Nearly two weeks have passed since the 2021 NFL draft wrapped up, and we’ve had plenty of time to digest which teams had the best classes and what questions immediately emerged after the three-day selection show. For some players—like Lions quarterback Jared Goff—the draft offered some clarity on their standing with the team.
Goff, whom Detroit acquired in exchange for QB Matthew Stafford earlier this offseason, was made aware by Lions higher-ups that the team was considering drafting a QB. But the Lions didn’t use any of their seven picks on a signal-caller, giving the sixth-year passer relief over his standing within the organization.
“I think it’s a nice vote of confidence obviously for me,” Goff told reporters last week. “I think what’s not lost on me is their first move as a staff, [general manager] Brad [Holmes] and [coach] Dan [Campbell], involved me. It’s exciting and it makes you feel good.”
Draft choices offer clues about what teams think of their roster, and at which positions they believe they need to upgrade. But which teams didn’t invest at the positions that many expected them to? And what does it mean for incumbent starters entering offseason training? Below are the seven teams that didn’t address positions of need via the draft, as well as how much confidence teams appear to have in their veterans on a 1-to-5 scale:
The Bills and RBs Zack Moss, Devin Singletary, Matt Breida
The Bills, who boast one of the NFL’s most complete rosters, lack an explosive primary tailback option. That’s not just my opinion—that’s what the team’s top brass thinks. A week before the draft, GM Brandon Beane noted that neither of Buffalo’s main ball carriers—Zack Moss and Devin Singletary—are “home run hitters.”
“Is there an elite trait that [a draft prospect] has and says, ‘Man, he’s got something we don’t have’?” Beane told reporters, per New York Upstate. “That’s probably the conversation, versus, ‘OK, are we going to take the same type of back as Devin, are we gonna take the same type of back as Zack?’ Because even those two guys have different skill sets.”
Picking toward the end of the first round, it seemed possible that Buffalo would select a game-breaking, pass-catching running back. Clemson’s Travis Etienne—whom The Ringer’s Danny Kelly described as a “big-play touchdown-maker”—best fit the archetype of a running back that Beane would take with the 30th pick, but the Jaguars snatched him five picks earlier. So Buffalo addressed its pass rush, another area of need, and drafted the University of Miami’s Gregory Rousseau. Surprisingly, the Bills didn’t take a running back in the next rounds, either. The team ended up choosing another defensive end (Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr.), followed by two offensive tackles (Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown and Miami Ohio’s Tommy Doyle) with their following picks.
Buffalo appeared unenthused by the running back options available throughout the rest of the draft, addressing other positions (receiver, safety, cornerback, and offensive guard) with its remaining picks. The Bills’ backfield will return Moss and Singletary, who will be joined by former Dolphins tailback Matt Breida, whose speed makes him the unit’s biggest big-play threat. That trio is certainly useful, though there’s still a question as to whether the group will lack home-run ability in 2021. Beane and Co. don’t seem to mind.
Confidence score: 4.0
The Giants and Their Offensive Line
In The Ringer’s 2021 NFL Draft Guide, my colleague Danny Heifetz listed the Giants’ team needs as follows: offensive line and defensive line. New York finished last in both ESPN’s pass-block win rate (46 percent) and pass-rush win rate (31 percent). New York, however, addressed only the defensive line during the draft.
The Giants drafted pass rushers in the second and fourth rounds, then used their remaining four picks to take a pair of cornerbacks, a receiver, and a tailback. GM David Gettleman earned high marks for this approach, but it also meant neglecting one of the team’s most obvious needs. The Giants added two talented pass rushers in Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari and Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith, who should give the defense juice off the edge. But the Giants didn’t take advantage of a strong OL class to improve their unit via the draft.
“I’m just going to say we’re happy with the group that we have,” Gettleman said of his offensive line after the draft, per USA Today’s John Fennelly. “Obviously you’re always trying to get better and you’re not going to take a player just to take a player, you take a player because you think he’s going to improve the value of your team. Right now, our offensive line is what it is, the players are who they are, and we’re going to move forward.”
Maybe the Giants truly are happy with the offensive line they have. But “our offensive line is what it is” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
Confidence score: 2.5
The Panthers and QB Sam Darnold
Trading for Darnold didn’t preclude the Panthers from drafting a quarterback, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. Immediately after the trade, it was reported that Carolina planned on picking up Darnold’s fifth-year option. However, GM Scott Fitterer postured as though he were keeping his options open.
“This doesn’t take [us] out of anything in the draft,” Fitterer told the Panthers’ team site after the draft. “It doesn’t take us out of taking a quarterback, it doesn’t take us out of taking any position.”
The day before the draft, the Panthers traded Teddy Bridgewater, last year’s starter, to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick while paying him $7 million of the $10 million in salary he is owed for next season. The move created the possibility that Carolina would select a younger passer to compete with Darnold. But the Panthers boast four QBs on their roster, including backups Will Grier, P.J. Walker, and Tommy Stevens, so there wasn’t a pressing need.
Entering the first round, it was possible that the Panthers would select a QB with the no. 8 pick. However, even with Justin Fields and Mac Jones available, Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule—who’d been aggressively trying to upgrade at QB all offseason—ended up sticking with Darnold, for whom they traded second- and fourth-round picks.
Confidence score: 3.5
The Dolphins and RBs Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown
The Dolphins reportedly tried to address their backfield early in the draft, but their plans were thwarted. Both Miami and Denver targeted UNC’s Javonte Williams in the second round, and the Broncos traded in front of the Dolphins to take him.
Miami drafted Oregon safety Jevon Holland and Notre Dame offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg with its two second-round picks. And after choosing Boston College tight end Hunter Long in the third round, it wasn’t until the Dolphins were on the clock again during the seventh round that they finally chose a tailback: Cincinnati’s Gerrid Doaks.
GM Chris Grier previously described the ’21 RB class as “a good group of backs,” but told reporters after the draft that he believes Miami has solid running backs already in Myles Gaskin and Malcolm Brown. Doaks’s selection shouldn’t threaten either player’s carries next season. Per ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe, Gaskin, who recorded 584 rushing yards on 4.1 yards per carry last season, is positioned to have a hold on Miami’s starting tailback role, with Brown, Doaks, and Salvon Ahmed among those vying for roles behind him.
Confidence score: 4.0
The Steelers and QBs Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph
Pittsburgh got caught in no-man’s land with the 24th pick, too late to select one of the top five QB prospects and too early to reach for a second-tier one. The Steelers chose Alabama RB Najee Harris with their first-round pick, but didn’t address QB at all with any of their later picks, despite rostering an aging Roethlisberger and a clear backup in Rudolph. Pittsburgh also signed 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins over the offseason, along with longtime backup Joshua Dobbs.
Last month, GM Kevin Colbert seemed open to drafting a young passer, but also expressed confidence in his current QB room. “If you look at our current depth,” Colbert told reporters, “obviously we have four NFL veteran quarterbacks on our roster, which I feel great about.”
Following a disappointing 2020 campaign, Pittsburgh renegotiated Roethlisberger’s 2021 salary and extended Rudolph through the 2022 season the day before the draft. Instead of aggressively trading up in the draft, the Steelers stuck with their current collection of signal-callers.
Confidence score: 4.0
The Rams and Their Offensive Line
The Rams are returning a veteran offensive line in 2021, with ageless wonder Andrew Whitworth anchoring the left tackle position as he enters his age-40 season. After drafting only one offensive lineman last year, L.A. didn’t select any in this year’s draft.
As The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue noted, the Rams elected to pass on what was considered to be a deep and talented group because they like the collection of blockers they’ve already rostered.
“There’s a lot of depth with the 11 players that we had in the offensive line room going into [the draft]. All of them have played meaningful games and they’re guys that we project as real NFL guys,” coach Sean McVay said, per Rodrigue. “I think it’s a reflection of the confidence of the group that we do have in place. It’s just kind of how things shook out.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams’ offensive line ranked 11th in pass-blocking grade and fifth in run-blocking grade. L.A. ranked seventh in ESPN’s pass-block win rate (63 percent) and 19th in run-block win rate (70 percent). Even if it’s not crystal clear who will start for the Rams—Rodrigue projected the starting five entering offseason workouts will be Whitworth, David Edwards, Austin Corbett, Bobby Evans, and Rob Havenstein—the Rams appear comfortable with the group they have.
Confidence score: 5.0
The Broncos and QBs Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater
In the days leading up to the draft, Broncos GM George Paton maintained his poker face and was adamant the team wouldn’t move mountains for a QB, although he didn’t commit to Drew Lock as the Week 1 starter.
“We like Drew Lock, we don’t want to force it and bring a guy in—overpay a guy to come in and maybe he’s not as good as the guy we have,” Paton told reporters, per Daily Denver News’ Keith Fischer. “Maybe he’s not good enough to keep up. We want to get the right man and we still have time.”
The Broncos traded for Bridgewater a few days after Paton’s comments. During the draft, Denver chose Alabama CB Pat Surtain II, passing on Fields and Jones. Still, the Broncos made news on draft day, as Mark Schlereth reported they were close to completing a trade for Packers star Aaron Rodgers. Earlier this offseason, Denver was also reportedly in the mix for Matthew Stafford (who was traded to the Rams) and Houston’s Deshaun Watson, whose trade market has dwindled in the midst of 22 lawsuits saying that the QB engaged in sexual assault and coercive behavior. The Broncos will enter next season with Lock and Bridgewater battling for the starting job, unless they have as “realistic” a chance of acquiring Rodgers as some are suggesting.
Confidence score: 1.5