Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Lance Zierlein's three favorite picks by round

The 2021 NFL Draft will be known for producing five first-round quarterbacks and eight total in the first three rounds. With that said, not one quarterback hit my list of favorite three picks inside each round.

It's not that I don't like some of the quarterbacks or didn't like some of the fits with teams. It's just that when you write up close to 500 prospect profiles per year, you develop favorites and see fits that make perfect sense for those players. Honestly, we could have extended this exercise to my top five per round, and it wouldn't have been a problem.

Round 1

Kyle Pitts
Florida · TE
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons
No. 3 overall

San Francisco’s late-March trade with Miami to move up to No. 3 overall may have set an unattainable market for teams hoping to secure the No. 4 pick from Atlanta, but I feel like the Falcons made the right decision to stick and pick, as Pitts was the best of all their options. His size (6-6, 245) gives him an advantage over defensive backs, his speed (4.4 40) gives him an advantage over linebackers and safeties, and his route-running and ball skills are simply multipliers for those aforementioned physical advantages. He can play wide, from the slot or in-line, and gives Matt Ryan a reliable target with very few limitations. He was the second-best player in the draft.

Micah Parsons
Penn State · LB
Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys
No. 12 overall

The Cowboys did a great job finessing the first round, moving down two spots and acquiring a third-round pick (Chauncey Golston, No. 84) while still landing the premier alpha defender in this draft. If you ever wondered what it'd be like to watch Saquon Barkley play linebacker, well, that's Parsons in a nut shell thanks to his lower-body build and outrageous speed from sideline to sideline. He's a terrific open-field tackler and a plus pass rusher who helps to diversify the Cowboys' linebacking corps. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, which may result in a little bit of rust this year, but he should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite.

Travis Etienne
Clemson · RB
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 25 overall

There were three very good running backs in this draft, but I felt like Etienne was the best of the lot. Etienne went back to Clemson in 2020 because he wanted to accomplish his goals with his fellow teammates, and that is a quality Urban Meyer must love as he begins building his culture of competitiveness in Jacksonville. Etienne runs with extraordinary contact balance and can play on all three downs, offering Trevor Lawrence a familiar face and reliable teammate to go to battle with in their new journey at the next level.

Round 2

Elijah Moore
Mississippi · WR
New York Jets
New York Jets
No. 34 overall

The Jets had the fourth-best receiver in this draft fall right into their laps early in the second round. A common theme this year was teams seeking out complementary players for the young quarterbacks they drafted, and that was indeed the case here. He’s the ultimate route chef in this year's class, cooking up coverage with well-disguised patterns and crisp breaks to separate. He’ll become an early favorite for Zach Wilson.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Notre Dame · LB
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
No. 52 overall

Considering I had him ranked among my top 10 players in the entire draft, you probably could have guessed he would make this list. I’m obviously higher on him than teams were. While a reported heart issue contributed to his slide, Browns GM Andrew Berry said the team was "very comfortable with him from a medical standpoint." With that in mind, I’m projecting his speed, versatility and playing demeanor to show up big at the next level. He lacks instincts and will need more experience to clean up some of the loose ends to his game, but he plays fast and furiously, flying around the field and hitting anything in his way as hard as he can.

Dayo Odeyingbo
Vanderbilt · DE
Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
No. 54 overall

Talented, long-limbed defensive end with first-round talent who was going to slide a little bit in this draft due to an Achilles injury he suffered in January. The Colts decided to grab Odeyingbo midway through Round 2 rather than risk losing him later in the draft. Even if Indy has to put him on the shelf for the 2021 season, the second-round pick they spent on him was well worth the upside.

Round 3

Milton Williams
Louisiana Tech · DT
Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles
No. 73 overall

Reviews of the Williams selection will be mixed, but I like this choice for a couple of reasons. Like the Eagles' first two picks of the draft (DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson), Williams possesses exceptional work ethic and football character. He’s extremely strong for his size and has rare athletic explosiveness that could help turn him into an interior terror if the Eagles can put him into position to unleash it.

Amari Rodgers
Clemson · WR
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
No. 85 overall

I don’t know if Aaron Rodgers will care to hear this, but he may have his Randall Cobb 2.0 in the form of Amari Rodgers. He’s a slot receiver who can threaten the seam, and he plays with a mature blend of ball skills and route savvy. He may not be a true WR2, but he’s the type of target the reigning MVP should really like.

Kendrick Green
Illinois · OG
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 87 overall

The Steelers' running game has been stuck in the mud for a while now, but Green (along with Najee Harris, of course) could help change that. The former Illini lineman is tremendously quick off the snap, and his move blocking should allow the Steelers to widen out their rushing attack and get defenders off their spots. I would be surprised if he’s not an early starter.

Round 4

Michael Carter
North Carolina · RB
New York Jets
New York Jets
No. 107 overall

Carter is a dependable, high-character player who fits a role as a three-down backup and change-of-pace runner. He can competently step in and handle the workload if called upon. Carter’s background catching the football and returning kicks further adds to the value of this pick in what was a very good weekend for the Jets.

Bobby Brown III
Texas A&M · DT
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams
No. 117 overall

Brown provides depth for the Rams inside and is one of the more upwardly mobile interior defenders in this draft. He was heavy and sluggish early in the 2020 season, but continued to slim down and improve his consistency. Brown’s favorable pre-draft workout may have been an indicator that he’s ready to take a big step forward.

Chris Rumph II
Duke · Edge
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
No. 118 overall

One of my favorite flash players in this draft. Rumph is a long-levered pocket heckler whose unorthodox recovery ability from contact helps him keep the pressure on tackles throughout the rep. He won’t be much help against the run, but the Chargers were looking for a splashy rusher off the edge, and Rumph could fill that role within a year or two.

Round 5

Jaylon Moore
Western Michigan · OL
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
No. 155 overall

In my discussions with teams leading up to the draft, it was hard to find a club that didn’t like Moore. He was a capable tackle in college but may need to transition inside to guard as a pro. He needs to improve his pass protection and play strength, but his athletic talent and ability to create angles in the run game are perfect fits for the 49ers' offense.

Shemar Jean-Charles
Appalachian State · CB
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
No. 178 overall

Jean-Charles is a nickel corner prospect who plays with a great deal of grit and natural coverage instincts. He has a good feel for routes and challenging the catch space, posting 27 passes defensed over the last two years. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that new Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry hand-picked Jean-Charles for his fit at nickel.

Cornell Powell
Clemson · WR
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
No. 181 overall

Powell went from heralded recruit to one-year starter after getting stuck behind a talented group of pass catchers at Clemson. He’s not a burner or a sudden separator from his routes, but he’s smooth and skilled when the ball is in the air. He offers a bit of a different look from what the Chiefs currently have on their roster at that position.

Round 6

Nick Niemann
Iowa · LB
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
No. 185 overall

The Chargers were a disaster on special teams last season. Niemann has the physical traits and play demeanor to help in that area right away. He needs more experience, but he’s a plus athlete and effective tackler. He has early backup potential and could be a player on the rise.

Deonte Brown
Alabama · OG
Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers
No. 193 overall

 If the Panthers can help him keep his weight in check -- and that might be a big if -- they may have found a starting guard in the sixth round. Brown comes into the league with a winning background and good technique but excess weight could create some scheme limitations. Still, an excellent value in the sixth round.

Stone Forsythe
Florida · OT
Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks
No. 208 overall

This could be a steal that haunts tackle-needy teams in the future. Forsythe isn’t much of a run blocker, and I don’t know how well he will fit into a stretch-play scheme. But he has great size (6-8, 307) and elite length (34 3/8-inch arms), and is a fully capable pass protector, having been tested against SEC-level competition. He is a future NFL starter at left tackle.

Round 7

Kary Vincent Jr.
LSU · CB
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
No. 237 overall

Athletic and fast, Vincent is a little on the small side but has the hips and feet to match movements with most route-runners, if he can get his technique figured out. The LSU corner, who opted out of the 2020 season, is more athlete than pure cornerback right now, but he’s also more talented than his draft slotting would indicate.

Tre Nixon
UCF · WR
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
No. 242 overall

The Patriots have had issues lately finding receivers who can separate, but Nixon could help in that area. He has the athletic ability to work all three levels of the field and the route running potential of a pro. His hands and play strength could both use some development.

Kawaan Baker
South Alabama · WR
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
No. 255 overall

The Saints could use another receiver, and I’m sure fans would have liked the team to have drafted one earlier, but Baker is a highly intriguing developmental prospect, with size (6-1, 210), athleticism and elite acceleration. His ball skills need work, but I love his potential in this spot and could see him finding a home in New Orleans.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter.

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