2021 NFL Draft Awards

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, it is only fair to dish out some awards for a job well done by a number of teams across the NFL. It also doesn’t hurt to look at which teams may have made regrettable picks.

Best Value Pick Round 1:
    Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields
    In 2017, Bears general manager Ryan Pace had an epic failure as a talent evaluator when he selected Mitch Trubisky instead of Pat Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. It appears Pace has learned from that mistake, as he made the move to go up and pick Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who a number of team sources saw as having some similarities to Watson coming out of Clemson. Both needed work on pocket presence, accuracy, and field vision, but Watson developed those issues into strengths and Fields has the same kind of upside. Both quarterbacks are dynamic playmakers with arms and legs capable of ripping up defenses. Fields will need some development, but his upside is off the charts.

    The Bears had to come away from the 2021 NFL Draft with a franchise quarterback, and getting Fields outside of the top 10 was an excellent value, similar to the Texans taking Watson in 2017. Like Houston, the Bears had to give up a future first-round pick to move up for their guy. But Chicago did not give up multiple first-round picks like the 49ers did for Trey Lance. Over the past 40 years, the Bears have not a quarterback with an elite skill set like Fields. He might just change the tradition of disappointing quarterback play in Chicago.

    Honorable Mentions: Detroit Lions OT Penei Sewell, Carolina Panthers CB Jaycee Horn, Miami Dolphins DE Jaelan Phillips, Tennessee Titans CB Caleb Farley, and Green Bay Packers CB Eric Stokes.

    2020 Winner: CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
    2019 Winner: Quinnen Williams, Jets
    2018 Winner: Derwin James, Chargers
    2017 Winner: Malik Hooker, Colts
    2016 Winner: Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins
    2015 Winner: Todd Gurley, Rams and Malcom Brown, Patriots
    2014 Winner: HaHa Clinton-Dix, Packers
    2013 Winner: Sharrif Floyd, Vikings
    2012 Winner: Riley Reiff, Lions

Best Value Pick Day 2:
    Las Vegas Raiders: S Trevon Moehrig
    This pick was a tough choice, but Moehrig was the consensus top safety in the 2021 NFL Draft and landing him with the 43rd pick was excellent value for the Raiders. Moehrig should be able to help them in pass coverage in a variety of ways. He has the speed to cover ground, the size to defend big wideouts/tight ends, and Moehrig is natural in zone coverage in the middle of the field. He is a great fit for Gus Bradley’s defense. As a run defender, Moehrig is a contributor. He uses his instincts to fire to the ball and make plays. In space, Moehrig can break down and is a solid tackler. He also shows some strength and explosion to tackle with some physicality. Given the weakness of the Las Vegas secondary, Moehrig looks like an immediate starter who is an instant upgrade and could form a much improved tandem with Johnathan Abram.

    Honorable Mentions: Lions DT Levi Onwuzurike, Giants CB Aaron Robinson, Colts DE/DT Dayo Odeyingbo, Redskins OT Sam Cosmi, Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jaguars S Andre Cisco, Falcons OT Jalen Mayfiel and Saints CB Paulson Adebo

    2020 Winner: Cam Akers, Rams
    2019 Winner: Greg Little, Panthers
    2018 Winner: Derrius Guice, Redskins
    2017 Winner: Dalvin Cook, Vikings
    2016 Winner: Myles Jack, Jaguars
    2015 Winner: Jaelen Strong, Texans
    2014 Winner: Carlos Hyde, 49ers & Louis Nix, Texans
    2013 Winner: Eddie Lacy, Packers
    2012 Winner: Janoris Jenkins, Rams

Best Value Pick Day 3:
    Carolina Panthers: RB Chuba Hubbard
    I thought the Panthers did well on the opening night of the 2021 NFL Draft, made some mistakes on Day 2, but then circled the wagons and finished out the draft well by making a trio of really good picks on Day 3, including my best third-day value. In the fourth round, Carolina landed Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard who would have been a second-round pickif he had entered the 2020 NFL Draft coming off his 2,000-yard season. Hubbard was injured last fall, but he has a good skill set with size, quickness, and running ability. Mike Davis left the Panthers in free agency, so Hubbard could be an excellent backup and rotational back to help lighten the load on Christian McCaffrey. Hubbard is a great scheme fit for Carolina and offensive coordinator Joe Brady as well. Hubbard has a starter’s skill set, so landing him in the fourth round was excellent value for the Panthers.

    Honorable Mentions: Dallas Cowboys LB Jabril Cox, Steelers OT Dan Moore, Carolina Panthers DT Daviyon Nixon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Jaelon Darden, Carolina Panthers WR Shi Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers LB Quincy Roche, Las Vegas Raiders C Jimmy Morrissey and Green Bay Packers RB Kylin Hill.

    2020 Winner: Albert Okwuegbunam, Broncos
    2019 Winner: Mack Wilson, Browns
    2018 Winner: Nick Nelson, Raiders
    2017 Winner: Caleb Brantley, Browns
    2016 Winner: Andrew Billings, Bengals
    2015 Winner: Jay Ayayi, Dolphins
    2014 Winner: Justin Ellis, Raiders
    2013 Winner: Philip Thomas, Redskins
    2012 Winner: Bobbie Massie, Cardinals

Best Trade:
    Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields
    This was an easy choice because the Bears were able to get a potentially elite franchise quarterback and paid a much cheaper price than the 49ers did in their move from No. 12 to No. 3. If Fields ends up playing up to his skill set and turns into a young franchise quarterback similar to Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson or Pat Mahomes, than Chicago will have gotten a bargain.

    Honorable Mentions: New York Jets trading up for OT/G Alijah Vera-Tucker, and New York Giants trading down for WR Kadarius Toney.

    2019 Winner: Kenneth Murray, Chargers
    2019 Winner: Montez Sweat, Redskins
    2018 Winner: Lamar Jackson, Ravens
    2017 Winner: Tre’Davious White, Bills
    2016 Winner: Myles Jack, Jaguars
    2015 Winner: Maxx Williams, Ravens
    2014 Winner: Louis Nix, Texans
    2013 Winner: Alec Ogletree, Rams
    2012 Winner: Justin Blackmon, Jaguars

Biggest Reach Round 1:
    New Orleans Saints: DE Payton Turner
    Per team sources, the Saints tried to trade up to a top-10 pick to select South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. After Horn, there were reports that New Orleans coveted Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome. When Newsome went off the board two spots ahead of the Saints, New Orleans ended up taking Houston defensive end Payton Turner at No. 28.

    In the days prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, WalterFootball.com reported Turner was rising and many teams thought he would go in the second round, but he was a real reach in the first round. Turner has a good skill set with size and strength, but he beat up on weak competition and could struggle to get off blocks from larger NFL offensive tackles. His skill set and background are very similar to Marcus Davenport’s, and that pick has been a disappointment for New Orleans. Turner could prove to be better than Davenport, but there is no doubt that Turner was a reach compared to where the rest of the league viewed him.

    Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Chargers OT Rashawn Slater and New England Patriots QB Mac Jones.

    2020 Winner: Damon Arnette, Raiders
    2019 Winner: L.J. Collier, Seahawks
    2018 Winner: Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
    2017 Winner: Corey Davis, Titans
    2016 Winner: Josh Garnett, 49ers
    2015 Winner: Stephone Anthony, Saints
    2014 Winner: JaWuan James, Dolphins
    2013 Winner: Travis Frederick, Cowboys
    2012 Winner: Bruce Irvin, Seahawks

Biggest Reach Day 2:
    Carolina Panthers: OT Brady Christensen
    Christensen was viewed as just a guy by other teams. One team source said some of quarterback Zach Wilson’s impressive plays came because Christensen missed his blocks. They feel Christensen was a significant reach early in the third round, and he was not close to being as good as the tackles the Panthers passed on in Sam Cosmi, Liam Eichenberg and Jackson Carman. Christensen benefits from going to an offensive scheme with Joe Bray that makes life easier on the offensive linemen. However, Christensen is the projected left tackle of the future, and I believe Carolina could end up being disappointed in the results.

    Honorable Mentions: Minnesota Vikings QB Kellen Mond, Carolina Panthers TE Tommy Tremble, Houston Texans QB Davis Mills and Baltimore Ravens G Ben Cleveland.

    2020 Winner: Jalen Hurts, Eagles
    2019 Winner: Jalen Hurd, 49ers
    2018 Winner: Connor Williams, Cowboys
    2017 Winner: C.J. Beathard, 49ers
    2016 Winner: Roberto Aguayo, Buccaneers
    2015 Winner: Jordan Richards, Patriots
    2014 Winner: Jack Mewhort, Colts
    2013 Winner: Duron Harmon, Patriots
    2012 Winner: Bryan Anger, Jaguars

Best Undrafted Free Agent Signing:
    Los Angeles Rams: S Paris Ford
    Ford was impossible to ignore over the last two years, as he was all over the field for the Panthers. Ford played with reckless abandonment, physicality, and serious tenacity. Multiple team sources raved about his tape and what he did on the field, but major off-the-field character concerns sent Ford into the undrafted ranks.

    Ford signed with the Rams, and they were a great landing spot for him. During his coaching career, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has done an excellent job of working with troubled players and helping them to avoid problems in the NFL. Going far away from Pennsylvania could help Ford as well. Morris also has given opportunities to late-round or undrafted players, so Ford going undrafted won’t hold him back from seeing the field if he earns playing time.

    Los Angeles also needs some safety talent to emerge after losing John Johnson in free agency. The Rams have some young talent in Jordan Fuller, Taylor App, Terrell Burgess and Juju Hughes, but Ford should have the opportunity to compete immediately. Ford has early-round talent, so if cleans up his off-the-field life he could turn into an undrafted steal for the Rams.

    Honorable Mentions: Detroit Lions WR Sage Surratt, Carolina Panthers RB Trey Ragas, Philadelphia Eagles WR Jhamon Ausbon, Philadelphia Eagles WR Trevon Grimes, Baltimore Ravens S Ar’Darius Washington and Seattle Seahawks WR Tamorrion Terry.

    2020 Winner: Trey Adams, Bills
    2019 Winner: Elijah Holyfield, Panthers
    2018 Winner: J.C. Jackson, Patriots
    2017 Winner: Fish Smithson, Redskins
    2016 Winner: Geronimo Allison, Packers
    2015 Winner: Akeem Hunt, Giants
    2014 Winner: Antonio Richardson, Vikings
    2013 Winner: Chase Thomas, Saints
    2012 Winner: James Brown, Bears

Best Draft Class:
    New York Giants
    Typically, this is a tough decision, but the Giants stood out this year from the opening night of the draft. While they missed out on Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith, they made a brilliant move in their trade down with the Bears, picking up a 2022 first-round pick and still landing a big-time playmaker in Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Toney is an explosive game breaker who is electric with the ball in his hands. Defenses will have to focus on stopping Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram, so Toney could be a fabulous weapon who can take advantage of single coverage to produce a lot of big plays for Daniel Jones.

    On top of landing a good player in Toney, getting the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft could be a huge value for New York. Chicago could easily end up with a top-20, or possibly a top-10, pick. As good as Justin Fields was at Ohio State, he needs developmental time, and the Bears winning a lot of games with journeyman starting quarterback like Andy Dalton or a rookie in Fields seems unlikely. Hence, the Giants could end up with an excellent choice in the 2022 NFL Draft from their move down with the Bears.

    The Giants followed up their very good opening night with an excellent second day of the 2021 NFL Draft, starting off by landing some help at hunting the quarterback in the form of edge rusher Azeez Ojulari. While Ojulari has some limitations, those could be masked in New York’s 3-4 scheme, and playing next to interior forces like Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence will help disguise those issues as well.

    In the third round, the Giants landed a sleeper steal in Central Florida cornerback Aaron Robinson. I thought Robinson was one of the best second-day values in the 2021 NFL Draft as he is big, fast, athletic, and can really cover. Robinson has the size to take on big wideouts, the quickness to run with speed receivers, and the fluid agility to run the route and prevent separation. He just slid because of vision issues and having problems reading zone coverage. Those are issues that can fixed with coaching. In New York, Robinson can be the third cornerback with James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson. Bradberry will draw the No. 1 receiver, and Jackson can slide inside to the slot in the nickel. That will give Robinson the No. 2 outside receiver and a favorable matchup. In time, I think Robinson will become a very good starting corner for the Giants, and I believe he was one of the steals of the 2021 NFL Draft.

    The Giants added some really good depth players on Day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft in defensive end Elerson Smith and cornerback Rodarius Williams. Many teams thought Williams would go on Day 2, and he was an excellent cover corner in 2020. He could be a very good fourth or fifth corner who also contributes on special teams.

    I really love the values who the Giants landed at each pick, as they didn’t reach and really improved the talent on their roster. They also addressed some big needs by landing a potentially game-breaking receiver, a possible good outside corner in Robinson, and a starting edge rusher in Ojulari. Additionally, New York picked up an extra 2022 first-round pick as a result of this draft. This was a phenomenal draft for the Giants, and they deserve the top spot for their astute picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

    Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.

    2020 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
    2019 Winner: Washington Redskins
    2018 Winner: Denver Broncos
    2017 Winner: Washington Redskins
    2016 Winner: Buffalo Bills
    2015 Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
    2014 Winner: Houston Texans
    2013 Winner: Green Bay Packers
    2012 Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

Worst Draft Class:
    New Orleans Saints
    Clearly, I blew it with the 2012 award for Seattle, and to a lesser extent, with the Cowboys in 2013. On the other hand, the Chiefs’ 2014 class, the Panthers’ 2015 class, and the Patriots’ 2016 class have been underwhelming. Four years ago in this space,I ripped New England for the Cyrus Jones pick, and that was proven valid. I thought Arizona’s 2017 draft class was terrible, and that has been the case thus far with those players disappointing. It’s too early to pass judgement on the Packers’ 2020 draft, the Texans’ draft class from 2019, or even the Cowboys’ from 2018.

    In my opinion, the Saints had the worst 2021 NFL Draft in the league. Payton Turner was a big reach in the first round, and New Orleans overdrafting players continued through the fourth round. Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner was solid in college, but he has limitations for the NFL and was not viewed as second-round pick by other teams. Paulson Adebo in the third round could end up being the Saints’ best pick in the third round, but even Adebo has some scary eye-discipline issues and a problem biting on double moves. He might be a David Amerson-type corner if he doesn’t straighten them out. In the fourth round, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book feels like a wasted pick. While he could be a smart backup quarterback, Book may not have the skill set to even be a No. 2 in the NFL. Overall, the Saints came away with a draft class that might only be comprised of future backup and rotational players like Turner, Werner and Adebo. Such an outcome is not good value for New Orleans, and I think the team had the worst draft in the NFL.

    2020 Winner: Green Bay Packers
    2019 Winner: Houston Texans
    2018 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
    2017 Winner: Arizona Cardinals
    2016 Winner: New England Patriots
    2015 Winner: Carolina Panthers
    2014 Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
    2013 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
    2012 Winner: Seattle Seahawks

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

2024 NFL Mock Draft - Feb. 21

Fantasy Football Rankings - Feb. 19

NFL Picks - Feb. 12