They say it’s too early to grade an NFL draft right after it happens. While that is true to some extent, needing several years to know exactly how good or how bad every selection is, there are still immediate parameters that can be used rate and compare what every team did across the league.
The 2021 NFL Draft has five criteria for early grades. The first factor is easy: How much talent, based on our pre-draft evaluations, did a team acquire? Second, how well did a team do in recognizing its biggest positional needs? Third, did it take advantage of opportunities to trade up or down to its advantage when they were presented? Fourth, how many value picks did they make vs. reaches? Finally, based on its current state of contender, rebuilder or somewhere in between, did a team draft to match its identity in relation to its division competition?
Those can be answered with all 259 picks officially in the books. Here’s the latest edition of Sporting News’ post-draft team grades, with the classes also ranked from best to worst, 1-32:
NFL Draft grades 2021: Ranking the best & worst classes
1. Miami Dolphins
Draft picks: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg, Boston College TE Hunter Long, UMass OT Larnel Coelman, Cincinnati RB Gerrid Doaks
This was another great draft for Brian Flores and GM Chris Grier. Waddle keeps improving the big-play potential Around Tua Tagovailoa and Eichenberg should be his new starting right tackle. Long will help as a run blocker and additional receiver. Phillips will thrill Flores rushing the passer from several places in his front seven. Despite limited overall quantity, the quality was hard to beat with most key needs met.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Draft picks: Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw, Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond, North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt, Ohio State G Wyatt Davis, Pittsburgh DE Patrick Jones II, Iowa State RB Kene Nwangwu, California S Camryn Bynum, Florida State EDGE Janarius Robinson, Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Central Missouri TE Zach Davidson, Pittsburgh DT Jalen Twyman
Count on GM Rick Spielman to come through in both rebuilding and reloading mode with a boatload of picks. Darrisaw and Davis should start on the left side of their offensive line. Former college teammates Jones and Twyman were absolute steals ideal for two key front-four spots. Mond is a savvy stash behind Kirk Cousins. Surratt is a fine contingency for Anthony Barr. Bynum could start at safety soon. They also managed to add good offensive skill depth everywhere.
3. Cleveland Browns
Draft picks: Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II, Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Auburn WR Anthony Schwartz, Cincinnati OT James Hudson, Ohio State DT Tommy Togiai, West Virginia ILB Tony Fields, Georgia S Richard LeCounte, UCLA RB/WR/KR Demetric Felton
GM Andrew Berry had a terrific weekend taking his playoff team to another level. Newsome and Owusu-Koramoah filled the final defensive needs in a great offseason for that side of the ball, to the point Cleveland can be dominant there. The team got plenty of valuable depth across positions and added some big-play flair on offense and special teams with Schwartz and Felton.
4. Chicago Bears
Draft picks: Ohio State QB Justin Fields, Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins, Missouri OT Larry Borom, Virginia Tech RB Khalil Herbert, North Carolina WR Dazz Newsome, Oregon CB Thomas Graham Jr., BYU DT Khyiris Tonga
The trade up for Fields was a shrewd move for pressured GM Ryan Pace, without giving up the farm. He is the special dual threat who can help solve QB for Chicago in the right way for a long time. They also landed a first-round pedigreed starting right tackle in Jenkins and the big-time slot receiver upgrade in Newsome, an absolute late-round steal.
5. New York Jets
Draft picks: BYU QB Zach Wilson, USC G Alijah Vera-Tucker, Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore, North Carolina RB Michael Carter, Auburn S Jamien Sherwood, Duke S Michael Carter II, Pittsburgh CB Michael Pinnock, Florida State S Hamsah Nasirildeen, Kentucky CB Brandon Echols, Arkansas DT Jonathan Marshall
GM Joe Douglas nailed this draft for Robert Salaeh and Mike LaFleur by going offense four picks in a row early, supporting Wilson in a great system for him with a rock at left guard, a more dynamic slot and a backfield home-run hitter. The next picks to address the secondary were a bit iffy, but Nasirildeen and Echols were nice steals late. All key needs were met big time, save for defensive end, where they got Carl Lawson in free agency.
6. San Francisco 49ers
Draft picks: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance, Notre Dame G Aaron Banks, Ohio State RB Trey Sermon, Michigan CB/S Ambry Thomas, Western Michigan G Jaylon Moore, Oregon CB Deommodre Lenoir, USC S Talanoa Hufanga, Louisiana RB Elijah Mitchell
Much of this grade is tied to the smart aggressive trade up for Lance’s unlimited upside in Kyle Shanahan’s offense as a big-time passer and runner with high football intelligence. Banks and Moore boost their interior blocking, while John Lynch found excellent safety values for the future in Thomas and Hufanaga. Sermon and Mitchell reload Shanahan’s always productive zone rushing attack with more big-play elements.
7. Buffalo Bills
Draft picks: Miami EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Wake Forest EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Northern Iowa OT Spencer Brown, Miami (Ohio) OT Tommy Doyle, Houston WR Marquez Stevenson, Pittsburgh S Damar Hamlin, Wisconsin CB Rachad Wildgoose, Texas Tech G Jack Anderson
Brandon Beane executed the next level of the Bills’ game plan toward winning the AFC. Thinking pass-rush first, twice, was smart as Rosseau and Basham Jr. will be a productive combination ideal for what Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier want in their scheme. They also got promising developmental depth everywhere for the offensive line and finished with a couple of active subpackage players for the secondary.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft picks: Washington EDGE Joe Tryon, Florida QB Kyle Trask, Notre Dame OT/G Robert Hainsey, North Texas WR Jaelon Darden, Auburn LB K.J. Britt, BYU CB Chris Wilcox, Houston OLB Grant Stuard
Tampa Bay had an amazing offseason before the draft keeping every single one of their key veteran players intact on their Tom Brady-led Super Bowl 55-winning team. GM Jason Licht kept up the momentum with fine stashes everywhere except defensive tackle. Tryon and Britt are good supporting third options for their great starting linebackers. Hainsey and Darden are good developmental types for the offense. The standout is Trask, who can turn into Brady’s successor in the right pocket passing system under Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich.
9. Detroit Lions
Draft picks: Oregon OT Penei Sewell, Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike, NC State DT Alim McNeill, Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Purdue LB Derrick Barnes, Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson
New GM Brad Holmes made an early splash trading Matthew Stafford to boost future draft considerations and he delivered while on the clock this year. Detroit made it a point to get better in both trenches early and got some good secondary and linebacker depth later. Sewell was an unbeatable way to come out swinging. St. Brown is the ideal tough slot receiver for them to playoff tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Lions didn’t address wide receiver multiple times, but that’s only real knock for an important class for their latest rebuild.
10. Atlanta Falcons
Draft picks: Florida TE Kyle Pitts, TCU S Richie Grant, Michigan OT/G Jalen Mayfield, San Diego State CB Darren Hall, Stanford C Drew Dalman, Texas DT Ta’Quon Graham, Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Boise State CB Avery Williams, Arizona State WR Frank Darby
The Falcons were methodical in addressing needs under new GM Terry Fontenot after taking a game-changing best player available for their offense in Pitts. Grant and Mayfield can also start in critical roles for new coach Arthur Smith. Their remaining picks thought of depth everywhere on defense and a little more receiving juice on offense.
11. New York Giants
Draft picks: Florida WR Kadarius Toney, Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari, UCF CB Aaron Robinson, Northern Iowa OLB Elerson Smith, Arizona RB Gary Brightwell, Oklahoma State CB Rodarius Wiliams
GM Dave Gettleman started with a surprise trade down and still ended up with another key upgraded at wide receiver for Daniel Jones plus a first-round pass rusher/cover man in Round 2. Robinson was a steal for their coverage and Smith can also be effective in Patrick Graham’s front seven. The minus comes from not going offensive line once but keep in mind they also got big future draft assets from the Bears.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Draft picks: Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman, Penn State EDGE Odafe Oweh, Georgia G Ben Cleveland, SMU CB Brandon Stephens, Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace, Ohio State CB Shaun Wade, Notre Dame EDGE Daelin Hayes, Michigan FB Ben Mason
The Ravens came out swinging again as 2019 Sporting News executive of the year Eric DeCosta nailed his two first-rounders with the right big receiver to complement Marquise Brown and the right freakish athlete to fill a big pass-rush void. Cleveland will compete to start inside. Wallace Wade and Hayes were impactful Day 2 talents that Baltimore stole late, giving the passing game and pass defense high-quality young depth.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Draft picks: Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr., Tennessee WR Josh Palmer, Georgia TE Tre’ McKitty, Duke EDGE Chris Rumph II, Nebraska OT Brenden Jaimes, Iowa ILB Nick Niemann, Missouri RB Larry Rountree III, Georgia S Mark Webb
The Chargers hit long-term home runs with Slater, Samuel and Rumph, to the point they graded highly despite two dud picks for their needs in Palmer and McKitty. Jaimes and Niemann are also promising developmental players for each side. Los Angeles should contend for an AFC playoff spot with Justin Herbert’s improved offense and Brandon Staley’s revamped defense.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
Draft picks: LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase, Clemson OT Jackson Carman, Texans DE Joseph Ossai, Tulane DE Cameron Sample, LSU DT Tyler Shelvin, East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith, Florida K Evan MacPherson, Georgia C Trey Hill, Michigan RB Chris Evans, Kansas State DE Wyatt Hubert
The Bengals could afford to choose Chase as a go-to guy for Joe Burrow over protection for Burrow with some options at offensive tackle and landed another in Carman. Ossai, Sample and Hubert add to Trey Hendrickson revamping the edge pass rush and Shelvin gives them a powerful run-stuffing presence inside. They also hope MacPherson will clean up the kicking game and Evans can be a good supplement to Joe Mixon.
15. Green Bay Packers
Draft picks: Georgia CB Eric Stokes, Ohio State C Josh Myers, WR Amari Rodgers, Ole Miss G Royce Newman, Florida DT Tedarrell Slaton, Appalachian State CB Shemar Jean-Charles, Wisconsin OT Cole Van Lanen, Boston College ILB Isaiah McDuffie, Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill
GM Brian Gutekunst did his best to balance making some key defensive upgrades and giving Aaron Rodgers some needed extra help after the lingering disaster that was taking Jordan Love in the 2020 first round. Myers and Newman are solid reinforcements for the interior line, while Amari Rodgers was the missing big-play cog in the slot to complement Davante Adams. Stokes can be quick upgrade over Kevin King with ballhawking to better complement Jaire Alexander. Hill is nice to replace Jamaal Williams behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.
16. New England Patriots
Draft picks: Alabama QB Mac Jones, Alabama DT Christian Barmore, Oklahoma EDGE Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma RB Rhamondre Stevenson, Michigan LB Cameron McGrone, Missouri S Josuah Bledsoe, Colorado OT William Sherman, UCF WR Tre Nixon
The Patriots got their next quarterback and will work to get the most out of Jones’ high floor. Bill Belichick also got three more exciting versatile players for his rebuilding defense with Barmore and Perkins boosting them vs. the pass and McGrone helping vs. the run. Stevenson is their ideal pure power back. Nixon can be a steal helping their passing game late.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars
Draft picks: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson RB Travis Etienne, Stanford OT Walker Little, Syracuse S Andre Cisco, USC DT Jay Tufele, UAB DE Jordan Smith, Ohio State TE Luke Farrell, Georgia Tech WR Jalen Camp
The Jaguars got an immediate B for Urban Meyer and GM Trent Baalke by winning the Lawrence lottery. But they seemed a little misguided in how and when to address their franchise QB’s rookie offensive support. Etienne was a very expensive luxury pick for a rebuilding team that already has James Robinson. Little was a good recovery at offensive tackle but they missed much better opportunities to boost tight end and wide receiver. After Lawrence, Cisco and Tufele were easily the next best picks for defensive needs.
18. Denver Broncos
Draft picks: Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II, North Carolina RB Javonte Williams, Wisconsin-Whitewater G Quinn Meinerz, Ohio State LB Baron Browning, Texas S Caden Stearns, Indiana S Jamar Johnson, Auburn WR Seth Williams, LSU CB Kary Vincent Jr., Ohio State EDGE Jonathon Cooper, Mississippi State DE Marquiss Spencer
New GM George Paton faired pretty well with his volume of picks. Surtain is a surefire star and Williams can make Melvin Gordon expendable. Browning, the two safeties, Cooper and Spencer were some needed supporting chess pieces for Vic Fangio. Meinerz should start to boost the run blocking. There is, however, a notable position missing as for now, Denver sticks with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater as its QB options in a critical season.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
Draft picks: Missouri LB Nick Bolton, Oklahoma G/C Creed Humphrey, Florida State EDGE Joshua Kaindoh, Duke TE Noah Gray, Clemson WR Cornell Powell, Tennessee G Trey Smith
The Chiefs did their best with their limited picks. Bolton is ideal for their front seven, while Humphrey and Smith were great additional assets for their amazing one-offseason offensive line rebuild. They could have thought about wide receiver and tight end depth earlier, but Gray and Powell were decent values for Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
Draft picks: Alabama RB Najee Harris, Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth, Illinois G/C Kendrick Green, Texas A&M OT Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M ILB Buddy Johnson, Wisconsin DT Isiahh Loudermilk, Miami EDGE Quincy Roche, Oklahoma CB Tre Norwood, Georgia Tech P Pressley Harvin III
GM Kevin Colbert had a solid draft starting with needed offensive skill cogs Harris and Freiermuth to lift up aging Ben Roethlisberger. Moore and Green are potential starters down the line. Roche and Norwood were great values for situational pass defense support late. Harvin can also be a sneaky good weapon for special teams.
21. Tennessee Titans
Draft picks: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz, Georgia LB Monty Rice, Washington CB Elijah Molden, Louisville WR Dez Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh EDGE Rashad Weaver, LSU WR Racey McMath, Oregon S Brady Breeze
GM Jon Robinson got plenty of the cornerback and wide receiver reinforcements his team needed after getting gutted there in free agency. Radunz can start right away at right tackle. Fitzpatrick is a good replacement for Corey Davis. Rice will be active for Mike Vrabel.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Draft picks: Alabama WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama G/C Landon Dickerson, Louisiana Tech DT Milton Williams, Texas Tech CB Zech McPhearson, Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell, DT Marlon Tuipulotu, Coastal Carolina DE Tarron Jackson, LSU S JaCoby Stevens, Tulane OLB Patrick Johnson
It’s fair to call this class solid but not spectacular for GM Howie Roseman, at least after the trade up to pick Smith. The Eagles went down the line addressing their needs and probably landed a couple near-future starters on top of Smith and Dickerson.
23. Washington Football Team
Draft picks: Kentucky LB Jamin Davis, Texas OT Samuel Cosmi, Minnesota CB Benjamin St-Juste, North Carolina WR Dyami Brown, Boise State TE John Bates, Cincinnati S Darrick Forest, Michigan LS Camaron Cheeseman, Baylor OLB William Bradley-King, Penn State DE Shaka Toney, BYU WR Dax Milne
Ron Rivera and GM Martin Mayhew did a solid job to match Philadelphia’s overall body of work. Davis will make a ton of plays for their defense and Cosmi will hold down left tackle well. They found more valuable depth and big-play potential across the board with the rest of their picks. The notable grade drop is being left out of the quarterback fun.
24. Indianapolis Colts
Draft picks: Michigan DE/DT Kwity Paye, Vanderbilt EDGE Dayo Odeyingbo, SMU TE Kylen Granson, Florida S Shawn Davis, Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, Charleston WR Michael Strachan, Penn State OT Will Fries
GM Chris Ballard gets a good baseline score for addressing all the most pressing needs across the board, starting with a nice youthful burst of pass-rushing juice. Granson and Strachan are intriguing depth players to support what they have at tight end and wideout. Ehlinger was a worthy developmental dual threat to put behind Carson Wentz. The only considerable knock is not addressing offensive tackle in a much bigger way.
25. New Orleans Saints
Draft picks: Houston EDGE Payton Turner, Ohio State LB Pete Werner, Stanford CB Paulson Adebo, Notre Dame QB Ian Book, Kentucky OT Landon Young, South Alabama WR Kawaan Baker
The Saints did get around to most of their needs (minus safety and guard) with Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis but they did it in an interesting order. Turner was a mild reach, while Adebo was a good value for a big corner. Werner also is a good fit for Dennis Allen’s defense. But offense could have used more earlier attention away from quarterback rather than a wasted pick on undersized game manager Ian Book with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston set to battle.
26. Carolina Panthers
Draft picks: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn, LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr., BYU OT/G Brady Christensen, Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble, Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard, Iowa DT Daviyon Nixon, Washington CB Keith Taylor, Alabama G Deonte Brown, South Carolina WR Shi Smith, Alabama LS Thomas Fletcher, Kentucky DT Phil Hoskins
The Panthers had a bit of a rough start by taking Horn over Surtain and then offensive misfits Marshall and Christensen. But Tremble, Taylor, Brown and Smith helped raise the acquired rookie pool of talent at key positions for new GM Scott Fitterer, who needed good late results for their aggressive trade-down plan.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Draft picks: Tulsa LB Zaven Collins, Purdue WR Rondale Moore, Florida CB Marco Wilson, Duke EDGE Victor Dimukeje, UCF CB Tay Gowan, Cincinnati S James Wiggins, Penn State C/G Michel Menet
The Cardinals tend to be on a roller-coaster drafting with GM Steve Keim. Consider this a dip year. Edge pass rusher and cornerback were the biggest needs and put on the backburner early and Arizona didn’t address the interior offensive line until the last pick. Collins was a redundant first-rounder to 2020’s Isaiah Simmons and Moore was a superfluous luxury pick for a team with plenty at wide receiver, even with Larry Fitzgerald mulling over retirement.
28. Los Angeles Rams
Draft picks: Louisville WR Tutu Atwell, South Carolina LB Ernest Jones, Texas A&M DT Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell, UCF WR Jacob Harris, Northwestern DE Earnest Brown IV, Maryland RB Jake Funk, Notre Dame WR Ben Skowronek, Concorida-St. Paul OLB Chris Garrett.
The Rams also entered the draft late with no first-rounders and overall, despite the initial excitement over Atwell being a speedy and quick in Sean McVay’s offense, this was disappointing. McVay and GM Les Snead may have gotten too cute at times with some superfluous reaches as Brown was by far their best pick with a real need in mind. A fancy Malibu drafting house wasn’t matched with the picks made from it.
29. Houston Texans
Draft picks: Stanford QB Davis Mills, Michigan WR Nico Collins, Miami TE Brevin Jordan, TCU IL Garret Wallow, Arizona DT Roy Lopez
The Texans started with little volume for Nick Caserio and seemed forced into getting a young developmental QB contingency to pair with Tyrod Taylor with Deshaun Watson’s future looking less likely to be with the team. Mills was a big reach. Collins and Jordan are nice assets for the passing game, but with a weak pass defense post-J.J. Watt, Houston somehow didn’t address either edge rusher or cornerback.
30. Seattle Seahawks
Draft picks: Western Michigan WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Oklahoma CB Tre Brown, Florida OT Stone Forsythe
With the fewest picks of any team — only three — it’s more of an incomplete grade for Pete Carrell and GM John Schneider. Unfortunately Eskridge wasn’t the right pick to upgrade receiver as a redundancy in skill set with Tyler Lockett. There’s nothing that really stands out about Brown and Forsythe as late-rounders.
31. Dallas Cowboys
Draft picks: Penn State LB Micah Parsons, Kentucky ‘CB Kelvin Joseph, UCLA DT Osa Odighizuwa, Iowa EDGE Chauncey Golston, Oregon State CB Nahshon Wright, LSU LB Jabril Cox, Marshall OT Josh Ball, Stanford WR Simi Fehoko, Kentucky DT Quinton Bohana, South Carolina CB Israel Mukuamu, Nebraska G Matt Farniok
The Cowboys deserved points for addressing defense early and often and they also didn’t forget to get some depth for wide receiver and offensive line along the way. The problem is, Parsons and Cox were the two best picks for a team that’s already invested a ton in linebacker, for better or for worse. There are plenty of lingering questions about the defensive backs and front four for Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy after making some reaches and not getting good value, starting in the first round.
32. Las Vegas Raiders
Draft picks: Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood, TCU S Trevon Moehrig, Buffalo LB Malcolm Koonce, Virginia Tech S Divine Deablo, Missouri S Tyree Gillespie, Illinois CB Nate Hobbs, Pittsburgh C Jimmy Morrissey
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock had a rough time with this one. Leatherwood was a big-time each vs. edge or outside linebacker help. Moehrig was an awesome pick, but then they Raiders went inexplicably safety-happy, with a overrated linebacker in between. Despite interior offensive line and defensive tackle being glaring needs, only their final pick addressed either position. In relation to the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos faring so well in this draft form the AFC West, this was an awful overall haul before hosting the event in 2022.