Recent 1st-Round NFL Draft Picks with the Most Untapped Potential Entering 2021

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2020

Recent 1st-Round NFL Draft Picks with the Most Untapped Potential Entering 2021

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    Lindsey Wasson/Associated Press

    It doesn't always work out for first-round picks upon arrival in the NFL

    While some immediately look like seasoned veterans, others take time to realize their massive upside.

    Whether injury or schematic fit have held them back, some noteworthy draft picks from the 2017 through 2020 rookie classes still boast plenty of upside. They could see it unlocked, too, through added playing time and progression or a change of scenery. 

    Note that all of these players aren't necessarily busts—but tremendous untapped potential remains in each.

Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders surprised many by taking Ohio State's Damon Arnette No. 19 in April's draft. 

    Arnette was the lesser Buckeyes cornerback prospect compared to college teammate and third overall pick Jeff Okudah. Arnette has had a muted stint in the pros, too, appearing in just five games and drumming up a 49.6 grade at Pro Football Focus. 

    But in Week 3, he aggravated a thumb injury and required surgery. He returned Nov. 15, playing 60 percent or more of Vegas' defensive snaps in Weeks 10 and 11, a starter's workload.

    A few factors suggest Arnette could break out as he gets his feet under him in 2021. He ranked as the third-highest-graded corner in single coverage among the 2020 draft class at PFF. He also has a strong forced-incompletions rate among first-round corners this year.

Jordyn Brooks, LB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks was a productive, athletic four-year starter at Texas Tech whose resume helped him become 2020's 27th pick. 

    But Brooks has battled an MCL sprain as a rookie, and the team has brought him along slowly. He's appeared in eight games and played at least 50 percent of the defense's snaps just once. Along the way, he's registered 22 combined tackles, allowed eight catches on 10 targets and earned a 39.5 PFF grade.

    Call it a rough-looking start for Brooks, but he's getting reps in a rotational role before he presumably takes over for one of K.J. Wright or Bobby Wagner, who are scheduled to be free agents after 2020 and 2022, respectively.

    Given his rookie experience, collegiate production and elite athleticism, it feels inevitable Brooks will look more like Wagner than a struggling rookie. 

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans saddled Western Michigan wideout Corey Davis with massive expectations when they took him fifth overall in 2017. 

    Davis only caught 34 passes over 11 games as a rookie and peaked during his sophomore season, posting 891 yards and four scores while getting a career-high 112 targets (he only caught 65). 

    That seemed like the end of the story for Davis, especially because it was the second season in a row he had a sub-60 percent catch rate. 

    But iffy quarterback play, a revolving door of offensive coordinators and schemes that didn't mesh well with his skill set played a role in slowing Davis' returns. Since Tennessee declined his fifth-year option in May, though, the 25-year-old has caught 39 passes for 549 yards and three touchdowns. He's also posted a career-high three 100-plus-yard outings over just eight games. 

    Davis appears to be morphing into a No. 1 wideout worthy of a top-five pick, which is potential a more pass-happy team could fully unlock as he heads into his second contract this offseason.

Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Less than a month before Week 1, Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Andre Dillard suffered one of the many offensive injuries that have hampered their campaign and raised questions about quarterback Carson Wentz's benching.

    Dillard, the 22nd pick in 2019, was active for 16 games as a rookie and started four contests as an injury replacement. He was set to be a starter this season but suffered a torn biceps in late August that will sideline him until next year. 

    That's a shame, as Dillard assembled some promising film when thrown to the wolves as a rookie, registering a 59.7 PFF grade. He also packed on 20 pounds of muscle while prepping for his sophomore season, so all arrows pointed up. 

    The Dillard breakout has been put on hold, but it's clear he's got some of the most promising upside of recent first-rounders who haven't received a hefty workload. 

Dwayne Haskins Jr., QB, Washington

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    Dwayne Haskins Jr. didn't get a fair shake with the Washington Football Team. 

    While the franchise made him the 15th pick in 2019, the selection reportedly wasn't a cohesive decision from every level of the organization. The quarterback's first NFL coach, Jay Gruden, didn't start him and got fired midseason. Interim coach Bill Callahan then threw him to the wolves for reps, resulting in a 58.6 completion percentage, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, albeit with some late-season improvement. 

    Heading into his sophomore year, Haskins watched Washington undergo an organizational reshuffling, including the arrival of head coach Ron Rivera. The former Carolina Panthers coach benched Haskins after four games. His stat line shows a 61.0 completion percentage with four touchdowns and three interceptions. 

    While the Ohio State product has been far from perfect, the traits of a franchise quarterback—a good arm, intermediate accuracy and pocket poise—are there. He's also been in a ridiculously turbulent situation on a rebuilding roster. Maybe he never gets another chance in Washington, but there could still be plenty of unlockable upside for a better team willing to work with him. 

Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love stands above the rest regarding untapped first-round potential. 

    Love was a shocking pick at 26th overall in April. That shock factor has only grown since, given Aaron Rodgers' 68.2 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns and four interceptions while guiding a 7-3 contending team. 

    But Love seems to be the long-term plan in Green Bay, and it's easy to see why: Over three years at Utah State, he threw for 8,600 yards, 60 touchdowns and 29 interceptions while flashing major pro upside. The strong arm, 6'4" frame and ability to move in the pocket or get down the field were alluring to pro teams, the Packers included. 

    It's hard to say when they'll attempt a passing of the torch at quarterback. Rodgers is 36 and looks stunning under center, plus his contract doesn't have an out until after the 2021 season. 

    But sooner or later, Love will get a chance to show his upside can translate to the pro game. 

Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    When the Philadelphia Eagles made wide receiver Jalen Reagor the 21st pick in April, major expectations followed him. 

    The TCU product looked like a reliable weapon who would help space the field in a Wentz-led attack headed by offensive guru Doug Pederson. 

    Instead, Reagor has appeared in just five games, catching 16 passes. 

    Much of this isn't Reagor's fault. He appeared in two contests to start his career before a thumb injury sidelined him.

    The 3-6-1 Eagles have had a litany of injuries, with the offensive line and weapons around Wentz struggling to stay on the field. That has caused Wentz to look like a major question mark with a 58.4 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 

    But Reagor's raw skill set isn't going anywhere. Next year, presumably healthier and with upgraded surroundings, he should blossom after a bit of a false start as a rookie. 

John Ross III, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    John Ross III was an odd fit with the Cincinnati Bengals from the beginning when they made the wide receiver the ninth pick in 2017. 

    Ross, owner of the fastest 40-yard-dash in NFL combine history at 4.22 seconds, was a one-year producer at Washington and immediately battled injuries upon arrival in Ohio. He also didn't mesh well with then-head coach Marvin Lewis, getting benched for a Week 2 turnover and never really cracking the regular rotation. 

    But Ross did score seven times primarily as a red-zone weapon on just 21 catches in 2018 and then had 506 yards last season, albeit while only catching 28 of his 56 targets. The Bengals declined his fifth-year option in May. Since then, Ross has battled more injuries this season, has appeared in just three games and requested a trade

    Ross turns 25 this month and still has the same athleticism that made him a top-10 pick. Should he land in a situation that better uses his talents (more short catches and on special teams instead of deep patterns), he's still got plenty of breakout potential. 


    Stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. 


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