The 2021 NFL rookie class has a chance to be truly special.
Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are poised to be the day one starters at quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, respectively.
Quarterbacks Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers), Mac Jones (New England Patriots), and Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) will seemingly be starters sooner than later.
Tight end Kyle Pitts, who went fourth overall to the Atlanta Falcons, has the makings of a generational-type player.
But most NFL fans knew all of this already.
Players gone in the first round usually get all the shine, but they aren’t the only rookies to succeed.
While the spotlight will be on the first-rounders, numerous rookies drafted in the fourth round or later will have an opportunity to make an impact in the NFL in year one.
3. Michael Carter, New York Jets
With new head coach Robert Saleh in place, Jets fans have to be breathing a sigh of relief.
Saleh brought over Mike LaFleur from the 49ers, where Saleh was a defensive coordinator, to be the Jets’ new offensive coordinator.
In turn, LaFleur helped New York land running back Tevin Coleman.
However, that didn’t stop the Jets from selecting Michael Carter in the fourth round.
Carter spent four seasons with North Carolina.
He rushed 514 times for 3,404 yards and 22 touchdowns while catching 82 passes for 656 yards and six scores.
Carter was First Team All-ACC and Third Team All-American in 2020.
Now, he looks like he might just be the Jets’ starting running back.
#Jets starting offense: Mike White, Mike Carter, Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder, Corey Davis, Tyler Kroft, Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Morgan Moses
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) July 28, 2021
Not only did Carter start training camp as a starter, but Connor Hughes, who writes for The Athletic, also reported that he expects Carter to eventually be the Jets “1A” at running back this season.
Heading into the league, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein credited Carter for his ability to work in space, catch the football, and block for the quarterback on third downs.
“He plays with good burst and could be a very good fit for an outside-zone scheme where he can one-cut downhill and get into space. He has soft hands and enough tape to show that he can snap off man coverage as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He’s willing to stand in and protect his quarterback, too.”
Carter is likely to start the season behind Coleman, who has experience in LaFleur’s scheme.
But Coleman appeared in just eight games last season and has played all 16 games just once in his six-year career.
With a new coach in Saleh and a new quarterback in Wilson, the Jets are trying to rebuild themselves into a competitive team.
It appears that in Carter, they have their running back of the future.
If New York gives Carter the opportunity, he could run away as the team’s starter in 2021.
2. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
Heading into the 2021 season, the Detroit Lions have one of, if not the worst, wide receiving corps in the NFL.
Williams missed all of last season with a labrum injury while Perriman caught 30 passes for 505 yards and three scores for the Jets.
Both players have shown flashes in the past, but neither truly looks like a game-breaking receiver for the Lions.
Enter Amon-Ra St. Brown.
St. Brown spent three seasons at USC, catching 178 passes for 2,270 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He entered the 2021 NFL Draft ranked as the 15th best wide receiver by CBS Sports.
Throughout training camp, St. Brown has proved the doubters wrong by flashing his athleticism.
ALRIGHT, AMON-RA ST. BROWN 😱#OnePride
— Tony Dombrowski (@tonydombrowski) August 9, 2021
Some reports state that St. Brown has even been the Lions’ best receiver in camp.
Amon-Ra St. Brown has been maybe the Lions' best receiver in camp, per reports
NO way he should have fallen to the 100s … just no way, imo
5+ catches in 16 of his final 17 college games and only three career games with fewer than 3 catches.
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 10, 2021
He will have to beat out former seventh-rounder Quintez Cephus for the starting slot receiver role.
But if St. Brown earns it, he has an inside track on having a day one impact and becoming a focal point of the Lions offense.
1. Kylen Granson, Indianapolis Colts
Tight end Kylen Granson has been one of the big story lines coming out of Indianapolis Colts training camp.
The fourth-round tight end has reportedly made a good first impression and has head coach Frank Reich‘s eyes on him.
Don't sleep on Colts rookie TE Kylen Granson. He's turning heads in camp and is showing he can handle playing with the first team. He may just buck the trend and be fantasy-relevant as a rookie. Below quote courtesy of @KBowen1070 pic.twitter.com/52eeeVlQJB
— Jeff Haseley (@JeffHaseley) August 12, 2021
Granson spent four years at the college level, playing two years at Rice before spending two years at SMU.
In that time, he caught 129 passes for 1,879 yards and 16 touchdowns.
He entered the 2021 NFL Draft ranked as the ninth-best tight end by Pro Football Focus.
PFF lauded Granson’s size and athleticism.
Granson has done a solid job of showing off that skill set throughout training camp.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 12, 2021
However, if Granson can earn playing time with the Colts, he has the skill set to help take Indianapolis’ offense to the next level.