Last year it was L'Jarius Sneed, Gabriel Davis, and Darnell Mooney. Two years ago, Gardner Minshew, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Maxx Crosby were instant hits. In 2018, Taron Johnson, Genard Avery, and Avonte Maddox proved they could play out of the gate.
The season before it was Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, and George Kittle. In 2016, the group consisted of Dak Prescott, Jordan Howard, and Tyreek Hill. Those players were all Day 3 draft picks who surprised early on at the NFL ranks. The phenomenon happens just about every year.
While all the 2021 Day 3 selections listed below aren't guaranteed to thrive as rookies, they have the best chance to make an instant impact due to their talent and opportunity on their new teams.
Michael Carter, RB, Jets
Round 4, No. 107 overall
The vast majority of running backs picked in the fourth round are clearly selected to be backups for the prime of their NFL careers which, of course, coincides with the beginning of their time as professionals.
Not Carter. Of course there are veterans in front of him -- Ty Johnson, La'Mical Perine, and Tevin Coleman -- but Carter is in line to see the football much more frequently than 99% of fourth-round backs.
On film, I got Gio Bernard/James White vibes with Carter. He's short, at under 5-foot-8, but boasts a filled-out frame at 201 pounds. And Carter's game is predicated on first-step suddenness and receiving ability. He was one of the few prospects in this draft class to go under 7.00 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.00 seconds in the short shuttle.
At North Carolina, Carter caught at least 20 passes in three-straight years and averaged 8.0 yards per rush in 2020. He's a nightmare to corral. He'll add a springy dynamic to New York's backfield but will make his mark as a screen/checkdown target for Zach Wilson.
Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Titans
Round 4, No. 109 overall
Fitzpatrick was a late watch for me during the pre-draft process, and let me tell you, his film made my day. As the draft approached, most of the later prospects I watched barely looked draftable. But for some reason I'd missed Fitzpatrick on my first pass through the receiver class.
And he was an easy midround talent on film. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, the crispness in his routes was immediately noticeable, then I saw him take run-of-the-mill, chain-moving routes and morph them into big gains because of serious acceleration and speed down the field. He ran 4.49 at the Louisville pro day, and I think he's every bit that fast, if not faster.
In Tennessee, gone are Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Jonnu Smith. The Titans desperately needed a jolt of receiver talent, and absolutely got that with Fitzpatrick. He actually set a career high in touchdowns as a freshman at Louisville (nine) and ultimately caught 154 passes at nearly 16 yards per grab across four seasons with the Cardinals. He's decently big, with the route-running nuance, and explosion to step in as the No. 2 to A.J. Brown right away.
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Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions
Round 4, No. 112 overall
Another fourth-round selection with ample job opportunity in a new-look offense. Suddenness and athletic prowess aren't the USC star's strong suits -- route-running intricacy is. And he's fascinating when it comes to catching the football. Because for every amazing, arms-extended grab St. Brown put on film, there was an easy drop or too.
He's one of the more polished route runners to enter the league -- particularly as a Day 3 selection -- and the Lions are at the ground floor of rebuilding their entire roster and receiver room.
There are a lot of similarities between St. Brown's strengths and weaknesses and those of Rams star Robert Woods, whom new Lions GM Brad Holmes knows very well from his long tenure in Los Angeles with the Rams.
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Panthers
Round 4, No. 126 overall
Hubbard has a nice track to becoming the primary backup to Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. And fortunately for both of those ball-carriers, the Panthers made a concerted effort to upgrade the sturdiness of their offensive line this offseason.
Technically in front of Hubbard on the depth chart are Trenton Cannon and Reggie Bonnafon. The latter has flashed at times, but clearly Matt Rhule and Co. were interested in adding another weapon to their running back room. And when the blocking is good, Hubbard can be a power hitter -- in 2019, he had five contests in which he averaged at least 8.0 yards per carry, and Hubbard scored 36 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Oklahoma State.
Quincy Roche, EDGE, Steelers
Round 6, No. 216 overall
The Steelers got quality contributions from first-year edge rusher Alex Highsmith in 2020, but gone is Bud Dupree, and every club needs a steady No. 3 rusher in today's pass-obsessed NFL. Despite only playing in 11 games last year -- shortened due to injury -- Dupree was on the field for 59% of Pittsburgh's snaps in the regular season.
There's an opportunity for Roche to make a name for himself early in the NFL. And he has the game to do it. Pittsburgh got him on the bargain rack in the sixth round. He likely fell because of his smaller stature on a subpar workout at the Miami pro day, but the former Temple and Miami star has a developed arsenal of pass-rushing moves and plays much bendier around the corner than his measured athleticism would indicate.
In Pittsburgh, Roche can be a classic, stand-up rush linebacker, and his refined game bodes well for his ability to make an instant impact.
Thomas Graham Jr., CB, Bears
Round 6, No. 228 overall
Graham intercepted eight passes and had 32 pass breakups across three years at Oregon. That, in an of itself, should tell you something. Dude can ball.
More specifically, because I'm sure you came to this article for more than "dude can ball" analysis -- while Graham is smaller, he's not exceptionally fast or athletic -- he's phenomenally instinctive and plays bigger than his size because of his feisty attitude in man coverage.
The Bears aren't exactly set at their nickel cornerback spot. Graham mostly played on the perimeter with the Ducks but is likely a slot corner in the NFL. With Jaylon Johnson, Desmond Trufant, and Artie Burns, the outside cornerback position isn't rife with superstars in Chicago, either. Just like he did at Oregon, Graham is going to overachieve and find the football with the Bears. Often.