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Grading all 32 first-round picks after Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season

The battle between the first and second overall pick this week did little to excite, but Zach Wilson came away with both the victory and the better splash plays against Trevor Lawrence. Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase got back on track with big performances for their respective offenses, while Mac Jones has continued to falter in recent weeks after being comfortably the best rookie quarterback for most of the season thus far.

On defense, Micah Parsons remains a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate and brings versatility that is a huge boost to the Dallas Cowboys defense.

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PICK NO. 1: QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Overall Rookie Grade: 58.2 (Rank: 5/7)
Week 16 Grade: 61.4

The great battle between the No. 1 overall pick and the No. 2 overall pick did little to reinforce the draft credentials of Lawrence, who continues to underwhelm. He made just one big-time throw to two turnover-worthy plays, and when he had the chance to snatch victory with a game-winning drive in the final seconds, he was at the helm of a complete breakdown in execution on offense. Urban Meyer was clearly the architect of many problems in Jacksonville, but many more remain after his departure, and Lawrence is showing few encouraging signs.

PICK NO. 2: QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Overall Rookie Grade: 60.8 (Rank: 3/7)
Week 16 Grade: 80.5

In contrast to Lawrence, Wilson did show some signs of encouragement in the game, but some of his best plays seemed to owe a lot to absolutely inept defending — such as just electing not to force him out of bounds, allowing a lot more yards on a rushing play. Wilson earned the highest PFF game grade of his season, an 80.5 mark. He was also working without most of his normal receivers and a good portion of his offensive line, but a combination of low average depth of target (5.6 yards) and high average time to throw (2.93 seconds) is a recipe for problems against better defenses than Jacksonville’s.

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PICK NO. 3: QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Overall Rookie Grade: 60.0 (Rank: 4/7)
Week 16 Grade: DNP

Lance again did not see the field this week for the 49ers. He has played just five snaps since Week 5. However, Jimmy Garoppolo had a poor game for the first time since Week 8, and he has reportedly suffered a ligament tear and fracture in his right thumb. All of a sudden, the 49ers may be relying on Lance to quarterback them into the playoffs and beyond.

PICK NO. 4: TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Overall Rookie Grade: 81.4 (Rank: 1/14)
Week 16 Grade: 92.9

“Tight end” Kyle Pitts was the leading receiver for the Atlanta Falcons this week against the Detroit Lions, catching all six passes thrown his way for 102 yards. Of the 23 passing plays Pitts played on offense, just five came with him lined up as a true tight end in line, attached to the line of scrimmage. Even in a world of move-tight ends and optional blocking, that’s stretching the definition to a new place. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we call him, because Pitts is a legitimate playmaker for that offense and is capable of winning from any alignment.

PICK NO. 5: WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Overall Rookie Grade: 78.5 (Rank: 2/27)
Week 16 Grade: 82.3

The Baltimore Ravens fielded a decimated secondary in Week 16, so it’s not a surprise to see Chase have a big game, especially since he already did it when the two teams met earlier in the season. This time, Chase caught seven of the nine passes thrown his way for 125 yards. Seventy-five of those yards came after the catch, with Chase snagging multiple shallow drags and then turning them into bigger gains. He remains a big playmaker for the Bengals but caught just one of the three contested catches he had a shot at.

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PICK NO. 6: WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

Overall Rookie Grade: 81.4 (Rank: 1/27)
Week 16 Grade: 87.7

Waddle was once again the player who the Miami offense was built upon against the Saints on Monday Night Football. He caught 10 of the 12 passes thrown his way for 92 yards and a touchdown. His average depth of target was just 6.0 yards downfield, as the Dolphins continued to use him on quick passes to offset the disastrous offensive line in front of Tua Tagovailoa.

Waddle moved the chains six times for first downs and gained 57 yards after the catch. He has been a huge addition to this offense as a high-volume receiver, but he needs a better offensive line to become a true all-around threat at the position.

PICK NO. 7: OT Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions

Overall Rookie Grade: 78.0 (Rank: 2/18)
Week 16 Grade: 64.3

Sewell put together another average performance — his second consecutive — after dominating for the middle portion of the season. Against Atlanta, Sewell allowed three pressures — the most he has surrendered in a game since Week 4 — and his run blocking was solid but unspectacular. The Falcons had little in the way of formidable competition to provoke a worse game, but Sewell has still been an excellent player overall during his rookie year.

PICK NO. 8: CB Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers

Overall Rookie Grade: 67.8 (Rank: 7/39)
Week 16 Grade: DNP

Horn broke his foot on Thursday night in Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season after an encouraging start to the campaign. He is expected to miss the rest of his rookie year.


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