There is not a single draft pick who doesn’t face enormous pressure as a rookie, but there’s no denying that some are more scrutinized than others.
Some rookies enter the league with expectations of becoming stars. Some players are tasked with altering the trajectory of an organization entirely. Following the 2021 NFL Draft, there were more than a handful of players who had high expectations.
Here is a look at five rookies facing the most pressure in 2021.
5. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
After Ja’Marr Chase, Smith was arguably the most sought-after wide receiver in April’s draft. The Giants were very open about their desire to nab him, which is what prompted the Eagles to jump their NFC East rivals to select him. In doing so, they made a deal with the devil by trading a third-round pick to their other rival, the Dallas Cowboys, to move up three spots. It was a strange and unexpected move, but a necessary one to land the Heisman Trophy winner. Smith now tops Philly’s depth chart at receiver and will be their go-to guy in 2021 and beyond. Can he shed the concerns about his size? Can he reach the ceiling the Eagles expect? And can he make that in-division trade worth it as he now battles the Giants and Cowboys a combined four times per season? Those are all questions waiting to be answered.
4. Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants
After missing out on DeVonta Smith, the Giants traded back in the 2021 NFL Draft and eventually selected Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney — a move many felt was a reach. Although Toney fits New York’s system and was selected based on that projected fit, it’s not why he’s included on this list. Toney’s presence here stems from the bizarre start to his NFL career. He missed time during rookie minicamp with a cleat issue, then skipped some practices due to an unsigned contract, left mandatory minicamp due to a death in his family but still managed to release a new rap single, landed on the COVID-19 list, and is now sidelined over what the team calls “situations.” The entire situation is very strange and has led to the pressure mounting.