Aaron Rodgers isn’t the only disgruntled star quarterback who’s had his bluff called during the 2021 NFL draft. Deshaun Watson wants out of the Houston Texans, and the AFC South franchise took a step toward preparing for life without him by selecting Davis Mills with the third pick in the third round.
The selection of Mills was one of the highlights of day two, but there were other notable winners and losers. Specifically, the NFC East looks a lot stronger after all four teams stockpiled playmakers during the first three rounds. There’ll be no 7-9 paper champion in this once-proud division in 2021.
Things used to be a lot easier to figure out in the AFC East where the New England Patriots permanently held sway until Tom Brady upped sticks and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bill Belichick has been making one splash move after another this offseason to make sure the Pats losing out to the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills is just a one-year aberration. New England’s chances of returning to dominance received a huge boost when Belichick engineered a trade in the second round and finally landed the anchor his defense has needed since Vince Wilfork left town.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey
Sam Darnold is hoping for a new lease of life after being traded to the Carolina Panthers, but this is still Christian McCaffrey‘s team based on what general manager Scott Fitterer did on Day 2. He moved back in the second round by striking a deal with the Chicago Bears that gave the Panthers the 52nd pick, along with the 83rd. Fitterer used the latter to select Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble. He couldn’t have found a better lead blocker for McCaffrey.
Tremble can line up next to an offensive tackle, as an H-Back, or even as a traditional fullback. Wherever he is, Tremble’s a force in the running game. He creates soft edges for lateral runs and puts defenders on skates at the second level.
BYU offensive tackle Brady Christensen is another road-grader taken who will make life easier for McCaffrey. Christensen’s a 300-plus pounder who was a regular starter for the Cougars and will give McCaffrey and Tremble an obvious reference point to follow through traffic.
McCaffrey has all the tools he needs to rebound in a major way after missing 13 games in 2020.
Winner: Gus Bradley
I couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for Gus Bradley when the Los Angeles Chargers hired Brandon Staley as head coach. Staley was the coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams‘ league-leading defense in 2020, so he was always likely to put his own stamp on the Chargers’ unit. That meant Bradley needed a new gig, which turned out to be running the defense for the Las Vegas Raiders. He’d swapped coaching Joey Bosa, Jerry Tillery, Linval Joseph, and Derwin James for trying to fix a Raiders D’ that ranked 30th in points and 25th in yards last season.
Fortunately for Bradley, Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden did him a solid on the second day of the draft. Their goodwill began with trading up five spots in Round 2 to select TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. He’s a ball hawk with true zone eyes who can handle playing the deep middle in the Cover 3 schemes Bradley loves.
There was even better news for the Raiders’ DC in the third round. Mayock took edge-rusher Malcolm Koonce 79th overall then followed it by adding another safety, the superbly named Divine Deablo from Virginia Tech.
Koonce has the potential to start as a rookie for a defense that logged a pitiful 21 sacks last season. He has tremendous closing speed when he gets a quarterback in his sights and once played on the same line at Buffalo as a former Raiders sack-specialist, a certain Khalil Mack.
Diablo is one of the more interesting players in this class. He initially projects as a Kam Chancellor-type box safety. Yet there’s also potential for 6’3″, 226-pound Diablo to convert to weakside linebacker. Bradley learned this defense from Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks, and the scheme calls for a light, quick OLB who can play zone.
Divine Deablo said the #Raiders discussed moving him towards the box at the WILL linebacker. "Just matching up with tight ends and playing the run. That is the main way they want to use me."
— Anthony Galaviz (@agalaviz_TheBee) May 1, 2021
Winners: NFC East
Those of us old enough to remember when the NFC East was the IT division in football have mourned its steady decline in recent years. Last season was the nadir when two six-win teams, the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team, went into the final week competing for the division crown.
You can expect a higher standard of competition this year, based on how all four franchises reloaded during the first three rounds. Washington are the reigning champs, and the Football Team did quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a few favours on Day 2. They started by adding Samuel Cosmi in the second round. He has an excellent chance to fill a void at left tackle created when Trent Williams downed tools before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
The more intriguing pick came in Round 3 when Washington added North Carolina’s Dyami Brown to an already loaded receiving corps. Brown is the kind of true deep threat an all-or-nothing passer like Fitzpatrick will love.
Dyami Brown on "Go Routes" since 2019:
— PFF (@PFF) May 1, 2021
If Fitz and Brown strike up a rapport early, defenses will no longer be able to double Terry McLaurin. That will also leave more room underneath for free-agent arrivals Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries.
Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman has been busy stockpiling picks for next year. He added another when he received a 2022 third-rounder from the Miami Dolphins. It was the price for the Giants moving back eight spots in Round 2. Big Blue still managed to land a potential steal in the form of edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari. He’s from Georgia, a school with a decent track record for producing pro-ready 3-4 pass-rushers, guys like Justin Houston and Jordan Jenkins. Ojulari should thrive with Danny Shelton and Leonard Williams absorbing double teams in the middle.
Another trade, this one with the Denver Broncos, helped the Giants net cornerback Aaron Robinson. One of the NFL’s rising defenses just got a lot better.
Getting better on defense was the clear remit for the Dallas Cowboys entering this draft. Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy stayed laser-focused by adding four defensive players to first-round selection, linebacker Micah Parsons. Defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa was a steal at 75. He plays low and is constantly disruptive. Chauncey Golston will provide some juice off the edge, while defensive backs Kelvin Joseph and Nashon Wright should play right away as part of a much-needed overhaul of the secondary.
The Philadelphia Eagles made a splash move by trading for Devonta Smith in Round 1 but returned to a more traditional approach on the second day. General manager Howie Roseman focused on fortifying the trenches and scored big with center Landon Dickerson and defensive end Milton Williams.
Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders will love having former Alabama pivotman Dickerson anchor the interior of a Philly O-line that’s been steadily eroded since 2017’s Super Bowl run. Williams brings versatility and speed to a pass-rush rotation that’s begun to look stale.
Picking the beast of the East in 2020 was all about identifying the least incompetent team. A true contender will emerge from a much tougher scrap this time around.
Loser: Deshaun Watson
Watson doesn’t want to play for the Texans again. That’s not going to change no matter how his legal situation resolves, but the Texans now have leverage when it comes time to trade the franchise QB.
Selecting Mills shifted the balance of power back toward the Texans. He’s a pro-ready quarterback who just had trouble staying healthy at Stanford.
LETS GO!! Can’t wait to get started! Extremely happy and humbled to be a Texan!! pic.twitter.com/WmONvTiIct
— Davis Mills (@Millsions) May 1, 2021
Mills can quickly work his way into a starting job if he’s left to compete with veteran retread Tyrod Taylor. This pick sends Watson a clear message: the Texans are prepared to move on without him.
If it comes to that, they are now in a strong position to demand maximum value in a trade. The Texans don’t need Watson to play, so they can sit back and wait until somebody meets what’s likely to be a hefty asking price. It could be a while before Watson finds a new home.
Losers: Running Backs Facing the Patriots in 2021
Belichick knows a strong defense is built on the big guys in the middle. It’s why I thought he might’ve considered taking Alabama D-tackle Christian Barmore in the first round. Instead, Belichick waited and did a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals to move up to 38 and land the player who will become the focal point of New England’s front seven.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) April 30, 2021
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban will have given his pal Belichick the skinny on Barmore. He’ll join free-agent pickups Henry Anderson and Davon Godchaux to give the Pats the mass in the middle they’ve missed since Wilfork, Alan Branch, and Malcom Brown were plugging gaps. Add in returning Dont’a Hightower behind all this bulk, and running backs are going to have a tough time making a living against the Patriots in 2021.
That means quarterbacks will be forced to challenge an opportunistic secondary more often.