“This guy is a day-one NFL starter.”
You hear it all the time when prospects are being discussed. But what is the reality of that? In Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, we can answer that question.
The hope for every draft pick is that they become a valuable contributor to their team. Becoming a day-one starter isn’t the reality for the overwhelming majority of them. Considering what it takes to acclimate to life in the NFL and the dynamics of each individual player, there are wide-ranging outcomes when it comes to how players contribute early in their careers.
Of the 259 players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, 32 of them are projected to be Week 1 starters. That means that 4.5% of the starting jobs in the NFL in Week 1 and just above 12% of 2021 Draft picks are scheduled to become Week 1 rookie starters.
Below are the rookies slated to start in Week 1. This information comes courtesy of Ourlads and confirmed by the depth chart listed on each individual team’s website. If a player is not listed as the projected starter from either source, they were not included in the data. While there is a chance things could change and this doesn’t account for rookies that have prominent roles in Week 1 who aren’t starters, this is a close representation of who the Week 1 rookie starters are. Please note that this does not account for subpackages or special teams.
Let’s examine the rookies who are expected to start in Week 1 through a few different lenses.
With 32 projected Week 1 rookie starters, it averages out to exactly one per team. However, 14 teams are not scheduled to start a rookie this week. Only eight teams are slated to start multiple rookies.
Interestingly enough, two Super Bowl contenders in the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs are projected to start multiple rookies with both teams featuring two rookies along their offensive lines.
The New York Jets lead the way with six Week 1 rookie starters, which is exactly what the team should want in year one under head coach Robert Saleh as they embrace a rebuild.
Arizona Cardinals: LB Zaven Collins (R1)
Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts (R1), OL Jalen Mayfield (R3)
Baltimore Ravens: None
Buffalo Bills: None
Carolina Panthers: CB Jaycee Horn (R1)
Chicago Bears: None
Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase (R1)
Cleveland Browns: CB Greg Newsome II (R1)
Dallas Cowboys: LB Micah Parsons (R1), DL Osa Odighizuwa (R5)
Denver Broncos: None
Detroit Lions: OL Penei Sewell (R1), DT Alim McNeil (R3)
Green Bay Packers: OL Josh Meyers (R2), OL Royce Newman (R4)
Houston Texans: None
Indianapolis Colts: DL Kwity Paye (R1)
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence (R1)
Kansas City Chiefs: OL Creed Humphrey (R2), OL Trey Smith (R6)
Los Angeles Chargers: OT Rashawn Slater (R1)
Los Angeles Rams: None
Miami Dolphins: None
Minnesota Vikings: None
New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones (R1)
New Orleans Saints: None
New York Giants: None
New York Jets: QB Zack Wilson (R1), OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (R1), WR Elijah Moore (R2), LB Jamien Sherwood (R5), LB Hamsah Nasirildeen (R6), CB Brandin Echols (R6)
Las Vegas Raiders: OL Alex Leatherwood (R1), S Tre’Von Moehrig (R2)
Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeVonta Smith (R1)
Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris (R1), OL Kendrick Green (R3), OL Dan Moore (R4)
Seattle Seahawks: None
San Francisco 49ers: None
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: None
Tennessee Titans: None
Washington Football Team: LB Jamin Davis (R1), OL Sam Cosmi (R2)
Year after year, offensive linemen lead the way when it comes to rookie starters. Protecting the quarterback is such a critical component of a football team and that responsibility is often entrusted to players getting their first taste of NFL action. There promises to be far more rookie contributors among the offensive skill positions and defensive positions when factoring in subpackages, injuries, and the ebbs and flows of an NFL season.
Running Back: 1
Wide Receiver: 3
Tight End: 1
Offensive Line: 12
Defensive Line: 3
By Round Drafted
As expected, the overwhelming majority of Week 1 rookie starters were players drafted in the first round with just over half of those selections scheduled to start the season opener.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance is the highest draft pick not scheduled to start in Week 1, while Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Trey Smith is the latest drafted player to earn a Week 1 starting role at No. 226 overall. Smith is among three sixth-round picks scheduled to start in Week 1, the same amount as the fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds combined. More than 81% of Week 1 rookie starters were day-one or day-two draft picks.
Round 1: 17
Round 2: 5
Round 3: 4
Round 4: 2
Round 5: 1
Round 6: 3
Round 7: 0