A year ago, Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, Steelers receiver Chase Claypool, and Patriots blocker Michael Onwenu were AFC rookies who weren't selected on Day 1 of the draft but sure as heck played like Day 1 selections for their debut season.
The year before that, A.J. Brown, Diontae Johnson, and Gardner Minshew 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. Now it's time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selection who has the talent -- and situation -- to flourish as an NFL rookie.
Earlier this week I ran through who these players can be this season for each NFC team. Below is the AFC edition.
EDGE Carlos Basham Jr.
Impressive stat to know: 88 quarterback pressures on 610 pass-rushing snaps in 2019 and 2020 combined at Wake Forest
Basham was one of the more NFL-ready edge rushers in the 2021 class. He was a full-time, high-volume producer for three years at Wake Forest and tested as an above-average athlete at a beefy 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds at his pro day. Basham explodes like he weighs in the 250s and can push the pocket like a 290-pound two-gapping defensive end. There's pass-rush moves in his arsenal too. Buffalo's defensive line is predicated on its depth more than leaning on one superstar, but as a serious Super Bowl contender, more electricity around the corner is needed to pair with Jerry Hughes. Basham has the blend of power and athleticism to be Hughes' running mate in 2021.
DT Christian Barmore
Impressive stat to know: Generated 41 pressures on 324 pass-rush snaps in 2020 at Alabama
As Barmore's snap count increased at Alabama, his efficiency dipped, which should've been a stunner. He pressured the quarterback on 17.9% of his 168 pass-rushing opportunities in 2019. That number dipped to 12.7% on 324 rush attempts in 2020.
But that doesn't mean the arrow is pointing in the wrong direction for Barmore. He was unblockable in the College Football Playoff against two high-caliber offensive line groups -- Notre Dame and Ohio State -- which likely elevated his draft stock to the top portion of Round 2. And at 6-4 and 310 pounds with long arms, he's the exact type of sizable, overpowering defensive lineman who can play up and down the line and cause problems in Bill Belichick's defense. Look for Barmore to immediately replace Byron Cowart on the interior.
OL Liam Eichenberg
Impressive stat to know: Allowed a pressure on 3.2% of his pass-blocking snaps in 2020 at Notre Dame
Eichenberg was the pillar of longevity and steady play at Notre Dame doing dirty work in the trenches for one of the run-heaviest programs in college football. He started for his final three years up front for the Irish. At north of 6-6 and 308 pounds with shorter arms, he has tackle-guard versatility. On film, Eichenberg's athleticism is immediately apparent out of his stance and when he's tracking rushers around the corner. He does need to get stronger to deal with the power he'll see every Sunday from here on out.
And we should hand it to the Dolphins, they've invested in the offensive line early in the draft after their "tank" seasons. But the group isn't completely solidified, and Eichenberg's experience will get him on the field in a key role as a rookie.
WR Elijah Moore
Impressive stat to know: Ran 4.35 with a 6.67 three-cone at the Ole Miss Pro Day
The Jets are basically at the ground floor of their rebuild, which always equates to young players in vital roles, so there were a lot of rookie options here. I went with Moore because he's playing receiver -- a spot on the field growing in value every season -- and, well, he's really good at everything it takes to excel at wideout.
His catch total, receiving yard total, and receiving touchdown total increased in all three of his seasons at Ole Miss. He's a monster separator with soft hands and deceptive speed. He and Zach Wilson will have a classmate bond from the jump with the Jets.
OL Ben Cleveland
Impressive stat to know: Measured in at 6-6 and 343 pounds and ran a 5.05 (92nd percentile) in the 40 at the Georgia Pro Day
Cleveland was born to play in Baltimore. That sentence reads weird if you're a Ravens fan, doesn't it? This former Georgia star kindly moves 300-pound defensive linemen out of the intended run lane as if he was organizing stuffed animals in a little kid's room. Stiff? Yes. But unfairly powerful. After Marshal Yanda's retirement, the Ravens lost some grown man strength at guard. Cleveland won't be the next Yanda, but he can provide some of the jolt Baltimore missed in 2020. Cleveland was drafted in Round 3 to start right away.
OL Kendrick Green
Impressive stat to know: Zero sacks allowed in 2020 at Illinois
I viewed Green as the best pure center in the 2021 class -- he has the ideal body type for it, destroyed interior rushers with a Steelers-like combination of pop and quickness, and consistently won the angle/leverage battles inside. Pittsburgh is in a weird spot offensively. They have late-30s Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun and a group of a young receivers. But the offensive line is undergoing a massive overhaul. Green will fill the vacancy left by Maurkice Pouncey's retirement. He'll be up for the challenge.
OL Jackson Carman
Impressive stat to know: Surrendered a pressure on 3.1% of his pass-blocking snaps in 2019 and 2020 at Clemson
Carman likely slimmed down for the Clemson Pro Day, because after being listed in the 340s, he was only 317 pounds. That's an encouraging weight for Carman because the one clear-cut weakness to his game was an absence of quickness in his lower half. And he's moving inside to guard in Cincinnati, a spot where his prodigious power will be highlighted. Carman is a quality pass protector who'll quietly be instrumental in a big Year 2 jump for Joe Burrow.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Impressive stat to know: 24.5 tackles for loss in 25 games at Notre Dame
Where do I begin here? Seriously. Owusu-Koramoah graded out as my top-ranked defender -- yes, defender -- and the Browns got him at No. 52 overall. Value City. The Browns went into the draft with an obvious need at the second level of their defense and got someone in Owusu-Koramoah who was built to be that defender in today's NFL.
He's hyper-athletic, with insane closing speed, change-of-direction skill, and cornerback-like coverage capabilities. He has "instant star" written all over him. And no, he's not undersized.
CB Kary Vincent Jr.
Impressive stat to know: Four interceptions and eight pass breakups in 2019 at LSU
Seventh-round picks are long shots to make any roster. Vincent didn't belong in the seventh round. This is a former big recruit who stood out in the Tigers' national title secondary playing the never-easy slot corner position. His lower half is strong and explosive, and his 4.39 at the LSU Pro Day illustrates his jets down the field.
The Broncos aren't timid about playing late-round corners or even undrafted types (see: Essang Bassey in 2020), and Vincent has the natural talent and huge-game experience to rock at nickel in the Broncos defense that'll be better this season with Von Miller returning and Kyle Fuller added.
CB Asante Samuel Jr.
Impressive stat to know: 29 pass breakups in 31 games at Florida State
Samuel was a first-round talent. Easily. He was a magnet to the football despite his monstrous size. He's a clone of his dad, a smaller, ultra-instinctual ballhawk with dynamic feet and has the catch-point mentality of a 6-3, 210-pound cornerback.
Samuel did mainly play on the perimeter at Florida State, and that's where he'll be best in the NFL. But at his size, with his fluid athleticism, he can follow outside receivers when their offensive coordinators try to get them in mismatches in the slot.
OL Creed Humphrey
Impressive stat to know: Allowed a pressure on 2.3% of his pass-blocking snaps in his final three seasons at Oklahoma
Humphrey is the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of bruising Oklahoma blockers who enter the NFL ready to mash helmets. He started 37 games at center over three seasons for the Sooners, and his wrestling background was apparent in just about every outing. He plays with outstanding knee bend which helps him not get out-leveraged, and once he gets an angle advantage he uses his legs to drive his assignment out of the play.
The Chiefs smartly revamped what had become a patchwork offensive line, and Humphrey was one of the more NFL-ready pivots in the class. He can play guard too if Kansas City needs him there. And what better experience to block for the passing-proficient Chiefs than three seasons in Oklahoma's "Air Raid" offense.
EDGE Malcolm Koonce
Impressive stat to know: Generated a pressure on 17.6% of his pass-rushing snaps in 2019 and 2020 combined at Buffalo
I'll admit -- this pick is risky. Koonce wasn't able to participate at all during the pre-draft process due to injury. I'm solely trusting the tape with this third-round selection. I was astounded by the elasticity Koonce demonstrated around the corner with the Bulls -- it's a serious trump card for him today (or whenever he's healthy). He has a go-to swipe to propel him past offensive tackles and decent power for being around 250 pounds.
There's Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell on the edge in Las Vegas. But for years now the Raiders have been dying for more pass-rush juice. Koonce has exactly that and can work into the rotation as an outside speed-rush specialist.
WR Nico Collins
Impressive stat to know: 75 catches for 1,361 yards (18.1 per reception) with 13 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Michigan
Collins is a big man. And he's athletic. He measured in at over 6-4 and 215 pounds at the Michigan Pro Day, then had a 40-yard dash, vertical, broad jump, and three-cone drill all in the 70th percentile or higher among receiver prospects over the past 22 years. That's quite the feat for a large, thick pass catcher.
The Texans essentially signed every low-level free agent on the market this offseason, so it's impossible to know the target pecking order for starter Tyrod Taylor. But Collins has the speed, surprising quickness, and catch-in-traffic mastery to be a high-volume receiver as a rookie.
WR Dez Fitzpatrick
Impressive stat to know: At least 30 catches and 420 yards in all four of his seasons at Louisville
One of my favorite stats this offseason is the Lions have to replace 360 targets from their 2020 roster. The most in the NFL. You know which team is third in "lost targets?" The Titans at 224. Fitzpatrick had a uniquely productive career with the Cardinals, he was a critical part of the passing offense from his freshman season onward. He's over 6-1 and 200 pounds with deceptive 4.48 speed and experience winning from the perimeter with sharp cuts in his routes. Yes, it'll mostly be the Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones showcase in Nashville this season. But Fitzpatrick will emerge as a key secondary target for Ryan Tannehill.
TE Kylen Granson
Impressive stat to know: 78 catches for 1,257 yards with 14 touchdowns in his two seasons at SMU
Granson is old for a rookie. He's already 23. And in most cases, older prospects who produced against younger competition in college don't pan out in the NFL. But not every "older" rookie is doomed once they start playing on Sundays. And Granson has a new-age tight end skill set.
He's smaller, can separate -- especially underneath -- and is occasionally flashy after the catch. We know Carson Wentz has an affinity for throwing to the tight end -- remember Zach Ertz's 116 catches in 2018? So even with some veterans at the position in front of him, Granson will make an impact early.
S Andre Cisco
Impressive stat to know: 13 interceptions in 24 career games at Syracuse
Throw Cisco in the group of prospects that had no business lasting as long as they did in the draft. Third round? For a thick, super-rangy safety who averaged better than an interception every other game in college? Those dudes don't grow on trees, NFL. And I don't care about the ACL tear. It happened in September. Cisco's going to be every bit as explosive this September as he was before the injury. He's a thumping tackler too. On paper, Jacksonville's secondary is still abysmal. Cisco will help make it more respectable in 2021.