The Best Rookie from Every NFL Team's 2021 Draft Class

Alex KayContributor INovember 24, 2021

The Best Rookie from Every NFL Team's 2021 Draft Class

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    With less than two months left in the 2021 NFL season, it's a great time to review the rookie class.

    There have been plenty of standout first-year players turning head, many of whom weren't highly regarded first-round prospects.

    When determining which rookie is the best, draft position has been slightly factored in, although production during his first campaign is the primary factor in identifying a team's top rookie.

    With that in mind, here is a look at the No. 1 rookie from each team's 2021 draft class.

Arizona Cardinals: WR Rondale Moore

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Although he was drafted into a crowded receiving corps, Rondale Moore has done enough over the first 11 games of his career to put the league on notice.

    The Arizona Cardinals haven't been able to get Moore on the field regularly when their receivers are all healthy, as he's competing with DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk for snaps. Despite seeing the field on less than half the offensive plays, the second-round selection has mustered a respectable 413 yards and a touchdown on 47 receptions.

    The team has been leaning on Moore lately with Hopkins out of the lineup, evidenced by the rookie's career-high 11 targets across his 32 snaps this past Sunday. Arizona is clearly looking to get the ball in the young wideout's hands when he is on the field, giving him 12 carries this season as well.

    Expect to see more of Moore in the future, as the 21-year-old is simply too talented to not deploy more regularly.

Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    It’s not often a tight end is taken as early as Kyle Pitts, the prospect the Atlanta Falcons selected at No. 4 overall. The Florida product was hailed as a generational prospect at a tough position to pick up quickly in the NFL, but thus far, he is living up to the hype.

    Pitts has been one of the lone bright spots in the Falcons offense this season, snagging 43 of his 69 targets for 635 yards and a touchdown over 10 games.

    With defenses keying in on the club's only reliable pass-catcher since Calvin Ridley took time away from the team for his mental health, Pitts has still caught 10 of his 19 targets for 151 yards in three games.

    While those aren't truly impressive numbers, like the 282 yards and a touchdown Pitts put up on 16 catches during a two-game stretch against the Jets and Dolphins earlier in the year, the tight end's upside is undeniable.

    Once Atlanta assembles a better roster around him, Pitts should emerge as one of the league's best players at his position.

Baltimore Ravens: Edge Odafe Oweh

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens always seem to find a way to unearth in-house pass-rushing talent. After losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the team has installed rookie Odafe Oweh on the edge to great effect.

    While Oweh has only started one game thus far, the first-round pick (31st overall) has made plenty of plays in his first 10 appearances.

    Oweh is up to 20 tackles, 12 QB hits, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while seeing the field for two-thirds of the team's defensive snaps.

    The Penn State product is well on his way to becoming a game-changing factor for Baltimore, having created 19 pressures and eight QB knockdowns while blitzing only 19 times.

    At 6'5", 251 pounds, Oweh possesses a unique blend of size, power and speed that will help him become one of the NFL's better pass-rushers if he can reach his potential.   

Buffalo Bills: Edge Greg Rousseau

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Bills defense has taken a leap, rating among the NFL's top units this season. The team, which concedes a league-best 283.7 yards per game and has allowed a meager 17.6 points per contest (second-fewest), has been bolstered by the addition of rookie defensive end Greg Rousseau.

    Rousseau has been an every week starter in the pros, accumulating 33 tackles, five tackles for a loss, six QB hits, three sacks, a pass breakup and an interception in 10 games.

    He's accomplished this while only being on the field for approximately half of the defensive snaps, making an impact mostly in pass-rushing situations.  

    The 6'6", 266-pound Miami product is still relatively raw, but the Bills' late first-round bet on his high ceiling is already paying off.

    Once Rousseau adds some polish to his game, he could end up being regarded as one of the league's top sack artists.  

Carolina Panthers: CB Keith Taylor Jr.

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Keith Taylor Jr. wasn't projected to be a major part of Carolina's defensive plans this year. The team used a fifth-round pick on the Washington product but also took elite prospect Jaycee Horn at No. 8 to plug a big hole in the secondary.

    With Horn going down early in the year with a broken foot, those plans quickly changed, and Taylor was tasked with filling the void.

    So far, the lengthy 6'3", 195-pound rookie has done an admirable job.

    PFF has graded Taylor at a 67.3 after he recorded 24 tackles, a tackle for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in 11 games, two of them starts.

    Considering his Day 3 draft status, Taylor has been one of the nice surprises for a Panthers defense that is full of potential. When fully healthy, a Carolina cornerback room with Taylor, Horn and in-season acquisitions CJ Henderson and Stephon Gilmore will be even more dangerous.

Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears weren't planning on starting Justin Fields early in his rookie season, but the No. 11 overall pick ended up being thrust into the fire after Week 1 starter Andy Dalton went down with an injury.

    While he had a rocky start, Fields has made some notable strides in the months since.

    Chicago's young signal-caller showed his dual-threat capabilities on Halloween against the 49ers, passing for 175 yards and a touchdown while adding a score and 103 yards on 10 carries.

    He had the Bears in contention against the Steelers the following week, leading a go-ahead drive late in a game he passed for 291 yards and a touchdown in while chipping in another 45 yards on eight totes.

    Unfortunately, Fields suffered a rib injury Sunday against the Ravens and may remain sidelined for Week 12's Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions.

    Hopefully, the rookie can return to full health before 2021 ends, putting together a few more promising performances to build upon for his sophomore year.       

Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja'Marr Chase

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    John McCoy/Associated Press

    After parting ways with longtime wideout A.J. Green this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals are ready to forge into a new era with Ja'Marr Chase leading the receiving corps. 

    Chase has been even better than the team could have hoped when it drafted him No. 5 overall. His chemistry with former LSU teammate and current Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow has been otherworldly.

    The Burrow-Chase battery has connected on 47 of 79 targets for 867 yards and eight scores already, with Chase's numbers leading an offense that has the resurgent Bengals surprisingly competing for a playoff spot.

    Chase would be putting up even more eye-popping statistics with better ball security.

    After a preseason full of bad drops, the 21-year-old has slightly improved in that area but still has seven dropped passes and a pair of fumbles to his name.

    Regardless, the first-year wideout has established himself as one of the NFL's top up-and-coming weapons. With plenty of room to grow, the Burrow-Chase connection should be one fans see racking up touchdowns for years to come.

Cleveland Browns: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns scored one of the biggest steals of the draft when they were able to get Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round. The versatile defender is off to a far better start than his No. 52 selection would suggest and appears to be a centerpiece Cleveland’s defense can build around.

    An ankle injury cost Owusu-Koramoah a good chunk of playing time during his first season, but the linebacker has been one of the team's top defenders when healthy.

    Cleveland has been easing him back into the lineup, putting him on the field for approximately 30 percent of the defensive snaps in each of the last two weeks after he saw the field for over 85 percent in the two games before the injury.

    Owusu-Koramoah has still been a factor despite the limited usage. In eight contests—including five starts—JOK has secured 37 tackles, four pass deflections, one forced fumble and half a sack.

    He has been a standout in coverage, allowing the 10 completions he's given up on 19 targets to go for a meager 46 yards. If he can improve his pass-rushing abilities—he's generated just one pressure on 15 blitzes—he'll be a complete package capable of lining up just about anywhere effectively.

Dallas Cowboys: LB Micah Parsons

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    The Cowboys went into the 2021 draft ready to overhaul a defense that rated among the league's worst last year. The team used eight of its 11 selections—including each of its first six picks—to augment that side of the ball, and thus far the decision is paying off.

    Micah Parsons, the Penn State linebacker Dallas took at No. 12 overall, has been a revelation for the club. He has a nose for the football that few others possess, amassing 62 tackles while starting all 10 games.

    The Cowboys haven't been shy about unleashing Parsons on opposing quarterbacks either, sending him on 63 blitzes already this season.

    Given his success—the 22-year-old has 13 tackles for a loss, 24 pressures, 11 QB knockdowns, eight sacks and four hurries—offensive linemen should expect the rookie in their backfield often over the final weeks of the campaign.

    When Parsons isn't hunting down ball-carriers, he's deftly dropping back into coverage. He's been targeted 27 times this year, allowing 19 completions for a respectable 155 yards (84.6 passer rating).

    This impressive all-around linebacking ability has Parsons leading the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and could make him a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the future.

Denver Broncos: RB Javonte Williams

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Patrick Surtain II has been living up to expectations after Denver used the No. 9 overall pick on the Alabama cornerback. He's been deftly keeping his marks from generating much yardage, but another 2021 draft pick is providing the Broncos with even more promising early returns on their investment.

    Surtain has earned a 61.4 PFF grade going into Week 12, while first-year running back Javonte Williams has outclassed him with a 71.8 grade in the same span. 

    Williams was considered talented enough to be a first-round pick, but he didn't come off the board until early on Day 2 at No. 35 overall. The rookie seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder from the snub, running hard while displaying the patience and vision of a veteran back.

    Williams has been one of the better pieces of a banged-up and inconsistent Broncos offense, picking up 514 yards and a touchdown on 103 rushing attempts. He's been a regular contributor in the passing game too, reeling in 24 of his 29 targets for 136 yards and a score.

    The coaching staff needs to find a way to utilize the North Carolina product more reliably.

    Williams followed up the first 100-yard outing of his career—he went off for 111 yards on 17 totes against the Cowboys in Week 9—by getting just eight carries this past Sunday, turning them into a solid 48 yards (6.0 yards per attempt) against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Considering Williams received fewer than 10 carries in three of the last four games, there is plenty of potential for his role to expand.    

Detroit Lions: OT Penei Sewell

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    Justin Berl/Associated Press

    Penei Sewell has come on strong in recent weeks, shaking off a sluggish start to show the league why he was the first offensive lineman taken when Detroit selected him at No. 7.

    The offensive tackle started his career on the right side of the line but shifted to the left in wake of Taylor Decker's injury. After a rough stretch in which he gave up four sacks in Weeks 4 and 5, Sewell has since moved back to the right. It's a position he's begun excelling at while adapting to the pace of the NFL.

    He's been a rock for Detroit down the stretch, grading out as the sixth-best offensive tackle over the last six weeks according to PFF's metrics (h/t Brad Berreman of FanSided).

    With Sewell not giving up any sacks besides the aforementioned four and keeping a clean sheet in each of the last two weeks—not giving up a single pressure or sack—the future is bright for the Lions lineman.

    And Detroit's brass can rest easy knowing they have a player in Sewell who can be counted on for rock-solid protection.

Green Bay Packers: CB Eric Stokes

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers may have finally found a solution to their cornerback woes across from Jaire Alexander. Rookie defensive back Eric Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 3, and the team hasn't looked back since.

    Stokes, the No. 29 overall pick, hasn't yet emerged as an elite cornerback. But the upside is there, and he is only getting better with experience.

    Through 10 games the corner has recorded 35 tackles, nine pass deflections and an interception while playing at least 90 percent of Green Bay's defensive snaps in his eight starts.

    Stokes has been targeted 60 times, conceding 31 completions for 393 yards and three touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a middling 82.2 rating when targeting the Georgia product.

    Although he's only drawn a 55.9 PFF grade, Stokes is well positioned to take over Kevin King's job and slot in opposite of Alexander on a permanent basis once the injured Pro Bowler (shoulder) returns to action.

Houston Texans: QB Davis Mills

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Texans wanted to bring rookie QB Davis Mills along slowly after drafting him in the third round but didn't get that luxury once starter Tyrod Taylor went down in Week 2.

    With Taylor sidelined for an extended stretch, Mills was thrust into action and did as well as anyone could have hoped for a developmental quarterback prospect.

    During the six games Mills started between Weeks 3 and 8, the 23-year-old completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns. Those aren't terrible numbers—and neither are his 19 sacks, seven interceptions or three fumbles—when you consider the sheer lack of talent surrounding the signal-caller.

    Mills showed enough promise that the Texans reportedly didn't want to take back 2020 first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa in a potential Deshaun Watson trade, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB. 

    While Mills has since been sent back to the sidelines thanks to Taylor's recovery, it certainly won't be the last we've seen from the up-and-coming quarterback. Expect him to get another shot next year, coming out strong with another training camp and more familiarity on his side.  

Indianapolis Colts: Edge Kwity Paye

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    It's difficult to find quality edge-rushers in the draft, and first-round picks are no exceptions. While there are plenty of Day 1 pass-rushing talents still trying to find their footing in the league, the Indianapolis Colts' Kwity Paye has already emerged as a productive weapon.

    Paye didn't get off to the hottest start, but he's finally recorded the first sacks of his career, notching one in each of the last two games.

    The Michigan product—who just turned 23 this week—notched a whopping 16 pressures in Weeks 9 and 10 alone, doubling the amount from his first six appearances combined.

    With Paye getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc for the foreseeable future, the Colts defense will be a matchup that opposing quarterbacks fear.

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence

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    Matt Stamey/Associated Press

    It isn't easy having the future of an entire franchise resting on your shoulders, but No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence has borne the weight of the Jacksonville Jaguars' hopes well.

    While Lawrence hasn't found the type of immediate success he had in college—winning the national championship as a true freshman starting quarterback at Clemson—he's far from being regarded as a bust.

    Lawrence has shown improvement most weeks, quickly adapting to the speed of the NFL while playing with a limited supporting cast. After throwing for seven interceptions in his first three starts, Lawrence has been more careful with the football, getting picked just twice in his last seven games.

    While Jacksonville's offense isn't lighting up the scoreboard and Lawrence has just three passing touchdowns since October began, the team mustered its first pair of wins since Week 1 of 2020.

    If the Jaguars can surround Lawrence with talent in the next couple of years, they should be one of the league's fastest risers.

Kansas City Chiefs: C Creed Humphrey

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Creed Humphrey is already being considered one of the top centers in the league. It's a surprising development for a player who wasn't selected until No. 63, becoming the third center off the board in April.

    Most of the teams that passed on Humphrey will be regretting it.

    The Chiefs were desperate to overhaul their line after it collapsed in a Super Bowl loss and made sweeping changes via free agency and the draft. Out of all the moves Kansas City made to shore up the offensive trenches, drafting Humphrey is looking like the best one.

    Humphrey has allowed just one sack and taken three penalties across 789 snaps, earning an NFL-best 90.5 PFF grade at the position through the first 10 weeks.

    Not only is Humphrey Kansas City's top rookie this year, but he also has a well-deserved spot in the discussion as the best first-year player in the entire league.  

Las Vegas Raiders: CB Nate Hobbs

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    John McCoy/Associated Press

    Nate Hobbs has been a pleasant surprise for the Las Vegas Raiders, outperforming his fifth-round price tag by becoming a reliable starter in a secondary that sorely needed young talent to step up.

    The corner has seen action in all 10 of Las Vegas' games, starting seven of those contests. He's recorded 46 tackles, a pass deflection, a forced fumble and a sack in that span.

    While opposing quarterback's have completed 33 of their 38 targets against Hobbs, Hobbs has only given up 247 yards all season. His worst performance was a forgivable one, with star signal-caller Patrick Mahomes hanging 70 yards on him in Week 10.

    Hobbs has proved that he can be an important contributor in a Vegas secondary that has improved significantly this season, allowing just 220.8 yards through the air compared to a bottom-10 mark of 263.3 in 2020.

Los Angeles Chargers: OT Rashawn Slater

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    After trotting out one of the worst offensive lines in football last year, the Los Angeles Chargers overhauled their protection unit this offseason.

    One of the key moves was drafting left tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13 overall, a pick the franchise couldn't be happier with.

    Slater has deftly protected quarterback Justin Herbert's blind side, allowing just three sacks and taking only three penalties across the first 688 snaps of his career.

    He's allowed multiple pressures in a game just three times over the first 10 weeks, keeping the rising star QB upright and giving him plenty of time to throw.

    PFF has graded the 22-year-old out at an 82.6, a highly impressive mark for a first-year tackle.

    If Slater can keep this up, he'll be a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.

Los Angeles Rams: LB Ernest Jones

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    Eric Smith/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams haven't gotten much out of their 2021 draft class so far, sparingly using the nine players they picked back in the spring.

    Ernest Jones is one of the few rookies getting somewhat consistent snaps, logging 191 on defense and 140 on special teams in 10 games (two starts).

    The linebacker has notched 27 tackles, two QB hits, a pass breakup, an interception and a half-sack.

    With such a veteran-laden defense, Jones hasn't been tasked with assuming too large of a role. That could change in the future, but for now, the third-rounder (No. 103 overall) has proved himself as a decent depth option with upside.

Miami Dolphins: S Jevon Holland

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Jaylen Waddle has been a great pickup for the Miami Dolphins, but their anemic offense hasn't allowed the first-round rookie wideout to reach his potential this season.

    Miami's second-round pick has been even more impactful. Safety Jevon Holland is a versatile defender who can line up in multiple spots and impact the game in a variety of ways.

    The Oregon product took some time to get brought up to speed but is starting to put it all together in the back half of his rookie campaign.

    With little to lose during this trying season, Miami has been deploying Holland aggressively. He's blitzed 39 times so far, generating six pressures, three quarterback knockdowns, two sacks and a hurry in 11 games (eight starts).

    Holland has also flashed decent coverage abilities, snagging an interception and breaking up six passes.

    Considering his ability to line up at multiple spots and do everything from getting into the backfield to meeting runners at the point of attack or dropping into coverage, Holland is set up to become a fixture in the team's defensive plans.  

Minnesota Vikings: S Camryn Bynum

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Camryn Bynum only saw the field for nine snaps before making his first start in Week 9, but his performances since could make him a fixture in this defense.

    Bynum has been playing at an unbelievably high level since taking over for Harrison Smith (reserve/COVID-19 list). His 90.4 PFF grade classifies him as "elite" on the site’s scale.

    The 23-year-old recorded 18 tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and an interception in the first two starts of his career. He’s been targeted six times this year, allowing just three completions for 16 yards.

    Christian Darrisaw, the team's first-round pick, has also been playing well and looks to be an anchor on the left side of the offensive line. If not for Bynum's incredible run as a starter, he'd be a lock to be named Minnesota's top rookie right now.

New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots have found a solution to the quarterback woes just one year after Tom Brady's departure left them with a giant question mark at the position.

    Mac Jones has proved himself to be the real deal, getting his team off to a 7-4 start to the 2021 season.

    The No. 15 overall pick has easily been the best signal-caller in his draft class. He is in complete command of the offense and takes what the defense gives him, displaying poise and confidence beyond his years.

    The Alabama product has completed over 70 percent of his passing attempts for 2,540 yards and 14 touchdowns against eight interceptions. During New England's current five-game winning streak, the 23-year-old has racked up seven touchdowns and thrown just two interceptions.

    It’s becoming clear just over halfway through the season that Jones would be one of the first players off the board in a 2021 draft do-over.

New Orleans Saints: LB Pete Werner

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints scored an intriguing linebacking prospect at the tail end of the second round, securing Ohio State's Pete Werner at No. 60.

    Werner has been a regular in New Orleans' linebacking corps this season, appearing in nine games and starting six. He's racked up 42 tackles while being on the field for 47 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

    While Werner played a higher percentage of snaps earlier in the season—he racked up a career-high 13 tackles while playing almost every snap in Week 5—he's done enough for the Saints to feel comfortable deploying him in more than a rotational role going forward.

    Werner's 76.0 PFF grade shows just how impactful he's been for New Orleans as a rookie. Expect to see his role increase in the coming seasons if he can stay on this trajectory.

New York Giants: WR Kadarius Toney

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    After striking out on some of the top receiving prospects, the New York Giants had to settle for trading back and nabbing Kadarius Toney at No. 20 to fill one of their biggest needs this offseason.

    It's looking like a brilliant move after Toney has showcased some elite playmaking ability early in his career.

    The Florida product had a fantastic stretch in Weeks 4 and 5, piling up 267 yards on 16 receptions for a short-handed Giants receiving corps.

    While he's since been dealing with several injuries that have limited his effectiveness, it's clear that Toney has the mixture of size, speed and pass-catching abilities to be an elite No. 1 wideout in the NFL.

    Once the receiving corps gets back to full strength, the Giants passing game could emerge as one of the league's best.

New York Jets: RB Michael Carter

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    The New York Jets lead the NFL in total rookie snaps logged. No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson, first-round offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker and second-round wideout Elijah Moore are all playing significant roles for Gang Green.

    None have been more impactful than Michael Carter, the fourth-round running back who has taken command of the team's backfield.

    Carter has rushed 111 times for 430 yards and four touchdowns this season. He's also carved out an important job as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, reeling in 32 of his 46 targets for 308 yards.

    Although he's competing for touches in a crowded backfield that also includes Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, Carter has played more than half of New York's offensive snaps.

    Unfortunately for the Jets, Carter could miss up to a month after suffering a mild high-ankle sprain in Week 11. That injury may slightly set back Carter's development, but the back remains well positioned to lead New York's running back platoon for the foreseeable future. 

    If Wilson can make the leap next year, Carter should find more room to run and see a bump in productivity.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeVonta Smith

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Eagles first-round wideout DeVonta Smith is off to a nice start to his NFL career. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has lived up to the hype and is now leading the surging Eagles' receiving corps.

    Smith has already snagged 46 receptions on 74 targets for 664 yards and four touchdowns this year. Three of those scores came in the last three weeks.

    Smith has not only established a better rapport with quarterback Jalen Hurts, but a more balanced Eagles offense—compared to the pass-happy game plan earlier in the year—is allowing the passing attack to flourish. Philadelphia has notched wins in three of its last four games.

    If Smith keeps finding the end zone like he has since the calendar flipped to November, the Eagles will be one of the NFL's most dangerous teams to face during their postseason push.

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Pat Freiermuth

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a bit of a transition period. They're nearing the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era and getting ready for a still uncertain future.

    While they'll need to reevaluate many roster spots, the Steelers appear to have found a long-term solution at tight end with Pat Freiermuth. 

    The No. 55 overall pick wasn't the headliner of the Steelers' draft class—first-round running back Najee Harris earned that distinction—but Freiermuth's combination of production and promise makes him their top first-year talent.

    The Penn State product has hauled in 36 catches for 287 yards and five scores in 10 games. He became a regular starter in Week 9 and has caught 14 passes for 85 yards and three scores in the three games since.

    It usually takes tight ends a handful of seasons to adapt to playing at a high level in the NFL. That makes Freiermuth's quick transition even more impressive.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Elijah Mitchell

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Third-round rookie running back Trey Sermon appeared poised to take over San Francisco's backfield platoon. Instead, the Ohio State product has taken a back seat to fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell this season.

    Mitchell was the main beneficiary when starting running back Raheem Mostert went down for the year only two carries into the season. He made an immediate impact in Mostert's absence, going off for 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in a Week 1 contest for which Sermon was a healthy scratch.

    While Mitchell has dealt with some injuries of his own and missed a few contests, he's been the team's go-to back when healthy. He had a career-high 27 carries and gained 91 yards against a tough L.A. Rams front in Week 10, but he suffered a broken finger in that contest which sidelined him Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Mitchell isn't likely to keep playing a bell-cow role due to the number of viable backs in San Francisco's stable, but he's the lead dog for now and is playing well enough to retain that job.

Seattle Seahawks: CB Tre Brown

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks had one of the smallest rookie classes in the league this year, but they're getting some noteworthy production from one of their middle-round pickups.

    Cornerback Tre Brown made his first appearance in mid-October and quickly ascended the depth chart to become a dependable option in a shaky secondary. He started each of the last three games, including playing all 74 defensive snaps in Week 10.

    The fourth-rounder allowed only eight receptions for 75 yards on 16 targets. Opposing quarterbacks were posting a meager 63.3 rating when targeting him.

    Unfortunately, Brown's season appears to be over after he suffered a serious knee injury Sunday. He's set to undergo surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon and likely won't be able to return until next year.

    If Brown can make a full recovery, he should be a big part of Seattle's cornerback plans in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    It's hardly a surprise that first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is the only rookie playing a noteworthy amount of snaps for the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tryon-Shoyinka looked sharp during the preseason, but the first-rounder has fallen off a bit since the games began to count.

    The edge-rusher has recorded three sacks—including two against the Patriots in Week 4—and flashed some promise. However, needs to become more consistent moving forward.  

    With the sheer number of veteran contributors playing major roles on Tampa's defense, Tryon-Shoyinka isn't likely to be called upon for much more than rotational work until next season at the earliest.

Tennessee Titans: CB Elijah Molden

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    After revamping their cornerback room this offseason—cutting ties with both Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler—the Tennessee Titans have received some surprising production out of third-round pick Elijah Molden.

    Molden has morphed into the type of scrappy defender who can help the Titans gain a defensive identity.

    The 5'10", 192-pound corner plays with great intensity and hustle, helping make up for his smaller stature. He's earned a commendable 69.8 grade from PFF while playing in all 11 games and starting four of them.

    Molden has played more than half of Tennessee's defensive snaps and has notched 46 tackles, three pass defenses, a forced fumble and a pick-six. His scrappy coverage has yielded 28 completions on 43 targets, a number that should only improve as he gets more reps.

    While Molden might not ever become an elite cornerback due to his physical limitations, he is a quality addition to the Titans' secondary and has a promising future in Tennessee.

Washington Football Team: OL Sam Cosmi

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    Al Drago/Associated Press

    Washington didn't get the franchise quarterback it needed going into the 2021 draft, but it found at least one impressive rookie in second-round offensive tackle Sam Cosmi.

    Cosmi has started every game he's been available for this year, including playing every snap over the first month of the campaign. In his 300 total snaps, the Texas product has given up only a pair of sacks and been flagged for two penalties.

    PFF has graded him at a 74.6, which puts him firmly in the "starter" category.

    Unfortunately, Cosmi missed four games because of an ankle injury. He returned to the lineup in Week 11, but he exited that contest with a hip injury and wasn't able to get back on the field.

    Cosmi's status remains unclear following his latest ailment, but Washington fans should hope the 22-year-old can get a few more starts under his belt before his promising rookie season ends.

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