The most anticipated part of the off-season is officially in the rearview mirror, as the 2021 NFL Draft has officially passed. Every team in the league added young talent to their squad, but which teams made the biggest improvements? This installment of the 2021 NFL Draft Grades features an in-depth breakdown of every team in the NFC North.
2021 NFC North NFL Draft Grades
Chicago Bears: A
Picking in the first round for the first time in two years, the Chicago Bears made a bold move to take quarterback-of-the-future Justin Fields of Ohio State 11th overall. Arguably the second-best passer in this draft, Fields comes in with a lot of pressure but will reportedly get all the time he needs to sit and develop. This pick has Matt Nagy written all over it after the general manager Ryan Pace’s pick of Mitchell Trubisky busted.
The Bears weren’t done being winners of the draft on the second day either. They were again very aggressive, this time trading up to take offensive tackle Teven Jenkins out of Oklahoma State in the second round. Considered to be one of the nastiest players in this class, Jenkins is a plug-and-play right tackle that should allow the Bears to move on from Bobby Massie. They used their third-rounder to move up for Jenkins but so far so good.
Pace found even more value on the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft, landing Missouri offensive lineman Larry Borom who played both tackle and guard in college. Obviously versatile, he’ll have to work on his conditioning. After oddly using a sixth-round pick on running back Virginia Tech Khalil Herbert (possibly for a returner), Chicago took North Carolina’s Dazz Newsome later in the round. He profiles similarly to Anthony Miller who the Bears tried to move this off-season. They finished out the round with cornerback Thomas Graham of Oregon before taking BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga with their final pick.
Detroit Lions: B+
The Detroit Lions went the “best player available” route and took the best offensive lineman in the draft in Oregon’s Penei Sewell with the seventh-overall pick. Was the offensive line the biggest need for the Lions? No, but adding a strength like Sewell to an already good group will only pay dividends. Sewell was the 2019 Outland Trophy (awarded to the nation’s top lineman) winner and adds some toughness for the new regime; albeit in a relatively safe pick. Still, rolling with Jared Goff is a gamble.
Day two saw the Lions attack the other side of the ball and take back-to-back defensive tackles in Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill in the second and third rounds, respectively. It’s a boon for Detroit’s run defense that ranked 28th last season. They shifted their focus to the backend, taking Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu with their second third-rounder. The 6-foot-3 defensive back adds great length and athleticism to a group that added Jeff Okudah with their first pick last NFL Draft.
On Day 3, Detroit added to their revamped wide receiver corp by taking Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC. He’s smaller than his brother, Equanimeous St. Brown, who plays for the Packers, but he had a much more productive college career. They went back to the defense in the fourth round with Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes. An inside backer, he still racked up 10.5 sacks in college. With their final pick, the Lions took Jermar Jefferson, a running back out of Oregon State. It was a relatively safe draft for the Lions but they landed some solid pieces.
Green Bay Packers: C+
Not to suggest the Green Bay Packers reached taking cornerback Eric Stokes with the 29th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. It’s just that Pro Football Focus had him ranked 72nd on their big board. The Draft Network had him 46th so there’s some variance. At any rate, Stokes is extremely fast; running in the sub-4.3s and adds length opposite Jaire Alexander in replacing Kevin King. Still, many will question not taking a wide receiver here (reportedly their top two choices were off the board) with their reigning-MVP quarterback upset.
They did get some immediate help along the offensive line on the second day of the draft, taking Ohio State center Josh Myers. He replaces the departed Corey Linsley; also a former Buckeye. In the same vein as other recent Packers lineman, Myers is versatile with the ability to play anywhere on the interior. They certainly made a Rodgers happy on Friday, taking Clemson wideout Amari Rodgers, a veritable Randall Cobb clone, with the 85th pick.
Green Bay continued adding to the offensive line to start the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft by taking Mississippi’s Royce Newman. He’s another versatile body with the Packers having several question marks along the line. They went defense with both of their fifth-round picks, taking defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton of Florida and cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles of Appalachian State. Cole Van Lanen at pick number 214 marked the fourth year in a row Green Bay took a local prep product. Their other sixth-round pick Isaiah McDuffie adds depth in the middle and running back Kylin Hill (256th) is a scatback with return ability.
Minnesota Vikings: A-
Minnesota could get this grade on their first-round pick alone. Christian Darrisaw is arguably the second-best offensive tackle in this class and he fell into Minnesota’s lap after their attempts to trade up (for him, no less) failed. Not only that, they actually traded back and still landed their top target. Kirk Cousins was sacked 39 times last season, sixth-most in the NFL. Darrisaw should team with Brian O’Neil to give them a solid, athletic pair of bookends along the offensive line. This was a no-brainer.
There were murmurs of Kellen Mond sneaking into the first round if the run on quarterbacks was at the level many expected. A four-year starter with multiple school records, for him to land in Minnesota in the third round is a win, regardless of your opinions of this roster. They went defense with two of their three third-round picks with linebacker Chazz Surratt and EDGE Patrick Jones II sandwiching guard Wyatt Davis. All three should address immediate needs.
The Vikings were busy on the final day of the draft, with six picks total (three fourths, two fifths, and a sixth). They took running back Kene Nwangwu with their first pick in the fourth, who should vie for return duties. Safety Camryn Bynum and EDGE Janarius Robinson should help add depth to a still-transitioning defense. Meanwhile, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and tight end Zach Davidson add depth on offense. Jalen Twyman is an interior pass-rusher who could be a nice rotational piece.
Aggressive and decisive picks gave Chicago the highest grade in the NFC north. However, more importantly, this mindset also raised their stock in the NFC championship 2022 predictions race, with the Bears already emerging as a leading threat.
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