Who is the top NFL rookie?
By: Jason Ferris and Craig Olivier
Cut to the Chase
The 2021 NFL Draft featured several highly touted offensive prospects. Choosing which one to claim the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year title was a daunting task. This draft featured potential franchise QB’s as the first three picks, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers). Florida’s exceptional TE, Kyle Pitts, was drafted fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons, making him the highest drafted player at that position in NFL history. I have no doubt that these young talents will have a significant impact on their respective teams this season and beyond.
With that said, the player I believe will make the biggest splash this year was selected fifth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU’s WR Ja’Marr Chase. Despite opting not to play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns (or more likely his agent’s advice), Chase was the consensus No. 1 WR in this year’s draft. A top draft evaluator described Chase as the “Best Wide receiver prospect since Julio Jones.”
The 20 year-old Louisiana native was rated among the top 20 receiver prospects nationally coming out of high school. As a freshman at LSU in 2018, Chase started seven of 13 games, catching 23 passes for 313 yards, with three touchdowns. His coming-out party came the following year, as Chase led the FBS and set SEC records with 1,780 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns in 14 starts. He won the 2019 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and helped LSU win the national title, hauling in nine receptions for 221 years and two touchdowns in the championship game against Clemson.
Chase has explosive speed and big play capability, with eight touchdowns of 50-plus yards in 2019. Perhaps his most prominent attribute is his ability to bully cornerbacks. He is quick enough off the line of scrimmage to create the necessary separation to use his instinctive body positioning abilities, to box out defenders and make contested catches. With a well-built lower body and his recognized dedication in the weight room, Chase should continue bullying cornerbacks at the NFL level. Chase is also known as a ‘ball magnet with sticky hands’, with the ability to make his hands catch-ready instantly.
Chase should experience immediate success at the NFL level, as he is reunited with his QB at LSU, Joe Burrow, who was selected first overall by the Bengals in last year’s draft. He should fit in immediately into the Bengals’ offense, as they utilize many of the same schemes Burrow and Chase employed at LSU. Chase has also previously played against at least 10 cornerbacks currently in the NFL, including Cowboys CB, Trevon Diggs, who Chase torched for a long touchdown in a 2019 LSU showdown against Alabama.
While there have been many top WR draft picks who failed to live up to expectations in the NFL, (I’m talking about you David Terrell, Charles Rogers and Justin Blackmon, to name a few), Chase appears to possess the talent and desire to succeed at the professional level. While the Bengals have never won a Superbowl and have often been mired in mediocrity since joining the NFL in 1968, adding the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is an excellent start on the path do redemption. Jim Nantz announcing “Burrows to Chase for the touchdown” should be music to the ears of Bengals fans for many years to come.
Watch out for the MIKE
“If it’s Dallas, I’m crying.”
Micah Parsons wasn’t talking to anybody in particular when he uttered this. In a tense room full of family and friends, Parsons’ lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, and for the Cowboys no less, was willing itself right through him on national television. And when Parsons’ phone finally rang, he did as he said he would do. When Jerry Jones told Parsons that he was turning in his card, Parsons wept.
As a freshman at Penn St, Parsons was switched from defensive end to middle linebacker (MIKE) by coach James Franklin. And even though he only started one game for the Nittany Lions, Parsons led the team in tackles with 82. His incredible ability to adapt, to change gears and learn a whole new role, while still performing at the highest of levels, is why Parsons will be crowned the NFL’s Rookie Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.
There is this play from the Ohio St. game back in 2019. Big 10 rivalry game with lots of implications. You can Google it for yourself. The game is still in reach for the Nittany Lions. The ball is snapped and Parsons engages an offensive lineman. J.K. Dobbins is handed the ball. Parsons has almost powered past the lineman, so Dobbins starts to cut it back to the right. The lineman, obviously realizing the battle is lost, grabs the charging linebacker out of desperation. Parsons, being mugged and now twisted, begins reaching for Dobbins. While being dragged to the ground, and with just the use of his right arm and hand, Parsons slams down on the ball and strips it from Dobbins causing a turnover. The play never ended up being a factor in the loss for the Nittany Lions, but it was a factor for Parsons’ highlight reel. It showed just how fast, powerful, and determined he was.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Parsons’ game is his production. He is simply a machine on the field. After leading the team in tackles as a freshman, he repeated that feat as a sophomore. Parsons tallied 109 tackles, 14 of them for a loss, with five sacks and five turnovers. The middle linebacker with extraordinary physical talent and football IQ, became the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year as well as a consensus All-American. Parsons finished his collegiate career as the 2019 Cotton Bowl Classic defensive most valuable player with 14 tackles and two forced fumbles. He opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns, but his draft ticket was already punched.
An exercise that NFL experts like to engage in with rookies is trying to identify professional comparisons. I must admit that I too enjoy this. For Parsons’, I chose Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen as a comparison. Both are fast, strong, and smart. As a rookie with the Ravens, Queen excelled as a playmaker on defense. He tallied 106 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and one touchdown. In short, Queen was a rookie in name only. This is the exact role that Parsons will take on as a Cowboy. With his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame, combined with a freakish 4.39 40 speed, Parsons’ will be the Cowboys’ playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. In a division that features running backs Saquon Barkley, Antonio Gibson, and Miles Sanders, Parsons’ pedigree will not only be put to the test, it will be validated with the NFL defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2021.