As collegiate athletes continue to become more and more elite, the NFL is reaping the benefits. Nearly every position on the field has been bolstered and this year looks to be the most exciting yet. With an undersized Heisman trophy winner defying odds, the most highly anticipated tight-end recruit maybe ever, and one of the best quarterbacks since the great Peyton Manning himself fill this year’s lineup. There is a full slate of rookies to watch in 2021 and we’re here to break down some of the top 1st year players and the impact we think they will have.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris, an Alabama product, was selected 24th overall by the Steelers. His value lies in his heavy workload projections. Pittsburgh is not known to have a “running-back-by-committee” approach and we can expect Harris to take the majority of the snaps. The Steelers traded James Connor this offseason, a spotty replacement to Le’veon Bell, and it has opened up the backfield for Harris.
In 2020 at ‘Bama, Harris had 1,466 rushing yards with a 5.84 yards per carry avg, 4254 receiving yards with a 9.88 yards per attempt avg, and 30 total touchdowns. He has proven that he is durable, versatile, and everything the Steelers need to return to the top of the division.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
This absolutely ELITE rookie tight end is coming out as possibly the top tight end recruit ever. The 6’6” 245lb monster is coming into an incredible offensive situation. No, the Falcons are not an elite team, however, with the loss of Julio Jones, Pitts is poised to have a massive impact. He will be splitting target receptions with Calvin Ridley and is bound for success. We’re expecting Arthur Smith to go with a two tight end option instead of a 3 wide receiver format which also benefits Pitts.
In his 2020 season at Florida, despite playing 5 fewer games than the year prior, he beat almost every personal best stat. He had 43 receptions, 770 yards with a 17.9 yards per reception average, and 12 touchdowns. He was a RedZone force at Florida and we can expect more of the same in Atlanta.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
Williams was the 35th pick in the second round after the Broncos traded up to draft him. Now, he is entering a backfield currently being held by Melvin Gordon, however, he is worth keeping a close eye on this season. Gordon had some pre-season groin issues which could be a spot of bother early in the season, upping Williams’s role and allowing a chance to establish himself as a dual-threat running back.
Currently thought of as a power back, Williams is working hard on his reception talent as well. This Tarheel product has 1,140 yards with a 7.3 yards per carry avg, 25 receptions with 305 yards, and 22 touchdowns in his 2020 campaign at North Carolina. We can expect him to take over the full-time roll within his first two years, but we’re projecting a first-year breakout from this rookie.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence has been likened to the great Peyton Manning and appears to be filling those shoes. The 6’5” quarterback was draft 1st overall in the 2020 draft to the Jaguars and has proved in preseason games why. In his final preseason game, he was 11/12 for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Cowboys. A tune-up but nonetheless impressive. Beyond his passing accuracy and decision-making, his athleticism is top tier.
Lawrence put up some of the most impressive raw collegiate stats. In 40 games, he had 90 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and 10,098 total yards. He also ran for 18 touchdowns proving his feet are as dangerous as his arm. He is a can’t miss rookie and will be having a big season provided his offensive line gives him the opportunity to do so.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
It is true, Fields currently sits as QB #2 but this will not be for long. Fields had a very impressive preseason and it is all too likely he takes over the starting role early in the season. He is entering an already solid offensive core with tools like Montgomery, Robinson, and Mooney. Fortunately, the Bears also worked to fortify their offensive line this season, which will give Fields more time in the pocket and plenty of options.
This rookie finished up his collegiate football career at Ohio State. In his 2020 campaign, he was able to complete 70.2% of his passes for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns. With his new team and new tools, we can expect more of this sort of product. He is exceptionally accurate and protects the ball well, only having 9 interceptions in 34 games.
Davonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Smith won the Heisman trophy during his 2020 season at Alabama, the first receiver to do so since 1991’s Desmond Howard. Entering his rookie season in the NFL, his weight has been a large point of speculation. The 6ft 180lb rookie has had these negatives circulating since announcing he would elect for the draft. To which we say, kerfluffle. The 10th overall pick has nothing to worry about. He is a first-option receiver on a team that will likely be passing the ball frequently, and a quarterback that he already has chemistry with. Hurts and Smith played at Alabama together and are already, “picking up where we left off”.
Davonta “Slim Reaper” Smith, had an incredible 2020 season. With 1,856 yards, 15.9 yards per reception, and 24 total touchdowns, his floor is high and his ceiling is higher. Remove weight from the question and Smith has few, if any, negatives about his game. He will be a problem this year at the NFL level and the Eagles’ WR #1 option.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins got Waddle at 6th overall in this year’s draft. Though a touch shorter, Waddle is nothing short of incredible. He has cheat code speed, clocking a 4.37 40-yard dash, he is agile, mobile, and hostile. Not only is he Coach Boone’s dream, but he is also every coach’s dream receiver. He is incredibly difficult to stick in the slot, has perennial deep threat written all over to rival Tyreek Hill, and he maintains speed in transitions. To cap this all, he also has chemistry with his quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa is another Alabama product that has already thrown to Waddle. This familiarity should be a benefit for the Dolphins in 2021.
Coming off of an ankle injury in 2020, he should be fully recovered and ready to go this year. During his 3 seasons at Alabama, he had, 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns. We are expecting deep ball numbers similar to Tyreek Hill and is a second option, TO START, receiver for the Dolphins behind DeVante Parker.
Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Mac and Cheese, the Mac Attack, or just Mac Jones. This guy is an early contender for the people’s champ. Yes, we know we could have just written about Alabama draft picks at this point, but here it is. Another “BamaBoy”. Mac Jones has just beaten out former NFL MVP Cam Newton for the QB1 job in New England. An impressive feat by itself, however, Belichick has noted that Jones has impressed him and his staff. From a guy who doesn’t show any emotion at all, that’s impressive.
Beyond the semantics, Jones had solid numbers at Alabama. In 2020 he threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns to his favorite target, Devonta Smith. In week one he is also playing against a former teammate in Tua Tagovailoa. This “Clash of Alabama Titans” should be a fun one to watch. However, Jones is taking over a much more spotty offense. The Patriots recently traded away Sony Michelle, their receiving option running back, and are left with a spotty backfield and an above-average at best wide receiver core. Jones has big shoes to fill but has the winningest coach ever to help him along the way.
This is a top-tier class of rookies spread across the field. Nearly every position has someone to brag about, however, we focused on those we think would make the most difference in your daily fantasy football games. Check out these rookies, plenty of veterans, and everything in between on SuperDraft where we have multiple game modes like champion, multiplier, and more. We’ve got all the action for you to start winning this football season.