The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone, as each team in the NFC West took place in the most important part of the team-building process. Each organization added some young talent to the squad in hopes of building a champion, but which teams came the closest to reaching that goal? This installation of the 2021 NFL Draft Grades features an in-depth breakdown of every team in the NFC West.
2021 NFL Draft Grades: NFC West
Arizona Cardinals: A-
While Micah Parsons was the consensus LB1 in this class, I actually prefer Zaven Collins. At 6’-5” and 259 pounds, Collins is one of the most ferocious players in the trenches that this draft class has to offer. The Tulsa product is stout against the run and can be deadly as a blitzer. While most players of this build aren’t capable of doing much in coverage, Collins is actually fast enough to keep up with running backs and tight ends and has the range to effectively drop back in zone coverage. This was a slam-dunk pick that should give Arizona one of the better linebacker duos in the league.
Rondale Moore, meanwhile, has the potential to be so, so good if he can just stay healthy. At 5’-9” and 180 pounds, Moore is smaller than the typical wide receiver. However, he makes up for it with blazing speed and agility in the open field. He was absolutely fantastic during his age-18 season but hasn’t been able to stay healthy since. If he can stay on his feet at the NFL level, he could be the perfect complement to DeAndre Hopkins.
There is no such thing as too many good cornerbacks, especially when you play in the same division as DK Metcalf. Marco Wilson doesn’t have the talent to lock him down – not even close – but he’s a fast corner with decent ball skills that should be able to handle most WR2’s in off coverage. Most prospects at this point in the draft are athletic freaks with little technical refinement, but Dimukeje is the exact opposite. His athletic limitations put a clear cap on his ceiling, but his knowledge of how to get to the passer should allow him to play some kind of role early in his career.
Tay Gowan is a fast, physical cornerback that has the potential to easily outplay his draft stock. However, his below-average awareness and ability to diagnose routes caused him to fall down the board. He’ll be a situational player at the beginning of his career but could grow with the right coaching. James Wiggins will probably have to start his career on special teams while Michal Menet will fight for one of the final depth spots on the offensive line.
Los Angeles Rams: D
Finding impact players in the NFL Draft isn’t easy, especially when you don’t have a first-round pick. That being said, it’s hard to believe that the Rams couldn’t do better than this. Tutu Atwell has some nice film, but he is just not an NFL receiver. According to multiple reports, the Louisville product weighed 149 pounds at the Indianapolis medical combine. The list of players that succeed in the NFL at this weight is nonexistent, and you should never bet on outliers succeeding in the NFL.
Ernest Jones, meanwhile, would’ve been a solid pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. The South Carolina product is an absolute force in the run game, rarely missing tackles and providing punishing hits to every running back that comes near him. Unfortunately, he’s an active liability in the passing game, and throwing the ball has never been more important. Teams spend most of their time in nickel, which means he’ll have a hard time finding the field to begin with. He’s a player from an era of football that no longer exists, and shouldn’t have been drafted until late on Day 3.
The Rams did better on Day 3 than Day 2, but that was basically by default and started it off by shooting for the moon with Bobby Brown. His highlights are as good as anyone’s, but his lowlights are terrible and far too frequent. Perhaps the Rams hope that the lowlights will go away as opposing offensive lines focus primarily on stopping Aaron Donald. Robert Rochell, meanwhile, offers starting-caliber upside with immediate value on special teams, although he is prone to getting overpowered in the run game.
Jacob Harris is a wide receiver, but his 6′-5″, 219-pound frame might make him more of a replacement for Gerald Everett in the passing game. Earnest Brown is a low-ceiling, high-floor interior lineman that will probably see some playing time if the gamble on Brown doesn’t pay off.
Jake Funk is the new Malcolm Brown and probably won’t see the field, barring absolute calamity. Ben Skowronek is another dart throw that will probably need to make a living on special teams, at least early on. Chris Garrett was a beast against Division II competition, but can he carry that over to the NFL?
San Francisco 49ers: B+
The San Francisco 49ers went all-in on Trey Lance, and only time will tell if that decision pays off. However, from where I’m sitting, this decision was a smart one. Lance was absolutely electric in 2019 and, based on upside alone, has the potential to be the best quarterback in this class. He’s still very young, so the team can allow him to learn behind Jimmy Garoppolo for one year before taking the starting job. Of course, if Lance impresses in training camp in the preseason, then head coach Kyle Shanahan could decide that the future is now and let the rookie start right out of the gate.
The most important thing you can do for a young passer is improving his confidence by giving him a great offensive line. Aaron Banks goes a long way towards accomplishing this goal, as he has some of the best highlights of any interior lineman in this (admittedly weak) class. While the consistency isn’t quite there yet, he should develop into a solid player with NFL coaching. Kyle Shanahan can make any running back into a superstar, and there’s no reason to think Trey Sermon is the exception to this rule. He’s a ferocious runner that should be right at home in this offense. Ambry Thomas, meanwhile is probably better off as a situational corner, as he doesn’t really have the size to match up against bigger receivers.
Jaylon Moore is an athletic offensive lineman that played well against good competition, but he might be too small to be a tackle in the NFL. He never played guard before, so only time will tell what the future holds for him. Deommodore Lenoir played outside in college, but his shorter arms and relatively underwhelming athleticism will put him in the slot at the NFL.
Talanoa Hufanga is an absolute blast to watch, but his smaller body just isn’t made for his physical style of play. Additionally, he lacks the range to be anything more than a box safety. Taking another running back after trading up for Trey Sermon seems strange, but Kyle Shanahan loves running backs, and Elijah Mitchell was projected by many to go much earlier in the draft.
Seattle Seahawks: Incomplete
The Seattle Seahawks entered the 2021 NFL Draft with essentially no draft capital, so it’s hard to blame them for their underwhelming results. We can, however, blame them for taking D’Wayne Eskridge in the second round when Terrace Marshall was still on the board. Eskridge is as fast as they come, but he doesn’t run good routes and isn’t physical enough to consistently win against press coverage. He projects more as a gadget player than a reliable receiver and feels like a reach in the second round.
Seattle is notorious for going after big, strong cornerbacks, which makes the Tre Brown pick all the more surprising. This isn’t to say Brown is a bad player – he’s not – just that is a relatively strange pick for Seattle. Of course, he plays bigger than his size and improved his ball awareness, so he should be able to start in a relatively weak secondary.
Stone Forsythe has one of the best names in the entire class, but the film doesn’t quite match up with all that. Forsythe is built like a tank, which is a good and bad thing. While he has the strength to hold up against any bull rush, he is susceptible to quicker moves, and he’ll need to fix that. Still, he should compete for Seattle’s swing tackle, which is great value to find late on Day 3.
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