The first year in the NFL, as with any first, can be very tough on a player. As good as they are coming in, whether they succeed or fail has more to do with the team situation they’re in as opposed to their talent.
Some rookies will end up in great situations, others not so great. A few rookies already seem like they’re in a great position to have a nice first season in the league and this list takes a look at some of them. Below are five of the most promising first-year players heading into the 2021/22 season.
- Najee Harris – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers must have been pleasantly surprised to see the Miami Dolphins pass up on Najee Harris for Jaelan Phillips, especially given that they had an interest. They selected Harris at No.24 and he appears to be in a very good position to make an impact.
Harris was deemed the best running back in college football last season, winning the Doak Walker award and certainly has the looks of a top rushing prospect, something the Steelers have been yearning for for a few years now.
Pittsburgh had the worst rushing offense last season at 3.6 yards per carry and the team was keen on improving that in the knowledge that Ben Roethlisberger would benefit from having some pressure taken off of him while the offensive line is just in need of a revamp. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and center Maurice Pouncy are both gone and the Steelers will need everything they can get from Harris. As far as NFL picks go, the former Alabama star is already a favorite for Rookie of the Year.
2. Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars
Selected as the first overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Lawrence already has the Jacksonville Jaguars looking way more attractive than they were prior to the draft. He is considered to have more potential than the last two top 10 quarterbacks picked by the team in Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles.
He has the looks of a player who could come in and make an immediate impact but he’s probably going to have to come to terms with the fact that he will lose in the regular season, considering he didn’t lose a single such game in college. Lawrence has what it takes to become the face of the Jags franchise yet that might not translate into wins just yet.
The young QB’s immediate future looks bright given that new coach Urban Meyer is focused on building the team around him, having used two of his first four picks on a running back and offensive tackle. He’s also brought in veterans such as Marvin Jones and Carlos Hyde.
3. Zach Wilson – New York Jets
Wilson could have probably gone first overall in the draft as well but he just happens to be from an era in which Lawrence was the top guy. His performances at BYU suggest just that. Jets GM Joe Douglas is so high on the rookie, he traded Sam Darnold, the No.3 overall pick from 2018.
The team has taken more steps to make Wilson feel welcome than they ever did with his predecessor, having drafted guard Alijah Vera Tucker and receiver Elijah Moore, who was signed to a four-year deal this week. Running back Michael Carter was also drafted while receiver Corey Davis is another addition.
The Jets aren’t expected to win that many games during the season yet they may have found their future in Wilson, a player who can make a legitimate claim to be the face of the franchise and a first since Joe Namath.
4. Kyle Pitts – Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts has the markings of a tight end who might forego that learning curve players in his position usually undergo in the NFL. Players who are deployed as more traditional TEs need to block and release for short passes, among other things. However, Pitts is in a great position to make an instant impact as a pass-catcher and that he was drafted to support veteran quarterback Matt Ryan means he will have plenty of opportunities to put his talent on display.
Pitts was one of the most gifted players in the draft as he’s very difficult for opposing linebackers to cover and should prove to be a headache for defensive coaches in the league.
5. Jaylen Waddle – Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins would have been forgiven for moving on from Tua Tagovailoa after his inconsistent first season but they are sticking with the QB, trading out of the third overall spot to draft Jaylen Waddle at No.6.
They’ve handed Tua a player who averaged 19 yards a catch in college who is one of the speediest runners around. There’s also the fact that the players are familiar with each other as they played together at Alabama and he should be better for having veterans in DeVante Parker and Will Fuller to learn from.