NFL training camps 2021: D’Wayne Eskridge and other NFC rookies picked after Day 1 who could earn key roles

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A season ago, Antoine Winfield Jr., Jeremy Chinn, and Antonio Gibson were NFC rookies who weren’t selected on Day 1 of the draft but sure as heck played like Day 1 selections as rookies. 

The year before that, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Elgton Jenkins, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin headlined those outstanding value selections. And you, NFL fan starved for football, know all about your favorite team’s first-round pick in the 2021 draft. It’s time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selection who has the talent — and situation — to flourish in his debut season in the NFL. 

With a mostly normal offseason in 2021, there’s a much better chance than a season ago that we’ll see some mid-to-late round picks who’ll easily acclimate to the pro game and become key pieces on their respective team. 

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

EDGE Chauncey Golston
Impressive stat to know: 35 quarterback pressures on 244 pass-rush snaps in 2020 at Iowa

Golston is Dr. Octopus at nearly 6-foot-5 with arms just under 35 inches, and the Cowboys can be rest assured he was fine-tuned as a three-down defensive lineman under the tutelage of Kirk Ferentz with the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Golston always demonstrates a well-devised plan to be the blocker in front of him, he’s just a touch stiff as an athlete. 

The Cowboys could use more outside pass rush on a defense that can only improve from a disastrous 2020, and Golston has the high-floor game to step in immediately and play like he’s been in the league for a while. That’s how Iowa players roll. 

Philadelphia Eagles

CB Zech McPhearson
Impressive stat to know:
Four interceptions and six pass breakups in 10 games at Texas Tech in 2020

When McPhearson looks around in the Eagles secondary room, he’ll notice Darius Slay, and a whole bunch of uncertainty at other positions. His presence will likely signal the end of Avonte Maddox out of position on the perimeter, and Philadelphia’s neurotic fan base has been clamoring for more defensive back talent for years. With a 40 1/2″ vertical and agility that allowed him to run well under the 7.00 threshold in the three-cone drill, McPhearson has the lightning-quick feet and ball skills to instantly stand out in Philly. 

Washington Football Team

CB Benjamin St-Juste
Impressive stat to know:
6’3″ and 202 pounds with a 6.63 time (93rd percentile) in the three-cone drill

The Michigan transfer shined at Minnesota, even if it didn’t appear that way in the interception department (one in his career with the Gophers). St-Juste is a compelling specimen at corner with immense size yet the change-of-direction skill to stay with quicker separators who begin on the outside. 

William Jackson and Kendall Fuller create one of the league’s more underrated outside cornerback tandems and outside corners typically play close to 100% of the defensive snaps. But St-Juste’s length and short-area quickness will get him on the field early on what is an ascending defense in Washington. Plus, the situation couldn’t be much better in Washington — four (really good) first-round picks along the defensive line. 

New York Giants

EDGE Azeez Ojulari 
Impressive stat to know:
 Generated a pressure on 21.8% of his pass-rush snaps at Georgia in 2020

Ojulari has Von Miller-type abilities. I’ve been writing that since I watched him early in the pre-draft process. He’s not quite Von. But the vibes are there. Trust me. And New York plays a defensive system that highlights traditional stand-up outside linebackers whose sole responsibility is to be a quarterback hunter. That’s precisely what Ojulari was at Georgia. 

And it’s a tremendous sign for his NFL career that he produced to the level he did, in the SEC, at only 20 years old. With the amount of hog mollies Dave Gettleman has drafted and signed to occupy interior blockers, Ojulari should see plenty of luxurious one-on-ones as a rookie. 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

LB Isaiah McDuffie
Impressive stat to
know: 107 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks in 11 games at Boston College in 2020

McDuffie did not have an illustrious coverage career at Boston College. But it was more about what was asked of him than limited athleticism or a completely lack of awareness when sinking in zone or finding the football in man. 

He’s a twitched-up, hair-on-fire second-level defender who doesn’t miss many tackles and will be a better coverage player as a pro than what he was during his productive collegiate career. He’s in a fine situation too — the Packers aren’t rife with studs at linebacker, and their defensive line is one of the deepest in the NFC. Plus, Green Bay has a long history of providing legitimate opportunities to late-round (or undrafted) linebackers. 

Minnesota Vikings

OL Wyatt Davis
Impressive stat to know:
 Allowed a pressure on 4.7% of his pass-blocking snaps in 2019 and 2020 at Ohio State

Davis’ 2020 wasn’t as good as 2019. He’d probably even admit that. But his film was still pretty darn boring. He’s your classic squatty, well-balanced guard with solid — not freaky — quickness and adequate power. And he’ll absolutely be given a chance to win one of the the starting guard spots. 

That position has been downright abysmal for the Vikings during the Kubiak — now Gary’s son Klint — era. And, in that wide-zone blocking scheme, guard play is damn important. Actually, while I’m on this topic — I need to defend guards for a second. They are valuable! Let’s end the narrative that tackles and centers really matter, but guards are essentially replaceable. Offensive lines are weak-link systems. If there are four good blockers and one bad one — regardless of where he’s aligned — the whole unit will suffer. Guards matter! 

Detroit Lions

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
Impressive stat to know:
 118 catches for 1,520 yards with 13 touchdowns in his last 19 games at USC

The Lions are rebuilding. Want proof? Check their receiver depth chart. Ghastly. But for St. Brown, lovely. I don’t believe a fourth-round receiver has been in as glorious of a scenario to gobble up targets than what the former USC star has in 2021 with the Lions. While not a dazzling athlete, St. Brown counters his limited burst and speed by entering the league having experienced the full route tree in college. His game is reminiscent of Robert Woods. 

Chicago Bears

OT Teven Jenkins
Impressive stat to know: Allowed a pressure on 2.0% of his pass-blocking snaps in 2020 at Oklahoma State

During the pre-draft process, Jenkins got a consensus reputation as a super-nasty mauler. I saw glimpses of that on film at Oklahoma State, but his smooth pass-protection skills that made locking down a 250-pound edge rusher flying around the corner look effortless was the main reason I had a first-round grade on him. Jenkins tested like an above-average athlete, and he has room to grow into his nearly 6-6 frame. Some deep dish pizza will help his weight-gaining efforts. 

The Bears hit the lotto landing him in the second round after picking Justin Fields in the first. Jenkins is a hit-the-ground-running type at left tackle and can be a 10-year franchise tackle in Chicago. 

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

RB Trey Sermon
Impressive stat to
know: 4.04 yards after contact per rush in 2020 at Ohio State

That yards-after-contact rate was the 11th-highest rate in the country among the 94 backs with at least 100 carries last season. Even at Oklahoma, when Sermon never really could wrestle feature-back duties away from his Sooner contemporaries, he was one of the more bumper-car backs in college football. Which makes sense because Sermon is nearly 6-1 and 215 pounds with thick, explosive legs — 80th percentile vertical and 88th percentile broad jump. 

Lucky for Sermon, he’s in San Francisco. With Kyle Shanahan! And Shanahan backs produce. It’s a scientific fact. Plus, Sermon is a phenomenal, one-cut zone runner. And Jeff Wilson starts the season on PUP while he recovers from a knee surgery. Sermon is going to rock from Day 1. 

Seattle Seahawks

WR D’Wayne Eskridge
Impressive stat to
know: Caught 74 passes for 1,617 yards — 21.8 yards per — in his final 21 games at Western Michigan

The Seahawks only made three picks in the 2021 draft, so limited options here. I picked Eskridge because he’s the quintessential Seattle wideout — fast with high-caliber ball skills in congested areas.

And those areas represent Eskridge’s strengths — that nearly 22 yards-per-reception average is downright preposterous. He ran 4.40 at a rather thick 5-8 3/4 and 190 pounds. There were many high-point wins on film at Western Michigan too. Sure, Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are going to be “the guys” in Seattle’s offense, but Eskridge will be utilized down the field as a rookie. And he’ll win. 

Arizona Cardinals 

CB Tay Gowan
Impressive stat to know: Two interceptions and eight pass breakups in 12 games at UCF in 2019

We only saw Gowan for one full season at UCF — he opted out in 2020 — and he was around the football often that year. Many — myself included — were surprised when he measured in with arms under 32 inches, but he’s almost 6-1 and 186 pounds. Gowan’s light weight allows him to float around the second and third levels with quick and fast wideouts. 

There’s a natural ball-tracking element to his game that’s found in just about every overachieving cornerback too. And in Arizona, who are the corners? There’s 31-year-old Malcolm Butler, Byron Murphy, and a bunch of covermen who’ll be battling for a few jobs. Opportunity awaits the sixth-round pick. 

Los Angeles Rams

DT Bobby Brown III
Impressive stat to know:
7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in nine games in 2020 at Texas A&M

The Brown selection in Round 4 by the Rams was magnificent given the departure of longtime strongman Michael Brockers on the interior of that defensive line. 

The former Texas A&M star maneuvers like he’s 6-1 and 290 pounds. He’s actually 6-4, 321 with arms that stretch nearly 35 inches away from his body — we’re talking athletic nose tackle build here. There are some stretches when he disappears, but Brown’s flashes indicate he’s someone who, next to Aaron Donald, can be an All-Pro in a few seasons. 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

S Richie Grant 
Impressive stat to know:
10 interceptions and 16 pass breakups in his last 34 games at UCF

Grant deserved to go in Round 1. His film was probably my favorite to watch of all defensive prospects in this class. No joke. He did everything. And you know what — safeties have to do everything in the NFL today. Cover the slot. Range from the middle of the field. Stand in as a quasi-linebacker at the second level. Defeat blocks on the outside to thwart screens. Efficiently blitz.  

Grant tested well too. And the Falcons have been missing a star on defense — beyond Grady Jarrett — since their Super Bowl run. Grant can end that drought for Atlanta’s defensive backs. 

Carolina Panthers

DT Daviyon Nixon
Impressive stat to know:
19 tackles for loss in 21 games at Iowa

Nixon did not deserve to last until the fifth round. Like his teammate, Golston, who’s mentioned above, Nixon is a pass-rush plan specialist and threatens either shoulder of the interior blocker he’s facing because of his agility off the snap. He could stand to get a touch stronger — what defensive linemen couldn’t?. The Panthers are in Year 2 of a vast rebuild, and the coaching staff is completely content putting young players on the field early in their NFL careers.  

New Orleans Saints

LB Pete Werner
Impressive stat to know:
Vertical, broad jump, and three-cone drill all at the 80th percentile or higher among linebacker prospects over the past 21 years

I watched Werner relatively late in the pre-draft process, and I was mad no one told me about him earlier so I would’ve had more time to enjoy his film. Initially all the Ohio State linebacker hype centered around Baron Browning. Werner is more prepared for the NFL. He measured in at almost 6-3 and 230 pounds with high-caliber athletic gifts, and he glides around the field like a safety but hits like a linebacker from the 1980s. 

Demario Davis is the quarterback of the Saints defense. But the linebacker job next to him is wide open. Werner is a giant upgrade over Alex Anzalone. He’s going to flourish making plays behind Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Shy Tuttle, and Payton Turner in Dennis Allen’s defense.  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OL Robert Hainsey
Impressive stat to know:
Surrendered a pressure on 3.8% of his pass-blocking snaps in 2020 at Notre Dame

When you watch around 300 prospects during a four-month period, you naturally notice little things. And with Hainsey, I recognized how impeccably strong his grip strength was almost right away. He wasn’t a perfect prospect by any means. But entering the NFL not being susceptible to counter moves is huge. 

He joins an offensive line full of club bouncers. However, when Ali Marpet got injured last year, Tampa Bay’s interior depth was, at times, brutal. Backup blockers don’t initially appear to be valuable, but for a team expecting to make another deep run in the playoffs, they are. Hainsey can be the impact depth piece for the Buccaneers as they defend their title.