Welcome to Football Outsiders' pick-by-pick coverage of the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL draft! Over the next 29 hours or so, we'll provide you with…
- Laser-accurate quarterback comparisons (only Football Outsiders dares to compare one of this year's prospects to Drew Stanton);
- Heartwarming tales of offensive linemen destroying their childhood homes with their siblings and preteen quarterbacks getting publicly shamed by their fathers;
- Lots of statistical nuggets about teams and prospects (this is Football Outsiders after all);
- Visits from special guests like Emo Howie Roseman and Death Metal Shanahan;
- Actual scouting observations, occasionally;
- Tons of insights, analysis, asides and fun.
This is my 20th draft providing some form of live pick-by-pick coverage for outlets from Bleacher Report to The New York Times, but it's my first time doing so for the home team here at Football Outsiders. I'm thrilled to be able to spend the next two nights with you. Welcome aboard what's always a wild ride! Refresh often for updates!
If you're looking for the usual "Open NFL Draft Discussion Thread," there isn't one this year. Feel free to get the discussion going in the comment thread below.
And don't forget to check out the first-ever Football Outsiders Draft Recap Twitch Livestream, tonight starting at 11:30 p.m. Eastern on the Football Outsiders Twitch channel. Aaron Schatz will be hosting the discussion along with Scott Spratt, Derrik Klassen, and Benjamin Robinson of Grinding the Mocks, plus I'll be joining the discussion once the first round of the draft is fully in the books.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Kwity Paye, ER, Michigan
There is no Chase Young or Myles Garrett who can start from Day 1 and be a double-digit-sack threat as a rookie among the 2021 draft class. This year's class is full of edge rushers with an elite skill or two who lack the complete package. While Jaelan Phillips was drafted earlier by the Dolphins, Paye was considered by many to be the best of the bunch.
Paye can absolutely take over games at times and look unblockable for long stretches. In the fourth quarter against Minnesota, for example, he recorded two sacks and appeared to apply pressure on just about every snap. Paye has a wide base and powerful build, possesses great footwork off the snap, can bend back quickly to the quarterback after turning the corner, and hustles to chase plays from behind.
Unfortunately, Paye is often a pass-rusher without a plan, and he goes through long quiet stretches where he just crashes into his blocker over and over again. A groin injury slowed him down during a portion of an already-curtailed 2020 season, but he needs to get better at disengaging from blockers and stringing together moves to become a more consistent pass-rusher. SackSEER likes Paye's workout results but dislikes his sack rates and lack of passes defensed, projecting a not-so-spectacular 21.7 sacks through five seasons.
I see Paye as a complementary pass-rusher destined to get hustle sacks and cause chaos when he moves inside in NASCAR-type packages. There are too many flaws in his game right now to project him as a double-digit-sack guy.
This selection doesn't exactly move the needle for the Colts (don't worry, we'll talk about Carson Wentz a little tomorrow), but it's a fine enough selection.
22. Tennessee Titans
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Here's a video that purportedly shows Farley running a 4.28-second 40 at his performance academy before undergoing back surgery in early March.
Er … what's up with the jump cut at the beginning? Did Steven Soderbergh direct this video? As deep fakes go, this looks more like a "shallow feint." I'm pretty sure that dude in the background is holding a sandwich before the cut and has eaten half of it after the cut.
We need the combine to come back to provide some workout standardization, folks.
Farley is 6-foot-2 with long arms and quick feet, and he gets a great break on the ball in the air. But he underwent a discectomy in March to correct an earlier back problem. He also tore an ACL in 2017. Toss in a 2020 opt-out, and we have not seen much of a fully healthy Farley.
Farley triggers my Sidney Jones alarms. I fear that the Titans are going to spend two years waiting to see a fully healthy version of Farley. For all of Farley's considerable upside, Asante Samuel Jr., Greg Newsome, and other safer choices are on the board for a team that should be in win-now mode.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Christin Darrisaw, T, Virginia Tech
Darrisaw is not as much of a technician as Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. He's a massive individual with nimble feet who can snowplow defenders when he gets his mitts on them, but there are all sorts of little flaws in his game. Darrisaw gets caught moving laterally at times and tries to block his defender by just lowering a shoulder, which won't cut it in the NFL. He's also an inconsistent finisher who will piledrive defenders on running plays, then ease up as a pass-protector before the ball is in the air.
Darrisaw performed well against Miami's pass-rushers, particularly late in a close game in 2020. He tossed around some North Carolina State defenders as well, and had some Walter Jones moments throughout last season where he could be seen blocking for Khalil Herbert 20 yards downfield. That said, Darrisaw may struggle if asked to start right away, as Andrew Thomas struggled for the Giants last year.
Overall, Darrisaw's flaws are correctable, while his raw strength-quickness combination is rare. He's a solid value here.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
How excited am I allowed to be about a running back when writing for an analytics-savvy audience? I don't want to be ostracized from the analytics community. Again.
Harris looks like Derrick Henry, plus catching. His truck/hurdle/stiff-arm moves want me to reach for a PS5 controller, assuming I someday score a PS5. But writing about running backs for the Don't Matter crowd makes me fear that I am supposed to sneer like a 1990s kid at a music festival. Ugh. Looks like the bassist for Surge Requiem had bridgework done. Guess they're just another bunch of sellouts to the establishment.
Meanwhile, the current Steelers running back depth chart consists of Benny Snell (essentially a mid-1970s fullback), Anthony McFarland Jr. (no relation to Booger or chance of being more than the third guy in a committee), Kalen Ballage (on the two-franchise-per-season circuit), Jaylen Samuels (essentially a mid-1980s fullback), and Derek Watt (an early 2020s fullback).
Harris could be a cross between Henry and Ezekiel Elliott. That will make him a useful high-impact player for the Steelers, at least on his first contract, and someone who is not necessarily fungible with the incumbents. So I like this pick.
Now, can I still sit at your lunch table tomorrow?
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
My brain has stumbled over Etienne's last name every time an announcer said it over the past three years. "Etienne" sounds like "ETN," which sounds like a shifty cable news network where midday hosts get apoplectic over the thought of Fred Flintstone getting "cancelled."
And frankly, Fred Flintstone should be cancelled, not just for establishing the patriarchy back in the Stone Age but for perpetuating negative stereotypes about cave-persons. And what's in those chewable vitamins anyway? They're nothing but starter edibles leading our nation's youth down the slippery slope to reefer madness!
But I digress.
We have all watched Etienne many times over the last three years and know he can play. He reminds me a little of vintage, pre-holdout Le'Veon Bell in his ability to set up blocks and then explode through cracks to become an open-field playmaker. His college workload is a minor concern—he had 788 collegiate touches—but he generally only carried the ball 10 to 17 times per game for most of his career.
It's one thing for a stacked team with realistic playoff expectations like the Steelers to draft a running back and quite another thing for a rebuilding team to spend draft capital on one. If Urban Meyer's plan is to just port the Clemson roster to the NFL, Mike Mayock is gonna have some words with him.
But hey, that Trevor Lawrence/Etienne/Tim Tebow offense is gonna be fun to watch.
26. Cleveland Browns
Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
Newsome is NOT a Young Cornerback Avenger. That "II" in his name is just so he can sit at the same table as guys like Asante Samuel Jr. and Patrick Surtain II. Or, far more likely, it's there to honor his father of the same name.
Newsome is a long-armed, swivel-hipped defender who was rarely targeted last season, making scouting him pretty boring. Sports Info Solutions says he was targeted 35 times and allowed 10 receptions, fairly typical rates for a first-round cornerback prospect, but I must have missed about 33 of those targets. He's a bit of a downfield Grabowski who will climb his receiver's back to get to the football. Otherwise, all of the tools are there, and the technique is rock-solid for a college defender.
Newsome adds to a Browns rebuild in the secondary that also includes new arrivals Troy Hill and John Johnson. I like what the Browns are doing there, and think they have done a fine job this offseason building upon what they did in 2021.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Bateman originally opted out of the 2020 season but opted back in "to help send a positive message to this country" in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. He changed his uniform number from 13 to 0 to represent zero tolerance for racism.
Bateman also suffered a bout of COVID, with significant symptoms, in the summer of 2020.
What's remarkable about the stories of many prospects this year is how unremarkable they are. Many of us walked the same hard road in 2020, dodging a deadly contagion while trying to address systemic socio-political problems we would like to pretend only exist in Southern Gothic novels anymore. Bateman's story (you can read more here and here) is both powerful and commonplace, and we are still treading down that same road.
And no, I cannot wait to return to writing draft grades about players who had little more on their minds in their final seasons than pulled hamstrings and the transfer portal.
Bateman spent a great deal of time running RPO slants from the slot for the Gophers, but he appears to be capable of much more. He's a slippery downfield double-move guy who tracks the ball in flight well and can tiptoe the sideline. He's no side-speed marvel (Playmaker Score projects a middling 498 yards per season), but I see a lot of Stefon Diggs in his game.
Bateman is a great value at this round and a solid fit in the Ravens' unique Lamar Jackson-centric system.
28. New Orleans Saints
Payton Turner, ER, Houston
Turner reminds me of the Chiefs' Tanoh Kpassagnon when he was a prospect coming out of Villanova: Groot-like measurements, just enough "soft skills" to get by. I was expecting to see some 270-pound edge rusher running around and crashing into stuff when I watched Turner's tape, but was pleasantly surprised to see some subtleties: head-fakes and set-up moves when pass-rushing, ball-location awareness, and so forth.
The Saints had the oldest defense in the NFL last season, per our own snap-weighted age metrics. So any young defender is a good defender. That said, Turner is still pretty raw, and he's more of a two-gap end than an edge rusher. This was a reach by a team that needed to do something more creative, or at least secure someone with higher upside.
29. Green Bay Packers
Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
Stokes' nickname is "Dirty Red" because of his reddish-tinged hair. Do not, under any circumstances, search for "Dirty Red" on the Internet. [Saves document. Throws computer onto firepit. Waits for new computer to arrive from Amazon. Continues player capsule.]
Stokes is long-limbed at 6-foot-1, with track speed and the lateral quickness to handle slot assignments. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns and is good at jumping routes in front of him.
Most of Stokes' flaws are technical, common, and correctable: he doesn't turn for the ball quickly enough in deep coverage, will grab receivers at the top of the stem, and needs to do a better job fending off blockers in the run game.
Stokes had a rough game against DeVonta Smith and Alabama in 2020 but has been a solid starter for two seasons with the Bulldogs. He can develop into a capable, versatile starter.
As you might guess, I had some killer pre-written gags about Aaron Rodgers, his omega-level passive-aggression, his smarmy Jeopardy! stint where he came across like he was trying to sell viewers the TruCoat, and so forth. Now, it appears that we have crossed the Rubicon: the bickering couple has become the divorcing couple, which means it's time to stop making fun of them and brace for what comes next.
Any Aaron Rodgers trade immediately shatters the NFL status quo in the same way that Tom Brady caused a league-wide tectonic shift last year. In a way, of course, Brady touched off the Rodgers situation with the Buccaneers' victory in the NFC Championship Game, and the dubious Packers coaching decisions which made that victory slightly easier.
It's a lot to process while covering a draft. For now, it appears that the Packers are going about business as usual and will have the This is Fine dog announcing their Day 2 draft picks from its burning kitchen. So I will proceed in a similar fashion and pretend this was just an ordinary selection, not something that will be perceived as a final slap in the face by one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation.
30. Buffalo Bills
Gregory Rousseau, ER, Miami
Rousseau's nickname is somehow not "the Noble Savage." C'mon, football fans: why aren't you better versed in 17th century European philosophy?
(Upon Wikipedia research, it appears that Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself never used the term "noble savage," just as Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" and Captain Kirk never said "Beam me up, Scotty." So maybe I am the one who should be better versed in 17th century European philosophy).
Rousseau recorded 15.5 sacks in 2019 but opted out in 2020. He's strong, tall and has extend-o-arms that enable him to strip-sack quarterbacks even when he's blocked. His length also allowed him to block a field goal and generate a few sacks by diving at an escaping quarterback.
Rousseau was a one-dimensional pass rusher before the opt-out, and disappointing pro day results no doubt hurt his stock: he needed to either be several pounds meatier or a few beats more explosive after his year away from the game. SackSEER (21.3 sacks through five seasons, an unspectacular 59.3% rating) was as disappointed by the workout numbers as scouts were.
There's a risk that Rousseau turns out to be the sort of defender who gets out-leveraged against the run but does little more than swat down passes as an edge rusher. The Bills are hoping that Rousseau's pro day isn't a true reflection of his athleticism. At this point in the draft, that's a risk worth taking. And while the Bills finished fifth in adjusted sack rate, there's room for improvement as they try to keep up with the league's elite.
31. Baltimore Ravens
Odafe (Jayson) Oweh, ER, Penn State
Of all the ridiculous pro day results we saw in March, Oweh's seemed the most like figments of a college social media director's imagination. A 4.36-second 40-yard dash at 257 pounds? A 39.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches? Why not heat vision and retractable claws, too?
Even the garden slugs in Happy Valley were running sub 4.5-second 40s in March, so I'm taking Penn State pro day results with a grain of salt until the Bureau of Weights and Measures sends its investigators to campus to determine the truth. (They'll just get bribed with that fancy ice cream anyway).
Oweh is indeed a top athlete, but the tape doesn't show the super soldier that the pro day results suggest. He looks like just another guy on far too many snaps. Oweh was held without a sack in 2020; yes, he played just seven games and the Nittany Lions stunk, but zero sacks is a more telling number than any pro day result.
SackSEER went kittens on Oweh's workout results: 24.5 sacks through five seasons, a whopping 90.9% rating. SackSEER was built for combine results, not 37.5-yard dashes timed by college roommates.
Oweh could indeed be another Danielle Hunter, who was unproductive in college but became a monster in the pros, but if every college defender who couldn't notch a sack was secretly the next Hunter, no quarterback on earth would be safe, and NFL games would end in 4-4 ties after each team notched two safeties.
I would be more skeptical of this pick if the Ravens didn't have such a solid track record of developing defenders like Oweh. Also, it's the 31st overall pick, and I had a notion that Oweh would get selected in the teens or early 20s. Overall, this is fine, but I am wondering when the Ravens will get around to upgrading their interior offensive line.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Joe Tryon, ER, Washington
What do you get the team that has everything, including Tom Brady? MOAR SACKS, of course.
I've made a few wisecracks about how unbelievable many of this year's pro day results were (see the last capsule), and I am likely to make a few more tomorrow. Some of the eye-popping 40-yard dash results we saw in March contradict the tape: He looks like your basic defensive tackle for two seasons as a starter, but did you know he ran a 4.28-second 40 at 378 pounds in March?
On the other hand, some results confirmed and reinforced the game tape. Tryon ran a reported 4.5-second 40-yard dash at 251 pounds at his pro day, and he looks exactly that fast when you watch his footage from 2019. (Tryon opted out in 2020.) That said, SackSEER was less impressed by his three-cone and broad jump results and projects just 17.4 sacks through five seasons.
Tryon may have the most consistent first-step get-off of any edge rusher in the class. He's supple and bendy when rushing, rarely taking a predictable path through his blocker to the quarterback. Factor in quick, active hands, and Tyron is a real headache to block. I liked him better than Jayson Oweh when watching tape.
As a run defender, Tryon is a shopping cart, so he won't be of much use from a three-point stance on rushing downs. But if the Buccaneers can use him as a situational edge rusher and keep him away from pile-driving right tackles, Tryon will be a nasty edge rusher. Think Dante Fowler, without the outsized expectations.
That's all for tonight, friends! See you on the Football Outsiders Twitch stream in a few minutes. And don't forget to stop back tomorrow for even more stats, scouting reports, analysis, and obscure references in our pick-by-pick coverage of Rounds 2 and 3!
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