2021 NFL Rookies Who Have Disappointed in Training Camp, Preseason
It's isn't all hype and highlights for some of the most notable rookies of the 2021 draft class.
Onlookers know the big names putting on shows in training camp and the preseason. Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Patrick Surtain II, to name a few, have made big splashes already.
But the other side of the coin is the high-profile draft picks not meeting expectations just yet. Whether it's not getting notable playing time or just not putting up notable numbers, there are a handful of rookies who need a big turnaround over the next two weeks before the regular season starts.
These are the rookies who have disappointed over the first half of the summer stretch before season openers.
Jackson Carman, OL, Cincinnati Bengals
When the Cincinnati Bengals passed on offensive line help at fifth overall despite Joe Burrow working back from a season-ending injury, some of the logic was that the team proceeded to use the 46th pick on Jackson Carman.
Carman, a tackle from Clemson, would kick inside to guard next to free-agent acquisition Riley Reiff and provide an upgrade to one of the league's worst offensive lines.
Except Carman debuted third on the team's first official depth chart and wasn't a starter for the team's first preseason game. He got in with the second string and mostly looked like just another guy out there after getting tagged with a holding penalty on his first snap.
There's still plenty of time for Carman to turn it around and earn a starting role, but this isn't what the Bengals had in mind from a top-50 pick and one of the first 10 linemen off the board. The team needs him to beat out remnants of last year's miserable line and journeymen veterans to win the gig.
Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants
The New York Giants traded out of the 11th pick but still used the 20th pick to add more weapons around quarterback Daniel Jones by selecting Florida wideout Kadarius Toney.
Toney, who scored 10 touchdowns on 70 catches last year and rushed for another score, figured to be a strong complement to an attack boasting Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay.
Instead, Toney needed more than a week to even record a catch in training camp and missed a preseason game.
Toney had a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list in late July, made his debut in early August and then struggled mightily in training camp. ESPN's Jordan Raanan explained the struggles on August 12: "Even when the speedy wide receiver has been in drills, there hasn't been much that stood out. His first catch in live team drills came Saturday on a dump-down pass 11 days into camp." He then aggravated an unspecified injury.
Given Toney's natural skill set, he should be able to contribute plenty despite the setbacks. But an early inability to make his presence felt isn't the immediate impact the Giants would have wanted for Jones.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
High-profile Jacksonville Jaguars rookies had a welcome-to-the-NFL experience during the team's Week 1 preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns.
No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence got strip-sacked on his very first play, though he bounced back. But first-round pick Travis Etienne's most notable play was a forced fumble after his offense turned the ball over.
Not exactly what the Jaguars might have expected from a running back who ran for nearly 5,000 yards and 70 touchdowns over four seasons at Clemson.
In an era of the devalued running back, the Jaguars used the No. 25 pick on Etienne, and his debut amounted to one carry for two yards and no catches on one target. He got no snaps on the team's opening drive with Lawerence under center.
Etienne's skill set and past production say he can be a game-changer, but Jaguars fans can be forgiven for expecting a bit more right away.
Caleb Farley, CB, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans were on the hunt for an upgrade at a premium position in the draft when using a first-round pick on Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.
Farley may end up providing just that, but it won't happen soon.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel yanked Farley from a recent practice period and explained why, per ESPN's Turron Davenport:
"He's just got a lot of work to do. He made a mistake or didn't do something great, kinda stood there or laid on the ground and I just said, 'That's not how we're gonna do it.' There are going to be a lot of mistakes that happen through the course of a game, but we're going to go finish and we're going to find someone to cover, or find somebody to tackle and finish the play."
Then, the Titans decided Farley wasn't ready to go in the team's first preseason game.
Farley has plenty of No. 1 corner traits, but it's clear the Titans think he's coming along slowly. Not the end of the world for either party, but not what some might have expected, either.
Liam Eichenberg, OL, Miami Dolphins
Like Cincinnati, the Miami Dolphins ignored problems in the offensive trenches and took a wideout in the top 10 before addressing the issue in the second round.
Miami, in fact, traded up to the 42nd pick to guarantee Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg.
Fast forward to now, and Eichenberg isn't even lining up at tackle anymore. He's trying to win a starting spot as a guard.
Some of that may have to do with the other guards on the roster. But some early struggles in training camp were well documented. He then suffered a shoulder injury and will miss time, which means missing critical reps regardless of position.
Overall, passing on tackle help in the top 10, then trading up to get one only to play him at guard isn't the greatest-sounding development for the Dolphins. Eichenberg has plenty of time to get back on track, but it's an unfortunate series of events while the franchise tries to assure the proper development of a possible franchise passer in Tua Tagovailoa.