The 2021 NFL Draft was heavy in the first half of the first round, much to the chagrin of three veterans who expected to start this season. After the 49ers (No.3 overall), Bears (No.11) and Patriots (No.15) all selected passers, other teams made more surprising picks as running back, wide receiver wide and defense, given what they already had. Another team also took on a promising QB earlier than expected.
With 259 talented rookies drafted into the league, many veterans are on the verge of being moved from key roles, with several being pushed into the roster bubble. Here’s a look at 11 notable starters who shouldn’t be thrilled with their team’s draft results:
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Full results | Team by team notes | Winners and losers
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Jimmy G has a chance to stay in San Francisco, only because the 49ers’ potential business partners seem scarce at the moment. Given the youth and necessary development of first-row rookie Trey Lance, the team may want Garoppolo to be a bridge option. Then again, the 49ers can earn around $ 24 million in salary cap relief with negligible dead money by cutting or dealing with Garoppolo, whether before or after June 1.
If Lance’s learning is accelerated to the point where the team are comfortable immediately launching their dual threat with a solid supporting cast, the question is whether the Niners want to keep Garoppolo as the most expensive replacement in the league instead of agreeing with Nate Sudfeld as the No.2. Either way, Garoppolo is heading for a big demotion or a departure.
Cam Newton, QB, Patriots
The Patriots were linked to bringing Garoppolo back ahead of the draft in case they couldn’t clinch one of the five first-round quarterbacks. After picking Mac Jones – who looked to be heading once to the 49ers to replace Garoppolo – that won’t happen. As for Newton, Bill Belichick used the coach’s predictable line that he was always the starter, but no one thinks Jones will have every chance of winning the job in a training camp competition.
As with Garoppolo vs Lance, there is also a contrasting style in the QB game between Newton and Jones. Although Belichick and Josh McDaniels adjusted their attack on Newton’s run well in 2020, they saw a huge drop in the high pocket pass standard set by Tom Brady. Jones is a Brady style from QB to a tee with his intelligence, leadership, tenacity and decision making.
Bills have Josh Allen as a young MVP candidate. The Dolphins have Tua Tagovailoa in Year 2. The Jets have kept Zach Wilson’s promise at No.2. The rest of the division does not bridge the gap to QB, so the Patriots risk losing a valuable year with Jones if they stuck with Newton. Unless Jones falls flat, Newton will have to settle for a replacement role if Newton isn’t ready to accept that, so it wouldn’t be shocking for the Patriots to cut him, given that Jarrett Stidham knows quite well. the system to be a solid No. 2.
Andy Dalton, QB, bear
So much for being their “QB1” to pass Mitchell Trubisky, crushed after Chicago traded to take Justin Fields. With the team working to get out of Nick Foles’ mess, Dalton is a more reasonable option for a No.2 given he had the same transition role after Cincinnati behind Dak Prescott in Dallas last season.
Fields needs a bit of refinement as a passer, but like Lance, he can learn well on the fly as a double threat with good skill support. The Bears, as the returning team in the playoffs, will be better off with a higher rise in the roster. Hopefully they will have a QB2 chart for Dalton ready sometime in August.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings
Cousins’ recent contract extension locks him into one more season as a starting quarterback. But Kellen Mond’s early third-round selection was in line with the team’s thinking about the major cap relief ($ 35 million) available for 2022 in the event of a cousin trade. Mond, an experienced starter at Texas A&M, is an accurate short to intermediate passer and dynamic runner who can be the next Prescott by strengthening his arm and improving his decision making.
Cousins is 33, and Minnesota may have reached their offensive – albeit pretty good – peak with their veteran efficiency leading them. The Vikings need to stay ahead of another bad situation and general manager Rick Spielman has done a good job keeping the team talented enough to fight for the playoffs while transitioning between positions. They shouldn’t mind if Mond grows to the point that he’s able to start after just one year in the red shirt.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Broncos
When Gordon was signed in the last offseason after the Chargers, it wasn’t good news for Phillip Lindsay, disappointed he couldn’t remain the main fullback in Denver despite two productive seasons as an undrafted free agent in his home country. Now Lindsay (Texans) is gone and Gordon is expected to have some of those same feelings after the team traded to use a second round pick over Javonte Williams.
Williams is a naturally strong power back that ends well. He can stay on the pitch for three tries soon with a little refinement in his reception and blocking of passes. Gordon has had a solid first year in Denver, but he’s moving up there with mileage dating back to his days in Wisconsin and has had a considerable injury history. He is also unsigned beyond this season. Expect Williams to take over that backfield for good soon enough, with Gordon seeing a scaled-down third deck role at best.
James Robinson, RB, Jaguars
The Jaguars went from an undrafted gem to Robinson replacing the first round freed Leonard Fournette to use their second first round pick on Travis Etienne. Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell’s new training regime ignored the fact that Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards at 4.5 yards per pursuit on a one-win team last season, also scoring 10 times and adding 49 catches for 344 extra yards. Etienne is the most qualified receiver and the line of the company is that he is nominated for a unique role dedicated to this title, to the Alvin Kamara of the Saints.
The reality is that Etienne is a runner complete enough to convince the leaders of his new attack that he should be presented above Robinson, given his vast experience with transfers and assists from Trevor Lawrence.
Raheem Mostert, RB, 49ers
Ahead of the draft, Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. looked like a 1-2 punch to lead the San Francisco backfield after the team pulled Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon out of the crowded mix in recent offseason . The 49ers were in the market for more reverse depth, given that Mostert and Wilson suffered more injuries in 2020.
They doubled that by taking Trey Sermon in round three and Elijah Mitchell in round six. Kyle Shanahan enjoys having many options that can thrive in his zone blocking system and versatility in body types. Sermon’s size makes him the new Coleman, while Mitchell’s speed is reminiscent of Breida. The 49ers love Mostert and love Wilson, but Shanahan loves committees a lot more.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Jets
The Jets didn’t need much to address the wide receiver with Corey Davis and Denzel Mims set to start on the outside for Wilson. But given that there were doubts about Crowder’s future as a man of possession before the draft, the Jets confirmed they wanted to go in a different direction at the post with second round Elljah Moore. Crowder made a living opening up the Washington and New York Short Zone, all the way through the Red Zone. But Moore’s speed and quickness provides a whole other set of great open-field equipment.
Crowder was OK for Sam Darnold and Adam Gase, but not for Wilson and MIke LaFleur. LaFleur’s 49ers influence made him want someone with Brandon Aiyuk-style slot juice. Moore can be a bigger addition to what they want to do with Davis and Mims. Expect Crowder, who will become a free agent in 2022, to be removed before June 1 so the Jets can get more than $ 10 million in cap relief.
Robby Anderson, WR, Panthers
Speaking of Darnold, he finds his best guy in Carolina. Darnold and Anderson have linked up for a lot of big games with the Jets and the Panthers got a productive first season from Anderson after signing him to a two-year, $ 20 million contract last offseason to reunite with his former coach. du Temple, Matt Rhule. But it also means Anderson will be a free agent heading into his 29-year season in 2022.
The Panthers were in greater need of a slot option between Anderson and DJ Moore to replace Curtis Samuel, but waited until the sixth round to address it with Shi Smith. But after several trades, they used a second round on Terrace Marshall Jr, who has many of Anderson’s qualities as a size / speed stretcher on the outside. As good as Anderson was and can be, Moore is the much preferred long-term investment given his production and pedigree as a 24-year-old first round from 2018.
Jaylen Smith, LB, Cowboys
Smith or Leighton Vander Esch? Both linebackers must be nervous after the Cowboys used a first round on Smith’s more talented clone, Micah Parsons, and a fourth round on rangy Jabril Cox. Smith is coming off a shaky season that didn’t fit his lucrative stretch, to the point that the team were considering a potential contract with him next season. As Smith entered the league after a serious knee injury, Vander Esch struggled with availability, preventing Dallas from choosing the fifth-year option on the first round of 2018.
Now, the Cowboys should know not to invest so much in linebacker at the expense of other defensive positions. But instead, not getting consistent returns from Smith and Vander Easch for different reasons prompted them to invest even more interim capital in the position.
Johnathan Abram, S / LB, Raiders
The Raiders love Abram’s concept, their first cleanup tour of 2018 from the back. But they also don’t like that it has durability issues and has been a huge liability when it comes to coverage. Their draft response took three guarantees (Trevon Moehrig, Divine Deablo, Tyler Gilespie). Abram, given that Jeff Heath and Karl Joseph are also in the mix, may be pushed to play linebacker, where the team also likes second-year third-round Tanner Muse.