Draft Grades

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AFC West draft grades: Chargers ace test; Raiders perplex

Why provide instant grades on the selections of prospects who have yet to take an NFL snap? Well, you're reading this, aren't you? Considering the makeup of every roster and the factors surrounding each pick, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr attempt a division-by-division assessment of the 2021 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that these grades are based on draft hauls alone -- picks traded for veteran players were not taken into account. Below is Dan's review of the AFC West.

NOTABLE SELECTIONS

Best Pick:

Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
Rashawn Slater
Northwestern · OT

Draft slot: Round 1, No. 13 overall


The Chargers had the 10th-highest QB pressure rate allowed last season (28.1 percent), per Next Gen Stats. They had to continue upgrading the offensive line to give stud QB Justin Herbert better protection, and they didn't miss the layup when the board fell their way in Round 1. Slater was NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah's No. 1 OT in the draft -- yes, he had him ranked ahead of Oregon's Penei Sewell, who went seventh overall to Detroit. Watch the former Wildcat's performance against 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young back in 2019 and tell me this selection isn’t a towering home run. Protecting the blindside has been a bit of a blind spot for the Chargers over the past decade or so, but they finally have a long-term answer at the position.

Most Surprising Pick:

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
Alex Leatherwood
Alabama · OT

Draft slot: Round 1, No. 17 overall


In what's becoming an annual April tradition, the Raiders made a first-round pick no one saw coming. There were approximately 29 mock drafts posted to NFL.com since mid-January. None of them had Leatherwood going in the top 20, and only two of them had him going in the first round at all (31st overall in both cases). NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah had the Alabama OT ranked 62nd on his board. Give the Raiders this: They're consistent. After shocking the world by selecting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in 2019 and surprising everyone by picking Damon Arnette 19th overall a year ago, Leatherwood was the team’s flex on the football world this time around.

Biggest Sleeper:

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
Cornell Powell
Clemson · WR

Draft slot: Round 5, No. 181 overall


There might not be a better situation for a fifth-round receiver to enter into. No. 1, Powell's going to be catching passes from arguably the best quarterback in the league in one of the most explosive offenses in the league. No. 2, Andy Reid is going to need someone to step up as a complementary target to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Co. Powell has a shot to be that guy as Kansas City looks to replace free-agent departure Sammy Watkins. He struggled to earn playing time during his first four years with the Tigers when he was buried on the depth chart behind future NFL draft picks like Mike Williams and Tee Higgins, among others, but he shined when he finally got his opportunity in 2020 (53 catches for 882 yards, seven TDs). This is a player on the rise.

TEAM GRADES

NOTE: Draft classes are displayed from best to worst within the division.

Grade
A-
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
Total picks: 9

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:

Round 7:


GM Tom Telesco had an ideal start to the draft, setting the tone for an outstanding weekend of work. I ranked OT and CB as the team's top two needs and they expeditiously took care of business on both fronts, finding players who'll be starting at those spots for a long time. Slater is the left tackle the Bolts have been craving for quite a while, a technician who has already proven he can more than hold his own against elite talents. Like Slater, Samuel doesn’t have the ideal size for his position, but he'll more than make up for that with his instincts and ball skills. He should thrive in Brandon Staley’s defense. We wouldn’t have minded seeing the team add a safety earlier on, but that's one of the few nits you can pick here. Two of the Chargers' Day 3 picks -- Rumph and Niemann -- made NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein’s list of his three favorite selections by round. Who am I to argue with a guy who studied and wrote profiles for 450-plus prospects this year? This is an attractive draft haul from top to bottom.

Grade
B+
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
Total picks: 10

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 5:

Round 6:

Round 7:


Few teams did a better job of identifying and adding value than the Broncos. However, I happen to disagree with the decision to pass on Justin Fields at No. 9 overall. GM George Paton had the opportunity to pull Denver out of the QB wilderness for the first time since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset, and he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Perhaps visions of Aaron Rodgers in orange and navy were dancing in his head. It's going to be a tough pill to swallow for this franchise, though, if Fields goes on to succeed while the Broncos remain mired in mediocrity (or worse) while employing the unexciting duo of Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. Surtain was the safer play, and he gives Denver a deep secondary that will be the envy of the league, which is why the grade doesn't fall too far. Credit to Paton for being aggressive in the second round and trading up for Williams before the Dolphins had a chance to take him. Meinerz's rise is already the stuff of legend, and Cooper might have been the best value of the entire draft (NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah's ranking: 120; Cooper’s draft slot: 239). Yes, there's much to be thrilled about here, even with a first-round decision that seems suspect right now.

Grade
B
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
Total picks: 6

Round 2:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:


Kansas City spent a good chunk of its draft capital to acquire Orlando Brown from the Ravens last month, filling a gaping hole at left tackle. Reminder: We’re not factoring pre-draft trades into the grades in this exercise. So, the Chiefs have a relatively small haul to evaluate, but it's a punchy one. I mean, when Bolton strikes you, it's not going to feel good. He makes the defense better, without question, but the biggest need for the team was defensive end, and there was a good one still on the board in Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham, who went to the Bills a few picks later. Perhaps the Chiefs will eventually be able to unlock the potential of Kaindoh to fill that D-line void, something Florida State was unable to do for the former five-star recruit. The selections we liked the most here were the offensive linemen. Humphrey is an excellent fit for the rebuilt unit, and I expect we’ll be calling Smith, chosen with the third-to-last pick of the sixth round, a steal a few years from now. Powell is a rising talent who could very well outperform his draft slotting, as well. Andy Reid and Brett Veach did a solid job of finding value with their six picks.

Grade
C
Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
Total picks: 7

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 7:


Another April, another first-round stunner from the Raiders. As you all know by now, no one was projecting Leatherwood to be a top-20 pick, but Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock reached -- at least a little bit -- for him at No. 17. There's a distinct possibility that the former Tide left tackle turns out to be a great selection, but there’s understandably skepticism based on how their previous first-round surprises (Clelin Ferrell, Damon Arnette) have fared to this point. In the aftermath of draft weekend’s Silver and Black earthquake, it was fashionable to offer a justification for taking Leatherwood, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s 62nd-ranked prospect, 17th by pointing out that the player the Raiders traded up for in Round 2 (Moehrig) was a first-round talent. They still ended up with a first-round value, after all! That idea seems to ignore the fact that the team could have ended up with two first-round values instead of one, but I digress. Landing the top safety in the draft in the middle of the second round was indeed nice work, but they took Koonce -- a 3-4 outside linebacker and projected fifth-round pick by NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein -- in Round 3 to play defensive end in their 4-3 defense, which doesn’t seem like the most natural fit. Then they added two more safeties in the middle rounds and never addressed a need at defensive tackle. There’s some good here, but it was a draft heavy on head-scratchers.

Follow Dan Parr on Twitter.

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