Rookies Rising in the 2021 NFL Season

As the record-breaking week 18 of the NFL regular season concludes, the playoffs are right around the corner. Throughout the season, there were veteran players that unexpectedly rose to fame and a handful of rookie players that blew their opponents away.

The first twelve weeks of  in-season games had occurred without a hitch for many teams but not all. The Detroit Lions finally got their first win after twelve games of continuous losses. Jared Goff, the Lions’ current quarterback, really “h[ung] on there” as Stafford told him after the Rams beat the Lions 19-28. 

I’m proud of our guys,” Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said of his team to Detroit Free Press. “I’m happy for them, of course I’m happy. We’re all happy. I’m happy for the coaches, I’m happy for everybody. When you lose, it hurts. It’s hard. But it’s also why winning is so great in this league. Because it’s not easy to do and when you get them, man, it’s special.”

The Lions have a new set of rookies this year, including coach Dan Campbell, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Penei Sewei, and their new quarterback. Although Jared Goff is not a rookie, it took him awhile to get into the swing of things with his new team and coach. Dan Campbell is also considered to be a rookie coach after playing in the NFL for 11 years, he has held continuous confidence and patience that followed the Lions to their first win of the season and on.

Lions rookie wide-receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown broke the Lions’ records after defeating the Green Bay Packers in week 18, recording 912 yards and 90 receptions in a season. According to ESPN, Brown passed Hall-of-Famer Calvin Johnson’s record streak of catching over eight passes in six games.

Fans took to Twitter to celebrate their first win 13 weeks into the season. “Lions getting hot at the right time of the season,” user Kevin Clark tweeted. Since the win, the Lions have gotten two more wins— but with Jared Goff as their new quarterback and Dan Campbell’s patience this season, they will definitely be able to do much better next season, similar to how the Bengals’ made their own comeback and clinched the NFC North.

Speaking of strong performances, rookies Mac Jones and Najee Harris have been brewing up a storm this 2021-2022 season. 

Mac Jones has a completion percentage of 67.6%, with 3,540 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in his rookie season. Jones has led the New England Patriots with the record of 10-7, neck-and-neck with the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris, who was the team’s first round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, is currently under a 4-year deal that is worth nearly $13.1 million, according to the NFL. Harris has been ranked fourth in total rushing yards this season with 1,172 rushing yards .“On the other side, obviously, this might be [Ben Roethlisberger’s] last season,” Harris told ESPN. Harris was more than determined to step up as week 17 approached, proving his determination with a total of 188 rushing yards that game alone. 

“Somebody’s got to step in there and show them what the team is and [show] just how it is to be a Steeler here. I’m willing to be that person, but I also need some guys with me. We’ve got Diontae [Johnson], Chase [Claypool], Pat [Freiermuth], KG [Kendrick Green]. We’ve got a whole young team to back me up. But not only back me up, I’m backing up all of them.”

With Ja’Marr Chase drafted to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021, the team has been unstoppable compared to last year. During week 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs, who were surgically dissected by the Bengals’ high-powered offense, Chase caught 11 out of the 12 targets from Joe Burrow, scoring three touchdowns and recording 266 yards.

Ja’Marr Chase made 55.60 points on Fantasy Football that week, scoring more than Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce together, placing Ja’Marr Chase as the fifth wide receiver of the season for 2021. 

“Everyone knows the meme,” Burrow said to the NFL. “You know, if Ja’Marr’s down there somewhere, I’m just gonna throw it up to him and he’s gonna make a play.”

Another notable duo of this season involved Tom Brady and Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Evans caught Brady’s 600th touchdown pass in his career. Evans accidentally gave the ball  away to a fan before taking it back, with Brady joking that he’ll “never throw ‘[him] another touchdown pass all season”. Evans caught a total of 5 touchdown passes during that game against the Chicago Bears, and 14 all season.

That being said, 11 out of the 25 teams in the NFL have already been eliminated from the playoff contention. For what is now known, the Packers and the Titans have the first-round bye week, automatically bringing them to the second round of the playoffs.

Six NFC teams have clinched playoff berths, including the Packers, Eagles, Rams, 49ers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, and Cowboys. In the AFC, the Titans, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Bengals, Patriots, and the Bills have clinched their playoffs. 

Week 18 was a game changer.

The Tennessee Titans’ nearly lost their spot as No. 1 seeding, but their tight defense held the Houston Texans’ to successfully earn their first-round bye.

With the Los Vegas Raiders defeating the Los Angeles charges Sunday night, the No. 5 seed will be playing against the Cincinnati Bengals in a Wild Card match. “While Sunday night was a classic, this season has been a nightmare more often than not for the Raiders,” the NFL said. “And yet Carr is set to play in his first playoff game. It’s a long time coming and he had to deal with a ridiculous amount of scrutiny on the way.”

Unexpectedly, the Raiders’ also brought the New England Patriots down to the No. 6 seeding after they lost to the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots’ have lost 3 out of their last 4 games. 

Despite Ben Roethlisberger’s home celebration taking place on Monday, the Steelers’ clinched the No. 7 after the Raiders’ defeated the Chargers and eliminated them from the playoffs.

The Bengals’ loss to the Cleveland Browns knocked them down from the No. 3 to No. 4 seeding, and the Kansas City Chiefs secured the No. 2 seeding in the playoffs as they go head to head with the Steelers’ on Sunday. 

As the playoff season starts, the regular season concludes with unbelievable rookies and unexpected teams that rose to the top.