Drafting a strong rookie or rookies is a foundational piece to building a Super Bowl contending team. However, this doesn’t always pan out as teams hope. Some, or most, of their rookies never develop as much as the team hoped they would. There is always at least one player that surprises everyone. With that said, let’s get into it: One rookie who will surprise this season for each team
The Cardinals’ first draft pick this year, LB Zaven Collins, will look to step into an immediate role in the Arizona defense that showed many weaknesses last year. He has terrific athleticism and will benefit from playing with a strong core that already includes Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons.
The obvious headline choice would be TE Kyle Pitts, but everyone expects greatness from him already. I’m going with second round pick safety Richie Grant. After the departure of Keanu Neal, Grant could start Week 1 in his rookie season. Grant filled up the stat sheet during his impressive career at UCF, recording 10 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles.
Most people probably don’t know him. Former OSU rookie Tylan Wallace could surprise a lot of people this year. Stepping into an undecided WR core in Baltimore, the physical rookie could be in for a large target share this season. Another player to keep an eye out for is WR Rashod Bateman. After struggling last season, QB Lamar Jackson will be eager to get his rookie receivers the ball.
Gregory Rousseau was once talked of being a top 10 pick in this years draft. But after opting out, his stock fell and he was picked at the end of the first round. With the amount of immense, pure raw talent that Rousseau possesses, I think he could surprise a lot of people in Buffalo this season.
The Panthers had a spectacular draft class so this was really difficult to choose. CB Jaycee Horn, the Panthers first round pick, has already impressed in minicamp this season. My #1 ranked cornerback heading in to the draft, Horn has the traits to become a lock down corner and exceed expectations this fall.
Chicago was another team that had a very strong draft class this year. One of the less talked about picks of the draft, CB Thomas Graham Jr., could fall into a starting role this fall. After being one of the top corners in the nation at Oregon, Graham opted out of this season to prepare for the draft. After the departure of Will Fuller, the cornerback position suddenly has a lot less certainty heading into this season.
The Bengals drafted guard Jackson Carman in the second round of the draft. One of the less popular guards entering the draft, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to play this season. Protecting QB Joe Burrow is a must after what happened last year. Carman has a lot of experience blocking for superstar QB’s after playing at Clemson, so look for him to make an immediate push for a starting role.
In one of the biggest steals in the draft, the Browns took LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round. I, like many, thought he would be a first round lock. Arguably the best pass coverage linebacker in the class, he will be sure to turn some heads in Cleveland, especially if he can play a lot this season.
Jabril Cox was the second linebacker the Cowboys took in the 2021 draft after Micah Parsons. Seeing a large amount of time on the field might be difficult for Cox, but there’s no denying the skills and talent that he has. Watch out for Jabril Cox in Dallas.
The Broncos absolutely crushed this draft, hitting on value picks such as Patrick Surtain II, Javonte Williams, Quinn Meinerz, Baron Browning, and Jamar Johnson. The biggest name to watch that could surprise in that group is UNC RB Javonte Williams. Some said Williams was the best running back in this year’s class, and he could take over as RB1 at some point this season for Melvin Gordon. At UNC last season, Williams rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns in 157 attempts, while sharing touches with newly drafted Jets RB Michael Carter (156 att., 1,245 yds, and 9 TD’s).
The Lions receiving core is looking very bleak after the departures of star wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. My surprise candidate is former USC wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown. He will step in to a shaky group of veterans including Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Look for St. Brown to get a lot of snaps in his rookie season.
Green Bay Packers
Finally, an addition for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The Packers selected Clemson WR Amari Rodgers in the 3rd round of the draft. Rodgers is a shifty, slot type receiver and will be a nice compliment to outside receiver Davante Adams. Playing time might be a struggle for Rodgers, but he could make some noise this season.
There is a whole lot of uncertainty in Houston regarding QB Deshaun Watson. The Texans addressed that in the draft by taking QB Davis Mills. Some draft analysts said Mills could sneak into the first round in the draft. He is the typical pocket passer and could see the field a lot this season if Watson is unable to play.
This one isn’t necessarily a surprise. DE Kwitty Paye has the potential to rack up 10 sacks this season. With the departure of Justin Houston, there is a large whole on the defensive line. Paye is a pure power rusher and will look to do some damage in the AFC South.
The Jaguars surprised a lot of people by taking Travis Etienne at the end of the first round this year. Even after having undrafted rookie RB James Robinson rush for over 1,000 yards last season. Etienne is the real deal. He was the ultimate superstar running back at Clemson and he is a real threat to become RB1 in Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs
While a little bit undersized for his position, Nick Bolton can make a big splash in the Kansas City defense this year. Most likely a starter, he’ll step in to a weaker Chiefs linebacking group. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do this year.
Las Vegas Raiders
One of my favorite players in the draft class, safety Trevon Moehrig is a hard hitting bulldozer out of TCU. The Raiders safety group has been a bit of a mystery for the last few years, so hopefully Moehrig can step in and bring some energy to a weak Las Vegas defense.
Los Angeles Chargers
After trading away CB Desmond King midseason to the Titans, the Chargers cornerbacks needed a boost in depth this year. They solved that by drafting CB Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round. Samuel can step in right away in the CB2 spot behind Chris Harris Jr. with the opportunity to contribute immediately.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams don’t really have any players that could surprise in a major way. However, I could see WR Tutu Atwell sneaking his way into some production this season. With the departure of Josh Reynolds, that leaves the door wide open for Atwell, a small and shifty weapon out of Louisville.
Like his teammate Thomas Graham Jr., safety Jevon Holland was one of the top defensive backs in the nation before opting out of this past season. Holland, a second round pick, brings a splash of exciting young talent to an otherwise dull safety group. He has the chance to compete for a starting job and is an electric, speedy player who could definitely make his mark this season in Miami.
I thought for sure OSU guard Wyatt Davis would be a second round pick. He fell to the third round where Minnesota scooped him up. It’ll be difficult to find playing time in the sturdy Vikings offensive line, but that also offers a learning opportunity and the flexibility to step in whenever needed.
New England Patriots
I’m a huge fan of QB Mac Jones. A lot of people think that he’s limited due to a lack of great athleticism, which may be true, however he still has a great arm and is very accurate. I think he can surprise a lot of people this year, playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints CB2 position is a big question heading into this season. The Saints drafted CB Paulson Adebo out of Stanford this year and he has a chance to fill that spot immediately. I’m not sure how well he will perform, but the opportunity to breakout is definitely there.
New York Giants
Azeez Ojulari is another player who many thought would for sure be a first round pick. Arguably the best speed rusher in the class, Ojulari could start at OLB Week 1. He has tremendous potential and the ability to really get after those quarterbacks in the NFC East. Keep an eye out for the former Georgia Bulldog this season.
New York Jets
My lock surprise this year is RB Michael Carter Jr. The Jets running back group was a disaster last year and Carter is one of the most underrated draft picks this year. A 4th round pick that I value at a 2nd, he may not start Week 1, but I am almost sure he will start at some point this season. He’s a fantastic player and should help ease the stress off of Zach Wilson in the backfield.
While first round pick Devonta Smith is an obvious pick, don’t forget about his former college teammate Landon Dickerson. Dickerson is still recovering from injury, but he was one of the best centers in college football last year. Jason Kelce will most likely start the year at center, but if he were to get injured or Dickerson plays at another position, the Philadelphia offensive line will be a fierce sight.
The once-formidable Steelers offensive line is now a weakness for the team after the release of Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro. That could pave the way for rookie Kendrick Green to star in Pittsburgh this season. Look for Green to play a lot of snaps this year.
San Francisco 49ers
Trey Sermon was a monster at OSU last season. He enters a crowded backfield in San Francisco so it will be tough for him to be productive this year, however the power back has loads of talent and could be a surprise this year.
One of the less talked about steals of the draft, the Seahawks picked tackle Stone Forsythe in the 6th round. The Seattle offensive line has made headlines this offseason for not doing enough to protect superstar QB Russell Wilson. Forsythe could make a push to start at right tackle this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jaelan Darden, like many on this list, enters a crowded group of receivers in Tampa Bay. The receiver has a ton of potential and could surprise many, but it may take more than one season to breakout.
The Titans cornerback group doesn’t have a lot of stars at the moment. The Titans picked CB Elijah Molden, and he could make an early play for a starting role.
Washington Football Team
The WFT was another team to capitalize greatly in the draft this year. My biggest surprise player for the Football Team is offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi. After the release of Morgan Moses, this could be Cosmi’s opportunity to show his talents in Washington.