The Check-Down Check-Up (2021): Post-NFL Draft Edition

With the 2021 NFL Draft now in the books, I thought it might be a good time to bring back the Confidence Index. It’s been gathering dust on my table since the 2021 Head Coaching Hire Edition of the Check-Down Check-Up and I simply couldn’t bare to see it living like that. As a reminder, anything under four is a check down, anything above seven is a check up, and anything between those fours and sevens is a “check back next week.” So, who just drafted themselves into contention? Who totally blew it? Who were the recipients of my three “Steal of the Draft” awards? Let’s find out.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns

I can’t wait to talk about this draft class, and as a fair warning right now, this section of the article is going to be flooded with Browns Fan Bias (BFB). But my personal fandom notwithstanding, the Browns totally aced this draft, or at least they aced the rounds that really matter. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II is a cornerback right in the mold of current Browns defender Denzel Ward. I loved getting Tommy Togiai to plug up the run defense now that Sheldon Richardson’s probably gone for good. And of course, the crown jewel of Andrew Berry’s 2021 draft class: the downright highway robbery that is getting Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at No. 52 overall. JOK is the recipient of my first Steal of the Draft Award, and he’s going to be a force for this already-burgeoning Cleveland defense. I can just feel it.

Verdict: 9.5/10, Check Up

Baltimore Ravens

In my opinion, Baltimore hit a home run in the first round with Rashod Bateman at No. 27 overall. Bateman might not have the explosiveness of a DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, but he does bring an element of consistency to a Ravens offense that sorely needed it. However, I’m not a huge fan of their selection of Odafe (formerly Jayson) Oweh at No. 31. Oweh is a phenom athlete, but not recording a sack in your final year in college as an edge rusher really worries me. Baltimore being Baltimore, though, they’ll probably get the best out of him. Beyond that, I really dig the Ben Cleveland selection at No. 94. This squirrel-hunting center goes by “Big Country” and he’s perfect for Baltimore’s offensive scheme.

Verdict: 8.75/10, Check Up

Pittsburgh Steelers

I’ll come right out and say that I was not a supporter of the “Najee Harris at No. 24” movement for Pittsburgh. All those line problems and you expect a running back to fix it? That being said, the Steelers really picked it up in the back half of this draft. I liked the Kendrick Green selection at No. 87, and I feel like he was in play for the Browns at No. 91 if the Steelers didn’t pick him there. Quincy Roche in the sixth round is a great value pick, Isaiahh (no, that’s not a typo) Loudermilk (yes, that’s really his last name) is one of my favorite names in this draft, and Pressley Harvin III in the seventh round is the most Steelers punter I’ve ever seen. Not bad, but it’s tainted by Harris at No. 24 for me.

Verdict: 7.5/10, Check Up

Cincinnati Bengals

Much like I wasn’t a fan of Najee Harris at No. 24 for the Steelers, I’m really not a fan of Ja’Marr Chase going to the Bengals at No. 5. Cincinnati had the choice between helping to protect Joe Burrow from another injury, and reuniting him with one of his college targets, and they chose the latter. I’d rather have Penei Sewell at No. 5 than Jackson Carman at No. 46, mostly because Carman’s character concerns really turn me off to him. But all is not lost, as they got great value in Texas defender Joseph Ossai at No. 69 and Michigan running back Chris Evans in the sixth round. Also, kickers are people too, so congrats to Evan McPherson on being drafted in the fifth round this year.

Verdict: 5.5/10, Check Back Next Week

AFC East

New England Patriots

I’m not a Mac Jones guy, but even I must admit that this is the perfect situation for him, and it was pretty good value at No. 15. Jones can, and should, come in and compete for the starting job in 2021 alongside Cam Newton. Jones was advertised as pro-ready, and the Patriots really don’t want to be bad again. The Patriots had a largely middling draft outside of Jones, but Christian Barmore at No. 38 is a nice flyer to take on someone who could’ve been a first-rounder. If there’s any coach who can connect with Barmore, it’s Bill Belichick, but this whole thing does make one wonder: could Nick Saban really not get through to him?

Verdict: 6.5/10, Check Back Next Week

Miami Dolphins

Man, the Dolphins just keep making great decisions. Brian Flores has really taken this team from one of the most forgettable franchises of the modern NFL to a powerhouse on the cusp of breaking into the playoffs. I like Jaylen Waddle at No. 6 (although I still would’ve taken Sewell, much like I said about Cincinnati) and Jaelan Phillips at No. 18 is a really intriguing prospect. Provided both of their first two selections stay healthy, Miami knocked the first round out of the park. Outside of that, Jevon Holland and Liam Eichenberg should bolster their roster in the second round, and even late-round selections like Gerrid Doaks at No. 244 overall could contribute. Stellar job, Miami.

Verdict: 9.75/10, Check Up

Buffalo Bills

This Bills draft class was all about size. They liked what they saw with their mutant, giant quarterback in Josh Allen, and set to work making their draft about gigantic freak athletes with sky-high potential. Gregory Rousseau might not “get” the whole pass-rushing thing yet, but Sean McDermott could unlock his skillset in the pros. Buffalo also drafted not one, but two 6-foot-8 tackles in this draft with Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle. Carlos Basham at No. 61 is fantastic value for them, and I think he might be their safest pick of this draft. I like this class! But I think a lot of it is based on potential. I’m wary of Rousseau especially, and I still wish they could’ve gotten a running back in the early rounds.

Verdict: 7/10, Check Up

New York Jets

The Jets finally got their hands on Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall, and beyond that, I personally think they killed this draft when looking at it through the lens of “how to help Zach Wilson.” Wilson had a great offensive line in college, so the Jets traded up to select the draft’s best guard in Alijah Vera-Tucker. He has a cannon arm, so they went and got him a lightning quick receiver in Elijah Moore at No. 34. Hamsah Nasirilideen in the sixth round is a great lottery ticket-style selection on a freak athlete. They also took two separate players named Michael Carter, and that has to count for something. It trailed off in the later rounds, but the first few picks were absolutely excellent work by Joe Douglas and the Jets.

Verdict: 8.5/10, Check Up

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

I noted in my final mock draft that Christian Barmore would be a perfect selection for a Matt Eberflus pet project. The Colts seemed to agree, but in a different direction, as they selected the raw but talented Kwity Paye at No. 21 overall. Indianapolis then doubled down on the defensive line, which I admit is a bit puzzling. The defense was great last year; I would be way more worried about grabbing weapons for Carson Wentz. That being said, they did use a couple of day three selections on receiving threats, such as SMU’s Kylen Granson and Charlotte product Michael Strachan. I think they could’ve afforded to take receivers just a bit higher, though. This Colts class? Eh, it’s okay.

Verdict: 6.25/10, Check Back Next Week

Houston Texans

The Texans didn’t say it but they did finally acknowledge that something’s going on with Deshaun Watson. When they finally had their first draft selection at No. 67 overall, they took Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, silently signaling that the Watson era is most likely over. Whether Watson is going to jail or another NFL team remains to be seen, but that’s neither here nor there right now. Their next selection, No. 89, was Nico Collins out of Michigan. Collins is a nice piece at receiver, but the Texans traded so much to come up to that spot. The only real value here is Miami tight end Brevin Jordan in the fifth round. Even then, I liked Jordan more than most. This Houston team is going to be just completely awful, and they are on the fast track to 2022’s No. 1 pick.

Verdict: 1.5/10, Check Down

Jacksonville Jaguars

Finally, the grand prophecy became realized for the city of Jacksonville. After eight agonizing minutes (which, according to Jaguars GM Trent Baalke, was actually mandated by the NFL), Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was finally welcomed into the NFL. It’s obvious, yes, but it’s a great pick, and the Jags get points for simply adding the uber-talented Lawrence to their roster. It’s a little hazy past that point, especially grabbing Lawrence’s teammate, Travis Etienne, at the No. 25 spot, but there are some bright spots through the fog. I love the Andre Cisco selection for them at safety, and nabbing Jay Tufele at the top of the fourth round is some serious value. This class might not be special all around, but a prospect like Trevor Lawrence raises all ships.

Verdict: 7/10, Check Up

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee’s first selection both confuses and frightens me. They needed a cornerback, yes, especially in the absence of Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler, but to pick Caleb Farley at No. 22 is a little scary. Farley has “best corner in the class” potential but his back injury is exceptionally worrying. If he’s healthy, though, I’ll definitely be changing my tune. Beyond the first round, I think Dillon Radunz is actually a great pick for protecting Ryan Tannehill. He wasn’t in the elite, top-four tackle group, but he’s probably the first one down after that. Dez Fitzpatrick out of Louisville is certainly an interesting prospect, even if the Titans did reach a bit to grab him in round four. This class is pretty middling, at least in my opinion, but a healthy and pro-ready Caleb Farley could totally change that opinion.

Verdict: 6.75/10, Check Back Next Week

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs traded their first round selection this year to the Ravens, and that pick became Odafe Oweh. Kansas City addressed a pressing need by trading that pick, acquiring talented tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the process. With their day two and three picks this year, the Chiefs still double-dipped on the offensive line, taking both Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma and Tennessee guard Trey Smith. Humphrey is a wonderful value pick in the third round, and Smith could also pan out; he certainly has NFL size. On defense, the Chiefs grabbed Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton in the second round. This class isn’t sexy by any means, but if it means Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have to run for his life, I’m sure Chiefs fans won’t mind.

Verdict: 7.75/10, Check Up

Denver Broncos

I have no idea how the Broncos did not take Justin Fields at No. 9 overall. The talented Buckeye dropped right into their lap, at a position of serious, dire need, and they passed. But all that being said, at least the Broncos passed on Fields for my top cornerback in this class in Pat Surtain II. Denver was also able to grab UNC running back Javonte Williams in the second round, often compared to Nick Chubb by scouts. They took the class’s most popular offensive lineman in Quinn Meinerz and double-dipped on Ohio State linebackers in Baron Browning and Jonathan Cooper. I have to be honest, even if they didn’t take Fields, I think Denver did a really nice job here. Only for Drew Lock to hold them back.

Verdict: 8.25/10, Check Up

Los Angeles Chargers

Now this is a team that nailed this year’s draft. The Chargers went from a fun little team with a really talented rookie quarterback to possible Super Bowl contenders if this draft class works out. Los Angeles lucked into Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13, and he’ll be receiving my second Steal of the Draft Award. Outside of the first round, LA collected cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, Duke defender Chris Rumph III, and they took a flyer on a potential pick in Nick Niemann out of Iowa. All things considered, I think I have to crown the Chargers my winners of the draft. But, a certain NFC North team just might have something to say about that.

Verdict: 10/10, Check Up

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders made a really weird first round pick in the form of Alex Leatherwood. A lot of people are penciling in as a huge reach before the season even starts, much like they did with Clelin Ferrell in 2019, and Damon Arnette in 2020. I’m not really sure what Mike Mayock is doing in the first round at this point, but at least his day two and three selections tend to make up for it. I love the Trevon Moehrig pick at No. 43 overall here, and I feel the same way about Divine Deablo at No. 80. Outside of that, I’m pretty iffy on this Raiders draft class. If Leatherwood is a hit, I’ll need to get with the program, but I just don’t see it with him at No. 17.

Verdict: 3.75/10, Check Down

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