 11th to stop Justin Fields from falling. Chicago sent away next year’s first-round pick plus their fourth-rounder this season to make that move into the New York Giants’ spot, a trade the Giants seemed eager to make after being jumped by the Philadelphia Eagles for Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith.

Fields, the former Ohio State and Georgia signal-caller, comes in as perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback the Bears have ever had. Blessed with a tremendous deep ball and great mobility, he torched the excellent Clemson defense in the National Semifinals this January. Pace now gets a second shot at a top QB after whiffing on Mitchell Trubisky; if this is another miss, he definitely will not have a third.

Finally, the Vikings chose to drop back from 14 to 23, trading with the Jets when their board set up well in the mid-teens. Multiple good offensive line options remained at 14, and one of their top choices, Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw, was still there at 23 when the Vikings went back on the clock. Darrisaw is likely the Vikings’ day-one starter at left tackle this fall, which will allow them to keep Brian O’Neill on the right side. That also likely means that Ezra Cleveland, the athletic Boise State tackle whom the Vikings drafted in the second round a year ago, will stay at guard.

Biggest Reach

Oakland Raiders draft Alex Leatherwood at #17

Although Leatherwood seemed to gain a little bit more first-round traction late this week, he was widely viewed as a second-rounder heading into the draft. Naturally, leave it to the Raiders to make the biggest reach in the first round — after all, they did select cornerback Damon Arnette in round one a year ago when most projections had him as a late second- or even a third-rounder. Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire ranked Leatherwood as the tenth-best tackle in this year’s class and though that opinion is hardly unanimous, it’s clear that this was a surprise, especially with Darrisaw still available.

Most Confusing Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars draft Travis Etienne at #25

The second of back-to-back running back picks late in round one was far more surprising than the first. Najee Harris to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a telegraphed pick for weeks, as Mike Tomlin’s team was connected to the powerful Alabama runner. But the Etienne pick, while perhaps not as big a reach as Leatherwood above, is massively confusing for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, the Jaguars would likely have had the opportunity to draft Etienne at pick #33, the first pick in round two. The teams drafting in between those picks are not franchises in need of running backs — the Browns (26) have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Ravens (27 & 31) and Packers both grabbed second-round backs last year, the Saints (28) still have Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, the Bills (30) have used third-rounders on running backs each of the last two years, and the Buccaneers (32) brought back Leonard Fournette to pair with Ronald Jones.

Secondly, there is the fifth-year option factor. There have not been many first-round running backs in the past decade, but backs need to be superstars to be worthy of the fifth-year option price tag.

Then there’s the fact that the Jaguars’ 2020 was the poster child for the “don’t draft running backs early” argument. They found a gem in James Robinson as an undrafted free agent — and he’s still on their roster!

Finally, Urban Meyer’s explanation of the pick makes absolutely no sense:

Drafting a running back in round one is bad enough even if you plan for him to be an every-down player, but using a first-rounder on a guy who you hope will only play 20-30 percent of snaps? Hilarious.

Full First Round Results

2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Results

Pick Team Player POS College
Pick Team Player POS College
1 JAX Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson
2 NYJ Zach Wilson QB BYU
3 SF (from HOU via MIA) Trey Lance QB NDSU
4 ATL Kyle Pitts TE Florida
5 CIN Ja'Marr Chase WR LSU
6 MIA (from PHI) Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama
7 DET Penei Sewell OT Oregon
8 CAR Jaycee Horn CB South Carolina
9 DEN Patrick Surtain II CB Alabama
10 PHI (from DAL) DeVonta Smith WR Alabama
11 CHI (from NYG) Justin Fields QB Ohio State
12 DAL (from SF via MIA, PHI) Micah Parsons LB Penn State
13 LAC Rashawn Slater OT Northwestern
14 NYJ (from MIN) Alijah Vera-Tucker OL USC
15 NE Mac Jones QB Alabama
16 ARI Zaven Collins LB Tulsa
17 LV Alex Leatherwood OL Alabama
18 MIA Jaelan Phillips EDGE Miami
19 WAS Jamin Davis LB Kentucky
20 NYG (from CHI) Kadarius Toney WR Florida
21 IND Kwity Paye EDGE Michigan
22 TEN Caleb Farley CB Virginia Tech
23 MIN (from SEA via NYJ) Christian Darrisaw OT Virginia Tech
24 PIT Najee Harris RB Alabama
25 JAX (from LAR) Travis Etienne RB Clemson
26 CLE Greg Newsome II CB Northwestern
27 BAL Rashod Bateman WR Minnesota
28 NO Payton Turner EDGE Houston
29 GB Eric Stokes CB Georgia
30 BUF Gregory Rousseau EDGE Miami
31 BAL (from KC) Jayson Oweh EDGE Penn State
32 TB Joe Tryon EDGE Washington
NFL Reacts

Packers Reacts Survey: What is Green Bay’s biggest draft need?

Jets trade WR Elijah Moore to Browns, taking one potential Packers target off the board

Wednesday Cheese Curds: Packers trying to get the quarterback question right