The 2021 NFL preseason has wrapped up and teams are now preparing for their Week 1 matchups next week. Most teams rested their veteran starters and the rookies were given plenty of opportunities to showcase their talent.
Five rookies stood out over the rest during the NFL preseason and could all become starters in the 2021 season at some point. Let's have a look at who they are.
#1 - Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers TE
Former Pittsburgh Steelers QB Charlie Batch loves that his team was able to grab Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth in the draft. He's an excellent blocker and is already on the same level as starter Eric Ebron as a pass-catcher and endzone threat. He was praised for never dropping a pass in the red-zone in college and translated to the NFL with two great TD passes in the endzone. QB Ben Roethlisberger has also been impressed with the young TE and he should become a huge TD target throughout the season.
#2 - Kwity Paye, Indianapolis Colts EDGE
Considered to be a "raw talent" entering the NFL, it was unclear how long it would take Kwity Paye to get up to speed. The answer: three preseason games with limited action. He has two sacks (one strip sack), four QB hits and 16 hurries while having the sixth-best rookie PFF grade of 94.2 (second among LB/DEs). Paye is a fluid defender in run-stopping and pass-rushing. The Colts need to pressure the QB more this year and he could be the key to the defense wrecking havoc.
#3 - Rhamondre Stevenson, New England RB
Stevenson scored an NFL-high five rushing TDs during the preseason as a fourth-round rookie. He was one of the best RBs through three NFL preseason games with 217 yards and his longest run was 91 yards.
His success led to Sony Michel being traded and Stevenson could now see carries behind New England's lead rusher Damien Harris. He was the second-highest graded non-1st-round rookie by PFF (85.5). The New England Patriots are not known for having great RBs lately, but rather a great committee of specialized players. This year, they have two or three great RBs in Harris, Stevenson and rookie JJ Taylor.
#4 - Justin Fields, Chicago Bears QB
Justin Fields has played well in the NFL preseason despite still being better suited as the Week 1 backup. He made several tight window passes that any of the other QBs on the roster would struggle with.
His stats through three games were: 30-of-49, 174 yards, 3 TDs and 92 rushing yards. Chicago held him back from going all-out as a dual-threat in meaningless games. Until he's ready to be unleashed in the NFL, he can act as the scout QB in practices. He will start at some point in the season, though. The OL isn't the greatest right now and you don't want to put your prized rookie behind a wall that can't protect him.
#5 - Royce Newman, Green Bay Packers OG
Royce Newman was the PFF's highest graded non-1st-round rookie (91.8) as a fourth-round selection. He was also the highest-graded rookie guard through the first two NFL preseason games. He's shown explosiveness off the snap and is a brute in run-blocking.
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He thrived on being the main blocker on a screen pass and his awareness is already elite in processing what to do when there isn't a pass-rusher keeping him occupied. Newman has been working with the first-team offense and it wouldn't be a shock if he won the starting job over Lucas Patrick. The OL for Green Bay has more youth these days, which is good news for Jordan Love.