2021 NFL Draft: Reviewing the AFC South
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Continuing his 2021 NFL Draft wrap-up, Kevin Sayer today focusses on the AFC South. This is the final division in the AFC Conference Kev has looked at and to see his review of the other three divisions, click on the links: AFC East, AFC West, AFC North.
As part of the 35 episode journey we started on the NFL Draft Punk Podcast we covered a lot and it only feels fitting to give my own opinions on this year's picks per division in a staggered article that will be regularly updated. There will be no grades here, they can only realistically be evaluated further in the future, but we can all have opinions, right?
So, without further ado let's run through by division in order of draft hauls I liked, taking into account the UDFA market also...let’s get into it.
Editor’s note: Links above will become active as divisional articles are published.
R1 (22): CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
R2 (53): OT Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
R3 (92): LB Monty Rice, Georgia
R3 (100): SCB Elijah Molden, Washington
R4 (109): WR Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
R4 (135): EDGE Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh
R6 (205): WR Racey McMath, LSU
R6 (215): S Brady Breeze, Oregon
Fave Pick: Caleb Farley; Tennessee proved two drafts previously that they have no concerns in taking players with an injury history by selecting Jeffrey Simmons. They will look to this pick as achieving a similar level of success. Let’s be clear without the surgeries Farley would never have fallen to them. He is scratching the surface of his talent having recently switched to the position from receiver. His movement is effortless and appears to match, mirror and run the routes better than the receivers he’s covering. He’s physical at the high point of the catch and likes to get his hands on receivers. He will need more experience playing both zone and especially man, but he genuinely has the talent to be a top five player at his position in the NFL.
Least Fave Pick: Rashad Weaver; Whilst there is upside with his advanced hand usage and ability to constantly work to keep his body clean, you have to question the selection of a player who is facing legal issues. A year removed from taking an enormous bust due to poor evaluation in the personnel side of the drafting process it’s quite frankly baffling to potentially see the same mistakes again. Weaver was part of Pittsburgh's prestigious Blue & Gold society, reserved for ambassador students so this does appear out of character. On the field his wide base and ability to set and edge make him one of the better run defenders of the edge prospects. Lacking any real explosion or dynamic movement his ceiling will be limited and may serve better adding weight and moving inside to make use of his active hands.
Late Round Steal: Dez Fitzpatrick; A lean functional router runner, Fitzpatrick could see early reps in the Titans receiver room with the number three spot up for grabs. A possession receiver with an eye for important receptions gaining 21 TDs in his four seasons. Has had an issue with drops in his career and needs to find consistency if he is to become a full-time option.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Miller Forristall; The Alabama tight end saw reps as a true freshman and is a savvy contributor in the passing game. He is an accomplished blocker and whilst not a true separator in his route running, will provide a short safety option for a QB. He has suffered with varying injuries during his time with the Crimson Tide, but the Tennessee TE depth chart is open for competition.
Summary: Tennessee won this draft on the first two days, with the Farley pick and putting last year’s Wilson debacle behind them, selecting the athletic North Dakota tackle Dillon Radunz to fill the right side of the line. He answered questions at the Senior Bowl about his ability to anchor in pass protection and he moves well in space supporting the run game which will please Derrick Henry. Monty Rice’s physical brand of football will set a tone in a tough Vrabel defense and that tenacity extends to the next pick where they get a bargain with Elijah Molden. A player with outstanding instincts but pigeon-holed as a slot at the next level. In 2019 he led the team in tackles, passes defended and interceptions and I expect him to be an early entry into the rotation if not a starter. The Brady Breeze pick at safety sees sound value at the end of the draft as the last time we saw him he was named Rose Bowl Defensive MVP in 2020 for Oregon. Having lost considerable pieces in Free Agency I felt Tennessee made strides in adding replacement pieces to their roster.
R1 (1): QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
R1 (25): RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
R2 (33): CB Tyson Campbell, Georgia
R2 (45): OT Walker Little, Stanford
R3 (65): S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
R4 (106): DI Jay Tufele, USC
R4 (121): EDGE Jordan Smith, UAB
R5 (145): TE Luke Farrell, Ohio State
R6 (209): WR Jalen Camp, Georgia Tech
Fave Pick: Trevor Lawrence; Sorry obvious pick here, but what more can you want out of a draft than getting the best player in it. Exemplary character, the talent in his arm to hit all throws, it may not be a laser like Justin Herbert from last year but make no mistake Lawrence can make any throw. Sneaky good with his feet if he needs to flee or create outside of structure and sound mechanics when throwing from a set base. There will be teething issues, he’ll have a more complex scheme in the NFL than the quick hit throws and options of Clemson’s system, but the coaching staff will increase his load as and when required. His anticipation in throwing into open zones is far beyond his years and gives Jacksonville a future star.
Least Fave Pick: Tyson Campbell; Having spent heavy on Shaquill Griffin in Free Agency to play opposite last year's first round pick C.J. Henderson it seemed the Jags were set for their outside corners this season. Henderson flashed promise early on but has the tools to work with and the re-signing of Sidney Jones as cover along with slot corner Tre Herndon, it seemed all bases were covered in the corner room. The Tyson Campbell pick at 33 has me puzzled as to where he fits into this crowded room. Campbell is a speedy, fluid corner who moves in and out of transitions so smoothly it’s a joy to watch. He’s got a higher ceiling than his running mate Eric Stokes but needs to get his head round to track the ball more consistently. Long arms and a willing tackler he has ideal height and length for the position, in fact they drafted a similar player last year. Are the Jags moving on from a previous regime’s pick in Henderson so soon?
Late Round Steal: Jordan Smith; A former 4-star recruit who found some bumps along the way to get to this point. Having enrolled at Florida and being involved in a credit card scandal he never joined the team and found his way to the UAB Blazers via JUCO. He has a long skinny frame that needs more mass added. Has a long stride that swallows up turf and is able to soften the edge, something that not all edge prospects in this draft have. Following his earlier indiscretions, he matured into a leadership role in his final season and accumulated 14.5 sacks over 22 starts. He’ll make his living standing up in the 3-4 scheme the Jags will run in obvious passing situations. He’ll provide a push for last year’s selection K’Lavon Chaisson who should be more at home in an odd front.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Dylan Moses; It seems insane that a player of Moses’ talent can go undrafted. In a strange year where player injuries hurt their stock more than in previous years no one suffered more than Moses. He was never the same player with that attacking downhill mentality and explosion following his knee injury although his energy and tenacious attitude never waned. Once touted as a can’t miss prospect and a lock to be a round one pick it’s sad to see Moses here. It’s an easy good feeling redemption story to follow if Moses does sign, his organisation skills in the Mike linebacker spot and power in the tackle will endear him to all NFL fans, not just those in Duval.
Summary: The entire draft had evidence of picks influenced by Meyer. All highly recruited players even down to Jordan Smith in the fourth and of course Dylan Moses as a UDFA pickup. I personally don’t have an issue with the luxury pick of familiarity teaming up an explosive home run threat player in Etienne with Lawrence if you make the right calls following a round one RB selection. My issues are the next two picks, corner was not top of the list and there was huge value at edge & safety in the second round. The Walker Little pick, another 5-star recruit, could end up being inspired as he can sit and doesn’t have to play right away, but it’s a huge amount of capital to give up for a player who’s played one game in the last two years, so you can only assume no development at the position has taken place at that time. Tufele is an excellent value pick with heavy hands and pocket pressure, something Taven Bryan has never given them. Andre Cisco’s ball production cannot be argued with in his time at Syracuse he clearly has the instincts but needs more discipline in his play at the next level. Tight ends are not valued in Meyer’s offense and will do little else but block or not be on the field at all, so it was no surprise that no early picks were devoted to this position. Overall, it has to be hailed as a success with a franchise QB and some exciting prospects, but I can’t help but feel underwhelmed at the lost opportunity to select immediate contributors.
R1 (21): EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
R2 (54): EDGE Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
R4 (127): TE Kylen Granson, SMU
R5 (165): S Shawn Davis, Florida
R6 (218): QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas
R7 (229): WR Michael Strachan, Charleston
R7 (248): IOL Will Fries, Penn State
Fave Pick: Kwity Paye; Anyone listening to NFL Draft Punk Podcast knows I’m a huge fan of the Michigan man, check out my eval including his backstory. Paye I feel was hampered by never settling in one position to truly call his own for the Wolverines. He needs to find effective counters and a pass rush plan but it’s the raw power and burst that gets you excited watching him. Really violent hands that currently lack placement, Paye is a high upside intelligent prospect that needs refinement in a position of need for Indianapolis and will be a nuisance next to DeForest Buckner on the defensive line.
Least Fave Pick: Dayo Odeyingbo; Having gone pass rusher in the first round the Colts double down surprisingly. They clearly had their eye on the veteran free agent market for the opening tackle spot following Anthony Castonzo’s retirement and felt comfortable with the options available. The Vanderbilt Commodore’s selection was a huge surprise in the second round as despite the physical stature and imposing strength he tore his achilles and is unlikely to see playing time until November next season. He, like Paye, also needs refinement in his role at the next level having served multiple assignments in Nashville. The lack of investment despite salary cap options in the edge position forced the Colts’ hand in this draft when there were secondary and ancillary needs at corner and receiver.
Late Round Steal: Michael Strachan; Small school prospect film is notoriously difficult to get hold of among us Draftniks, but the limited reps seen suggest that Strachan’s abilities are rare. 6’5’’ and 34’’ arms with a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash make him an attractive proposition to a team that needs receiver depth. Having been born in the Bahamas and eventually signing for a Division II college due to academic obstacles he’ll remind watchers of Chase Claypool due to his big receiver stature and could grow into a contributing role in the second half of the season.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Anthony Butler; The Colts raided the UDFA market in specific areas, recognising linebacker depth as a need. Butler from Liberty Flames is a quality run stopper with the ability to be impactful around the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. He racked up 67 total tackles, a sack and two interceptions across nine games this past season and will contribute should he be signed to the full roster.
Summary: The Colts draft had a lot of likes and dislikes for me personally. Paye as stated will improve their pass rush instantly with relentless pressure but they won’t see Odeyingbo till later in the season. Kylen Granson is a catching tight end with athletic traits to get open in the middle of the field but lacks size to contribute beyond obvious passing situations. Sam Ehlinger is a Grade A attitude prospect, but Jacob Eason was drafted last year, and you wonder the reasoning behind the late round swings on players with limited upside at a key position. The lack of addressing the cornerback position may come to haunt Chris Ballard. Xavier Rhodes is back after a successful “one year prove it deal” and whilst Matt Eberflus’ system asks limited responsibilities from his corners the depth is severely lacking. Eric Fisher was signed to play left tackle however he’s coming off a severe injury and they didn’t draft significant depth at tackle or other key positions for me.
R3 (67): QB Davis Mills, Stanford
R3 (89): WR Nico Collins, Michigan
R5 (147): TE Brevin Jordan, Miami (FL.)
R5 (170): LB Garret Wallow, TCU
R6 (195): DT Roy Lopez, Arizona
Fave Pick: Brevin Jordan; Regarded by some as a high prospect and a dynamic pass catching tight end, Jordan disappointed on his pro day. Average athleticism scores belied the film, with highlights of leaping over safeties on his yards after catch runs. Whilst he lacks the ideal size for an inline player, he has shown across three starting seasons at Miami his ability to make plays and break to top speed tracking the ball well whilst running his routes. Picking him up in the fifth round is great value for an organisation badly in need of excitement and playmakers.
Least Fave Pick: Davis Mills; The first pick under the new regime was a quarterback. Whilst this should not be considered surprising, it’s not in the third round where you expect to see such a pick. Having picked up Tyrod Taylor, a perennial bridge/backup in his NFL career, it's a surprise to see Houston quite frankly waste their first pick. They are a franchise in huge need of a rebuild in all positions and facets of the roster and hopefully new coach Nick Sirianni will be given the time to do so. If that’s the case and you know you’re going to be picking Top 10 next year, why pick a QB now? Davis Mills has shown flashes of NFL starting caliber, but he’s played only 11 college games and is clearly still figuring things out. He has upside being the No 1 recruit in 2017 ahead of Tua Tagovailoa but his college career has been blighted with injury and I can’t help feeling Houston could have added players at other cornerstone if not skill positions for a roster devoid of any identity.
Late Round Steal: Garret Wallow; Tone setter at TCU earning the nickname “Dirty 30” due his high tempo. Had his draft progress hampered by a positive covid test pre–Senior Bowl week but is a high-volume tackler and has quickness to track ball carriers to the second level of the field.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Marlon Williams; Another surprise non draftee, a two-sport athlete in basketball and football, Williams has improved each season for the UCF Knights and led all FBS receivers in broken tackles in 2020. He may lack separation at the next level but as stated the condition of the Texans roster dictate that all spots are up for grabs.
Summary: It’s going to be a long road back for Houston to relevance. Whilst their division is fairly open in competition their roster reads like a franchise expansion. The one quality player with high upside in the draft is Nico Collins; we on the Draft Punk Podcast were keen on his vertical threat and highpoint attack ability and big hands but even trading up in the third round seemed excessive at this point in your squad construction. It’s going to be a long hard season…
Check out the rest of Kev’s article reviewing the 2021 NFL Draft classes of the AFC: