In case you missed it, ESPN released 2021 NFL Rank, our annual list of the top 100 players for the upcoming season. It's projected forward and based on expected performance for this season only, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that there weren't any rookies among the elites listed, even though the future is bright for many prospects who were drafted in April. (The last rookie to make it before playing a snap in the NFL was Saquon Barkley in 2018 at No. 87.)
But could some first-years crack the top 100 in a year's time, when we roll out the 2022 edition? You bet. After all, four players entering their second seasons made the top 100 this year. I thought Chase Young (No. 31) and Justin Jefferson (No. 36) would have a good shot when I looked at the 2020 rookies last September, but I was a little surprised that Justin Herbert (No. 38) and Tristan Wirfs (No. 96) excelled in a big way that quickly into their careers.
So who among the 2021 draft picks are best positioned to make the list next summer? Who could have a big enough season this year and be set up for future success in such a way that voters will already group them among the best players in the league? Factoring in talent, opportunity, position, situation and more, I outlined four rookies with perhaps the best chance. We also included Mike Clay's projected stat line for each of those first-year players. Surprise: No quarterbacks were among them -- and I'll explain why at the bottom.