NFL history has taught us that first-round draft picks are far from guaranteed star players. In fact, you are more likely to draft a bust than a future franchise superstar.
This year’s draft saw five quarterbacks selected in the first round, tied for the second-highest number in NFL Draft history. While some first-round picks will go on to have a successful rookie season, others will likely struggle to make their mark in their debut campaign.
Here's a look at five first-round draft picks who could leave their teams and fans disappointed this season.
NFL rookies who could fail to live up to expectations in 2021
#1 - Zach Wilson
The New York Jets picked rookie QB Zach Wilson second overall to be their next franchise quarterback at this year’s NFL Draft. The 21-year-old has a tough task ahead of him in turning the Big Apple franchise around after years of disappointing results.
Wilson only has to look to the player he is replacing: Sam Darnold, another first-round draft pick who the Jets have moved on from after just two seasons.
The Jets drafted wide receiver Elijah Moore in the second round to help Wilson on offense this season, but their offense still lacks star players. Wilson will also play behind a revamped offensive line and if they can’t gel quickly, the rookie could be put on his back a lot this season.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Wilson but it's likely he will struggle this season and the rebuilding Jets will once again have another high draft pick in 2022.
#2 - DeVonta Smith
Last season's Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith is seen by many Eagles fans as the savior of their offense. Philadelphia drafted the former Alabama star receiver 10th overall.
Smith has been reunited with his former college QB, Jalen Hurts, and the two young players have a lot of pressure on them this year. The Eagles sacked Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Peterson and traded away former number two pick Carson Wentz this offseason.
The reason Smith may disappoint may lie not on his shoulders but rather second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Eagles QB has to learn a new offense this year and has the weight of the franchise on him for the first time.
If Hurts struggles, Smith will struggle, and Eagles fans, who are not known for their patience or restraint, may let the NFL rookie hear all about it.
#3 - Alex Leatherwood
The Las Vegas Raiders drafted Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at number 17 in this year’s NFL Draft. Leatherwood is set for a difficult rookie season after the Raiders dismantled their offensive line this offseason.
Former starters Rodney Hudson, Trent Brown and Gabe Jackson are all gone, with Leatherwood now expected to fill a veteran's shoes immediately.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr could be scrambling for life behind his new inexperienced offensive line, with Leatherwood likely to struggle in his rookie NFL year amid the upheaval.
#4 - Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers fans were elated when the team drafted Alabama running back with the 24th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Harris was a star in college running for nearly 1,500 yards last year for the Crimson Tide.
Like other rookies who may struggle this season, Harris may not be to blame for having a tough first year in the league. The issue is the Steelers' offensive line, which has been totally transformed this offseason.
The Steelers' running game never got going last season, so the front office made big changes, but we will have to wait and see if those changes are for the best.
Most Steelers fans expect Harris to have a dominant rookie NFL season, but behind a new offensive line, this will be a real challenge for the 23-year-old.
#5 - Jaylen Waddle
Just like his former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith, Dolphins rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle may disappoint this year due to his quarterback.
The sixth-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft will reunite with his former college QB, Tua Tagovailoa, in Miami, but with Tua struggling last season, this may not help Waddle’s rookie prospects.
After breaking his ankle in his final year in college, Waddle also has to find his footing on the gridiron again.
There’s big expectations in Miami that the Dolphins will make the NFL playoffs this season. That means that Tagovailoa will need to take a big step up in his performance and develop some chemistry with an all-new receiving core.
Waddle is full of potential, but 2021 may come too early for the young wideout.