The 2021 NFL Draft class consisted of a talented group on paper. A lot of first-year players had successful seasons. The rankings below are made up of the 10 who did it throughout the entire year. Late pushes by some rookies were made. Moving forward with this class, there is reason to be excited for the future.
10. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles made a thrilling trade-up to acquire Smith in the draft. The talented prospect started his career off well, finishing the season with 64 catches, 916 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. Smith had some dominant games in year one for Philadelphia, and broke the Eagles’ rookie receiving yardage record. He did a stellar job of solidifying himself as the lead wide receiver for the team moving forward.
9. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris took on a massive workload for the Steelers his first year in the league. The first-round pick finished the season with 307 carries, 1,200 rushing yards, and seven rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, he had a huge role, recording 74 receptions, 467 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns. In his rookie year, Harris proved he can take on a ton of work as both a runner and receiver.
8. Patrick Surtain, CB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos selected Surtain in shocking fashion last April. As a prospect though, the Alabama product was as good as they come. Right away, he delivered in a big way for the Broncos. On the season, he recorded four interceptions (one of which went for a touchdown), 14 pass deflections, 58 total tackles, and one tackle for loss. Surtain possesses all the traits one could ask for in a star cornerback. He is the future of the Broncos.
7. Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions
It was a surprise Sewell fell as far as he did in the draft. The Lions were ecstatic to get him, and he showed why. Whether it was at left or right tackle, he had moments of dominance. As the season went on, Sewell continued to improve. While the year progressed, he continued to build on his great success as a pass blocker, shutting some pass rushers out in certain weeks. He is as young as they come and got off to a fantastic start. Sewell is a foundational piece for the Lions and will continue to improve.
6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins made a move to get up in the draft to select Waddle and he proved them right. The rookie wide receiver finished his first season with 104 catches, 1,015 receiving yards, and six receiving touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown on the year. In five games, Waddle had at least nine catches. Going forward, the goal should be for there to be more vertical opportunities for Waddle to use his speed. He is crucial to the Dolphins’ future.
5. Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
Jones was selected by the Patriots in the middle of the first round and exceeded expectations. He helped his team get to 10 wins and led the Patriots back to the playoffs. Statistically, he finished the year with a completion percentage of 67.6, 3,801 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and had a rating of 92.5. Jones undoubtedly showed he is the Patriots franchise quarterback.
4. Creed Humphrey, OC, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City offensive line needed a ton of work in the offseason. In the draft, Humphrey fell to the Chiefs in the second round, which was widely considered tremendous value for them. Humphrey went on to back that up this entire season. He was one of the best centers in the NFL for the 2021 season. He started all 17 games on the year. As a pass blocker, he continued his success from college. Humphrey is a core piece to the Chiefs moving forward.
3. Rashawn Slater, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
There was a ton of conversation surrounding Slater and whether or not he would be a successful NFL tackle. From his first game, he proved he could be. It continued as he was special in both the running and passing game for the Chargers offense all season. Before selecting Slater, the Chargers had some major concerns with their offensive line. He helped eliminate the need for a left tackle for a long time. His first year was special.
2. Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys found themselves in a tough spot in the draft as their expected targets had just gone off the board. They ended up trading down and selecting Parsons as their defense needed a ton of help. The Harrisburg, PA native was phenomenal all year long. Most weeks, he filled out the stat sheet, making plays all over the field. He was utilized in multiple ways along their defensive front. Parsons finished the season with 84 total tackles, 13 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, and three pass deflections. He is easily the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
1. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals selected Chase over an offensive tackle and he proved why. From the first game of the season all the way to the end, he was one of the best wide receivers in the league. Chase finished his rookie year with 81 catches, 1,455 receiving yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns. He recorded two 200-yard receiving games this season. His performance in Week 17 to clinch the AFC North for the Bengals was as dominant as any single-game performance on the year. He was making at least one big play in almost every game. Chase was the best rookie in 2021.
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