The NFLPA announced the NFL Rookie Premiere Class of 2021 earlier this week. The 60-man class consists of the rookies projected to be the most marketable stars.
Tunnel Vision Sports looked at the Premiere Class position by position and broke down their on-field possibilities.
Highest Ceiling: Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers – Round 1, Pick 3)
The comparisons to Patrick Mahomes can’t be ignored, but Lance still must prove that his success against lesser talent at the FCS level can translate to the NFL. The 49ers have the weapons, a defense that can keep points off the board, and a veteran quarterback for Lance to sit behind and develop. If offensive guru Kyle Shanahan can get the most out of Lance, the sky’s the limit.
Boom or Bust: Justin Fields (Chicago Bears – Round 1, Pick 11)
So often success for a quarterback hinges on the situation. For Fields, that situation in Chicago might not be the best to start out. Limited offensive weapons, a porous offensive line, a coaching staff and front office that could be on the way out, and the hopes of a sports town on his shoulders. Fields could be thrust into a bad situation too soon, which is never a recipe for success for a young quarterback.
Sleeper: Ian Book (New Orleans Saints – Round 4, Pick 133)
Speaking of situations, the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame’s storied history finds himself in a good one. Book could be the heir apparent to Drew Brees, but he doesn’t have to worry about filling those enormous shoes immediately. With Jameis Winston and the swiss-army knife that is Taysom Hill ahead of him on the depth chart, Book can sit back with a clipboard and learn the game from head coach Sean Payton. And when he does take the reins in New Orleans, the offensive weapons he inherits will make most of the signal-callers in the league jealous.
2021 Impact: Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars – Round 1, Pick 1)
There’s a reason why he was the presumptive number one pick two years ago and nothing changed. Lawrence has the size, the arm, and seemingly every other measurable and immeasurable. He may not have elite weapons, but he has serviceable receivers in DJ Chark Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr., and fellow rookie Travis Etienne in the backfield. The job looks to be Lawrence’s from day one, so he’ll quickly have the chance to prove the hype that has surrounded him for so many years right.
The Rest of the List:
Mac Jones (New England Patriots – Round 1, Pick 15)
Davis Mills (Houston Texans – Round 3, Pick 67)
Kellen Mond (Minnesota Vikings – Round 3, Pick 66)
Kyle Trask (Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Round 2, Pick 64)
Zach Wilson (New York Jets – Round 1, Pick 2)
Highest Ceiling: Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals – Round 1, Pick 5)
At just over 6 feet and 201 pounds, Chase has the powerful frame and physical gifts to be a top-end receiver in the league, which is why the Bengals took him ahead of other, possibly more pressing needs. His familiarity with quarterback Joe Burrow from their time winning a national title in 2019 means the chemistry could be there from week one on. Perhaps the only thing that could limit Chase’s production is one of the things he can’t help with, the pass protection to keep Burrow upright and get the ball out to Chase.
Boom or Bust: DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia Eagles – Round 1, Pick 10)
It’s no secret that the biggest question mark surrounding the Heisman winner is size. But Smith has shown that age isn’t the only thing that’s just a number. Despite his small frame, Smith has shown success against press coverage, and his ability, once he has the ball in his hand, is unparalleled. However, he comes into an anemic Eagles passing offense. If opposing defenses can focus on Smith, something defenses couldn’t do against Alabama’s plethora of playmakers, does he have the ability to still find a way to impact the game?
Sleeper: Terrance Marshall Jr. (Carolina Panthers – Round 2, Pick 59)
It may seem a little cheap to put a second-round pick in this spot, but with how top-heavy the receiver class is, Marshall really does seem to be slept on. He stepped in for an LSU squad that lost its top two pass catchers with Justin Jefferson heading to the NFL and Ja’Marr Chase opting out of 2020 to focus on the NFL. He comes into a Panthers offense revitalized under head coach Matt Rhule where at most he’ll be asked to be the third or fourth option.
Sleeper: Jaelon Darden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Round 4, Pick 129)
Tom Brady has always found a use for smaller slot receivers with a nose for the endzone, and that’s exactly what Darden was at North Texas — and so much more. He leaves as the program’s all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Darden can create with the ball in his hands on a quick bubble screen or stretch the defense vertically. On a loaded squad like the defending champs, if he doesn’t get lost among the talent in the receiver’s room, he could benefit from defense’s trying to take away Brady’s other options.
2021 Impact: Anthony Schwartz (Cleveland Browns – Round 3, Pick 91)
While it’s likely to be Ja’Marr Chase for all the previously stated reasons, we’ll stay in the division for another pick. Schwartz, the fastest receiver in the class, comes into a tailor-made situation. The Browns have one of the most potent running attacks in the game and two stud receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry that could lead to plenty of opportunities for Schwartz to use his speed to get behind a defense that will be forced to play close to the box.
The Rest of the List:
TuTu Atwell (Los Angeles Rams – Round 2, Pick 57)
Rashod Bateman (Baltimore Ravens – Round 1, Pick 27)
Dyami Brown (Washingon Football Team – Round 3, Pick 82)
Nico Collins (Houston Texans – Round 3, Pick 89)
D’Wayne Eskridge (Seattle Seahawks – Round 2, Pick 56)
Simione Fehoko (Dallas Cowboys – Round 5, Pick 179)
Desmond Fitzpatrick (Tennessee Titans – Round 4, Pick 109)
Jacob Harris (Los Angeles Rams – Round 4, Pick 141)
Elijah Moore (New York Jets – Round 2, Pick 34)
Rondale Moore (Arizona Cardinals – Round 2, Pick 49)
Joshua Palmer (Los Angeles Chargers – Round 3, Pick 77)
Cornell Powell (Kansas City Chiefs – Round 5, Pick 181)
Amari Rodgers (Green Bay Packers – Round 3, Pick 85)
Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Minnesota Vikings – Round 5, Pick 157)
Amon-Ra St. Brown (Detroit Lions – Round 4, Pick 112)
Kadarious Toney (New York Giants – Round 1, Pick 20)
Jaylen Waddle (Miami Dolphins – Round 1, Pick 6)
Tylan Wallace (Baltimore Ravens – Round 4, Pick 131)
Highest Ceiling: Najee Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers – Round 1, Pick 24)
Big, strong, fast. The Steelers found themselves the perfect new toy for Mike Tomlin’s offense. In a division that historically loves to pound the ball, Harris is the type of physical runner that can thrive. The Steelers had the worst running attack in the league, and that should change instantly with Harris in the backfield. The only concern for Harris’ immediate production could be the quarterback play. If Ben Roethlisberger continues the decline he looked to be on last season, defenses could be loading the box on Harris early on.
Boom or Bust: Chuba Hubbard (Carolina Panthers – Round 4, Pick 126)
It’s a little weird having a guy with a relatively high floor as a boom or bust candidate, but Hubbard’s situation warrants it. He comes in behind one of the most explosive and dynamic players in the league in Christian McCaffrey, so he’ll be fighting for playtime. But his weaknesses in the passing game, both catching and blocking, could keep him off the field at times. Taking nothing away from him as a runner, if Hubbard can’t be trusted in protection or as a receiving threat, defenses can hone in when he’s out there, and head coach Matt Rhule may have no choice but to sit his young back.
Sleeper: Michael Carter (New York Jets – Round 4, Pick 107)
Carter came into Chapel Hill and made an immediate impact as a freshman. In his four years at school, he produced big play after big play. In New York, Carter comes in third on the depth chart, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if he overtakes Ty Johnson as the backup or even Tevin Coleman as the No. 1. The Jets need explosive offense, and Carter can provide it if given the chance.
2021 Impact: Trey Sermon (San Francisco 49ers – Round 3, Pick 88)
Sermon has the ball carrier skills to get on the field, and the blocking ability to stay there. With Jeff Wilson out for 4-6 months, Sermon could get his chance earlier than expected. He has the skill set to be a three-down back in the league, and if he gets the opportunity and produces for head coach Kyle Shanahan early in the season, Sermon could run away with the job in San Francisco.
The Rest of the List:
Jaret Patterson (Washington Football Team – UFA)
Javonte Williams (Denver Broncos – Round 2, Pick 35)
Kene Nwangwu (Minnesota Vikings – Round 4, Pick 119)
Kenneth Gainwell (Philadelphia Eagles – Round 5, Pick 150)
Rhamondre Stevenson (New England Patriots – Round 4, Pick 120)
Travis Etienne (Jacksonville Jaguars – Round 1, Pick 25)
Highest Ceiling: Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons – Round 1, Pick 4)
There should be no surprise here. Regarded by many as the best tight-end prospect ever in the draft, Pitts has every physical attribute you could want. With the speed of a receiver and the size of a linebacker, Pitts is an absolute beast that produces mismatches across the field, he should be keeping defensive coordinators up at night for years to come. With Julio Jones out of Atlanta, Pitts should see plenty of opportunities to make an immediate impact as a rookie.
Boom or Bust: Pat Freiermuth (Pittsburgh Steelers – Round 2, Pick 55)
Freiermuth seemed to be the consensus number two tight end on the board behind Pitts. He’s a solid, prototypical tight end that is dependable in the passing game and an able blocker. A shoulder injury cut his 2020 season short, so that should always be looked at as a concern heading in. Add that to the questions surrounding the Pittsburgh offense, with an aging Ben Roethlisberger behind center and possibly more of a focus on running the ball with Najee Harris, and Freiermuth’s production isn’t necessarily a sure thing.
Sleeper: Hunter Long (Miami Dolphins – Round 3, Pick 81)
Long improved each of his three years in college and is the type of athletic tight end that teams love to feature nowadays. On a Dolphins squad that appears to be moving in the right direction, Long could be a big piece in the future of the ‘fins offense.
Highest Ceiling: Penei Sewell (Detroit Lions – Round 1, Pick 7)
Many were surprised when Sewell dropped down to the seventh overall pick. He is the type of elite athletic blocker that can anchor an offensive line for years to come. While Detroit is in the midst of a rebuild, Sewell’s immediate impact will probably not be seen in the win column, but he will be an intricate part of what is to come in Detroit.
Sleeper: Quinn Meinerz (Denver Broncos – Round 3, Pick 98)
If you hadn’t heard of Meinerz prior to the draft — or maybe even before reading this — don’t feel bad, you’re probably not alone. Meinerz played at D-III Wisconsin-Whitewater and had his 2020 season canceled. He got the chance to show his stuff at the Senior Bowl where he impressed. Meinerz has the versatility to play anywhere on the line and will get the chance to improve in practice against a talented defensive line.
2021 Impact: Alex Leatherwood (Las Vegas Raiders – Round 1, Pick 17)
Leatherwood is used to the high level of competition the SEC provides, and that should help him be a difference-maker for the Raiders immediately. He’s athletic and powerful, with the ability to protect his quarterback as well as open running lanes for fellow ‘Bama alum Josh Jacobs.
Highest Ceiling: Christian Barmore (New England Patriots – Round 2, Pick 38)
Barmore is a big and powerful interior lineman that excels in the pass rush. With the ability to disrupt from the middle, he can be a game-changer for a defense getting to the quarterback.
Boom or Bust: Jaelan Phillips (Miami Dolphins – Round 1, Pick 18)
Phillips is a natural pass rusher from the edge that could be an impact player in the NFL. But he has had to deal with injury issues for much of his college career, even briefly retiring in 2018. If Phillips can stay healthy, he could be a major piece to the defense in Miami, but that’s a big if.
Sleeper: Payton Turner (New Orleans – Round 1, Pick 28)
With the rest of the names on this list, it has to be a first-round pick as a sleeper. Turner was considered to be a reach by the Saints in the first round, but they saw something they liked. Turner has some amazing athletic upside, with an 84-inch wingspan, and a time in the 3-cone drill that put him in the 99th percentile of defensive ends historically. The draft is based on potential, and Turner could have the best potential if he can be developed well.
2021 Impact: Kwity Paye (Indianapolis Colts – Round 1, Pick 21)
Paye is probably the most skilled defensive lineman from the draft. He can be moved across the line, giving the Colts added versatility and the ability to throw wrinkles at opposing lines. They already had a strong defense in Indianapolis, and Paye should be able to benefit as a rookie from all the other talent around him.
Highest Ceiling: Jaycee Horn (Carolina Panthers – Round 1, Pick 8)
The first defensive back off the board, Horn is the prototypical man coverage corner. Strong and physical, Horn can go up against the big receivers of the league but has the speed to stay with the quicker ones too. While he may take a minute to adjust to new schemes in the NFL, Horn can and likely will be one of the premiere cover men in for years to come.
Boom or Bust: Caleb Farley (Tennessee Titans – Round 1, Pick 22)
Farley has the physical abilities needed, but his experience at the position is lacking. He converted from wide receiver after a knee injury in 2017 as a freshman at Virginia Tech. Farley made first-team All-ACC in 2019 in only his second season as a cornerback. But after opting out of the 2020 season, any further development at the position is unknown. Farley could continue to grow in the NFL or playing against high-level receivers could show holes in his unpolished game.
Sleeper: Elijah Molden (Tennessee Titans – Round 3, Pick 100)
Molden might not have the lockdown skills of some of the corners, but he has the makeup of what could be a very successful nickelback. He has great instincts that allow him to get in the right position to make a play. If both he and Farley can develop into quality starters, the Titans have the makeup of a good, young defensive backfield when Janoris Jenkins is no longer around.
2021 Impact: Patrick Surtain II (Denver Broncos – Round 1, Pick 9)
With an NFL pedigree, Surtain II looks like a can’t miss prospect. He’s among the top in terms of coverage, tackling, and ball skills at the position. His strength should help him be able to contribute as a rookie for a Broncos defense that will have to go up against some heavy passing attacks with the Chiefs and Chargers in the division.
The Rest of the List:
Marco Wilson (Arizona Cardinals – Round 4, Pick 136)
Highest Ceiling/2021 Impact: Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys – Round 1, Pick 12)
Possibly the best defensive player in the draft, Parsons went to the place he dreamed of. Now, he’ll get the opportunity to turn around a Cowboys defense that was horrendous in 2020. One of the most athletic players in college football last season, Parsons can impact a game from sideline to sideline, disrupting both the pass and run game.
Sleeper: Chazz Surratt (Minnesota Vikings – Round 3, Pick 78)
Surratt came out of high school as a quarterback and converted to linebacker following an injury. He’s only played the position for two seasons but has shown a unique ability in defending the passing game due to his understanding of progressions and reads. His athleticism has allowed him to pick up the position physically, while mentally he has been able to adapt and learn on the fly.