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5 NFL Rookies That Are Already Superstars

| December 4, 2021 5:46 am PDT

For the most part, it takes time for a rookie to adjust to the NFL. However, we’ve seen players that seemingly make the transition and have a big rookie season.

In 2021, we’ve seen a few players achieve that on both sides of the ball. Most are early-round picks, but we’ve seen late-round picks step up.

Here are five rookies that have achieved superstar status.

Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys

Coming into the 2021 NFL Draft, everyone expected the Dallas Cowboys to select a cornerback. Then, everyone thought they were in trouble when two cornerbacks went directly in front of them.

Dallas traded back two picks and selected linebacker Micah Parsons. Was that their plan all along? Maybe but I don’t think it matters now.

Parsons had a great start, recording seven tackles against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The following week, Parsons recorded his first career sack and had four quarterback hits.

Over the following weeks, Parsons didn’t record as many tackles, and he didn’t have a sack for three straight games.

In Week 8, he had a career-high 11 tackles. From there, Parson broke out in a big way. Check out his numbers over the last four weeks.

Tackles Sacks QB Hits
Week 9 10 2.5 3
Week 10 6 1 1
Week 11 4 2 3
Week 12 5 1 5

He also has a pair of forced fumbles in that stretch. At our midseason award update, he was a (+125) favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Following that stretch, Parsons’ odds are (-800).

Overall, Parsons has 67 tackles, 9.0 sacks, two forced fumbles. All those statistics rank top three among rookies. He also leads the league with 15 tackles for loss.

Parsons’ fantastic rookie season has been a big reason for the Cowboys turnaround on defense.

Last season, Dallas ranked bottom five in run defense and scoring defense. This season, they rank just outside the top 10. That’s what you need when you have an offense that leads the league in yards per game.

It’s safe to say Parsons has been the best rookie this season. He is on the verge of superstar status and should enter 2022 as a top contender for defensive player of the year.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals took a lot of heat when they selected Ja’Marr Chase over Penai Sewell. Chase was a great player out of LSU, but the Bengals needed a left tackle.

As we approach the closing stretch of the 2021 season, it’s safe to say Cincinnati made the right decision.

Chase came flying out the gates, recording four touchdowns in his first three games. He gave the Bengals a vertical threat, consistently picking up 30+ yard catches.

Following his first game without a touchdown, Chase bounced back in Week 5 with 159 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later, Chase had the best game of his young career.

  • 8 receptions
  • 201 yards
  • 1 touchdown

Since 2000, only four rookie wide receivers have put up more receiving yards in a game.

Through seven games, Chase was averaging 107.7 receiving yards. Odell Beckham Jr. is the only rookie to average more in a rookie season.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen Chase hit that rookie wall.

Over his last four games, Chase has 15 receptions, 152 yards, and two touchdowns. He hasn’t cleared 50 yards in a game since his big Week 8 performance.

The biggest difference now is teams are limiting those downfield shots. His longest reception in his last four games is 21 yards. Chase will have to work on his intermediate routes if he wants to remain among the game’s best young wide receivers.

Either way, Chase has come a long way. Remember, this was the same player who couldn’t catch a ball in the preseason. He claimed it had to do with the NFL ball not having white stripes.

Even with his recent struggles, his numbers aren’t far off of Justin Jefferson’s 2020 numbers. A strong close to the season could earn him Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots

Is Mac Jones a superstar? Probably not, but he is playing way too well not to mention.

Coming into the 2021 NFL Draft, all the talk was about the top five quarterbacks. Which one would turn out the best? At this point, Jones has assumed that role.

Jones hit the ground running with 281 passing yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. He did have a bit of an interception problem, throwing six in four weeks. In turn, the New England Patriots lost three of those four games.

Since then, the New England Patriots have won six straight games.

It’s no secret that their defense has put them in Super Bowl contention. Still, Jones deserves some of the credit. Check out his numbers during the win streak.

  • 70.7 completion percentage
  • 229.7 passing yards per game
  • 8 touchdowns
  • 2 interceptions

It might surprise a lot of people to know that Jones is 10th in passing yards.

Right now, the Patriots don’t need Jones to pass for 300+ yards and three touchdowns. Their defense is playing so strong that Jones needs to act as a game manager. That’s precisely what he has done with a high completion percentage and cutting down on turnovers.

Midseason, Ja’Marr Chase had the edge in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Now, Jones is a big favorite at (-425).

Chase has enough firepower to run him down, but team success plays a factor. If Jones leads the Patriots to an AFC East title, it’s going to be hard to beat him.

New England still has to play the Buffalo Bills twice. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones can keep up with Josh Allen and the Bills offense. Both games are among the best to bet on in December.

If so, we could be talking about him as the next great Patriots quarterback.

Elijah Mitchell, RB, San Francisco 49ers

This may surprise people, but I think Elijah Mitchell is the best rookie running back.

The San Francisco 49ers always produce strong running backs. Coming into the season, everyone thought the next one would be third-round pick Trey Sermon. Sermon has been one of the biggest busts.

Meanwhile, Mitchell, a sixth-round pick, has been one of the best value picks.

He was immediately thrust into action when Raheem Mostert suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Mitchell came in and rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Mitchell suffered an injury of his own in Week 2 and missed a few weeks. Over his last five games, we’ve seen him heat up.

Rushing Yards Touchdowns
Week 7 107 1
Week 8 137 1
Week 9 36 0
Week 10 91 0
Week 12 133 1

Even in a down Week 9 game, Mitchell had five receptions for 43 yards.

San Francisco has been one of the hottest teams over the last month. They’ve won four of their last five games, including victories over the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. Their recent run of success has moved them into a playoff position.

When the 49ers made a Super Bowl run in 2019, it was a combination of their ground game and defense. This season, we’ve seen them replicate that formula.

  • Rushing Yards Per Game: 130.9 (6th)
  • Defensive Yards Per Game: 318.7 (6th)

Despite missing three games, Mitchell ranks 11th in rushing yards. His 86.6 rushing yards per game trails only Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, and Nick Chubb.

Overall, it seems like the running back position is the most effortless transition for rookies. In the last five years, we’ve seen Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt lead the league in rushing in their rookie season.

Mitchell likely won’t achieve that, but he is on his way to becoming an elite running back.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins

Don’t look now, but Jaylen Waddle is making a late run at the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

The Miami Dolphins selected Waddle sixth overall in the NFL Draft, one pick after the Cincinnati Bengals selected Ja’Marr Chase.

In his first career game, Waddle had four receptions, 61 yards, and a touchdown. Two weeks later, Waddle had a career-high 12 receptions.

With Waddle’s elite speed, it was surprising to see his yards per catch so low.

From Week 2 to Week 9, Waddle only recorded one catch over 20 yards. Lately, we’ve seen the Dolphins maximize his skill set.

Yards Longest Reception
Week 10 61 35
Week 11 65 15
Week 12 137 57

That’s more like it. Miami is finally using him in a way that allows him to reach his potential.

In today’s NFL, speed is the name of the game. Alongside running back, wide receiver is the most important position to have speed.

Even if you aren’t catching passes, you can space the field and occupy the safeties. Miami can also use Waddle for jet sweeps and end arounds.

All three wide receivers selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft have had solid rookie seasons. If you ask me, Waddle’s game translates the best to the NFL.

Overall, Waddle has 77 receptions, 759 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. His receptions rank fifth in the NFL. Among rookies, Waddle ranks second in receiving yards and third in touchdowns.

He has been able to establish a solid repertoire with Tua Tagovailoa. After all, the two played together at Alabama. They continue to improve and should look even better in 2022.

Waddle isn’t a superstar yet, but he is on his way. If nothing else, his speed makes him one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the league.

NFL Superstars From the 2021 NFL Draft

It’s hard to throw around the term “superstar” to someone that hasn’t played an entire season in the NFL. However, these five players have shown they have what it takes to play at a high level. They are closing in on superstar status.

Other rookie stars include tackle Rashawn Slater and tight end Kyle Pitts.

Slater has played every snap this season and is one of the best pass blocking tackles in the league.

Pitts is playing in a bad offense, but he has shown flashes of his potential. Rookie tight ends usually struggle, so Pitts’ breakout will likely have to wait until 2022.

We see most of these players in the race for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year. Make sure you check out the top NFL betting sites for the latest odds.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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