NFL Sophomores Who Could Avoid the Bust Label in 2021May 10, 2021
NFL Sophomores Who Could Avoid the Bust Label in 2021
In the same way a false start isn't necessarily the end of an offense's drive, a stumble out of the gates for an NFL rookie doesn't guarantee permanent bust status.
While first-round picks all share elite physical traits and upside, factors such as college playing time and level of competition, pro scheme and fit and individual developmental curves mean some prospects take longer than others to develop.
Looking ahead to 2021, these are the prospects who flirted with bust status as rookies last year who could bounce back as they head into year two.
Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions
Huge expectations accompanied Jeff Okudah to the NFL. He wasn't just a high-profile player coming from Ohio State—rather, the Detroit Lions saw fit to make him the third overall pick and tabbed him with helping to fix Matt Patricia's defense.
Okudah struggled out of the gates, though, finishing with a 42.5 Pro Football Focus grade after allowing 38 receptions on 50 targets. That came while playing just 41 percent of the defense's snaps over nine games and six starts.
But plenty of hope remains for Okudah. The elite athleticism that made him such a high pick will still help him hold his own in the pros. And according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, he needed surgery in December for a groin issue that had apparently hampered him his entire rookie season.
Okudah himself has already commented on how much smoother things seem under new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and based on how almost everyone played under the now-fired staff from a season ago, there's plenty of reason to believe in Okudah.
Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders
Damon Arnette, another Ohio State rookie corner who struggled in 2020, has nowhere to go but up in 2021.
He was a shocker of a pick by the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 19. With such a draft billing came the expectations that he would help the defense right away, but he struggled to a 41.7 PFF grade instead, allowing 26 receptions on 32 targets. He missed 34.2 percent of his tackles over 32 percent of the defense's snaps.
Still, hand and concussion issues limited Arnette to just nine games, and Raiders brass has made it clear that putting on weight has been a focus of his offseason. Further, the addition of Casey Hayward could mean Arnette gets to kick inside to what could be a more natural slot position.
Even if he's still on the outside, getting healthier, stronger and following a natural developmental curve could have Arnette maturing into a solid starter in 2021.
Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Reagor was the flashy new weapon meant to help the Philadelphia Eagles offense take the next step in 2020.
Instead, the 21st pick only got in 11 games, scoring a single touchdown. His ho-hum 31 receptions on 54 targets for 396 yards earned him a 64.0 PFF grade. That makes sense considering he was credited with more interceptions (three) than first downs (two).
But context is important, as injuries limited Reagor and his O-line.
It's hard to say if Jalen Hurts will be much of an upgrade from Carson Wentz in 2021, but the Eagles offense should be healthier and added wideout DeVonta Smith 10th overall, giving defenses someone else to worry about and Reagor more room to work.
That could lead to a breakout for the sophomore.
Jordyn Brooks, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Following a trend set by Rashaad Penny and L.J. Collier, Jordyn Brooks wasn't given much of a chance to help the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie.
Brooks, the 27th pick last year, saw the field on just 32 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps and 19 percent of its special teams snaps.
The Texas Tech product struggled throughout, letting up a touchdown in coverage and finishing with a 47.6 PFF grade. That came as a surprise after he previously earned all-conference accolades four years in a row at the collegiate level.
And yet, there's hardly reason to slap the panic button. Barring a surprise re-signing of K.J. Wright at this stage of the offseason, Brooks should have the all-clear to learn on the fly while playing a big chunk of the snaps. A more normal offseason could have him on breakout lists soon enough.
K'Lavon Chaisson, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars went slowly with K'Lavon Chaisson as a rookie, playing the draft's 20th selection on just 51 percent of the defense's snaps.
It's not unusual to take a pass-rusher and throw him in a rotation, but one might have expected Chaisson to have quite a bit of production in a front seven alongside Josh Allen and Myles Jack. Instead, he mustered just 12 pressures and a single sack with 13 solo tackles, good for a 49.6 PFF grade.
However, Chaisson now has a new coaching staff, and while Jacksonville used most of its premium picks on offense, the addition of corner Shaquill Griffin via free agency should help.
Expect Chaisson to shake free of the bust label quickly.