Patriots, Steelers selections among the NFL draft's 10 most intriguing first-round picks

Mike Jones

Quarterback acquisitions dominated the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, and rightfully so. 

From Trevor Lawrence to Trey Lance to Mac Jones, the development of these passers will command our attention for some time. But Thursday night’s action in Cleveland featured a number of interesting selections at many different positions.

Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing picks from Day 1 of the draft.

QB Zach Wilson: No. 2 to New York Jets

No player saw his stock rise more rapidly during the pre-draft evaluation window, and now the BYU quarterback will try to meet lofty expectations of a long-suffering Jets franchise. There are plenty of impressive throws in Wilson’s highlight packages, but a fair amount of questions remain. Sure, he can make plays outside the pocket and on the run. But he tended to struggle under pressure and didn’t face top-level competition. How will he do with a roster in rebuild mode, guided by a first-year head coach and first-year offensive coordinator? Can the slender Wilson and his surgically repaired throwing shoulder endure the rigors of the NFL?

Kyle Pitts is headed to the Atlanta Falcons.

TE Kyle Pitts: No. 4 to Atlanta Falcons

Regarded by many as possibly the best player not named Lawrence at any position, Pitts should fit in an Atlanta offense that already features a number of weapons and a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan. Extremely versatile, Pitts will create all kinds of mismatches regardless of whether defenses try to cover him with linebackers or defensive backs.

OT Penei Sewell: No. 7 to Detroit Lions

The Oregon left tackle hasn't played football in more than a year because he opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. The last time we saw him, the 6-5, 331-pound Sewell was holding his own against some of the best pass-rushers in the country. He may have some rust to knock off, but once acclimated, he should be a force and a reliable blindside protector for Jared Goff.

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WR DeVonta Smith: No. 10 to Philadelphia Eagles

The Heisman Trophy winner should fill an immediate need for the Eagles. Yes, he's slender, but he's smooth and has strong hands and great speed. He's the true No. 1 wideout the Eagles have long lacked, and he could help make life easier for QB Jalen Hurts, whom he knows well from their time at Alabama.

QB Justin Fields: No. 11 to Chicago Bears

Fields has drawn comparisons to quarterbacks like Cam Newton and the late Steve McNair because of his big arm, mobility and sturdy frame. Yet he endured heavy scrutiny before the draft. Fields’ transition to the NFL will be interesting. He’s going to have to learn how to make quicker decisions reading defenses, and his early success will hinge on coach Matt Nagy’s ability to design an offense around him. Many talent evaluators believe Fields could benefit from a year of working behind a veteran after running a college system that differs greatly from NFL-style offenses.

QB Mac Jones: No. 15 to New England Patriots

The Alabama quarterback slid from the heavily projected third overall selection all the way to No. 15. But this seems like a great fit. Bill Belichick has no doubt talked with his buddy Nick Saban about Jones, who may not have eye-popping athleticism but plays with great pocket presence, scans the field well, makes quick decisions and throws with impressive accuracy. Jones has drawn a wide range of comparisons, from Tom Brady to Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins. He has been described as one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the draft. But will he start from Day 1 or sit behind Cam Newton?

Edge Kwity Paye: No. 21 to Indianapolis Colts

Paye’s family fled Liberia due to civil war, and his mother gave birth to him in Guinea. He has great size and quickness. However, he didn't have the most productive year at Michigan. He certainly has game-changing ability but could take some time to fully develop.

CB Caleb Farley: No. 22 to Tennessee Titans

Blessed with great size at 6-2, 197 pounds, Farley very likely could have gone much higher in the draft had it not been for questions about his health (he had a procedure done on his back this past spring) and had he not opted out in 2020. The layoff could translate to some early rust. But once up to speed, Farley could help fill the void created by Adoree’ Jackson’s departure in free agency.

RB Najee Harris: No. 24 to Pittsburgh Steelers 

The Steelers had a number of directions they could have gone with this pick. But rather than try to jump up to find a successor for QB Ben Roethlisberger or take an offensive lineman to improve Big Ben’s protection, they met another need with the talented Harris, a running back/wide receiver hybrid who has drawn comparisons to Le'Veon Bell and Matt Forte. The Steelers' run game was sorely lacking last season, and Harris has the potential to help restore that facet of the offense while also contributing as a pass-catcher.

Edge Jayson Oweh: No. 31 to Baltimore Ravens

The 6-5, 257-pound Oweh ranks among the most impressive athletes in the first round, but the Ravens are taking a bit of a leap of faith in drafting him. He didn't record a single sack in 2020 but applied a great deal of pressures. It’s hard to pass on a guy of his size who can run a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Oweh should create a number of mismatches but needs to learn how to finish.