• Brian L. Barefield

NFL Rookies To Watch This Season

The 2021 NFL season begins on Thursday, and most will be focused on if Tom Brady can lead Tampa Bay back to the Super Bowl or if this is the season that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has one final “Hoorah” in him and gets his team to the “Big Game.”

Yet some fans will be paying close attention to some prominent rookies from the 2021 NFL Draft class to see how successful they will be this season.

Here are rookies that I think will make an impact on their teams this season:

Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets

There is an old proverb that goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That must be what the New York Jets have plastered all over the walls at their facilities, because here we go again talking about another rookie quarterback starting Week One for the Jets.

It is very important that quarterback Zach Wilson establishes his own identity from the first snap he takes in a regular season game, or he will be compared to former first round pick Sam Darnold, who ironically, he faces in his first NFL game of his career.

Is that fair to do to a rookie who has inherited a franchise with a losing culture? No. But remember he also plays in a city where the sports media personalities judge everything harshly.

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No one needs a boost in their running game more than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had a combined 1,286 yards rushing with a 3.5 yards per rush average on the season. That should change with first round pick Najee Harris who many have projected to have an outstanding season. The former University of Alabama star had a very productive college career amassing 3,843 career rushing yards and 46 rushing touchdowns. With an aging quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, Harris will be looked on to carry the load for the Steelers and help get them back into the playoffs.

Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots

Sometimes in life it is beneficial to be in the right place at the right time. That was the case for rookie Patriots quarterback Mac Jones who was awarded the starting quarterback position when the Patriots decided to waive former NFL MVP Cam Newton. Jones, who was the Heisman runner-up in 2020 will start Week One for New England and there will be a lot of eyes focused on if he is the next coming of Patriots legendary quarterback Tom Brady. That is a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, but his team is looking to prove that it is the “Patriots Way” and not the “Brady Effect.”

DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Yes. I know that this reading like an all-former Alabama players rookie scouting report but let’s just be honest with ourselves, the University of Alabama could be considered the developmental league for the NFL with the amount of talent they have put in the league over the past couple of years.

Former Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith will have a lot of eyes focused on him from Week One as he has been deemed the “Chosen One” to help return the Philadelphia Eagles back to some type of prominence. The plan is for Smith to be the receiver who can take the top off of a defense with his speed which will be very beneficial to quarterback Jalen Hurts, who will also have more open running lanes when he gets in trouble. The combination of Hurts and Smith may just be enough to help get the Eagles back into the playoffs, especially in a division (NFC East) that some have considered to be the worst in the NFL.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

When you are the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, all eyes will be focused on you every week and a lot of pressure comes with living up to that. If there is one player who can live up to that hype, its Lawrence who is as poised as any rookie entering the NFL this season. He doesn’t have the talent at Jacksonville that he had at Clemson, but given time, first-year head coach Urban Meyer will help put together an offensive scheme that fits his talent.

What the Jags really need is for Lawrence to come in and change the losing culture that has surrounded the team for years, but one person can’t do that alone and the Jags fans are expecting that.

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