1-32 poll, plus the most improved offseason teams and players who benefited from the draft


With the 2021 NFL draft in the rear view, it’s time to take inventory with another version of the NFL Power Rankings. While this draft was unprecedented due to the lack of a combine, visits to team facilities and in-person pro days, the decisions made in constructing this draft class will shape the futures of many NFL teams.

But we’re taking more of a micro look at this draft. We asked our NFL Nation writers to pick players already on the roster of the teams they cover who benefited most from the draft. Whether it’s players who have more talent around them now (Aaron Rodgers, if he decides to reconcile with the Green Bay Packers), veterans who are happy their teams passed on possible replacements or heir apparents (Tua Tagovailoa on the Miami Dolphins) or star players who simply have more support surrounding them (Myles Garrett on the Cleveland Browns), here are the guys who might excel the most after draft day.

How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Post-free-agency ranking: 1

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Patrick Mahomes

The Chiefs finished a rebuild of their offensive line by trading their first-round pick to the Ravens in return for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and then drafting center Creed Humphrey in the second round. That means the Chiefs will have eight new linemen this upcoming season, and there’s a strong possibility the Chiefs will have a completely different group of starters. Mahomes is unlikely to be harassed like he was in Super Bowl LV. — Adam Teicher


Post-free-agency ranking: 2

Players who benefited most from draft: OLBs Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul

Neither Barrett nor Pierre-Paul like to come off the field, but the addition of first-round draft pick Joe Tryon as a rotational player could help keep both players, especially Pierre-Paul, who is now 32, fresh, especially when that midseason lull starts to kick in. Perhaps Tryon’s presence will help a more-rested Barrett and Pierre-Paul excel down the stretch. — Jenna Laine


Post-free-agency ranking: 4

Player who benefited most from draft: CB Levi Wallace

Draft experts, football pundits and fans all expected the Bills to take a cornerback within the first two days of last month’s draft; instead, general manager Brandon Beane waited until the sixth round to select Wisconsin corner Rachad Wildgoose, who probably won’t be usurping Wallace as the Bills’ starting cornerback in his rookie season. While Wallace will still need to stave off impressive 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson, the fact Beane didn’t spend an early pick on a cornerback signals his confidence in Wallace, a three-year starter. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Post-free-agency ranking: 6

Players who benefited most from draft: OL Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton and Austin Corbett

The Rams lost center Austin Blythe to the Chiefs in free agency and did not draft a replacement. That means Allen, Shelton and Corbett will compete for the starting job in 2021 and possibly earn the opportunity snap to quarterback Matthew Stafford for several seasons beyond. Allen has the most experience after starting nine games as a second-year pro in 2019, but he has not appeared in a game since suffering a season-ending knee injury that year. Shelton has no NFL experience at the position, and Corbett, who started the past two seasons at guard, has played the position in only the preseason. — Lindsey Thiry

play

1:58

Louis Riddick argues that Aaron Rodgers eventually will take his talents elsewhere and finish his career away from Green Bay.

Post-free-agency ranking: 3

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Aaron Rodgers

Should Rodgers choose to embrace it, he would see that the draft improved his chances of getting over the hump after consecutive NFC title game losses the past two years. The two biggest holes on the roster last season were at cornerback (where Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan were exposed) and on the offensive line (without injured left tackle David Bakhtiari). The Packers picked speedy corner Eric Stokes in the first round and also took three offensive linemen to give them more options up front. Oh yeah, and they finally drafted a receiver before Day 3, taking Clemson’s Amari Rodgers in the third round. — Rob Demovsky


Post-free-agency ranking: 5

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens gave Jackson two polished route-runners and a mountainous offensive lineman in the first four rounds. Jackson received help in the passing game with wide receivers Rashod Bateman (first round) and Tylan Wallace (fourth round), who are known for getting open and catching everything in their grasp. Think Keenan Allen and Cooper Kupp. In the third round, Baltimore drafted a 6-foot-6, 357-pound interior bodyguard for Jackson. Guard Ben Cleveland allowed one sack and three quarterback pressures in 741 pass-blocking snaps across four seasons at Georgia, according to Pro Football Focus. This investment provides a boost to the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing attack. — Jamison Hensley

play

1:51

Jeff Darlington and Keyshawn Johnson examine the back end of the Ravens’ schedule.

Post-free-agency ranking: 7

Player who benefited most from draft: DE Myles Garrett

Too often last season, Garrett had to carry Cleveland’s defense. That became too much after he caught COVID-19 and labored with his breathing even after returning. Garrett will have a lot more help moving forward, thanks in part to the draft. With their first two picks, the Browns nabbed cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, players who weren’t expected to last to Cleveland’s first-round pick at No. 26, much less fall to the second round, as Owusu-Koramoah did. Adding that kind of talent should make life easier on Garrett, both this season and long term. — Jake Trotter


Post-free-agency ranking: 9

Player who benefited most from draft: C Ethan Pocic

Not drafting a center showed that the Seahawks have more confidence in Pocic than many observers do. Sure, having a league-low three picks was a factor, but it seems telling that they passed on a center with their first pick at No. 56 despite only one center coming off the board by that point. While they could still add a veteran in this post-draft phase of free agency, Pocic is the clear-cut favorite for the job. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks hope he’s still ascending at that position after playing guard for his first three seasons. — Brady Henderson


Post-free-agency ranking: 13

Players who benefited most from draft: The receiver group

Picking one player who benefited most is difficult, but the players who were probably happiest to see the Niners not make a significant draft addition were the wide receivers. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel are the unquestioned top two but with Kendrick Bourne gone to New England, many thought the Niners would at least add someone to compete for the open slot receiver job. Instead, the 49ers eschewed the position for the first time in the past 19 drafts, leaving the likes of Richie James, Jalen Hurd and Mohamed Sanu Sr. to battle for Bourne’s vacated snaps. — Nick Wagoner


Post-free-agency ranking: 8

Player who benefited most from draft: TE Anthony Firkser

Firkser remains the most likely candidate to be the lead tight end for the Titans because they didn’t use any draft picks to add to the group. The Titans also avoided selecting a slot receiver to take over the third-down specialist role. That leaves Firkser as the best option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to target when they need to move the chains. Firkser had 19 receptions on third down last year, of which 14 (74%) resulted in a first down. Firkser’s fortunes could change if the Titans are active in the post-June 1 free-agent sweepstakes. — Turron Davenport


Post-free-agency ranking: 12

Player who benefited most from draft: OLB Chandler Jones and DE J.J. Watt

By drafting two talented cornerbacks in Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan, the Cardinals strengthened their cornerback room significantly after losing Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick this offseason. Adding those two defensive backs will give the Cardinals better depth and the ability to rotate at corner, keeping fresh legs on the field, which in turn will help Watt and Jones off the edge. Better, more consistent cornerback play will allow the two elite edge rushers more time to get to the quarterback, who’ll likely be forced to hold the ball longer because of better coverage, which could lead to more sacks. — Josh Weinfuss


Post-free-agency ranking: 10

Player who benefited most from draft: DE DeForest Buckner

The Colts lost 15.5 sacks of support for Buckner along the defensive line with the departures of Justin Houston (8.0) and Denico Autry (7.5) during the offseason. The Colts hope first-round pick Kwity Paye will help make up for some of those sacks. Paye, an edge rusher out of Michigan, will have the inside track to become an instant starter. Paye had 11.5 sacks during his college career. Buckner will also get even more help at some point once second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo returns from his torn Achilles. Odeyingbo, an edge rusher who played at Vanderbilt, tore his Achilles while working out in January. — Mike Wells


Post-free-agency ranking: 15

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Kirk Cousins

Phew! For a minute it looked like Cousins wouldn’t have a viable group protecting him on the left side of the offensive line. Minnesota sought not only prospects to fit its zone-blocking scheme but also found more size. First-rounder Christian Darrisaw is now responsible for Cousins’ blindside, and the Vikings can be confident that the rookie left tackle will fare well after allowing just three pressures and one sack on 264 pass blocks last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But perhaps the biggest benefit will be the expected improvement of the Vikings’ interior pass protection thanks to the drafting of guard Wyatt Davis in the second round. — Courtney Cronin

Post-free-agency ranking: 14

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Tua Tagovailoa

All of the offseason chatter surrounding the Dolphins was about building around Tagovailoa, and build they did. Adding a speedy wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle, an NFL-ready offensive lineman in Liam Eichenberg, depth at tight end in Hunter Long and a power running back in Gerrid Doaks is key for the maturation of the Dolphins’ offense under its second-year signal-caller. And let’s not forget Miami addressing the potential mentor role, signing backup QB Jacoby Brissett in free agency and declining to draft any competition at the position. This is Tagovailoa’s team, and it’s set up for him to take the Dolphins to the next level. — ESPN Staff


Post-free-agency ranking: 11

Players who benefited most from draft: OTs Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor

The Steelers didn’t draft a Day 1 starting tackle, and that’s good news for both Okorafor and Banner. With Alejandro Villanueva departing in free agency, Okorafor is “penciled in” at starting left tackle according to what Mike Tomlin said in April. Banner, coming off an ACL surgery, is projected to start at right tackle — the position he won in a training camp battle a year ago. Both have more job security, with the Steelers opting to wait until the fourth round to take an offensive tackle. — Brooke Pryor

play

1:58

Marcus Spears and Domonique Foxworth reveal their expectations for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

Post-free-agency ranking: 18

Player who benefited most from draft: S Donovan Wilson

Safety has been a need for years for the Cowboys, even if Wilson showed he could develop into a productive player with his ability to be around the ball. The Cowboys added three safeties in free agency in Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse, but Neal is expected to begin at linebacker, Kazee is coming off an Achilles tear and Kearse is mostly a special-teamer. The Cowboys did not select a safety in the draft but will move sixth-rounder Israel Mukuamu, a cornerback, to the position. That is good news for Wilson’s standing, not just on the roster but as a starter. — Todd Archer


Post-free-agency ranking: 17

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Justin Herbert

The Chargers weren’t playing around when it came to protecting their franchise quarterback. They went out in free agency and signed All-Pro center Corey Linsley along with tackle Matt Feiler and guard Oday Aboushi, and then drafted their left tackle of the future in Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 pick. They also added veteran Jared Cook at tight end and an experienced backup quarterback in Chase Daniel to go with their new, upbeat coaching staff. It will be exciting to see if it all works. — Shelley Smith


Post-free-agency ranki: 16

Player who benefited most from draft: WR Tre’Quan Smith

Smith already had a big opportunity to emerge as New Orleans’ No. 2 wide receiver this year after the Saints released veteran Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. But his role was further cemented when the Saints didn’t draft a WR until Round 7. Smith has shown flashes of potential since being drafted in Round 3 in 2018 and provides extra value as a blocker. But he has never tallied more than 34 catches or 448 yards in a season and could use a breakout heading into the final year of his contract. — Mike Triplett


Post-free-agency ranking: 19

Player who benefited most from draft: OT Isaiah Wynn

The Patriots didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the sixth round (William Sherman), which simplified their decision to pick up Wynn’s fifth-year option for 2022 and guarantee him $10.4 million. Wynn has played 18 of a possible 48 regular-season games, as injuries have created obstacles for him in becoming the player the Patriots hoped they were getting after taking him No. 23 overall out of Georgia in 2018. When healthy, he has been mostly solid at left tackle. — Mike Reiss


Post-free-agency ranking: 22

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

For the first time in a while — maybe ever — Fitzpatrick will play without a clear replacement behind him. There’s no Jameis Winston, Josh Rosen or Tua Tagovailoa — among many others — lurking. Washington considered drafting a quarterback but didn’t feel desperate. Not only does he have a new level of freedom, but Washington drafted a speedy wide receiver in Dyami Brown to pair with free-agent signee Curtis Samuel and holdover Terry McLaurin. It also selected an offensive tackle (Samuel Cosmi) and a tight end (John Bates). Fitzpatrick might have his best chance to lead a team to the postseason for the first time in his 17-year career. — John Keim


Post-free-agency ranking: 24

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Matt Ryan

The Falcons didn’t take a quarterback in the first round (or any round), once again giving credence to the thought Ryan is still in Atlanta’s future plans (although as we’ve seen with Matthew Stafford and Sam Darnold, things can change considerably in a year). The Falcons also gave him a tantalizing new offensive option in No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts, who head coach Arthur Smith could line up anywhere. Barring injuries, Atlanta’s offense should be one of the most productive in the league, and Ryan — with potential security in his job — would be the catalyst for that. — Michael Rothstein


Post-free-agency ranking: 20

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Derek Carr

After another offseason full of rumors that had Carr being replaced at different times by Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and/or Aaron Rodgers, the Raiders stood pat. They did not draft Carr’s heir apparent and, actually, strengthened the roster around him with what the Raiders contend is a cornerstone right tackle in Alex Leatherwood. They also rebuilt the defense, as five of Las Vegas’ seven draft picks came on that side of the ball. No more excuses, right? — Paul Gutierrez


Post-free-agency ranking: 21

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Daniel Jones

The Giants were going to draft DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle with the 11th pick if they had fallen to that spot. They didn’t. But the Giants were so intent on getting more playmakers for Jones that they still drafted wide receiver Kadarius Toney after trading down to No. 20. As if adding Kenny Golladay, John Ross III and Kyle Rudolph in free agency and getting back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL wasn’t enough, now Jones has Toney (referred to as an “offensive weapon” by one coach) in the mix. Any lack of success from Jones in his third season won’t be due to a lack of talent around him. — Jordan Raanan

play

1:15

Marcus Spears predicts that Justin Fields will be named the starter for the Bears by the end of training camp.

Post-free-agency ranking: 25

Player who benefited most from draft: WR Allen Robinson II

The arrival of Justin Fields will greatly benefit Robinson, who is playing on the one-year franchise tag. Whenever the Bears deem Fields ready to start, the rookie out of Ohio State represents a serious upgrade over the quarterbacks Robinson has played with over three seasons in Chicago. Despite the often shaky quarterback play, Robinson still managed to post impressive numbers, catching 102 passes for 1,250 yards last season. Whether Robinson is a Bear beyond 2021 remains to be seen, but the (expected eventual) emergence of Fields might convince Robinson to stick around a while longer. — Jeff Dickerson


Post-free-agency ranking: 23

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Sam Darnold

Everyone the Panthers drafted, even first-round CB Jaycee Horn, helps Darnold. Consider second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr., whose 11 TDs inside the 10 the past two years were the most in college football; WR Shi Smith, whose 153 catches from the slot are the third most in the SEC since 2014; RB Chuba Hubbard, who will allow more opportunities for Christian McCaffrey to be used in other places; Tommy Tremble, whose 83.7 run-blocking grade (PFF) in 2020 was the best by a TE in college football; and OG Deonte Brown, who didn’t allow a sack in college. One could argue the entire Carolina draft was to benefit Darnold. — David Newton


Post-free-agency ranking: 27

Player who benefited most from draft: OLBs Von Miller and Bradley Chubb

It’s a tie because life could be far better for the Broncos’ two most prominent pass-rushers given all of the team’s offseason work on the secondary. Not only did they sign cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby in free agency, re-sign safety Justin Simmons to a megadeal and bring back safety Kareem Jackson on a one-year deal, the Broncos also selected Alabama CB Pat Surtain II with their first-round pick. Surtain will be in the mix for significant playing time from the moment the equipment staff hands him his helmet. It all points to improved coverage and more sack opportunities for Denver’s pass-rushers. — Jeff Legwold


Post-free-agency ranking: 26

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Jalen Hurts

The Eagles not only passed on opportunities to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones, but did not use any of their nine draft picks on a quarterback. Instead, they reunited Hurts with a pair of fellow Alabama alums by taking wide receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson in the first two rounds, then added do-it-all running back Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth. This will be Hurts’ show barring a late blockbuster trade, and he’s now set up pretty well for it. — Tim McManus


Post-free-agency ranking: 29

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Zach Wilson

After drafting Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, the Jets actually gave him some help by following up with three consecutive picks on offense — guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, wide receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter. The previous time they opened a draft with four straight choices on offense was 1983. This is a departure from how the Jets built around Wilson’s predecessor, Sam Darnold. Wilson already has struck up a friendship with Moore, who figures to play immediately. Vera-Tucker projects as a Day 1 starter at left guard and Carter could work his way into playing time in a backfield that lacks a true RB1. Call this draft “Wilson & Friends.” — Rich Cimini


Post-free-agency ranking: 28

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Joe Burrow

While the former No. 1 overall pick didn’t force his opinion on Cincinnati’s front office, Burrow made it known he enjoyed the idea of playing with WR Ja’Marr Chase again. And sure enough, the Bengals selected Burrow’s former LSU teammate with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft. Chase gives Burrow another big playmaker who will be asked to beat defenders early and often. Burrow also gained a projected starting right guard in Clemson’s Jackson Carman. The Bengals clearly indicated they’re backing their young quarterback. — Ben Baby

play

1:23

Rex Ryan explains what Tim Tebow can bring to the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially in short-yardage situations.

Post-free-agency ranking: 30

Player who benefited most from draft: WR DJ Chark Jr.

Really, all the receivers will benefit from the addition of Trevor Lawrence, but Chark is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 (53 catches, 706 yards, 5 TDs). He made the Pro Bowl and was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, and the upgrade in QB play over Gardner Minshew II, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon — all of whom started games last season — gives him a chance to surpass 1,000 yards again. The addition of vet Marvin Jones Jr., helps, too, because defenses can’t just focus on Chark any longer. — Michael DiRocco


Post-free-agency ranking: 31

Player who benefited most from draft: QB Jared Goff

Ahead of the draft, the new Lions quarterback was assured by the front office that the team wouldn’t select another QB. They didn’t, which he said gave him a “nice foot of confidence” entering his first year in Detroit. They also beefed up the offensive line by drafting a potential generational talent in Oregon OT Penei Sewell to help protect him. Although building up the offensive and defensive lines was a priority, Goff was also “excited” for fourth-round WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, who could be a good fit. — Eric Woodyard


Post-free-agency ranking: 32

Player who benefited most from draft: RB David Johnson

While the Texans have three veteran running backs on their roster, none are under contract past the 2021 season. The Texans had already signed Phillip Lindsay after they had restructured Johnson’s contract but by not drafting a running back, Houston didn’t add another player who could take carries away from Johnson. Johnson was the Texans’ lead running back last season and ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries in 12 games. — Sarah Barshop



Source link

Follow by Email
Instagram