Now that the 2021 NFL Draft has come to a close, most fans are assessing each pick and determining which one that they like the most. An angle that's always interesting to seek out is to see which draft picks have a pathway to success.
In years past, we have seen lots of middle-to-late-round players go on to become contributors early and there are even some that reach stardom status. This year's group is no different, as there will be some that stick out more than the rest. Here are five players that could be included in this year's crop.
IOL Kendrick Green, Round 3 (No. 87), Pittsburgh Steelers
With the Steelers losing multiple pieces along the offensive line, it’s a group that needed a total overall. With what looks like two open spots up front, one at center following the retirement of long-time center Maurkice Pouncey, Green could have the opportunity to see snaps early on as a rookie. With experience at both guard and center, he has the potential to be one of the faces of the offensive line rebuild in Pittsburgh. With a run game that was amongst the worst in the league a season ago, the franchise did everything in their power to fix what is usually a staple of the organization.
TE Tommy Tremble, Round 3 (No. 83), Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a team that has received rave reviews about their draft class. General manager Scott Fitterer manipulated his way through the draft in ways that spectators of the team aren’t used to seeing. Making multiple trades and allowing the board to fall to him on multiple occasions resulted in the Panthers presumably filling many needs at certain spots. Ian Thomas hasn’t been up to par and his development hasn’t come as quickly as planned. With a hole at tight end, the team explored options from a school that has produced plenty of successful ones at the position. Betting on the upside of former Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble is a risk worth taking as he’s a devastating blocker in the running game, but has recorded a small, but promising sample size throughout his career.
EDGE Janarius Robinson, Round 4 (No. 134), Minnesota Vikings
Many thought that the Vikings would risk taking an edge rusher in the first round as they were linked to Kwity Paye as well as Jaelan Phillips. With both still on the board with the 14th pick, they elected to trade back and stay true to their belief of drafting players at the position on Day 2. The streak of the team not drafting an edge rusher in the opening two rounds since 2005 remains intact, but the trend of selecting athletic prospects with room to grow at the position held true. Robinson fits the exact mold that the team covets, as he’s a lengthy athlete that still needs to be coached on the finer points of the position. There hasn’t been a better coach in the league at developing defensive line talent than defensive coordinator Andre Patterson. His next pupil in a long lineage is the former Florida State product.
RB Michael Carter, Round 4 (No. 107), New York Jets
In what turned out to be a coincidental situation, the Jets selected both Michael Carters in this draft—each from rival schools as one just so happened to be from Duke while the other attended North Carolina. In this context, I am referencing the North Carolina running back who most people thought would be selected much earlier. A pathway to seeing early touches is likely as he was amongst the best rushers in the country at breaking tackles, something that has helped many young runners thrive and experience early success as rookies. Also a reliable weapon as a pass-catcher, he could serve as a third-down option for new quarterback Zach Wilson early on during their rookie seasons.
LB Grant Stuard, Round 7 (No. 259), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mr. Irrelevant may actually make the name invalid this season. Stuard’s pathway to the roster is extremely difficult, but the one area that he thrives in is the spot that we see many teams, no matter the state of the roster, make room for. Players who dominate on special teams are personalities that they love. We see it every season and that part of the game is Stuard’s expertise. That facet of his game was noticeable throughout his time at Houston as well as at the Senior Bowl. Carving out a role in that area is his easiest pathway to making a roster that returns all 22 starters and plenty of depth pieces behind them.