The NFL Draft can be an instant problem-solver for teams able to scout and pick well, but not all rookies live up to the hype.
A first-round pick does not guarantee you instant returns. Many of them never deliver on their potential. Meanwhile, a rookie player can emerge from the later rounds of the NFL Draft and become an immediate contributor from Week 1.
There has been deafening hype about many of the first-round picks from the 2021 NFL Draft, while other lower-round picks – like New York Jets second-round wide receiver Elijah Moore – have received glowing reviews throughout the preseason.
There’s every chance that many of those highly-rated rookies do live up to their reputation, but here we look at five who may be slightly more under the radar, but can still show up and ball out in Week 1.
5 Rookies who could have big roles to play in Week 1 of the NFL season
#1. WR Terrace Marshall Jr – Carolina Panthers
With the Carolina Panthers planning to pay star wideouts D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, their next man up, Curtis Samuel, was released into free agency – eventually landing with ex-Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team.
Filling the gap in Matt Rhule’s Panthers offense is second-round selection Terrace Marshall Jr. The rookie wasted no time making an impression while lining up in the slot, recording the second-most preseason receiving yards of all NFL teams. Expect a big role for Marshall in offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s plans early in the season as quarterback Sam Darnold seeks to settle in Carolina.
#2. CB Marco Wilson – Arizona Cardinals
Drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Florida, rookie cornerback Marco Wilson could quickly have a lot on his plate if he faces up against some of the NFL’s best offenses in the ultra-competitive NFC West.
With Malcolm Butler placed on the retired list, Vance Joseph’s Arizona Cardinals defense needs somebody to step up to partner Byron Murphy. Despite falling down the draft board after an up-and-down final year with the Gators, Wilson turned heads in pre-season and could be thrust into a big role against Kirk Cousins’ Minnesota Vikings offense in Week 1.
#3. DE Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. – Buffalo Bills
Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are the leaders of the Buffalo Bills’ imposing pass rush, but the Bills doubled-down in one of their strongest positions by drafting two rookie edge rushers: Gregory Rousseau in the first round and Carlos Basham Jr., also known as “Boogie”, in the second.
While Rousseau is tipped as a high-ceiling rookie prospect, opting out of the 2020 season may leave him needing time to find his rhythm in 2021. Versatile Wake Forest graduate Basham, however, is ready to showcase the pass-rushing skills off the edge that made him pop off the tape in the preseason. Basham could feature healthily in Sean McDermott’s rotation against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#4. RT Lucas Niang – Kansas City Chiefs
While having Patrick Mahomes under center, it’s hard to see any flaws in the high-octane Kansas City Chiefs offense and, while that may be true, there is a big transition happening on that side of the ball. In an all-new offensive line, veterans Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney will be protecting the blindside, so Mahomes should be in safe hands – but none of the other three linemen have started an NFL game.
Center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith will need to perform having come straight out of college football, but the player who has to hit the ground running is right tackle Lucas Niang. Niang was technically a rookie in 2020 but opted out of his debut season. The third-round pick must show up against Myles Garrett’s Cleveland Browns to keep football’s most dynamic quarterback protected.
#5. WR Joshua Palmer – Los Angeles Chargers
After an eye-catching rookie year, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will want to make another leap in 2021 and – surrounded by the likes of wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, tight end Jared Cook and pass-catching back Austin Ekeler – the second-year signal caller has every chance to do so.
But don’t sleep on third-round rookie pass-catcher Josh Palmer. With only five receivers on their roster, Jalen Guyton and K.J. Hill hardly turned heads in preseason, unlike Palmer. The Tennessee graduate could get plenty of opportunities to attract Herbert’s attention in a pass-happy offense in Los Angeles.