By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson locked in atop the NFL Draft, the real fun in the event began with the third overall pick. Aside from all the pre-draft speculation that ultimately amounted to nothing hinting that the Denver Broncos had acquired Aaron Rodgers via trade. Despite all the rumors linking San Francisco to Alabama product Mac Jones, the 49ers nabbed the ultra-athletic (and extremely raw) Trey Lance. The 49ers have taken a massive risk trading multiple first-round picks to select Lance, but the upside is immense.
With three quarterbacks off the board to start the draft, the next two picks went as expected. Tight end Kyle Pitts, a generational-level talent and day-one contributor, was nabbed by the Atlanta Falcons at four, while the Cincinnati Bengals reunited quarterback Joe Burrow with his favorite college target, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Atlanta has far greater needs on the defensive side of the ball, but the Falcons cannot be faulted for selecting arguably the top non-quarterback talent in the draft. Meanwhile, Cincinnati choosing Chase over Penei Sewell will be a topic of conversation for years to come.
Fortunately, Sewell didn’t have long to wait to hear his name called as he was gleefully selected by the Detroit Lions two picks later. Sewell is one of the best offensive line prospects in decades, comparing favorably to Hall-of-Famers. Detroit has to be ecstatic to land Sewell at eight, and his presence will be massive as the team begins the lengthy overhaul of its roster. Rashawn Slater, the draft’s second-best tackle prospect, slid to the Los Angeles Chargers at 13. Slater, combined with the free-agent signings of center Corey Linsley and guard Matt Feiler, will be part of a reshaped offensive line for L.A. protecting second-year quarterback Justin Herbert.
While Chase was the first receiver off the board at five, two others joined him in the top ten selections. College teammates Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith were selected by the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. Waddle joins an eclectic receiving corps for second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and he should make an immediate impact as a deep threat. Smith is undersized. Still, there is no doubting his potential impact. He will likely emerge as the leading receiver for Philadelphia as a rookie by the season’s end.
At pick 11, the Chicago Bears arguably won the draft by selecting quarterback Justin Fields. Despite committing to veteran Andy Dalton earlier in the off-season, the Bears wisely saw the opportunity to acquire a potential franchise quarterback in Fields and did not pass it up. Fields is a complete package built for the modern NFL. Four picks later, a fifth quarterback came off the board as the New England Patriots ended the slide of Mac Jones. While rumors of San Francisco selecting Jones third overall felt like a massive miscalculation, New England landing him at 15 feels like a reasonable gamble.
Linebacker Zaven Collins to the Arizona Cardinals at pick 16 stands as a personal favorite selection on the night. Collins is a sneaky fun player with impressive versatility. He will pair with last year’s first-round pick Isaiah Simmons to give Arizona a pair of second-level defenders capable of doing any and everything on that side of the ball. The only real negative to this selection is that it fails to address Arizona’s glaring need at cornerback. However, the Cardinals can still handle this issue today and over the weekend.
Perhaps the honor of having the most criticized selection of the night goes to Pittsburgh’s move to select running back Najee Harris at 24. Through zero fault of Harris, who is by all accounts a game-changing talent, the pick earned justifiable backlash given Pittsburgh’s glaring needs elsewhere on the roster, including along the offensive line. With a sub-par blocking unit slated to be working in front of Harris, it is unlikely the rookie will make much of an impact as a rookie. Pittsburgh committing a first-round pick to a running back illustrates the franchise’s lack of understanding of its place among the NFL’s contenders. The Steelers are a team on the verge of a rebuild, not one in need of finishing touches for a Super Bowl run.