NFL Draft News & Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Biggest reaches of Round 1

Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

No one knows exactly how Round 1 players in an NFL draft are going to develop. That’s the beauty of it. There’s hope to go around for every fan base.

The people still want to know which players were “steals” and which were “reaches,” though. Here are some players from Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft who qualified in the latter category based on where they stacked up as prospects, both on PFF’s Big Board and The Athletic's Consensus Big Board, and the other players who were still available at those draft slots.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Pick No. 17: Las Vegas Raiders — T Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

The Raiders have done it again. Leatherwood joins the likes of Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette as an example that general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden pay no mind to consensus when it comes to their first-round draft picks.

Leatherwood ranked 45th on The Athletic's Consensus Big Board, where he was listed as the second-ranked guard. PFF listed him as the 40th-best player in this draft overall and OT8. His biggest con in the PFF Draft Guide — adjusting in space — could ultimately lead to him being better suited inside.

Las Vegas addressing its offensive line after parting ways with Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown this offseason isn’t a bad decision. Leatherwood, a prospect who could have slipped to the second round, just doesn’t profile as the best option to fill that need at this stage of the draft. The Raiders will look for Leatherwood’s length and strength to prove the doubters wrong.

Pick No. 19: Washington Football Team — LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky

Davis is one of the best athletes in this class, regardless of position, and he fills a need for Washington at linebacker. There’s still some rawness to his game, though. Davis has only one season as a starter under his belt, playing more than 250 snaps for the first time in his career in 2020. He wasn’t asked to carry out a ton of difficult coverage responsibilities at Kentucky, either. Most of his coverage snaps came in simple, spot-drop zone coverage.

That limited him to 41st on PFF’s Big Board, over 20 spots lower than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who was still on the board. Davis was also over 20 spots lower than JOK on the consensus big board. It’s not all that difficult to see a more polished Davis ending up in the conversation for best linebacker in this class due to his length and athleticism. It all comes down to how much he progresses.

Pick No. 24: Pittsburgh Steelers — RB Najee Harris, Alabama

There is a lot to like about Harris as a prospect. He shows off a smoothness to his game that most bigger backs don’t have, and he’s a natural receiver. His biggest strength in the PFF Draft Guide is his catch radius. It’s not difficult to see Pittsburgh’s front office drawing the Le’Veon Bell comparison after his stretch of dominance for the Steelers.

The issue here is that there were other talented players, such as Teven Jenkins, Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, still on the board who could also fill areas of need at more valuable positions.

The draft isn’t over, but Harris will have a tough time running behind the current iteration of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. It’s hard to get on board with the Steelers targeting a running back before fixing their offense's biggest problem a season ago.

Pick No. 25: Jacksonville Jaguars — RB Travis Etienne, Clemson 

This pick profiles similarly to the one above. Etienne is clearly talented. He deserves to be one of the first running backs off the board. He is one of the biggest home-run threats in this class, was highly productive for multiple years at Clemson and really developed as a receiver over the course of his college career.

But this is a Jacksonville team that just saw James Robinson, an undrafted running back, find success as a rookie last season. The Jaguars finished the 2020 season with a 1-15 record. They have needs across their roster, even with several additions already made in free agency. Etienne qualifies as a “luxury pick” on a team that isn’t necessarily in a position to be making such selections. He ranked 66th on PFF’s final big board.

This move at least continues to add to the excitement surrounding the Jaguars' new-look offense behind No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and first-year head coach Urban Meyer. 

Pick No. 28: New Orleans Saints — EDGE Payton Turner, Houston

Turner was expected to come off the board closer to the back end of the second round rather than the back end of Round 1. He came in at 60th on The Athletic's Consensus Big Board and 58th on PFF’s Big Board. By those measures, this was a bit of a reach.

However, I did highlight him in an article earlier this offseason that discussed four players who could be surprise first-round draft picks. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 268 pounds with 35-inch arms, Turner has the length and versatility to play both outside and inside. He’s also a plus athlete with good bend. 2020 marked his first season of truly elite play (87.7 PFF grade), and that performance came from just over four games of action.

It may be early for Turner to come off the board, but it’s not hard to see what the Saints saw in him following the departures of Trey Hendrickson and Sheldon Rankins along their defensive line in free agency.

Pick No. 29: Green Bay Packers — CB Eric Stokes, Georgia

Stokes started to pick up some first-round buzz after running a 4.25-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day while having good size for the position. The notable exception from that impressive showing was his decision not to participate in the change-of-direction drills. That change-of-direction ability is listed as his biggest weakness in the PFF Draft Guide.

Stokes could run into similar issues as DeAndre Baker coming out of Georgia with the change in the illegal contact rules at the NFL level. For those reasons, Stokes came in 72nd on PFF’s Big Board. For comparison, Asante Samuel Jr. was a top-30 player on PFF’s board — a cornerback prospect who profiles as a strong scheme fit within Green Bay’s defense.

This was just a little early for Stokes to come off the board in our eyes.

Pick No. 32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers — EDGE Joe Tryon, Washington

Tryon was another prospect, like Stokes, who looked the part at his position and started to pick up first-round buzz heading into Thursday night. He has an ideal combination of size, length and explosiveness for the edge with the kind of attacking mindset that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles likely coveted.

We just never saw those tools translate to high-level production on the field at Washington. Tryon earned PFF grades below 70.0 in each of his two seasons with the Huskies before opting out of the 2020 campaign. He’s not alone in this edge defender class when it comes to having high-end tools, either. He came in at 75th on PFF’s Big Board — over a full round below this draft slot. However, Tryon was higher on the consensus board (48th overall). 

More of PFF's 2021 NFL Draft tools here: 
2021 NFL Draft Big Board | 2021 NFL Draft Guide | 2021 NFL Draft Stats Export | NFL Mock Drafts | NFL Mock Draft Simulator

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