Let’s get something out of the way — the 32 players that were drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft have never been seen at the professional level. Predicting the success of NFL draftees is a difficult game, and most who are in the profession of making predictions end up looking like fools.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the first round draft picks with bust potential and those who may have been a reach.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Lance could very well end up being the next great athletic quarterback, but let’s not pretend like a quarterback who only threw 319 passes in his college career is a sure thing.
Lance played his college ball at FCS North Dakota State where the competition was not exactly top-notch. He does have the raw talent that NFL scouts drool over — arm talent, size, and mobility — but the 49ers are still taking a risk on the young quarterback, especially considering they traded two future first-round picks and a third rounder for the rights to draft him.
With Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster, the hope is that Lance can sit behind the veteran before taking over under center.
Kadarious Toney, WR, New York Giants
Toney broke out last season at the University of Florida — he had 10 touchdowns in his senior year — but the undersized wide receiver underproduced in his first three college seasons. Many in the NFL scouting world like what the Giants did, but we’re going the other way here. Not because Toney can’t be a productive player at the NFL level, but because Giants general manager Dave Gettlemen got scooped by his division rival Philadelphia Eagles.
Everyone knew that Gettlemen wanted to draft a wide receiver in the first round to help Daniel Jones, and that’s the problem. The Eagles knew the Giants had their eye on Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, and moved up ahead of the Giants to get him.
The Giants, after seeing Smith come off the board, executed a trade with the Bears that resulted in the Giants getting back the 20th overall pick in 2021, a fifth round pick (No. 164), a fourth round pick in 2022, and the Bears 2022 first round pick. It was an absolute haul by Gettlemen in his first time trading back in his front office career.
But we have to separate the trade from the draft selection. Toney was a reach at No. 20 — a reach out of need — and there are questions on whether he’ll ever be an all-around receiver and off the field questions exist as well.
Toney may end up being a quality receiver in the NFL, but the reach by the Giants — and the question marks surrounding Jones under center — puts him in a difficult position entering his rookie season.
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Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets:
The Jets first round draft is ranked highly by many scouts, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential for Wilson to flame out like all Jets quarterbacks before him.
Wilson only really had one good year playing in a non-Power 5 conference at BYU. Considering the haul that Jets general manager Joe Douglas could have received in return for the second overall pick, Wilson can’t be just good, he needs to be great.
Playing quarterback in New York is no easy task and the kid from small-town Utah is in for a heck of surprise with the New York media. The upside is high, but the potential for a major flameout is as well.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Las Vegas Raiders
Let’s call this the biggest reach of the first round, not necessarily the potential for the biggest bust.
Leatherwood was widely projected to be a second round pick out of Alabama, but in classic Jon Gruden fashion, the Raiders saw something that the rest of the league did not.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. named the Raiders as one of the biggest losers of round one.
“The Raiders under Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are always good for a few surprises, huh? This pick shocked me,” Kiper wrote. “Leatherwood is my 10th-ranked offensive tackle. He’s No. 62 overall on my board. He struggled last season.”
“The pick is defensible if the Raiders see him as a guard; it’s not a great guard class past Alijah Vera-Tucker, who went to the Jets at No. 14. Leatherwood played both left tackle and guard for the Crimson Tide, and Kolton Miller has the left tackle job locked down in Las Vegas. But this is way too high for Leatherwood, particularly when Christian Darrisaw, Teven Jenkins and Dillon Radunz were all still available.”
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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