The NFL Draft is an opportunity for teams to add young talent that they expect to contribute in the near future. While the annual event is an exciting time for franchises and players alike, specific picks each year are criticized as “reaches.” Of course, NFL teams do their homework and have inside information, unavailable to the general public, on the players they select. Still, these are five players taken earlier than expected (listed chronologically in the order in which they were taken).
Alex Leatherwood, OT, Las Vegas Raiders, Round 1, Pick 17
There is no question that the Alabama Crimson Tide tackle is athletic and talented enough to succeed in the NFL. That said, Leatherwood was widely projected to be a day-two selection. The Raiders’ decision to look past several starting-caliber tackles and spend a first-round pick on a lineman who may move to guard in the NFL was surprising.
NFL Depth Charts
Walker Little, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars, Round 2, Pick 13, 45 Overall
Roughly two years ago, many believed that Stanford’s standout tackle was a future top-five selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Little was ruled out for the year after just one game in 2019. What’s more, the star left tackle opted out of the 2020 season. In other words, Little has not played a stretch of meaningful snaps since 2018. Further, his 2018 tape, while promising, was flawed. Jacksonville spent a second-round selection on a high-upside player who also has an extremely low floor.
Chatarius ‘Tutu’ Atwell, WR, Los Angeles Rams, Round 2, Pick 25, 57 Overall
One of college football’s most exciting players through the 2019 and 2020 seasons was Louisville’s explosive receiver. Indeed, Atwell’s speed is an unteachable trait that borders on elite status. While the Louisville product may well have been taken elsewhere on day two should the Rams have passed on him, his success in the NFL would make him one of the league’s greatest-ever outliers. On two separate occasions during the pre-draft process, Atwell weighed in at 155 and 149 pounds. What’s more, his size is apparent on tape. Another high-risk, high-reward pick, Los Angeles is banking on Atwell to make history.
2021 NFL Draft Picks per Conference
Kyle Trask, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Round 2, Pick 32, 64 Overall
It is generally accepted that the value attributed to the quarterback position leads to that group’s being drafted with premium picks. Still, Trask was taken before several passers that boasted both higher floors and higher ceilings than the Gators star. The Florida quarterback had an incredible season that even saw him enter the Heisman conversation. The Steelers clearly saw potential in Trask, proven by their having drafted him in the late second round. Trask falls into the category of great college passers with questionable NFL outlooks.
Chauncey Golston, 4-3 DE, Dallas Cowboys, Round 3, Pick 21, 84 Overall
Although the defensive end class was not recognized as one of the 2021 NFL Draft’s deepest groups, the second of the Cowboys’ three third-round selections caught fans and draft analysts off-guard. Golston had an excellent career with the Hawkeyes and was a participant in the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl. While the Iowa product is talented and worth a draft selection, a day-two pick was somewhat rich. Several outlets projected Golston as a day-three choice.
With the 2021 NFL Draft finalized, fans and teams alike are looking forward to the upcoming season. The athletes listed above, all taken on either the draft’s first or second day, are likely expected to contribute sooner rather than later. While each was taken earlier than expected, every member of this group of rookies has appealing traits that may help them stand out in the NFL.