The 2021 NFL rookie crop has now reached the halfway point in the season. These first-year phenoms are a cut above the rest. Most of those on this list have been here before, but it’s fluid and any given Sunday a new star could emerge on the scene, a new breed, potentially on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
1. Ja’Marr Chase (38 catches for 786 yards and 7 touchdowns)
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been the most impactful rookie through 8 Weeks. With game-breaking ability and savvy route-running, he’s had his way with just about all defensive backs who’ve attempted to thwart the 2019 Biletnikoff winner. He’s easily in the driver’s seat to take home the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Ja’Marr Chase is absurd 😳pic.twitter.com/osHDJ5jnmv
— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) October 31, 2021
2. Jaylen Waddle (48 receptions, 413 receiving yards, 3 TDs)
Jaylen Waddle has been balling this season 🔥
He has the 2nd-most receptions ever by a WR in his first 7 career games.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) October 30, 2021
If Ja’Marr Chase is the cream of the rookie receiver crop, then Waddle isn’t far behind. The Miami Dolphins player leads all rooks in catches and he’s third behind Chase and Devonta Smith (Eagles) in receiving yardage. Another gem from the crop of elite receivers to emerge from Alabama in recent years.
3. Najee Harris (622 scrimmage yards, 4 TDs, at least 21 touches each of past five games)
— NFL (@NFL) October 31, 2021
The Pittsburgh Steelers have found their bell cow of the future in Najee Harris. The dual-threat ball carrier has been the most consistent weapon on a very subpar offense in the “BURGH.”
Running behind a pretty average offensive line hasn’t stopped Harris from being productive. Harris had 26 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown while snatching his three targets for 29 yards during Sunday’s 15-10 slugfest at Cleveland. Amid the O-Line struggles, Harris is still on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season. The Steelers have a 8-10 year starter if they use him correctly.
4. Mac Jones (1,997 passing yards, 90.1 passer rating)
These rookies are making their mark on offensive side of the ball #NFL
🖥 – Mac Jones
🚜 – Najee Harris
🐯 – Ja'marr Chase pic.twitter.com/EXjnwYjIOr
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) November 3, 2021
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones continues to be the best of the rookie quarterback class, leading all rookies in passing yards with passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating (90.1). He led the Patriots into LA and beat a good Chargers team on Sunday to get to .500 (4-4) and remain in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
Cerebral beyond his years, the numbers don’t tantalize anyone nine touchdowns and six interceptions), but he’s protecting the ball, showing poise and making clutch throws under difficult circumstances. Belichick seems to have hit on his replacement for Brady and the fans have embraced Jones.
5. Micah Parson, All-Purpose Defender (42 tackles, 2.5 Sacks)
Jerry Jones was elated when Micah Parson slipped to the Dallas Cowboys in the draft, because he now had a guy who could play multiple positions on defense.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has done an outstanding job accentuating Parsons’ strengths. He’s a Swiss Army knife with the ability to rush the passer, play the run and cover in space. Now we see why James Franklin hid a pretty significant fighting incident involving Parsons while at Penn State. He’s a job saver.
5A. Kyle Pitts (484 yards receiving, 33 receptions)
When the Atlanta Falcons drafted tight end Kyle Pitts, the franchise also moved on from Julio Jones, its greatest receiver. That’s how highly they coveted Pitts coming out of Florida. Pitts is the highest drafted tight end ever at No.4.
Most contested catches by a rookie TE through 8 weeks:
1. Kyle Pitts, ATL (2021): 8
2. Noah Fant, DEN (2019): 4
2. Evan Engram, NYG (2017): 4
3. Mike Gesicki, MIA (2018): 3pic.twitter.com/JCQmWbyQS5
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 4, 2021
Pitts has immediately established himself as a future star in an Atlanta Falcons offense that is lacking the explosiveness it’s had under Matt Ryan in past seasons. The former Gator leads all rookies in receptions and laps the field with 282 more receiving yards than second-leading rookie tight end, Pittsburgh’s Pat Freiermuth.
Pitts possesses fluid route-running and a huge catch radius, to go along with speed. He had a huge game in London in Week 7 with 163 receiving yards and a few highlight reel grabs to boot.
He was quiet last week, so expect a bounce-back game.
Stephon Gilmore shadowed Kyle Pitts on 6 routes in his #Panthers debut.
— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) November 1, 2021
Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars) – Playing hard weekly but with limited weaponry and an inept coaching staff he can’t do much more.
Azeez Olujari (NYG) – The edge rusher by way of Athens, Georgia (UGA) is coming into his own for the Giants. Each week he’s providing an effective pass-rushing presence opposite Leonard Williams. Olujari leads all rookies with 5.5 sacks.
Greg Rousseau (Buffalo) – The Bills defense is the best in the NFL and Rousseau is playing a huge role as a rookie pass rusher for them. Having Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes there to help groom him is already benefiting the team.