With the 2021 NFL draft and the free agency now behind us, we now wait in anticipation for the season to commence. Some stars return to action after opting out due to the pandemic. Others are coming back from injury. From those players and the ones who played, we have a good idea of what to expect. However, with the newcomers in the league, it’s a different story. Headlined by the quarterbacks drafted at the top, the 2021 draft class shows much promise coming in. That said, like in every NFL season, some rookies succeed well beyond their fellow classmen.
With that in mind, this article will list six players out of the 2021 class most likely to excel in their rookie season. For this list, the key conditions involve the teams that these players have joined. We’ll project what they’ll add to their roster and then predict how it’ll correlate to team success.
Trevor Lawrence (QB) – Jacksonville Jaguars
The first overall pick in the draft usually does pretty well in the big leagues. This one doesn’t look any different. A top-rated prospect since his high school days, Trevor Lawrence has all the tools to become an all-time great. The main concern regarding his career start has most to do with the team that picked him.
Now obviously, any team that holds the top selection in the draft is, at the time, a bad one. That said, we have teams in this league that we trust to build around top prospects more so than others. For example, I trust the New England Patriots to build around Mac Jones more than the New York Jets around Zach Wilson. It might turn out differently, but the Patriots have thrived as an elite organization for the last several years. The Jets, on the other hand, the less said, the better. So now consider the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since their inception in 1995, the Jags have made the playoffs only seven times. On top of that, they hadn’t made consecutive trips to the postseason since 1999. As talented as Lawrence is, are we to think that he’ll turn around this historically bad franchise in one season? In short, yes.
Jacksonville overhauled the coaching staff during the offseason. They brought in a whole new group led by college coaching great Urban Meyer. They also added extra talent to boost the offense, including Carlos Hyde, Marvin Jones, and Lawrence’s college teammate, Travis Etienne. In a division with two bottom-ranked defenses from last year, with these pieces and more at their disposal, expect Lawrence to put up big numbers this season.
Micah Parsons (LB) – Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys reportedly had their eyes set on a different player with their original pick. However, I think they still made good with who they ended up with. Once projected as a top-five player in this draft, Micah Parsons brings youth, speed, and size to a stagnant defensive unit in Dallas.
With Dak Prescott returning from a gruesome injury last season, the offense seems set for a revival. Defensively, though, the Cowboys have had a hard time disrupting the opposing offense. They averaged under two sacks a game in 2020 and ranked 28th in points allowed. One way to help change such standings would be adding some depth to the defensive core.
Looking at their division rivals, Pro Football Focus listed none of Washington, the Eagles, or the Giants to have a very good O-Line this season. This plays right into Dallas’ favor. As someone who thrived in blitz coverage in college, Parsons could be the key in boosting Dallas’ defense into a top-tier unit in 2021.
Kyle Pitts (TE) – Atlanta Falcons
Many called the best talent in the draft; Kyle Pitts has some big shoes to fill his rookie year. The Atlanta Falcons recently parted ways with superstar wide-out Julio Jones. With him gone, Pitts will have to make up for some of the production lost in that trade. But, assuming he’s as good as advertised, I don’t see that being a problem.
Pitts garnered much praise as a receiver-type talent with a tight end’s size and strength with the highest-drafted tight end in league history. Joining a receiving core lead by Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, with former league MVP Matt Ryan under center, Pitts could easily emerge as an elite pass-catcher from the jump.
Greg Newsome II (CB) – Cleveland Browns
The 26th overall pick from the draft, Greg Newsome, stands as a “scheme-friendly playmaker,” according to the NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks. His potential to thrive in his first season largely connects to the AFC North division he now plays.
Joining a progressive defense in Cleveland, Newsome’s addition to the core could stifle the opposition out North. The Cincinnati Bengals remain a young team without a bevy of top receiving talent or a dependable offensive line. Pittsburgh has a declining, aging QB leading the charge and seems to be without a true number one receiver in the lineup. Equally, the Baltimore Ravens have no elite pass catcher on board, and some stay skeptical of Lamar Jackson as a passer.
Vulnerable as their rivals appear, the Browns’ first-round pick will have a great opportunity to make an immediate impact. And one should expect him to take full advantage of that chance.
DeVonta Smith (WR) – Philadelphia Eagles
Simply put, the Eagles’ receivers weren’t good in 2020. Whether it’s a product of Carson Wentz’s decision-making or Doug Pederson’s play-calling, we may never know. Regardless, there arguably was no bigger need on any team that needed addressing more than Philadelphia needing a wide receiver.
Despite their efforts in past drafts, the Eagles have struggled to find top talent at that position. They’re hoping that this time they finally got it right. After all, how could you go wrong with the reigning Heisman trophy winner? In his final college season, DeVonta Smith helped lead Alabama to yet another national title. In Philly, he joins his former college teammate, Jalen Hurts, as the pair look to lead the team back to prominence.
No matter what we may make of the other players on the team or if they have a shot at being any good this year, it’s a safe bet to assume that Smith will be targeted often.
Christian Barmore (DT) – New England Patriots
The sole second-round pick on the list, Christian Barmore enters the NFL with a prime opportunity. Going from Nick Saban to Bill Belichick is something most players never get a chance to do. As a result, Barmore comes into a situation where he can quickly grow into a great player.
Considering the AFC East division, no offensive line outside of New England’s stands as a top ten unit. This should play into Barmore’s strengths as he consistently applied pressure onto opposing offenses during his college career. If he develops as quickly as we project, Barmore should become a top candidate for defensive rookie of the year.
For most rookies entering the NFL, it’s hard to predict what’ll happen in their first season. They have over 200 players drafted each year and multiple others that go undrafted yet make their way in anyway. With so many players unaccounted for, predicting who will stand out may seem pointless. However, for these six players, their chance to shine immediately is glaring.