The 2021 NFL draft class is one of the most talented ones in recent memory. The first round was flooded with potential future pro bowlers, and fans are eager to see which rookies will shine in their first season in the league. Just a few weeks ago, we saw five quarterbacks taken in the first fifteen picks, with three of them being picked in the top three. We also watched elite offensive talent fill high selections, shadowing some of the defensive prospects early on. Despite this, the other side of the ball still brought some star power to the stage in Cleveland, and they are ready to prove themselves on the field.
Here’s a look at which rookies are most likely to make an immediate impact.
- Trevor Lawrence – QB (JAX) +300
2. Justin Fields – QB (CHI) +600
3. Trey Lance – QB (SF) +600
4. Zach Wilson – QB (NYJ) +700
5. Kyle Pitts – TE (ATL) +1100
6. Mac Jones – QB (NE) +1100
7. Ja’Marr Chase – WR (CIN) +1100
8. Najee Harris – RB (PIT) +1200
9. Jaylen Waddle – WR (MIA) +1600
10. DeVonta Smith – WR (PHI) +1600
It is no surprise that the quarterback position is the favorite to win offensive rookie of the year. Number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence holds a comfortable lead post-draft day. The former national champion at Clemson has largely been recognized as the best overall prospect for some time now. Lawrence is heading to Jacksonville to play for a team that went just 1-15 last season. However, with the additions of head coach Urban Meyer, wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr, and the rising stardom of running back James Robinson, the 6’6 standout will have some weapons to work with in hopes of bringing a winning culture back to Duval County.
Behind Lawrence, is former Ohio State quarterback, Justin Fields, who was considered the steal of this year’s draft when Chicago traded up to get him with the 11th pick. However, he may have to start the season on the sidelines, as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace, indicated that veteran quarterback, Andy Dalton will be the starter week one.
The list continues with a few quarterbacks who have more questions marks than Lawrence and Fields.
Despite what will be a competitive QB room, 49ers rookie, Trey Lance, is looking to become the future face of the franchise. As the team explores trade options regarding Jimmy Garropolo, it is likely that he will stay in the bay area. While it was never really transparent who San Fransisco was going to take with the 3rd pick, it was clear that they were going to select a signal caller, after general manager John Lynch traded up to get that number three spot. Lance was considered by many NFL scouts to have the best arm strength in the 2021 class. Coming from FCS powerhouse, North Dakota State, there were some concerns about the level of competition he faced, as well as the number of games he played throughout his collegian career. The numbers were still there though, as he only threw 1 interception in his 19 total starts.
The Jets also found their face of the future when they selected BYU quarterback, Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. Wilson’s dominate junior season helped bring him to become one of the top prospects in the 2021 draft. He led the Cougars to an 11-1 record while throwing for 33 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. New York added two talented wide receivers this offseason for Wilson to work with. They acquired former Tennessee Titan, Corey Davis, and Ole Miss rookie, Elijah Moore. With Sam Darnold gone, it is expected that Wilson will takeover come September.
Like the first few quarterbacks, the remaining rookies are guys that can make or break their team’s season. With so much star potential across the board, it will be hard to rule out any of these players for offensive rookie of the year.
- Micah Parsons – ILB (DAL) +400
2. Jaelan Phillips – Edge (MIA) +700
3. Kwity Paye – Edge (IND) +1000
4. Patrick Surtain II – CB (DEN) +1000
5. Zaven Collins – ILB (ARI) +1100
6. Jamin Davis – ILB (WAS) +1200
7. Jaycee Horn – CB (CAR) +1400
8. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – ILB (CLE) +1400
9. Gregory Rousseau – Edge (BUF) +1600
10. Azeez Ojulari – Edge (NYG) +2000
On the opposite side of the football, the rookie of the year race seems more wide-open and less predictable. With a number of pass rushers and defensive backs, there is no doubt that this year’s draft class will also give quarterbacks nightmares.
Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys used their 12th overall pick on Penn State linebacker, Micah Parsons. Despite opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, he is still the front runner to win the defensive rookie of the year. Parsons totaled 6.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss in his two stint for the Nittany Lions. This makes him the perfect disrupter for the Cowboys, who finished with the 28th overall defense in the league last year.
Dolphins rookie, Jaelan Phillips, is the other player who holds a steady lead in the odds for winning defensive rookie of the year. Miami selected him with their second first round pick, 20th overall. Phillips is an edge rusher who spent his first two collegian seasons at UCLA, but transferred to the University of Miami in Florida, and declared for the NFL draft after one year there. Despite only playing a short time for the Hurricanes, he had a breakout year, recording 8.0 sacks, and 15.5 tackles for loss. Phillips will certainly bring depth for the Dolphins as they seek their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Although Parsons and Phillips appear to be the favorites early on, the award for defensive rookie of the year will be much more competitive and up in the air. As minicamp begins for most teams this week, we could see new players quickly rise and fall in these rankings.
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