For the first time since 2019, the NFL was able to hold an in-person draft in 2021, with incoming rookies getting a proper introduction into the league after successful collegiate careers.
Hundreds of players officially began their transition from the collegiate football scene to the shark-infested waters known as the NFL, and found themselves prepping for moves to new homes all around the country.
Whenever fans build up their excitement for their respective squads’ fresh blood, there’s always some doubt that creeps into their minds, wondering whether or not a first-round pick was worth the risk, or if their second-rounder will pan out.
In other cases, people who followed a player’s collegiate career and saw where they ended up in the NFL know that they’ll be just fine. It’s a select group of individuals who wind up in that category, but their track record and positioning in an organization both speak for themselves.
To break it all down, here are 10 rookies, in order of when they were drafted, who have the best chance to succeed immediately when they put on their new uniforms for their first regular-season action in September.
- Atlanta Falcons TE Kyle Pitts
Even if someone has never seen you play, when you’re the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, you’re already entering the league with loads of hype.
Luckily for Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, he’s in a good place, both figuratively and literally, entering his rookie campaign.
The Falcons are just a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and the pieces are there for them to be a great squad in 2021, as well.
With Matt Ryan under center and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in the fray, there’s plenty of talent to work around offensively. With so much attention placed on an All-Pro like Jones and a rising star like Ridley, Pitts should have plenty of breathing room to succeed in the Falcons offense as a rookie.
- Miami Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle
College reunions were a common trend throughout the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Miami Dolphins put together a lethal combination with the sixth pick in the first round.
Pitting second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle was a strong decision for Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and company, as the franchise tries to surround Tagovailoa with the tools to succeed.
One of the best wide receivers throughout his collegiate career, Waddle’s ability as a deep threat will provide a major boost to the Dolphins offense, and keep them in contention when looking at the AFC East’s best teams.
Similar to the success D.K. Metcalf had as a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Waddle impact games on some heavy heaves from Tagovailoa in 2021.
- Detroit Lions OT Penei Sewell
The fact that Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell fell to the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is one of those situations where the franchise shouldn’t ask questions, and should just be happy with the end result.
Sewell was undoubtedly the best offensive lineman available in the draft, and the Lions are looking to give new quarterback Jared Goff everything he needs to get back to the level he was at when the Los Angeles Rams made it to Super Bowl LIII.
Sewell could easily put together a rookie campaign like Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs had in 2021, although it will widely depend on Goff’s ability to adapt to a new offense in Detroit.
- Philadelphia Eagles WR DeVonta Smith
Knock him all you want for his size, but Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith is easily going to be a contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Smith had loads of success during his time at Alabama, putting up more than 1,800 yards in his final collegiate season to go with 23 touchdowns.
There is some uncertainty as it relates to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who’s prepping for his second year in the league. But, the Alabama connection could pay dividends for both Hurts and Smith, and could easily propel the duo to new heights.
If each player can meet their potential in 2021, then you should look out for the Eagles.
- Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons
Even after opting out of the 2020 college football season, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons managed to land with the Dallas Cowboys as the 2021 NFL Draft’s 12th overall pick.
As long as the year off doesn’t have too much of an impact, Parsons should feast in his rookie season, and could help the Cowboys defense go from good to great as the offense welcomes quarterback Dak Prescott back from injury.
Considering the struggles NFC East teams have had in recent years, Parsons should be considered an immediate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in 2021.
- Los Angeles Chargers OT Rashawn Slater
Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater lucked out in a big way when he landed with the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2021 NFL Draft, considering who he will be protecting in his first season in the league.
Second-year Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert put together an incredible rookie campaign in 2020, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in the process.
Now, the pressure will be on for Herbert and the Chargers offense after a surprising 2020 season, and Slater will get tossed into the fire to protect one of the NFL’s best young prospects.
The AFC West is a tough division to win when Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are around. But, if Slater can do his job properly and help Herbert offensively, the Chargers may surprise some people in 2021.
- Arizona Cardinals LB Zaven Collins
The Arizona Cardinals defense was already considered LOADED heading into Kyler Murray’s third season in the league. Adding Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins is just icing on the cake.
Collins will get tossed into the thick of it rather quickly, but he’ll get to learn from a top-tier linebacker in Chandler Jones, and a legendary pass-rusher in J.J. Watt.
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury may hold Collins back a bit at times in favor of more established veterans, but the youngster should be able to contribute in a big way to a team that could rise to the top of the NFC West during his rookie year.
- Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris
As the Pittsburgh Steelers prep for what is likely going to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s final season in the league, the franchise did their longtime starter a solid by drafting Alabama running back Najee Harris late in the first round.
The Bay Area native was a shining star throughout his collegiate career, impressing people with his size, speed, and acrobatic abilities.
In 2021, he’ll join an offense with an already-stellar receiving corps, headlined by wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool.
He should get loads of reps in Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s offense, and could have the same types of success that Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had as a rookie last season.
- Washington Football Team LB Jamin Davis
The Washington Football Team has sneakily put together one of the best defensive lines in the NFL over the last few seasons. Adding Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis just helps to round out the middle of the franchise’s young defense.
Second-year defensive end Chase Young and third-year edge rusher Montez Sweat are a two-headed monster near the nation’s capital, evident by Young’s Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020 and Sweat’s emergence through his first two seasons.
The franchise’s offense showed some promise in their postseason battle with the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers at the end of the 2020 season, and the team became even more well-rounded by adding Davis in the 2021 draft.
He’s not going to impress as much as fellow rookie linebackers Micah Parsons and Zaven Collins, but Davis could be a sleeper when evaluating the NFL’s incoming rookie talent.
- Baltimore Ravens WR Rashod Bateman
Considering how well the Baltimore Ravens played in quarterback Lamar Jackson’s second season in 2019, you would think the franchise would be set offensively. Instead, they utilized a first-round pick on Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
The Ravens aren’t exactly a pass-heavy offense, which makes sense when you see what Jackson can do with the football in his hands. But, adding another weapon to an explosive receiving corps that already includes Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins just makes Baltimore’s offense that much more dangerous.
After a “down year” in 2020 following a 14-2 record in 2019, the addition of Bateman could create problems for the Ravens’ AFC North rivals and the rest of the team’s opponents in 2021.