(image credit: Jerome Miron / USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
The 2021 regular season is in the books with a wild and topsy turvy week 18 that saw a ton of thrills, spills, and some scoreboard watching (hello there Chargers vs Raiders). Who were the first-year debutants that made a name for themselves out of nowhere or made good on immense potential? Who in this 2021 draft class will go onto future stardom and all that lies beyond? While many if not all stories are just waiting to be written on these players’ careers, their first chapters are set in stone now or will be at the conclusion on a typically sunny February day in Los Angeles.
If you missed the 2020 edition of the all-rookie team, you can find it below.
Note: All stats current as of Week 18 of the regular season and courtesy of profootballreference
QB: Mac Jones / New England Patriots
- Despite the horrific ending to the Patriots season at the hands of division rival Buffalo, Jones had a ball piloting the suddenly teetering New England outfit in 2021. He was serviceable and clearly the best option among the shall we say, inconsistent rookie quarterback class. Much will be anticipated for his coming sophomore season at the very least. He showed a lot of promise and like his fellow young colleagues, some things to work on.
2021 Stats: 352 / 521 (68%) 3,801 yards 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions
RB: Javonte Williams / Denver Broncos
- The former Tar Heel had an outstanding rookie season for the competitive Broncos who made it to the latter stages of the season still in it. He was the clear-cut starter throughout the season, supplanting bigger names such as Melvin Gordon. He was a PPR machine as well, catching a few passes out of the backfield. The dynamic athlete was brilliant and shows promise as a running mate to whoever the Broncos elect as the quarterback. Could he be deserving of the legacy that many star backs left for him like Terrell Davis, Floyd Little, and the Andersons (Mike and CJ) achieved? He’s on his way, that’s for sure.
2021 Stats: 203 attempts for 903 yards and four touchdowns; 43 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns
RB: Najee Harris / Pittsburgh Steelers
- Speaking of rookie backs playing for star-crossed organizations led by its rushing icons, Harris had a debut campaign for the ages. He was captivating and mesmerizing for the Steelers. He had to carry the offense at times due to the litany of issues along the offensive line and the decrepit remains of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. The very same qualities that he displayed in college played out true to form in 2021. He’s clearly the present and future in Pittsburgh regardless of what happens around him on offense. Please get him a better line and newer quarterback, Yinzers. Please.
2021 Stats: 307 attempts for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns; 74 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns
WR: Ja'Marr Chase / Cincinnati Bengals
- New year, same results from a crazy athletic former Bayou Bengal receiver who plied his trade on that famed 2019 national championship squad. Chase set multiple franchise and league records during the still ongoing Bengals season. Clearly, those misguided preseason hot takes were blown to smithereens by midseason. He’s the runaway favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and deservedly so. Not much more can be said about his outstanding debutant performance. Remember all those debates about Cincinnati making a mistake taking Chase over protecting Joe Burrow with a tackle selection? Yeah about that.
2021 Stats: 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns
WR: Jaylen Waddle / Miami Dolphins
- Waddle should be placed on the list for this epically hilarious touchdown celebration, let alone his other exploits. The former Crimson Tide product largely kept pace with the aforementioned Chase and also kept the flailing Fish afloat while Tua struggled through his maladies. Mr. Waddle set the all-time record for receptions for rookies, surpassing the legendary Anquan Boldin (who belongs in the Hall of Fame but that’s another article for another time). The future is very bright for the young receiver despite the issues at signal-caller. Could he be this generation’s DeAndre Hopkins where he is immune to quarterback issues derailing many other receivers of talent?
2021 Stats: 104 receptions for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns
WR: Elijah Moore / New York Jets
- Moore doesn’t have the gaudy numbers like the prior two receivers but he did perform when called upon regardless of a quarterback situation that can be best described as tenuous. He was the leading man for the Jets in terms of yardage despite playing in only 11 of a possible 17 games. He flashed a ton of talent and isn’t just a bad team volume stats type of receiver. If the Jets can get Zach Wilson right as rain, a budding partnership between Moore and Wilson can be developed. The joke is that big-ticket signing Corey Davis has been usurped yet again by a second-round rookie receiver from Ole Miss.
2021 Stats: 43 receptions for 538 yards and five touchdowns
TE: Kyle Pitts / Atlanta Falcons
- If you’re sensing a trend, you’re onto something. Four consecutive skill players were battle-tested in the rigors of the SEC. Pitts was hyped as the generational prospect at his position and he delivered on the immense promise. He was so good that he became only the second-ever rookie tight end to crack the 1,000-yard barrier behind all-time great Mike Ditka. Pitts also was the second-ever rookie to break 1,000 yards in franchise history next to Julio Jones. Quite a promising debut for the former Gator. He’s the future at the position and could be billed as this generation’s superstar tight end.
2021 Stats: 68 receptions for 1,026 yards and one touchdown
OT: Penei Sewell / Detroit Lions
- The former Duck had a rough beginning but settled in as the year went along, ultimately finding a place as the right tackle. He was forced to play both tackle spots (due to injury to left tackle Taylor Decker) against some of the best pass rushers and largely made a huge impact. The star man from Eugene delivered on his potential and then some. He’s certainly a building block along the line that the hopeful Lions can build around. Will he make the eventual transition to his natural left tackle spot as Decker becomes more expensive in the future?
2021 PFF Grade: 77.4
OG: Trey Smith / Kansas City Chiefs
- This year’s “You done effed up” pick. How teams let him slip all the way down to the sixth round where the Chiefs scooped him up is beyond the pale. Smith has been an impact starter from Day 1 and probably a top ten guard in the league already. Along with the next guy on this list, Smith built the wall that has Patrick Mahomes and company rolling right now. The former five-star recruit from Tennessee has the potential to become a top five guard down the road much like La’el Collins once did from his lowly pro beginnings.
2021 PFF Grade: 72.7
C: Creed Humphrey / Kansas City Chiefs
- Humphrey has been awesome for the Chiefs as the anchor of the line. He came in with impressive credentials and lived up to the hype. It’s entirely possible that he’s already a top-five center in the league at such a young age. He has been the key asset holding a rebuilt line together protecting the important asset of Patrick Mahomes. A bright future lies ahead, indeed.
2021 PFF Grade: 92.6
OG: Alijah Vera-Tucker / New York Jets
- AVT has been effective as the starter for the woeful Jets offense despite the maelstrom of massive failures as a franchise around him. He came in as a tackle but slid over to guard as a pro and suffered very little drop-off. A very good future for him I suspect as the Jets continue to rebuild around him.
2021 PFF Grade: 67.2
OT: Rashawn Slater / Los Angeles Chargers
- Slater has been rock solid as the premier tackle of the rookie class throughout the year. The first-round selection protected Justin Herbert’s blindside particularly well. He was one of the better tackles in the league at such a precocious age as well. The Chargers have their left tackle of the future on the roster and don’t have to worry about the position for the next decade or so. He’s been brilliant and all signs point to a long career as the franchise tackle going forward.
2021 PFF Grade: 83.7
DE: Jaelan Phillips / Miami Dolphins
- The former first-round selection notched an impressive 8.5 sacks during the 2021 season. Drafted as a potential impact athlete, he more than delivered on the promise of his college career at the big league level. Phillips was second on the team in sacks, just behind leader big money signing Emmanuel Ogbah’s total of nine. Third, on the team in quarterback hits with 16 so it’s safe to say that he had an impact around opposing passers. While he didn’t start every game, he played significant snaps in all of them, learning on the job as a secondary edge rusher. The reps he gained during the stretch run will be immensely valuable as he goes forward. His next step is to become that dude who can take over games as the primary option. He’s well on his way.
2021 Stats: 42 tackles, 16 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks
DT: Christian Barmore / New England Patriots
- The former Crimson Tide interior defender found a pretty good home in New England as a second-round selection. Barmore was effective in his snaps, playing over 55% of the time, which is pretty good as a Belichick-led rookie. While he didn’t post the eye-popping stats like his counterparts on this list, he did his job as the anchor very well. That alone merits a spot on the first team for a wild card entrant. Could he turn into a proper Wilfork heir after years of searching by the Patriots? He was graded out as the highest-rated rookie interior defender by PFF as well.
2021 Stats: 46 tackles, nine quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed
DE: Odafe Oweh / Baltimore Ravens
- The first of two former Nittany Lions on the list, Oweh had a solid rookie season for the perennially excellent Ravens front office. He was a smart value selection that posted five sacks and was constantly around the quarterback for a talented defensive front. Oweh was second on the team in sacks, joint second in QB hits, and led the team in forced fumbles despite missing a couple of games. Could he be the best EDGE in his class that was littered with talent? The system that DC Wink Martindale certainly helps. The Ravens got yet another defensive steal, annoying as it is for opposing teams.
2021 Stats: 33 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one pass defensed
LB: Micah Parsons / Dallas Cowboys
- The runaway favorite for DROY honors as he had a monstrous rookie year that sadly ended this past weekend. He was a beast in all facets of the game from the word go. The scary thing is that he didn’t play any football for the better part of a year after opting out of the 2020 season. Looks like those lessons with Cowboys and Broncos legend DeMarcus Ware helped a ton during the offseason. Parsons was immense as a pass rusher, filling in for an injured Randy Gregory and a hobbled Demarcus Lawrence at times. He was the highest graded off ball linebacker by PFF’s standards, regardless of pro experience. That’s saying something given the ridiculous amount of talent that resides at the top of that position. While he’s not quite ready to join the Ring of Honor or be fitted for a gold jacket yet, he’s well on his way. If not for T.J. Watt’s incredible season, Parsons would be a leading contender for DPOY. That’s how awesome he has been.
2021 Stats: 84 tackles, 30 quarterback hits, 20 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles, three passes defensed
LB: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah / Cleveland Browns
- JOK was a revelation for the Browns despite all the hype that preceded him after slowly getting acclimated to the pro game. While not on Parson’s level in 2021 (no one was, even veterans, really), this rookie made an impact for an extremely talented defense. It helped that he settled in as a linebacker after playing a hybrid role in college. He has proved to be a vital asset that can be moved all over the place like a more athletic Landon Collins. Definitely a building block for the future that includes superstar Myles Garrett and that ridiculous secondary.
2021 Stats: 76 tackles, four quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks
LB: Nick Bolton / Kansas City Chiefs
- Another year, another Chiefs defensive rookie standout. Bolton slid in seamlessly in Steve Spagnuolo's defense and thrived. He led the team in tackles and tackles for loss. The Missouri product was certainly helped by having veteran presences assisting him like Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Willie Gay taking the load off. He seems like a surefire mainstay for the Chiefs defense for years to come in the mold of a Jonathan Vilma type.
2021 Stats: 112 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, three passes defensed, one fumble recovery, one touchdown
LB: Pete Werner / New Orleans Saints
- Werner was consistently effective all season but really stepped up when star linebacker Demario Davis went out for the season due to injury. The second round selection paired up with the aforementioned Davis and formed an indomitable duo. The rookie played well above expectations, posting 62 tackles and four tackles for loss in 15 games. He should be a fixture going forward for a still tough as nails Saints defense as they sort out the offense.
2021 Stats: 62 tackles, four tackles for loss, one quarterback hit
CB: Patrick Surtain II / Denver Broncos
- The Broncos haven’t seen this type of elite cornerback play since the Hall of Famer Champ Bailey donned the Orange and Blue. The vastly hyped prospect delivered and then some in spades. Simply put, he was a beast from the jump as a rookie. The legacy player definitely pops off the screen and his bloodlines show. It’s quite early yet but he has the potential to live up to the standards that his great father set back in the day and then some. The rising sophomore definitely is on the right path as a franchise cornerstone type of player. He’s going to be making a ton of offseason all league teams barring injury and regression.
2021 Stats: 58 tackles, 14 passes defensed, four interceptions, one touchdown, one tackle for loss
CB: Nate Hobbs / Las Vegas Raiders
- A surprise addition to the first team as a fifth round selection was expected to contribute but not at the level he did. He was excellent for the Raiders as a primary slot defender that kept to his job well. Hobbs excelled at both defending the pass and coming up in run support. He doesn’t have the eye popping numbers like his fellow rookie classmates but was a standout nonetheless. The Raiders were horrendous as a stop unit but Hobbs wasn’t at fault for most of it. Dude was simply great and it remains to be seen who his future DC will be given the organization’s turmoil. Still, he has all the tools to succeed in his role. PFF has graded him as the top rookie cornerback.
2021 Stats: 74 tackles, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed, one sack, one forced fumble
S: Jevon Holland / Miami Dolphins
- The do-it-all safety from Oregon was outstanding in his debut campaign for a captivating Dolphins defense. He played everywhere in the secondary and also played on special teams as a returner, continuing his path from college before he opted out in 2020. Holland is a freak athlete who can play both a big nickel role and safety in the right circumstances. He’s Derwin James 2.0. Much will be anticipated for his sophomore season, that’s for sure.
2021 Stats: 69 tackles, 10 passes defensed, seven quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, two interceptions
S: Trevon Moehrig / Las Vegas Raiders
- Moehrig more than lived up to his billing and was a shining light for the Raiders defense. He was a rock for Vegas in the secondary. The former Horned Frog is the future at the position for them and a building piece much like Derwin James is for the rival Chargers.
2021 Stats: 55 tackles, six passes defensed, and one interception
QB: Davis Mills / Houston Texans
- Mills was the second most consistent rookie passer in a class that saw its signal callers be injured, inconsistent, or both. He showed flashes of being at least a serviceable bridge quarterback at least. The Stanford product was slated to be a backup to nominal starter Tyrod Taylor until injury forced Mills into action. Given the situation that the Texans were built to be, he had a relatively successful debut.
2021 Stats: 263 / 394 (67%) 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions
RB: Michael Carter / New York Jets
- Carter proved to be an astute selection as part of a hopeful rookie class by the Jets. He was every bit of the dynamic back that we saw in Chapel Hill. While he was out for a few games, he proved to be an effective running mate for fellow rookie Zach Wilson. The running back version of Michael Carter could’ve had a chance at 1,000 yards had he stayed healthy. As the Jets continue their slog of a rebuild, the rising sophomore has a chance to play a big part in the next good NYJ franchise.
2021 Stats: 147 attempts for 639 yards and four touchdowns; 36 receptions for 325 yards
RB: Rhamondre Stevenson / New England Patriots
- Stevenson played a bunch due to injuries to the Pats’ running back room and shined when called upon. When everyone was healthy, he still got a lot of reps behind star Damien Harris. An ideal number two man behind RB1 with the potential to be the star bellcow down the road should the Patriots lean in that direction once again. Stevenson knows his role and plays it well. More athletic than he’s given credit for. It remains to be seen if he gets more reps next season.
2021 Stats: 133 attempts for 606 yards and five touchdowns; 14 receptions for 123 yards
RB: Elijah Mitchell / San Francisco 49ers
- A late round running back beating out higher drafted backs and starring in a Shanahan offense. Where have we heard this before? Oh that’s right. It’s an annual tradition. Mitchell is just the latest in a long line of them. He was pretty special as the primary option this year to this point, almost cracking the 1,000 yard mark in just 11 games! He has been the bellcow that keeps on ticking despite Deebo Samuel eating into his share with some epic performances late. The future is bright should he remain the RB1 for the powerful 49ers rushing attack.
2021 Stats: 207 attempts for 963 yards and five touchdowns; 19 receptions for 137 yards and one touchdowns
WR: Amon-Ra St. Brown / Detroit Lions
- ASB took a bit to get going, not getting a lot of targets until he exploded for double digits in that category after Week 12. It was an impressive six week closing run that saw him catch 51 / 67 of an overall 119 targets for 560 of 912 yards and all five of his touchdowns. He definitely won a few fantasy playoff matches with his excellent play late. It appears that the Lions have a future building block at receiver for whomever quarterbacks the team next season. Once Detroit realized that St. Brown was a viable receiver and quite a bit better than Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, he took off.
2021 Stats: 90 receptions for 912 yards and five touchdowns; seven attempts for 61 yards and one touchdown
WR: DeVonta Smith / Philadelphia Eagles
- The 2020 Heisman Trophy was well worth the praise and hype he received prior to the season. He delivered the goods with an impressive season despite a run heavy offense and inconsistency at quarterback. Smith led the team in the receiver triple crown categories of receptions, yards and touchdowns. He far outpaced the second place finisher (Dallas Goedert, 76) in terms of targets (104) as well. The Crimson Tide product almost beat out the next two receivers COMBINED in targets as well (119 between Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor). All this to say that, yes he’s the number one target man for whoever the quarterback is going forward. Weight concerns? What weight concerns? He held up well throughout the season because teams couldn’t catch him. The speedster is certainly the WR1 in Philly and a potential sleeper pick in fantasy drafts to go early next year.
2021 Stats: 64 receptions for 916 yards and five touchdowns
TE: Pat Freiermuth / Pittsburgh Steelers
- MUUUTHHH! Many Steelers questioned the selection (and rightly so but it wasn’t his fault) due to needs elsewhere (in Vegas big neon sign pointing out the OL) but he proved to be an astute pick. The former Penn State product usurped the TE1 role and ran with it as the true heir to longtime franchise legend Heath Miller. While he probably won’t be the primary receiver for whoever throws the passes post Ben (hello Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool), he will be a vital asset regardless as the safety valve outlet. In any other year besides this one where Kyle Pitts dominated the headlines at the position as the next great one, ‘Muth would garner a large consideration for all rookie team TE1.
2021 Stats: 60 receptions for 497 yards and seven touchdowns
OT: Samuel Cosmi / Washington Football Team
- The former Texas tackle had a pretty good season for the WFT, posting the third highest rookie tackle and second highest among rookie left tackles. He only played in nine games overall but his play was great enough to merit consideration for the second team. The much hyped second round prospect delivered in a short but impactful burst this season. He looks to have locked down the starting job for quite a while for the yet to be renamed Washington franchise. Much will be anticipated for the future for him as he looks to build on the Hogs tradition.
2021 PFF Grade: 74.9
OG: Landon Dickerson / Philadelphia Eagles
- The ultra versatile lineman was part of the league’s top rushing unit. He moved over to guard due to all-world center Jason Kelce being there. There was very little drop off from the move over if any. Dickerson was elite in the run game, featuring a tough road grading attitude. The pass blocking wasn’t too shabby, either as he only gave up two sacks on the season in 859 total snaps. After being ramped up into a full time starter basis after Week 2 (he missed Week 1 due to precautionary rest due to a knee injury the year prior), he played no lower than 82% of the total snaps in every subsequent game. He’s definitely a future asset with the potential to be a top five guard in the league soon.
2021 PFF Grade: 69.5
C: Kendrick Green / Pittsburgh Steelers
- Green had the horribly unenviable task of replacing franchise icon and future Hall of Fame center Maurkice Pouncey as a rookie. His 2021 season did not go as the franchise had hoped. This is putting it mildly, which Yinzer nation might not appreciate as they frequently had choice words about his play through the weeks. Still, rookie centers that are good, much less serviceable out of the gates are a rare commodity. There’s still time yet for Green to develop with a new line coach. Perhaps a move to guard would be best for his development?
2021 PFF Grade: 53.1
OG: Quinn Meinerz / Denver Broncos
- The darling of everyone in the draft community delivered on the hype for the Broncos as a rookie. He played well, earning eight consecutive starts to finish out a frustrating 2021 campaign for the team. Meinerz did so well in fact that he was graded as the third highest rookie guard in fact. The Broncos have a solid if not great young offensive line and Meinerz has proven to be a key component of it. Bright future ahead for the Wisconsin-Whitewater product in the Mile High City.
2021 PFF Grade: 67.4
OT: Christian Darrisaw / Minnesota Vikings
- Darrisaw missed the early portion of the season due to recovering from an offseason core surgery but he finished with 10 consecutive starts. PFF had him graded as the fourth highest rookie tackle and he more than lived up to that billing. He’s a franchise left tackle going forward for sure. The former first round selection warrants consideration as the best young pure left tackles in the game after just one year. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings go about addressing their QB situation for Darrisaw to protect.
2021 PFF Grade: 71.8
DE: Gregory Rousseau / Buffalo Bills
- Like his former Hurricanes teammate Jaelan Phillips, Rousseau had a solid rookie season for an AFC East team. The Bills’ first round selection was part of the league’s top defensive unit. Rousseau started every game but has rotated quite heavily thanks to Buffalo’s great depth along the line. He still made an impact, however. He ranks joint second on the team with four sacks and also second on the team with 10 quarterback hits. The standout rookie has a bright future indeed for what should continue to be a perennially top ranked stop unit.
2021 Stats: 50 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, four passes defensed, four sacks, one interception, one forced fumble
DT: Alim McNeill / Detroit Lions
- A surprise addition (not really given NC State’s track record with defensive linemen) to the list is the third round selection. McNeill was a force in the middle for Detroit in the run game. He didn’t play a ton of snaps throughout the year but made an impact in the reps he received. The former Wolfpack lineman flashed a little something in the pass game as well. As Detroit builds out the defense, expect him to get an increased role as the years go by. Will he be the next Suh? Probably not but he will definitely have a big part to play. Great selection by the Lions.
2021 Stats: 39 tackles, three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, one pass defensed
DE: Azeez Ojulari / New York Giants
- Lost in all the hullabaloo that was the absolute disintegration called the Giants’ 2021 campaign (QB sneaks will never be the same, thanks Joe Judge!) was the brightness of Ojulari. He thrived as a rookie, notching eight sacks while playing 67% of the total snaps. The eight sacks represents the team lead and the former Georgia product was second on the team in quarterback hits. Ojulari delivered on the athletic potential and then some for a moribund franchise seeking yet another coaching administration. It was a sneaky dazzling season due to the aforementioned organizational issues but an encore will be exciting to watch for him.
2021 Stats: 49 tackles, 13 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, eight sacks, two passes defensed, one forced fumble
EDGE: Kwity Paye / Indianapolis Colts
- While Paye didn’t have the monster stats like his colleagues in this class, he did have a justifiable impact to merit his inclusion on this list. When healthy, he was a force to be reckoned with in 15 of 15 starts. Of course it helps that the Colts have Darius Leonard as a coworker but Paye had moments of brilliance himself. The freak athlete from Michigan was used as both an off ball and pass rush role. Paye proved to be an ideal running mate for the affable and dominant DeForest Buckner. There were definitely flashes of what could be a great career. Also, this was a battle of one spot for two players as Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper posted a compelling case.
2021 Stats: 32 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, four sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries
LB: Ernest Jones / Los Angeles Rams
- Jones was a smart selection by the Rams who were searching for an inside linebacker who could play a little bit for what seems like years. The third round selection played consistently well until late in the season when an unfortunate injury cut his season short. The bigger names on the Rams defense will deservedly get more love but Jones deserves more flowers for filling in a needed position in the way that he did. If healthy, he has some potential being that dude playing next to guys like Von Miller, AD, and Jalen Ramsey.
2021 Stats: 61 tackles, four passes defensed, two interceptions, one tackle for loss, three quarterback hits
LB: Divine Deablo / Las Vegas Chargers
- The Raiders’ third round selection took a little while to get going but he was the starter for the organization’s last six games, including the heart wrenching playoff loss. The vast majority of his production came in the last seven games of the season, posting eight or more tackles in four contests. He was projected initially as a bit of a tweener after playing safety in college but settled in as a linebacker as a pro. The development time was well worth the price of admission it seems as Deablo made the most of his late season chances.
2021 Stats: 45 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defense, one fumble recovery
CB: Greg Newsome II / Cleveland Browns
-Newsome was a perfect fit for the Browns alongside emerging star CB Denzel Ward. He was one of the higher graded cornerbacks in the class. The Northwestern product more than lived up to the lofty billing of a first round selection. He didn't get the interception totals but was generally in the right place most of the time. The numbers will come in due time for him. An excellent first year for him. If Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit can ever get right, the Browns could have the most formidable secondary in the league!
2021 Stats: 37 tackles and nine passes defensed
CB: Tyson Campbell / Jacksonville Jaguars
- Yes, the Jaguars were bad (tell me something I don’t know, right?) but Campbell was a bright light for the still rebuilding franchise. The “other” corner from Georgia got off to a bad start but closed shop down the stretch, flashing CB1 potential. That finishing kick gets him on the list alongside his Bulldog compatriot Eric Stokes. If he can stay healthy, there are a lot of honors ahead of him in his young career.
2021 Stats: 73 tackles, ten passes defensed, two tackles for loss, two interceptions
NB: Paulson Adebo / New Orleans Saints
- Adebo was injured for most of the 2019 college season before opting out of the 2020 season so the rust factor was real. He was an able starter for a downright nasty Saints defense as a rookie with such limited experience. That’s a testament to his ability. The third round selection had his moments of rookie what are you doing but had flashes of brilliance including a leaping one handed interception of Matt Ryan in Week 18. The former Stanford man has proven to be a capable number two man to superstar Marshon Lattimore at such an precocious age as a rookie. He gets the nod over Tennessee’s Elijah Molden who himself was a fellow third rounder.
2021 Stats: 66 tackles, eight passes defensed, four tackles for loss, three interceptions
NB: Eric Stokes / Green Bay Packers
- Like many young corners, Stokes was just the latest to have some rookie moments against the best receivers in the world. He played very well this season and was a starter for a large majority of the season. The former first round selection had to play significant snaps as CB1 due to injuries to nominal starters Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. He has shined as such throughout 2021 in the role. His development isn’t a major surprise given that he has to face possibly the best receiver in the league every day in practice, Davante Adams.
2021 Stats: 74 tackles, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed, one sack, one forced fumble
By the numbers breakdown
ACC: 7 + 1 for Notre Dame (who was a full-time member of the ACC in 2020)
Big Ten: 9
Big 12: 4
G6 or lower: 1