The 2021 NFL season is off to a roaring start. The 2021 rookie class is making an impact, even though it may not be the QBs who are playing extremely well. Below are my Top 5 NFL rookies so far this season (and some honorable mentions).
1. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Chase has been electric for the Bengals through the first three weeks as a deep threat for Joe Burrow. He’s been setting records already. Chase is the youngest WR in NFL history to score 4+ TDs in his first 3 weeks. He is also the first player in the Super Bowl era to have a 30+ yard receiving TD in his first three games.
One of the top WR prospects in the last decade, there was little question about Chase’s talent, but some preseason drops started the questions coming. Like former teammate Justin Jefferson before him, preseason controversy has led to regular season results.
Though many criticized the Bengals for not addressing the Offensive Line with their first-round pick, Chase may be showing he was the right decision after all.
2. Patrick Surtain, CB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos were another team criticized in the first round for not addressing their QB position. The selection of Patrick Surtain has paid dividends already as he has been a lockdown starter over the last two weeks. When Ronald Darby went down with an injury, Surtain filled in and kept the top Broncos defense rolling.
Most had Surtain as the top CB in the draft due to his size, speed, and experience at Alabama. He looks the part of a future shutdown #1 CB for the Broncos to keep this as one of the best defensive units in the league.
3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Cleveland Browns
JOK should have been a first-round pick with versatility and pass-rushing dominance, but it didn’t happen. When the Browns snagged him in Round 2, it felt like a steal, and he’s playing like a top rookie right now.
Though he is in a rotational role, JOK has been putting pressure on QBs (like Justin Fields last week when JOK got 0.5 sack) and has even been good in coverage. The Browns defense has utilized him just like he was in college, a LB who can play some EDGE and force offenses to respect him.
As his snap count increases, JOK will only make more of an impact moving forward.
4. Rashawn Slater, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
The consensus OT2 in the 2021 class, Slater, shows why some teams rated him above Penei Sewell. Protecting Justin Herbert’s blindside, Slater is picking up where he left off in college as a dominant pass blocker.
Going up against high-end NFL talents like Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Micah Parsons, and Chris Jones, Slater had the odds against him as a rookie. But he has shined through and is stonewalling all of these pass rushers snap after snap. He has allowed no sacks, no QB hits, and only 3 hurries in the first three weeks.
Slater looks like the bookend the Chargers needed to protect Justin Herbert.
5. Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Parsons has been a versatile piece for the Cowboys, who have been moving him from a traditional off-ball LB to EDGE throughout games so far. Though Parsons hasn’t been perfect in his instincts, he has improved each week and is calling the Cowboys defense.
With 1.5 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 2 passes defended already, Parsons’s ability to play all over the defense and exploit match-ups is starting to ramp up. Look for the rookie only to get better as the season goes along.
Osa Odighizuwa, DL, Dallas Cowboys
Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
Samuel Cosmi, OT Washington Football Team
Rondale Moore, WR, Arizona Cardinals
See more from Shane here and on twitter @ShanePHallam