The 2021 NFL draft began Thursday and continues through Saturday (ABC/ESPN/ESPN App). We will have the pros and cons for each of the 32 first-round picks. The Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off the draft by selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 selection. The New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers will also likely go with a QB at Nos. 2 and 3.
The draft continues with Rounds 2-3 on Friday (7 p.m. ET) and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday (noon ET).
Here is the draft order heading into the first round. ESPN NFL Nation reporters will analyze each pick live.
Why they picked him: Lawrence is the most polished QB prospect since Andrew Luck and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him behind John Elway, Peyton Manning and Luck among QBs he’s graded. The Jaguars’ offense the past decade has been awful and QB play is a big reason. The Jaguars were last in points scored and ranked 30th or worst in QB completion percentage, Total QBR, passer rating and passing yards in the league from 2011-20 with Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew II, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon taking snaps. Lawrence was 34-2 as a starter at Clemson and threw for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions in three seasons. He won a national championship as a freshman and led the Tigers to two more playoff appearances.
Biggest question: There’s no such thing as a perfect prospect but Lawrence is close. Jaguars GM Trent Baalke, when asked about what he learned about Lawrence that he didn’t know during the pre-draft process, said: “No negatives.” There was a brief stir about Lawrence’s comments in a Sports Illustrated piece that he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder and his high school coach’s comment that Lawrence could walk away from the game and be fine. That may have riled up some fans but Lawrence addressed those comments several days later and reassured everyone he is motivated and does want to win. — Michael DiRocco
Why they picked him: The Jets traded Sam Darnold, in part, because they believe Wilson can be a franchise quarterback. Among the QBs not named Trevor Lawrence, Wilson stood out to them because of his arm talent and ability to make quick reads in and out of the pocket. The Jets’ quarterback clock is officially reset — again.
Biggest question: Can he really be a Week 1 starter? The NFL could be culture shock for Wilson, who dominated weak competition in 2020. The smart move will be to ease him in slowly, letting him learn from a vet — assuming they add one at some point. — Rich Cimini
Why they picked him: The 49ers were unafraid to make a bold trade up the board to No. 3 and equally unafraid to take the player who is the draft’s biggest mystery. That would be Lance, who fits the bill of “biggest, fastest and strongest” quarterback coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s looking for. At 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, Lance brings a powerful right arm, quick feet, quick processing skills and the maturity to handle everything Shanahan will ask him to do in his offense. Lance’s lack of experience – he has just 17 starts at the FCS level – are offset a bit by the fact that Lance spent more time under center running Shanahan staples than any of the other top quarterback prospects. Lance’s ball security is also appealing to the 49ers after he went 287 consecutive attempts without an interception in 2019. There’s plenty of risk here but the reward could be huge.
Biggest question: Can Shanahan and the 49ers get Lance to reach his potential? That lack of experience against top competition makes Lance the biggest unknown quantity among the top quarterbacks in this draft. While Lance has drawn comparisons to Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen because of his physical traits, he also comes with accuracy questions (50% completion rate in 2020, 67% in 2029) similar to those Allen had when he arrived in the NFL. Lance’s floor might be lower than the other top quarterback prospects but his ceiling might be higher, especially if he gets the chance to settle in behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a season before becoming the starter. At 20, Lance is just scratching the surface on his potential, which puts the onus on the 49ers to help him reach his massive potential. — Nick Wagoner
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida| Highlights
Why they picked him: Pitts might be the most talented non-quarterback in the draft – and perhaps the most gifted player regardless of position. He may be listed as a tight end but he has the traits of a dominant big receiver at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds with a reported 4.44-second 40-yard dash time. He can line up all over the formation for new coach Arthur Smith, who came up as a tight ends coach. Pitts can play out wide, in the slot or in line as a tight end and be a matchup issue throughout. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot called him “a special player” on Wednesday.
Biggest question: Tight ends typically don’t go this high in the draft (Vernon Davis was earliest selection for a TE at No. 6 overall in 2006) and the transition from college to pros is a difficult one that usually takes a year. But Pitts is going to be looked at to be a Day 1 impact player, so he’ll have to defy history to do that. The question is whether the Falcons did the right thing taking Pitts over a quarterback with Matt Ryan, who soon will be 36 on May 17? Only time will tell. — Michael Rothstein