Projecting Every 2021 1st-Round NFL Draft Pick's Year 1 Impact

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2021

Projecting Every 2021 1st-Round NFL Draft Pick's Year 1 Impact

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Most NFL teams expect immediate production out of first-round picks. While that's the plan, reality plays out differently for some rookies.

    To make an impact during the 2021 season, rookies need a chance to start or play a prominent role on one side of the ball. They would also benefit from a strong supporting cast. Lastly, the player's skill set must match the team's schemes. While the final condition seems like a given, a club can miscalculate a prospect's fit within a system.

    Based on the three aspects above, we'll project the roles, impact and statistical production for the top 32 selections in the 2021 draft. These player forecasts include Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    This isn't the early 2000s. When teams take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, that rookie starts in Week 1. Don't expect anything different from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Trevor Lawrence underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in February, and he's already tossing the football around. Assuming the 6'6", 213-pound signal-caller doesn't experience any setbacks, expect him to have an impressive campaign under head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

    Meyer doesn't have any experience in the pros, but he's shown the ability to develop talent on the collegiate level at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State with a 187-32 win-loss record. With the Detroit Lions, Bevell's passing offenses ranked 10th in yards for the 2019 and 2020 terms.

    Lawrence has a well-rounded group of wideouts. Pro Bowler DJ Chark Jr. will lead the unit. Marvin Jones Jr. is a savvy nine-year veteran who has recorded 18 touchdowns since 2019. Laviska Shenault Jr. provides a versatile spark with the ability to line up inside or on the outside.

    The Jaguars also drafted running back Travis Etienne, Lawrence's Clemson teammate, who caught 48 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns last season. The No. 1 overall pick should be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate

    Stat Projection: 4,320 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 171 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns

2. QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The New York Jets paved the way for Zach Wilson to start in Week 1 when they traded quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers three weeks before the draft.

    Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has served as an assistant to San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who has recently employed a run-heavy attack with pre-snap motions, play-action designs and bootlegs. We should expect the Jets to operate a similar scheme.

    Wilson won't have immense pressure on him with a complementary ground attack and a pair of dual-threat running backs in Michael Carter and La'Mical Perine who could contribute in the short passing game.

    In addition to high-percentage throws to the tailbacks, Wilson can take some shots downfield to wideouts Corey Davis, Denzel Mims and rookie second-rounder Elijah Moore.

    Slot receiver Jamison Crowder may lose his roster spot with Moore projected to play that position. Still, Wilson has enough weapons to move the ball efficiently and show off his arm. Mims and Davis averaged more than 15 yards per catch in 2020.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 3,801 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 102 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns

3. QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers fans may not see their new quarterback under center to open the 2021 campaign.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the possibility that the 49ers trade Jimmy Garoppolo is "remote."

    Barring a blow-away offer for a quarterback coming off an injury-riddled season, Trey Lance will be Garoppolo's backup. That's the best-case scenario for a rookie signal-caller who played 318 collegiate snaps, the fewest of any first-round quarterback over the past 40 years, per ESPN Stats & Info.

    Nevertheless, we might see Lance on the field in the upcoming season. In two of the last three terms, Garoppolo suffered season-ending injuries. The veteran signal-caller has played a full 16-game slate once in his seven-year career.

    Lance could take some live reps in blowouts or if Garoppolo goes down with an injury. The North Dakota State product can run a simplified offense with defined reads until he's comfortable in the pocket.

    Projected Status: Primary Backup 

    Stat Projection: 668 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception, 207 rushing yards, 1 touchdown

4. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons' passing attack could bring the fireworks in the upcoming season. Tight end Kyle Pitts joins Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst with quarterback Matt Ryan under center.

    Pitts' production depends on the Falcons' plan for Jones. General manager Terry Fontenot says he'll listen to offers for the two-time All-Pro wide receiver. If Atlanta trades him, the rookie tight end will see plenty of targets. With Jones, the Florida product is a No. 2 or 3 option in the passing game with Ridley also established on the perimeter.

    The Falcons selected the first non-quarterback in the draft, so Pitts isn't likely to back up Hurst. Head coach Arthur Smith can utilize both players on the field in two-tight end sets.

    Pitts looked impressive in college, hauling in 97 passes for 1,419 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two years. His receiving numbers may not jump off the page, but we'll see spectacular flashes from him throughout the 2021 term.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter 

    Stat Projection: 52 receptions, 679 yards, 5 touchdowns

5. WR Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase can skip the get-to-know-you phase. This tandem helped lead LSU to a national title in 2019.

    Chase opted out of the 2020 campaign, so we haven't seen him since his run with Burrow. Yet the chemistry with a familiar face should allow him to find his rhythm as if the pair never split.

    Chase routinely beat one-on-one coverage on the perimeter a couple of years ago. He isn't the cleanest or most detailed route-runner, but the 6'0", 201-pound wideout wins with his physical gifts. His blend of size, speed and ball-tracking skills will lead to highlight-reel plays and contested receptions.

    Although Chase will play alongside two solid wideouts in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, we should add his name to the Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate list. He's on a mission to break the Bengals' receiving records.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate 

    Stat Projection: 101 receptions, 1,495 yards, 8 touchdowns

6. WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Jaylen Waddle played two seasons with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. In those terms, he averaged 18.1 yards per reception. The tandem will hook up for more plays with the Miami Dolphins.

    Head coach Brian Flores talked about what Waddle brings to the aerial attack and where he fits on offense and special teams after the first round of the draft.

    "Based off of all the film we've seen, we think he'll fit inside or outside. We think he'll add a speed element," Flores said. "Obviously, he has some value in the return game. I think his versatility is a big part of this. His ability to play inside, play in the slot, play on the perimeter, play in the return game."

    Through three terms at Alabama, Waddle didn't see a high volume of targets while sharing the field with Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and John Metchie III, though he made his presence felt, scorching defenses on deep-ball receptions.

    Waddle may not lead the Dolphins in catches, but he's going to accumulate his yards in big chunks.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 55 receptions, 812 yards, 4 touchdowns

7. OT Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes shed light on the team's plan for Penei Sewell after Day 1 of the draft.

    "As of right now, I definitely think he'll compete at the right tackle spot," Holmes said. “Right now, for sure."

    Holmes reiterated the operative words "right now," but that seems like a logical fit with Taylor Decker's five years of experience on the left side.

    Sewell won the 2019 Outland Trophy as a left tackle for Oregon. The 6'5", 331-pounder has the size to seal the strong side of the formation with smooth feet to mirror athletic pass-rushers.

    Although training camp will likely sort out the Lions offensive line, don't expect Sewell to start the season in a reserve role. As the first offensive tackle off the board, he's way too talented to back up Tyrell Crosby.

    Detroit may have to shuffle its front five. That's a small price to pay when you add a rookie with Pro Bowl potential. Sewell may go through an adjustment period at right tackle, but he has a wide base with the upper- and lower-body strength to handle the transition.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 17 starts

8. CB Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers acquired a pair of notable veteran cornerbacks in A.J. Bouye and Rashaan Melvin during free agency—two experienced starters.

    Yet the Panthers selected Jaycee Horn with their first pick. General manager Scott Fitterer explained the team's decision to go with the South Carolina product.

    "We saw someone that could come in and make an immediate impact for us as a starter, as a corner. … Just focusing on Jaycee, what he does so well is his man cover ability, his quickness, the feistiness of him as a player, his ability to mirror and turn and run with the receivers. He's the exact fit that Coach [Phil] Snow wants on our defense."

    Bouye must serve the final two games of his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that started in Week 14 of the previous campaign. As a result, the rookie has a clear path to a lead role opposite Donte Jackson for the season opener.

    Horn had two interceptions and 23 pass breakups through three collegiate terms. Don't judge the 6'1", 205-pound cover man on interceptions alone. Expect him to cover lead receivers, make them uncomfortable with his physicality and win some battles for 50-50 balls against bigger pass-catchers.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 45 tackles, 2 interceptions, 10 pass breakups

9. CB Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos stocked the cornerback position this offseason. They signed Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller before selecting Patrick Surtain II in the draft.

    Along with those additions, Bryce Callahan could return to action. He missed the last six contests of the 2020 campaign with a foot injury.

    Typically conservative with his expectations, head coach Vic Fangio projected the rookie cornerback would play in nickel and dime packages.

    "Everything we know about him and what he's shown, there's a good chance that he can play inside too if we need him to, meaning as the fifth or sixth DB," Fangio said.

    Barring a trade, the Broncos' crowded cornerback group could limit Surtain's rookie snap count. Furthermore, he may need time to adjust while in the slot, which requires a different skill set against a variety of receivers.

    Fortunately for Surtain, he has the technique to limit his mistakes for a smooth transition inside if necessary.

    Projected Status: Slot cornerback 

    Stat Projection: 42 tackles, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups

10. WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Coming off a stellar campaign as the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith has all the tools to challenge the top rookie passers and receivers for the Offensive Rookie of the Year honor.

    With that said, Smith needs a competent starter under center to rack up receiving yards. The Eagles haven't named a starting quarterback, but Jalen Hurts should claim the position over Joe Flacco.

    Hurts completed fewer than 58 percent of his passes in all four starts last season. In 2021, he has to learn a new scheme under Nick Sirianni's coaching staff. That's not an ideal situation for a wide receiver.

    Hurts' questionable accuracy could rob Smith of a lot of yardage in the upcoming season. They teamed up for two years at Alabama but never played together for a full term as starters.

    In 2017, Smith caught just eight passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman. The following campaign, Hurts lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa. The quarterback-wide receiver tandem will need to work on their chemistry.

    Smith's ability to separate will create wide-open passing windows. If the Eagles trade tight end Zach Ertz, he should see more targets than wideout Jalen Reagor and lead the club in most receiving categories.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 76 receptions, 1,014 yards, 6 touchdowns

11. QB Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears made an aggressive move to trade up for Justin Fields, but the team doesn't plan to thrust him into action right away.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler (h/t Bleacher Report's Jenna Ciccotelli), the Bears "want to take this slowly" with Fields. They believe Andy Dalton can win 10 games.

    Fowler's report matches general manager Ryan Pace's tone after Day 1 of the draft, though he may have a change of heart if Chicago slips in the standings early in the season or Dalton struggles in a new environment.

    Dalton will go into his age-34 term. Since 2019, he's thrown for 30 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in 24 outings (22 starts).

    Dalton can stabilize an offense, but he's not a dynamic signal-caller. Fields could extend plays with his feet or move the chains on the run. With two years of starting experience at Ohio State, he should be able to handle an NFL offense as a rookie.

    However, the Bears seem committed to Dalton. Fields must wait his turn, which may not come until the second half of the season.

    Projected Status: Late-season starter

    Stat Projection: 1,046 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 182 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns

12. LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys went heavy on additions for their defense. Micah Parsons should have the most impact. He's a downhill linebacker who can contribute against the run and supplement the pass rush.

    Parsons had a breakout 2019 campaign at Penn State, recording 109 tackles, 14 for loss, five sacks, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He opted out of the 2020 season.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy hinted Parsons could play in different roles with a focus on ball production.

    "He's a multi-positional player," McCarthy said. "He can play off the ball, on the ball, pressure player."

    Parsons may lead the Cowboys in tackles for the 2021 season. He'll likely play more snaps than Leighton Vander Esch, who's battled injuries and missed 13 contests over the past two terms. In addition to the run stops, Parsons could have a handful of sacks.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate

    Stat Projection: 146 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 3 pass breakups

13. OT Rashawn Slater, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    At No. 13, the Los Angeles Chargers received a gift. They landed arguably the second-best offensive tackle in the class. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah ranked Rashawn Slater over Oregon's Penei Sewell because of his athleticism and performances against top competition.

    Jeremiah noted Slater may have the traits to move inside. He possesses the strength and plays with enough physicality for an interior position.

    The Chargers need a perimeter blocker on the left, though. Trey Pipkins has started just eight games through two seasons. For most of his career, Bryan Bulaga has manned the right side of the line. If he can stay healthy, the 32-year-old will remain in that spot.

    Slater solidifies the bookend positions of the Chargers offensive line. He'll seal the edge and allow quarterback Justin Herbert more time in the pocket.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 17 starts

14. OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The New York Jets moved up to the 14th spot for Alijah Vera-Tucker. Gang Green's urgency indicates general manager Joe Douglas thought the versatile USC prospect could help the offense right away.

    Vera-Tucker has experience at both guard spots and left tackle. He's an athletic lineman who fits a zone-blocking scheme, which is what we'll likely see in New York with Kyle Shanahan's protege Mike LaFleur calling the shots on offense.

    Last season, Mekhi Becton played left tackle, so Vera-Tucker will likely claim a spot at guard.

    In the first round, the Jets sacrificed some sizzle and passed on skill players to bolster their ground attack and fortify interior pass protection for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.

    Vera-Tucker projects as a full-time starter and a foundational building block for Gang Green's offensive line.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 17 starts

15. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots don't have a quarterback controversy. Head coach Bill Belichick said, "Cam's our quarterback" after the team selected Mac Jones with the 15th pick. The rookie will battle Jarrett Stidham for backup reps.

    This offseason, Cam Newton re-signed with New England on a one-year deal. Don't expect a strong commitment to him if the Patriots' season goes off the rails.

    Coming off a title run in an undefeated campaign with Alabama, Jones comes into the league with recent success and high-level production. He threw for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions with an NCAA-record 77.4 percent completion rate.

    Jones compensates for his limited mobility with timely reads and an innate feel for the pocket. His quick release will keep him out of harm's way and make life easier for his offensive linemen.

    Jones won't play much if Newton avoids injuries. On the other hand, he has the potential to claim the primary backup job over Stidham to position himself for a starting role in 2022.

    Projected Status: Backup quarterback

    Stat Projection: 278 passing yards, 2 touchdowns

16. LB Zaven Collins, Arizona Cardinals

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Zaven Collins can do a little bit of everything in the middle of the defense. He's a multipurpose linebacker who can play downhill, pressure the pocket and drop into coverage. The Tulsa standout logged 54 tackles, 7.5 for loss, four sacks and four interceptions with two returned for touchdowns in 2020.

    His skill set should allow him to play early snaps, which is what general manager Steve Keim wants out of his top two selections, Collins and receiver Rondale Moore.

    "Steve made that crystal clear to the coaching staff and personnel department: Those first two picks need to play, and play early, and play a lot," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

    Last season, Isaiah Simmons saw his role increase midway through the campaign. It took a couple of months before defensive coordinator Vance Joseph tapped into the 2020 first-rounder's potential.

    We could see the same with Collins. His 2021 outlook isn't clear, yet Keim's mandate adds some urgency. Joseph could play Simmons at safety and insert the rookie at inside linebacker alongside Jordan Hicks to maximize the talent of his two most versatile defenders.

    Projected Status: Midseason starter 

    Stat Projection: 58 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups

17. OL Alex Leatherwood, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders addressed their biggest need with a pick for the offensive line.

    Alex Leatherwood has collegiate experience at left tackle and right guard, though he has the traits necessary to play right tackle in the Raiders' zone-blocking scheme. The 6'5", 312-pounder has the length (33⅞-inch arms) to line up on the outside with the athleticism to reach his spot and seal off defenders.

    The Raiders traded right tackle Trent Brown to the New England Patriots and added a more athletic player with the ability to clear pathways on short pass plays and bubble screens.

    Head coach Jon Gruden wants to establish the run. The Raiders' one-two combination featuring Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake could look similar to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the Cleveland Browns backfield. Leatherwood should help Vegas' duo rack up yards on the ground.

    Although Denzelle Good projects as the starting right guard, Leatherwood can also play that position if his transition to right tackle doesn't pan out. He's a high-floor pick who should start Week 1 on the right side.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 17 starts

18. Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami Dolphins

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    Matt Gentry/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins traded Shaq Lawson to the Houston Texans, which opens up some snaps on the edge. They did receive Benardrick McKinney in that deal, but he's an off-ball linebacker who should compensate for the departure of Kyle Van Noy.

    The Dolphins selected the first edge-rusher in the draft. Jaelan Phillips has all the physical tools teams want in a pass-rusher. He's athletic with great bend and possesses the quickness to beat offensive tackles around the corner or guards on stunts.

    Per The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, coaches and scouts had high praise for Phillips' skill set.

    "He's got a chance to be really special," a coach told Feldman. "He's explosive and really smooth. He's athletic enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He can bend. He's versatile. He's strong."

    Phillips undoubtedly could rack up double-digit sacks. He just needs to stay healthy. The Miami standout has a history of concussions, so head injuries could affect his longevity.

    While healthy, Phillips will bring an immediate impact in pass-rushing situations with room to grow into a full-time starting role.

    Projected Status: Midseason starter

    Stat Projection: 31 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups

19. LB Jamin Davis, Washington Football Team

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    A one-year starter at Kentucky, Jamin Davis saw his stock rise in the weeks before the draft.

    Davis will fill a void after the Washington Football Team lost Kevin Pierre-Louis in free agency. Head coach Ron Rivera highlighted linebacker as a position of need.

    "We would like to replace the KPL loss more so than anything else," Rivera said.

    Washington's aggressive defense needed a second-level defender who can handle assignments in space and fit against the run alongside Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb. Davis can cover tight ends, track down pass-catching running backs and swarm the ball on run downs.

    Davis' lack of starting experience may lead to a gradual move up the depth chart. Yet he can easily earn the trust of Washington's coaching staff with his every-down playmaking ability.

    Projected Status: Midseason starter

    Stat Projection: 71 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, 1 interception

20. WR Kadarius Toney, New York Giants

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    The New York Giants made sure to stack the deck for quarterback Daniel Jones.

    After Big Blue signed wide receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency, general manager Dave Gettleman added another perimeter playmaker who brings more versatility.

    In addition to 120 receptions for 1,590 yards and 12 touchdowns, Kadarius Toney ran for 580 yards and two scores at Florida. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will need to draw up some plays for the rookie.

    The Giants have a loaded wide receiver corps that features Golladay, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. Toney will need to sharpen up his route running for a traditional role.

    Although he's an exciting playmaker who's dangerous in open space, Toney projects as more of a gadget-type receiver in his first season. You'll see what the former Gator can do in glimpses with limited touches.

    Projected Status: Backup wide receiver

    Stat Projection: 302 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns, 79 rushing yards

21. Edge Kwity Paye, Indianapolis Colts

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Defensive end Justin Houston remains unsigned, which opens the door for youth and development on the Indianapolis Colts defensive line.

    Kwity Paye lined up in various spots along Michigan's defensive front. At 6'2½", 261 pounds with an impressive athletic profile, he's a bit undersized, but his traits can translate to production on the pro level.

    Paye's four-year collegiate numbers (23.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks) won't grab your attention, but general manager Chris Ballard thought the former Wolverine's performances jumped off the tape.

    "You always look for guys who pop," Ballard said. "Do they pop on tape when you're watching—all 22 of them—who pops off the tape? And Kwity pops off the tape. One, with his athleticism and his speed but also with his effort."

    Paye has a good chance to carve out an early starting role as Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis also battle for more snaps. If Indianapolis re-signs Houston, the rookie will likely contribute as a reserve in a rotation. Regardless, he'll play a decent role in 2021.

    Projected Status: Early-season starter and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate

    Stat Projection: 58 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7 sacks

22. CB Caleb Farley, Tennessee Titans

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Caleb Farley slipped in the draft. In March, he underwent back surgery, which may have caused teams to pass on him early on Day 1.

    On a positive note, Farley expects to join the Tennessee Titans for training camp. His recovery timetable is a major factor in the role he'll play for the upcoming campaign.

    Farley is a tall boundary cornerback (6'2", 197 lbs) whose length helps him stay on top of receivers. Tennessee can trust him in zone and man coverage duties.

    The Titans have a crowded cornerback group with new faces, which clouds Farley's rookie outlook. Tennessee signed Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson. Kristian Fulton could take a significant step in his second season after missing time last year on the COVID-19 list and because of a knee injury.

    We cannot guarantee anything for Farley's rookie campaign other than he'll compete for snaps in a new-look unit. While on the mend, he does have an uphill battle against two veterans and a young player who knows the system.

    Projected Status: Midseason starter

    Stat Projection: 26 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions

23. OT Christian Darrisaw, Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Gentry/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings released Riley Reiff, so they had to fill a hole at left tackle—a position Christian Darrisaw played for most of three terms at Virginia Tech.

    Darrisaw is the front-runner to man quarterback Kirk Cousins' blind side. Last season, the coaching staff converted Ezra Cleveland into a guard after he played left tackle for most of his career at Boise State.

    At 6'5", 322 pounds, Darrisaw looks like a brick house with long limbs (34 ¼-inch arms). He can match up with bull-rushers and drive speedy pass-rushers into the ground.

    On top of that, he moves well on his feet, so he can reach an area, clear the running lane and then move into the second level to expand holes in the opposing team's defense.

    You can confidently pen Darrisaw into a starting position for the upcoming season. He fits a top roster need and has the experience and the NFL body to play right away.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 17 starts

24. RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    If you watched the Pittsburgh Steelers ground attack last season, you can see why Najee Harris will start in Week 1 of the 2021 campaign.

    James Conner, the Steelers' lead back from the previous term, signed with the Arizona Cardinals. In 2020, Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. combined for 481 yards and four touchdowns as backups.

    Harris put together an incredible showing in his final year at Alabama, logging 1,891 scrimmage yards and 30 touchdowns. He has a well-rounded skill set that the Steelers need to balance their offense.

    Pittsburgh's offensive line must do its part with three new full-time starters, but Harris will give the rushing offense some life with broken tackles, power running and a quick burst to interior holes out of sharp cuts.

    After a solid year as a pass-catcher, Harris should become a fixture on all three downs. He's an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate with the potential to finish top-five in scrimmage yards.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate

    Stat Projection: 1,301 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, 401 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns

25. RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars took two Clemson products in the first round. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will team up again in the pros, and both rookies will play vital roles.

    Etienne faces stiff competition for touches, though. The Jaguars have James Robinson, who tied Chicago's David Montgomery for fifth in rushing yards (1,070) last year. They also signed Carlos Hyde, one of head coach Urban Meyer's former players at Ohio State.

    Etienne's draft pedigree suggests he's in line for a sizable workload, though Robinson and Hyde will cap the rookie's production. For that reason, we shouldn't expect the first-year tailback to find his way into the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.

    However, Etienne's ability to play on all three downs could push him over 1,100 scrimmage yards with a 17th game on the schedule. He's a big-play asset on the ground and as a pass-catcher.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 795 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns, 376 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns

26. CB Greg Newsome II, Cleveland Browns

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns' first-round selection draws some intrigue with Pro Bowl cover man Denzel Ward on the boundary, Troy Hill likely to play in the slot and Greedy Williams on the mend after he missed the 2020 season with a shoulder injury.

    Greg Newsome II will likely compete for snaps on the boundary, so Williams may lose his spot if the rookie looks impressive at training camp.

    In 2019, Williams started in 12 games, logging two pass breakups while allowing a 61.3 percent completion rate in coverage. Despite his signs of solid play, he's a product of the previous regime. Last offseason, the Browns hired general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski to replace John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens, respectively.

    We may see a shake-up at the cornerback position as Newsome passes Williams on the depth chart. Berry gave a brief scouting report of what he saw in the rookie.

    "Obviously, he has the size, length and speed that probably every team wants at the position, but he is a guy who can play press effectively," Berry said. "They played a heavy dose of zone and off man at Northwestern, which he was able to do effectively and he makes plays on the ball. And even then, he is tough and runs, of course."

    Newsome's fit with the Browns defense under a new administration gives him the upper hand for a starting role over Williams. The Northwestern product could benefit from a solid pass rush with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the edge.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 44 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 2 interceptions

27. WR Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens added a potential Week 1 starter who can complement fellow wideout Marquise Brown and build an immediate rapport with quarterback Lamar Jackson.

    Bateman fell into the second tier of wide receivers in this class because he doesn't have a unique trait that separates him from the group. However, the Minnesota standout looks solid across the board.

    Bateman has inside-out versatility, so offensive coordinator Greg Roman can use him to exploit specific matchups or weak links in the opposing team's secondary. He's a natural pass-catcher who attacks the ball in the air and pulls down contested targets. With impressive route running, the rookie wideout can separate and leave defenders behind for big gains downfield.

    The Ravens lost Willie Snead IV to the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Miles Boykin, a 2019 third-rounder, hasn't developed into a consistent contributor. Bateman has a clear-cut opportunity to make an impact, though Baltimore's run-heavy offense leaves him out of the Offensive Rookie of the Year discussion.

    Projected Status: Full-time starter

    Stat Projection: 61 receptions, 827 yards, 7 touchdowns

28. Edge Payton Turner, New Orleans Saints

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints made a surprising pick with Payton Turner, who didn't have much first-round buzz.

    The Saints are drawn to the upside in edge-rushers. They moved up for Marcus Davenport three years ago. Turner falls into the same category.

    At 6'5", 270 pounds with 35-inch arms, Turner's physical profile draws intrigue. He's loose around the pocket, which allows him to change direction without losing much steam while closing in on the quarterback. Last season, the Houston product logged 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in five games.

    The coaching staff can plug Turner into pass-rushing downs in 2021. He's going to spell All-Pro edge-rusher Cameron Jordan and Davenport, who has a fifth year on his contract after the team exercised the option.

    Turner could live up to his first-round potential and take more snaps than Davenport if the latter struggles through another campaign with injuries.

    Projected Status: Situational pass-rusher

    Stat Projection: 37 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 6 sacks

29. CB Eric Stokes, Green Bay Packers

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers re-signed Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan. Both cornerbacks may have to battle for their spots in training camp.

    Eric Stokes can line up on the outside or the inside, though with his size (6'1", 194 lbs) and subpar tackling, he seems like a better fit on the boundary.

    Last season, Stokes displayed sticky coverage, logging four pass breakups and four interceptions with two returned for touchdowns. The competitive cornerback will challenge bigger receivers for contested targets, but he may struggle to come down with 50-50 balls because of his lean frame.

    The Packers replaced defensive coordinator Mike Pettine with Joe Barry, who will evaluate the unit with a new vision. Nonetheless, King has started in 36 contests, so he has an advantage in a camp battle. Stokes will probably see most of his action in dime packages unless the veteran goes down with an injury.

    Projected Status: Dime package cornerback

    Stat Projection: 14 tackles, 2 pass breakups

30. Edge Gregory Rousseau, Buffalo Bills

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills addressed their pass rush in the first two rounds, selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr.

    Buffalo didn't have a defender with more than five sacks last season. The coaching staff may divvy up the snaps evenly among Rousseau, Basham, Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and A.J. Epenesa.

    Bills general manager Brandon Beane could also make a roster cut at the defensive end position, though The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn believes Addison's spot is safe.

    "The way Beane spoke after the draft, Addison sounds like he'll play a role on this team," Fairburn wrote. "Beane wants to reduce his snaps to allow Addison to be more impactful with the snaps he does get."

    If Hughes remains on the roster, Rousseau will compete for snaps in a deep rotation. Assuming the Bills have not given up on Epenesa, a 2020 second-rounder, every player in the defensive end group has a low ceiling for production in the upcoming campaign.

    Rousseau hasn't played in a football game since 2019 because of his decision to opt out of the 2020 term. He may have an uphill battle for a significant role in the upcoming campaign.

    Projected Status: Rotational defensive end

    Stat Projection: 20 tackles, 1 tackles for loss, 1 sack

31. Edge Odafe Oweh, Baltimore Ravens

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Odafe Oweh's modest pass-rushing production didn't scare away the Baltimore Ravens.

    Oweh didn't log a sack last season. Yet his NFL physique (6'5", 257 lbs), burst off the line of scrimmage and an impressive pro day generated significant buzz.

    The Ravens need Oweh to develop and contribute sooner rather than later. They lost edge-rusher Matt Judon to the New England Patriots in free agency. In four seasons, Tyus Bowser has just 10.5 sacks. Jaylon Ferguson, a 2019 third-rounder, needs to make strides for a bigger role. Pernell McPhee started 13 games last season, but he only played 43 percent of the defensive snaps.

    Oweh enters the league with a lot more potential than production. He's a raw talent who doesn't have much playing experience. Baltimore will likely ease him into the rotation with the hope that the rookie becomes an every-down defender.

    Projected Status: Midseason starter

    Stat Projection: 42 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

32. Edge Joe Tryon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the run on edge-rushers at the end of the first round. Joe Tryon lands in a good spot where he doesn't have to contribute right away. He could learn from one of the league's most consistent pass-rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul.

    At 32 years old, Paul is still effective on the edge. He led the Buccaneers in sacks (9.5) last season. On the opposite end, Shaquil Barrett, who signed a long-term extension this offseason, has risen to stardom over the last couple of years.

    Tryon will spell the veterans, and he should have fresh legs at the end of games. The rookie may become a crucial closer on defense.

    Head coach Bruce Arians highlighted the layers of Tryon's skill set:

    "He's got power, and power is something you can't teach. You either have it or you don't. A lot of edge rushers are speed guys; tackles in this league just knock those guys down. If you can't basically bull-rush and have power and turn it into speed, or speed to power, you're going to struggle. And Joe's showed that he has that ability."

    Tryon should have a shot to take on a decent role if he can bring that blend of speed and power Arians raved about.

    Projected Status: Situational pass-rusher

    Stat Projection: 29 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 5 sacks