Predicting Every NFL Team's 2021 Surprise Rookie Gem

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2021

Predicting Every NFL Team's 2021 Surprise Rookie Gem

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    When it comes to the NFL draft, first-round picks tend to get the majority of the attention—at least up until the regular season. Once the season gets underway, however, draft status is far less important than how players perform on the field.

    Anyone who has spent a lot of time watching the NFL knows successful rookies can emerge from any round or even from the ranks of the undrafted.

    Undrafted rookie James Robinson, for example, was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season. Seventh-round Washington Football Team selection Kamren Curl was the league's highest-graded rookie safety, according to Pro Football Focus. Several players not taken in the first round—Dak Prescott, Michael Thomas and Nick Chubb, to name a few—have gone on to become franchise cornerstones in recent years.

    A lot goes into forging a rookie gem. Talent and upside are two obvious factors, but it also requires the right fit and a legitimate opportunity.

    Here we'll examine one player from each team's rookie class taken on Day 2 or later who could emerge as a surprise gem in 2021—and why. On a division-by-division basis, we'll begin with teams in the NFC East.

NFC East

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    Osa Odighizuwa
    Osa OdighizuwaAssociated Press

    Dallas Cowboys: Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA

    The Dallas Cowboys came into the offseason with a couple of major defensive needs. They were putrid against the run in 2020, ranking 31st in yards allowed, and they notched a mere 31 sacks on the season. Rookie third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa has the potential to address both issues.

    A bit of a 'tweener at 6'2" and 280 pounds, Odighizuwa isn't going to be a gap-filling space-eater for Dallas. However, he has positional versatility and the athleticism and quickness off the snap to be a penetrator against both the run and the pass.

    "As long as he is playing around 280 pounds, he will have trouble handling NFL double-teams, but he has the versatility to potentially play defensive end beyond shooting gaps from a 3-technique position," Justis Mosqueda of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    This past season, Odighizuwa amassed 30 tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks.


    New York Giants: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF

    While the New York Giants ranked ninth in points allowed in 2020, they boasted an average pass defense—ranking 16th in yards allowed and 11th in yards per attempt allowed. Second-round pass-rusher Azeez Ojulari can help improve the pass defense, but third-round cornerback Aaron Robinson could be an even bigger surprise.

    The Central Florida product has perimeter-cornerback size at 6'0" and 186 pounds. He also has the physicality and ball skills to match. This past season, Robinson produced 31 solo tackles, six passes defended and a fumble recovery. He had 10 passes defended and three interceptions the previous season.

    Robinson should have an opportunity to push Adoree' Jackson and Darnay Holmes for playing time early and could conceivably go from small-school standout to full-time NFL starter by the end of his rookie campaign.


    Philadelphia Eagles: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech

    The Philadelphia Eagles pass defense wasn't terrible in 2020—it ranked 15th in yards allowed and 20th in yards per attempt surrendered—but it was far from fantastic. There should be an opportunity for fourth-round cornerback Zech McPhearson to make an impact early as a rotational player.

    A two-year starter at Texas Tech following a transfer from Penn State, McPhearson has the size (5'11", 191 lbs), physicality and field vision needed to play inside or outside, in coverage and in run support.

    McPhearson also has a knack for making big plays, as evidenced by four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a fumble returned for a touchdown in 2020. He logged 47 solo tackles in 10 games and had six passes defended. Expect McPhearson to make a surprisingly early impact as a backup defender and special-teams standout this season.


    Washington Football Team: Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina

    Last season, the Washington Football Team lacked wide receiver depth behind No. 1 option Terry McLaurin. While McLaurin topped the 1,100-yard mark, Cam Sims was next among wideouts with just 477 receiving yards.

    Washington added Curtis Samuel in free agency to help bolster the position, but rookie third-round pick Dyami Brown should see plenty of early opportunities. A straight-line speedster, Brown can immediately add a new vertical element to the Football Team's passing attack.

    Brown averaged just under 20 yards per reception this past season at North Carolina while totaling 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns. The 2021 draft class is chock-full of talented receivers, but given Brown's deep-threat ability and a likely early role in Washington, don't be surprised if he's one of the most prolific from the class early on.

NFC South

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    Darren Hall
    Darren HallMatthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Atlanta Falcons: Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State

    Atlanta Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts should immediately step into a starting role. Richie Grant, the second safety taken in the draft, may not be far behind. Rookie fourth-round corner Darren Hall could also see playing time early, though his ascension may come as more of a surprise.

    Atlanta has major needs in the secondary after finishing dead last in pass defense last season. While Hall doesn't possess the polish of an NFL-ready cornerback, he has the size (5'11", 188 pounds) and the big-play potential needed to be an early contributor.

    This past season, Hall amassed six passes defended, two tackles for loss, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown in just eight games. He has all the tools needed to make his presence felt as a rookie, even in a rotational role.


    Carolina Panthers: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame

    The Carolina Panthers are set to give new quarterback Sam Darnold plenty of support in the passing game. They're bringing back talented pass-catchers like Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and Christian McCaffrey. They also added wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round.

    What the Panthers don't have is an established pass-catching tight end, as Ian Thomas led the position with just 145 receiving yards last season. This is where rookie third-round pick Tommy Tremble comes into play.

    The Notre Dame product didn't rack up the stats in college—he had just 218 yards last season—but he flashed a tremendous amount of athleticism and blocking acumen during his two years with the Irish.

    "[Tremble] was not asked to run many routes in general—mostly working underneath, but he did flash good overall athleticism and body control and also natural hands when the ball did go his way," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    His selection was an upside-based one, and Carolina should start to see Tremble make good on some of that potential during his rookie season. Given his size (6'3", 241 lbs), physical upside and blocking ability, Tremble could be a surprisingly early starter for the Panthers.


    New Orleans Saints: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

    The New Orleans Saints have a relatively loaded roster—even without Drew Brees—and may not have room for many mid-round picks in game-day lineups this season. Third-round cornerback Paulson Adebo, however, could be the exception.

    Teams can never have too much depth in the secondary, and the former Cardinal standout has all the tools to provide it. A long, well-built (6'1", 198 lbs) pass-defender, Adebo should have little trouble handling physical perimeter receivers at the next level.

    Adebo also has a penchant for the big play. When he last played in 2019, he produced 10 passes defended and four interceptions. He logged another 19 passes defended and four picks in 2018. Adebo can be a difference-maker, even for a deep New Orleans defense.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas

    While the Saints are loaded, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are even more so. The reigning Super Bowl champions are returning all 22 offensive and defensive starters and boast a roster that is virtually unchanged from the one that took home the Lombardi Trophy in February.

    This doesn't mean, however, that rookie fourth-round receiver Jaelon Darden won't crack the rotation. While he's not likely to overtake Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown on the depth chart, Darden has the short-area speed needed to contribute early as a sub-package player.

    Darden—who posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and a 6.66-second three-cone drill at his pro day—can be a terror for opposing defenses focused on stopping the vertical passing game. He can create separation underneath and turn short passes into long gains. This past season, he caught 74 passes for 1,190 yards and an impressive 19 touchdowns.

NFC North

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    Dazz Newsome
    Dazz NewsomeGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Chicago Bears: Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina

    Sixth-round draft picks don't usually turn into gems, but former North Carolina wideout Dazz Newsome can be exactly that for the Chicago Bears.

    Newsome brings value and should get opportunities on two fronts. For one, he's an explosive playmaker who racked up m more than 1,700 receiving yards over the past two seasons. The Bears don't have a ton of reliable receiver depth after Allen Robinson II and second-year man Darnell Mooney.

    Secondly, Newsome is a capable punt returner who averaged 9.9 yards per return in 2020. The Bears have a need here as well after parting with primary punt returner Dwayne Harris in free agency (he remains unsigned).

    Expect Newsome to turn some heads on special teams and as a shifty slot option—especially if he can develop some early chemistry with quarterback of the future Justin Fields.


    Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

    The Detroit Lions parted with No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay in the offseason, and they've taken a collective approach to replacing him. Detroit added complementary options in Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams early in the offseason and then used a fourth-round pick on Amon-Ra St. Brown.

    The 6'0", 197-pound St. Brown isn't going to dazzle with his size or his straight-line speed, but he is a polished route-runner with enough wiggle to create space on underneath routes.

    "He should drop right into the lineup as the projected starting slot—a strong pass-catcher who runs sharp routes and can move the chains," The Athletic's Chris Burke wrote of Detroit's selection.

    In just six games this past season, St. Brown caught 41 passes for 478 yards and seven touchdowns. It wouldn't be a total shock to see him have even stronger numbers as a rookie in Detroit this season.


    Green Bay Packers: Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

    After not drafting a wide receiver at all in 2020, the Green Bay Packers waited until the third round to grab one this year. With the 85th overall pick, they scooped up former Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers.

    While Rodgers is joining a passing attack that ranked ninth in the NFL last season, he should get an early opportunity as Green Bay's new slot specialist. A thickly built (5'10", 212 lbs) pass-catcher with plenty of after-the-catch ability, Rodgers could make a surprisingly strong impact early.

    In 12 games last season, Rodgers had 1,020 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He probably won't approach those numbers as a rookie—especially if Aaron Rodgers' rift with the team continues into the regular season—but the former Tigers standout can fill a much-needed hole in the Packers receiving corps.

    Rodgers can be the long-awaited heir to Randall Cobb in the slot.


    Minnesota Vikings: Chazz Surratt, LB, North Carolina

    Despite ranking 27th in total defense and 29th in points allowed last season, the Minnesota Vikings waited until Round 3 to address their defense. There, they took North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt, a former quarterback still learning to play the position.

    While Surratt is still relatively new to playing defense at a high level, his athletic upside could allow him to thrive as a rookie. Despite only making the position switch two years ago, Surratt was highly productive this past season.

    In 2020, Surratt finished with 91 total tackles, three passes defended, six sacks and an interception. He'll likely be a rotational player early on, given his lack of positional polish. However, Surratt has a knack for finding the football that should present itself early and often in 2021.

NFC West

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    Trey Sermon
    Trey SermonPaul Vernon/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals: Victor Dimukeje, Edge, Duke

    Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Zaven Collins is expected to step into a starting role as a rookie. The same is not true for sixth-round pick Victor Dimukeje, though the former Duke standout should still have an early impact on Arizona's defense.

    The Cardinals replaced Haason Reddick with veteran edge-rusher J.J. Watt this offseason. They also have Markus Golden and Chandler Jones in the pass-rushing rotation. However, Dimukeje has the physical tools needed to crack the rotation as a rookie.

    The 6'1", 262-pound Dimukeje has a fine combination of play strength, technique and motor. Though he lacks ideal length for an edge-rusher—likely why he was a sixth-round prospect—he can overpower blockers who fail to keep him at arm's length. In 11 games last season, Dimukeje produced 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.


    Los Angeles Rams: Bobby Brown III, DT, Texas A&M

    The Los Angeles Rams didn't need a ton of defensive help after ranking first in both yards and points allowed in 2020. However, they still used three of their five draft selections on that side of the ball. Fourth-round pick Bobby Brown III could be the biggest surprise of the group.

    A powerful 6'4", 321-pound defender, Brown possesses a surprising amount of burst for a player his size. He can eat up space at the point of attack, but he can also penetrate the backfield and disrupt runs and passes before they start. In nine games last season, he logged 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss to go with 22 total tackles.

    Brown could be a real gem for the L.A. defense as a rotational player alongside or spelling star Aaron Donald. Brown can keep up the interior pressure on the rare occasions when Donald goes to the sideline. He can create even more havoc with Donald regularly commanding double-teams.


    San Francisco 49ers: Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State

    New quarterback Trey Lance is the overall gem of the San Francisco 49ers draft class, but he'll be the opposite of a surprise—seeing as how San Francisco traded up to No. 3 long before the draft. There's no guarantee he'll take over for Jimmy Garoppolo this season either.

    Third-round pick Trey Sermon could be the surprise rookie star of the 49ers offense this season. While San Francisco's backfield features the likes of Raheem Mostert, Wayne Gallman and Jeff Wilson Jr., head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to utilize multiple backs in the rotation. Sermon should get frequent early opportunities, and he has the physical tools to be a significant contributor.

    A well-built (6'0", 215 lbs) zone runner, Sermon can run through arm tackles and rip off big gains once into space. He averaged an incredible 7.5 yards per carry this past season and should become another weapon in an explosive San Francisco rushing attack.


    Seattle Seahawks: Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma

    D'Wayne Eskridge wasn't a first-round pick, but he was the first player the Seattle Seahawks drafted this year. Should cornerback Tre Brown—the second of Seattle's three selections—emerge as a regular contributor, it'll be a much bigger surprise.

    There are reasons to believe Brown can be a standout early too. The fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma is an aggressive pass defender reminiscent of Seattle's Legion of Boom standouts.

    "He's an undersized player with a scrappy play style," Cory Giddings of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He excels in pass coverage where he's able to use his speed to run with receivers and short-area quickness to play quicker routes. Brown does a very good job of undercutting routes and attacking the ball."

    Brown had 31 total tackles, six passes defended and three interceptions last season and should find an early role on a defense that lost starting corner Shaquill Griffin in free agency.

AFC East

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    Carlos Basham Jr.
    Carlos Basham Jr.Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Buffalo Bills: Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest

    The Buffalo Bills addressed their pass rush in the first round by grabbing Miami's Gregory Rousseau. However, second-round pick Carlos Basham Jr. could be even more impactful in Year 1.

    Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season and may require time to get back up to playing speed. Basham at least appeared in seven games last year, where he amassed five sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and 28 total tackles.

    While Basham didn't produce the gaudy numbers Rousseau did in his lone prolific season—Rousseau had 15.5 sacks in 2019—he did produce 16 sacks over the last two seasons and has the refined technique needed to contribute early. While Rousseau is the headliner of Buffalo's draft class, don't be surprised if Basham is a pleasant surprise as the other pass-rusher taken early in 2021.


    Miami Dolphins: Liam Eichenberg, OL, Notre Dame

    The Miami Dolphins added a pair of potential early contributors in Round 1, taking wideout Jaylen Waddle and pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips. In the early second round, they took Notre Dame lineman Liam Eichenberg, who might be equally valuable.

    Eichenberg projects as an instant starter along the offensive line, a unit that surrendered 34 sacks in 2020.

    "Eichenberg might not have the same upside as some of the offensive linemen drafted ahead of him, but he should be able to contribute right away either at guard or tackle," The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia wrote.

    Protecting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and boosting a run game that ranked 29th in yards per attempt last season should be clear goals for Miami. Eichenberg can contribute on both fronts as a rookie.


    New England Patriots: Ronnie Perkins, Edge, Oklahoma

    In free agency, the New England Patriots added Matt Judon to help address a pass rush that notched a mere 24 sacks in 2020. Rookie third-round pick Ronnie Perkins may be more of an afterthought to casual fans, but the Oklahoma product can be a game-changer early on.

    Perkins, a 6'3", 253-pound prospect, won at the college level thanks to a relentless motor and a knack for diagnosing plays. He doesn't jump off the game tape athletically, but he is a try-hard player who should mesh well with New England's do-your-job mentality.

    Expect Perkins to be a situational edge-rusher early on, as he's a bit undersized to play end in New England's defense and lacks linebacker experience. He can attack the backfield, though, as evidenced by 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in six games last season. This is where Perkins will make a difference for New England.


    New York Jets: Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina

    In the first two rounds, the New York Jets added a new franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson, a new starting guard in Alijah Vera-Tucker and a potential impact receiver in Elijah Moore. Fourth-round pick Michael Carter probably won't get as much attention heading into the regular season, but he could be the biggest surprise of the bunch.

    At 5'8" and 201 pounds, Carter isn't the biggest back in this draft class. However, he is versatile, explosive and possesses fine-tuned receiving ability. He may not have the build of a true every-down back, but he can be on the field in any situation.

    This past season, Carter racked up an impressive 1,245 rushing yards, 267 receiving yards and 11 combined touchdowns in 11 games. He can support Wilson and the offense as a runner and a receiver and should quickly become the top option in New York's backfield.

    Tevin Coleman has never logged more than 800 rushing yards in a season, while second-year back La'Mical Perine saw just 64 carries for the Jets in 2020. Carter should get every opportunity to establish himself as New York's next workhorse running back.

AFC South

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    Davis Mills
    Davis MillsJed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Houston Texans: Davis Mills, QB, Stanford

    Assuming Deshaun Watson doesn't start for the Houston Texans in 2021, the team will likely rely on some combination of journeyman Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills. While Taylor has the experience, it won't be a shock to see the third-round pick take over at some point and play well.

    Mills dealt with multiple knee injuries in high school and college and doesn't have extensive starting experience. However, he has the arm talent, field vision and intangibles needed to be an average-to-good NFL starter.

    "Considered the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback recruit in the class of 2017, the 6'4", 217-pound Georgia native has a big arm, is extremely accurate on downfield throws and has impressed NFL evaluators with his athleticism," The Athletic's Stewart Mandel wrote.

    Mills isn't going to make anyone forget about Watson, but he could be a gem of a mid-round pick for a franchise with plenty of quarterback uncertainty.


    Indianapolis Colts: Kylen Granson, TE, Southern Methodist

    The Indianapolis Colts have a new quarterback project in former Eagle Carson Wentz. The Colts also have plenty of offensive talent with which to support Wentz, though they are lacking a reliable pass-catching tight end. Mo Alie-Cox paced the position with just 394 receiving yards in 2020.

    This is where fourth-round pick Kylen Granson enters the equation. A small-school prospect out of Southern Methodist, Granson oozes athletic upside and breakaway potential.

    While Granson lacks the polish and blocking ability needed to be an every-down tight end, he can create mismatches in the passing game and be the sort of receiving playmaker Wentz previously had in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Last season, Granson caught 35 passes for 536 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games.   


    Jacksonville Jaguars: Luke Farrell, TE, Ohio State

    Like the Colts, the Jacksonville Jaguars could use reinforcements at the tight end position. They parted with Tyler Eifert in the offseason and are toying with the idea of letting former quarterback Tim Tebow see time at the position.

    However, if the Jags are going to properly support rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, they need a reliable in-line blocker with receiving ability on the edge. Rookie fifth-round pick Luke Farrell can be that guy and should immediately compete for playing time.

    While Farrell wasn't a prolific receiver at Ohio State—he only notched double-digit receptions in one of his four seasons—he did plenty of the dirty work in the trenches. Farrell played for Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer for two years with the Buckeyes, so there is familiarity there. That familiarity combined with Jacksonville's lack of proven options could make Farrell a surprising early contributor.


    Tennessee Titans: Monty Rice, LB, Georgia

    The Tennessee Titans used their first-round selection on cornerback Caleb Farley. That was a smart decision, given the fact that Tennessee ranked 29th against the pass last season. However, the Titans could also use help with run defense, as they ranked a better-but-not-great 19th against the run in 2020.

    Rookie third-round pick Monty Rice should help bolster that run defense.

    The former Georgia linebacker is on the smaller side at 6'0" and 233 pounds, but he has a nose for the ball and a tendency to diagnose plays as they develop. In nine games last season, Rice produced 49 total tackles, 30 solo stops, four tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble returned for a touchdown.

    Rice battled through a foot injury this past season and was an even more productive tackler in 2019, finishing with 50 solo stops and 89 total tackles. Expect him to be an early-down defender initially and an asset for Tennessee's second-level run defense.

AFC North

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    Tylan Wallace
    Tylan WallaceJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    Baltimore Ravens: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

    First-round draft pick Rashod Bateman is the headliner of the Baltimore Ravens draft class, and for good reason. Lamar Jackson has never had a true No. 1 receiver as a pro, and Bateman has the potential to fill that void.

    However, fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace could prove to be a surprisingly valuable addition to Baltimore's receiving corps as well.

    Though on the smaller side at 5'11" and 194 pounds, Wallace has polished route-running skills and an inherent fight to get to the ball. He plays bigger than his size would suggest and can be a viable perimeter target for Jackson and a downfield threat. In 10 games last season, Wallace caught 59 passes for 922 yards and six touchdowns.


    Cincinnati Bengals: Jackson Carman, G, Clemson

    The Cincinnati Bengals also used their first pick on a wide receiver. In their case, the pick was LSU product and former Joe Burrow teammate Ja'Marr Chase. Some fans may lament the fact that Cincinnati passed on a premier offensive tackle prospect with the fifth overall pick, but the Bengals did go back and address the O-line in Round 2.

    While Clemson's Jackson Carman may be forced to kick inside to guard—he was more of a power blocker than an edge technician—he can still benefit Burrow while also boosting the run game.

    Burrow was sacked an alarming 32 times in 10 games before being lost for the season to a knee injury. As a team, Cincinnati ranked 31st in yards per rushing attempt. The 6'5", 317-pound Carman should help in both areas and could develop into a young star along the Bengals offensive front.


    Cleveland Browns: Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn

    The Cleveland Browns used their first two draft picks on defense, which wasn't a surprise. However, they used a third-round pick on wideout Anthony Schwartz, which was a little more unexpected. With Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones on the roster, receiver was not a notable need for Cleveland.

    However, Schwartz could still be an impact rookie thanks to his raw speed. While he's far from a polished pass-catcher, he can flat-out fly.

    "Now that he is drafted, Schwartz is already one of the fastest players in the NFL," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote.

    Schwartz will likely be a gadget player early on, but he can be dangerous in that role. Playing off a run-oriented offense that also has downfield receiving threats, coach Kevin Stefanski can use Schwartz to create mismatches with bubble screens, sweeps and reverses.


    Pittsburgh Steelers: Kendrick Green, IOL, Illinois

    The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first-round draft pick on running back Najee Harris. While first-round running backs don't always represent value, it was an expected choice by the Steelers, who were awful in the ground game last season—they ranked dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry.

    The third-round selection of interior offensive lineman Kendrick Green won't generate as much attention but could prove to be just as valuable as it relates to the running game.

    Green can play guard or center, and he may immediately step in and start at the latter position. The Steelers lost longtime starting center Maurkice Pouncey to retirement this offseason.

    The 6'2", 305-pound Green is a powerhouse at the point of attack and can help Pittsburgh reestablish its identity as a power-running team. He'll also help shield the 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger from interior pressure, making Green a gem of an all-around offensive addition.

AFC West

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    Baron Browning
    Baron BrowningPaul Vernon/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos: Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State

    Second-round running back Javonte Williams is a candidate here, but any success from the third running back taken in the draft shouldn't come as a shock. Third-round linebacker Baron Browning, on the other hand, could be an unexpected star for the Denver Broncos.

    Denver was terrible against the run in 2020, ranking 25th in yards allowed and 29th in yards per attempt surrendered. The former Ohio State standout can have an immediate impact as a rotational run-stuffer at the second level.

    A versatile 6'3", 245-pound 'backer with sound tackling ability and some coverage skills, Browning should see playing time early. He doesn't offer a ton as a pass-rusher, but he did have one sack and three tackles for loss in 2020 to go with 30 total tackles and two passes defended.


    Kansas City Chiefs: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

    The Kansas City Chiefs traded their first-round pick to land offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in what is easily the highlight of their draft season. This is a championship-caliber team without many other holes to fill.

    However, the addition of second-round linebacker Nick Bolton still figures to be a valuable one. While leaning on the run against Kansas City didn't necessarily result in controlling games, the Chiefs did rank 21st in rushing yards allowed.

    Bolton—who amassed 95 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and five passes defended in 2020—can be a tone-setter at the second level for Kansas City, helping bolster the run defense while also providing solid coverage and the sort of physical hits that make ball-carriers think twice about charging into the open field.


    Las Vegas Raiders: Malcolm Koonce, Edge, Buffalo

    Former TCU safety Trevon Moehrig was only the third safety off the board and was considered by many to be a first-round talent. While landing him in the second round was a coup for the Las Vegas Raiders, he shouldn't catch anyone off guard as a rookie standout.

    Third-round pick Malcolm Koonce, however, could be a sneaky-great addition who looks even better after the fact. The Raiders needed to improve a pass rush that delivered a mere 21 sacks last season. Las Vegas added Yannick Ngakoue in the offseason, but there should still be room for Koonce as a rotational edge-defender.

    Koonce, who had five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in six games this past season, could have a rookie impact similar to that of 2019 Raiders breakout Maxx Crosby. Crosby was a fourth-round selection and has now led Las Vegas in sacks in back-to-back years.


    Los Angeles Chargers: Tre' McKitty, TE, Georgia

    The Los Angeles Chargers lost starting tight end Hunter Henry in free agency and will need to replace his receiving production to help support second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. While the Chargers have Stephen Anderson and added Jared Cook, rookie third-round pick Tre' McKitty can absolutely be a factor here.

    The selection of McKitty was largely a traits-based pick, as he only had six receptions for 108 yards in 2020. However, McKitty is a 6'4", 246-pound pass-catcher with 4.71 speed. Raw and unpolished as a route-runner, McKitty will be a rotational player early in his career. However, he can be a physical mismatch with big-play potential.

    Expect McKitty to come on slowly as a rookie but develop into the type of vertical-threat tight end whom Los Angeles lost in Henry.


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