Bama Pro Rookies Dominate NFL Record Books
Back in April 2021, the Alabama Crimson Tide tied the 2004 Miami Hurricanes' record for most first-round picks in a single draft at six. With two more within the first six picks of the second round, Alabama dominated the top-40 selections of last year's NFL Draft. It should come as no surprise then that those eight players proceeded to dominate the league.
Most shattered records while others proved a bright future lays before them.
Mac Jones entered the league with a plethora of doubters due to his limitations in arm strength and athleticism. Coupled with a crowd of misfits for a wide receiver group, the idea that Jones would perform any better than the four quarterbacks selected before him in April was a pipedream.
The Joker just wins in spite of it all. He's the only rookie full-time starting quarterback in the NFL Playoffs this year, having led the New England Patriots to a 10-7 season and a division title. In the process, Jones set the Patriots' rookie records for passing yards and touchdowns throwing for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He fell just short of Dak Prescott's rookie 67.8% completion percentage record at 67.6%.
Many scoff at the idea of selecting a running back in the first round these days, but the Pittsburgh Steelers went against conventional wisdom and selected the Crimson Tide's all-time leading rusher with the 24th overall pick. No. 22 proceeded to break a handful of records along the way.
Najee Harris rushed 307 times for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns, breaking Franco Harris's Steelers rookie rushing yardage record. Harris added 74 receptions giving him 384 total touches in 2021 which led the NFL and set a rookie record. In all those touches, Harris didn't fumble the rock a single time, setting a new rookie record in the process.
Harris's selection was one of the factors that led to ESPN naming the Steelers the worst 2021 off-season. Ironically, Harris was a massive factor for the Steelers narrowly making the 2021 playoffs.
It was an inevitability that Tua Tagovailoa would be reunited with one of his former receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. Even still, breaking the all-time rookie record for receptions wasn't exactly on everyone's bingo cards, especially when Tagovailoa missed significant time due to injuries this season.
When Tagovailoa returned though, Jaylen Waddle was priority number one for the Miami Dolphins offense. Waddle finished his rookie campaign with 104 receptions breaking Anquan Boldin's NFL record among rookies. A late-season stretch in which Waddle hauled in at least eight catches in all but one game from Week 9 through 16 gave him the boost he needed.
Along with the NFL rookie record, Waddle also snagged the Dolphins rookie receiving yards record with 1,015 yards.
The Dolphins may have missed the playoffs in 2021, but Tua to Waddle will be a connection Alabama fans and Dolphins fans alike will enjoy for years to come.
DeVonta Smith battled through injuries but consistency prevailed for the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner. With former Alabama teammate Jalen Hurts tossing him the rock, Smith broke the Philadelphia Eagles rookie record for receiving yards with 916 on just 64 receptions.
Fun fact, Smith broke the record four years to the day that he caught the game-winning touchdown from Tua Tagovailoa in the 2017 national championship against the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Eagles have an uphill battle in the 2021 NFL Playoffs, but feeding Smitty will give Philly a chance to put together a run. Since Week 9, Smith was targetted at least six times in all but three games. The Eagles won all but one of the games he received that target benchmark and won just one game in which he didn't see at least six targets.
The following Bama Pro rooks didn't break records, but they did have a profound impact on their respective teams' seasons and showed great promise for the future.
Landon Dickerson started in 13 games for the Eagles at left guard where he saw 859 snaps. ESPN recognized Dickerson with the second-highest run block win rate among guards in the NFL at a 75% win rate.
Dickerson didn't crack the top-10 in pass blocking win rate, but in 485 pass-block snaps, Dickerson only allowed two sacks and eight QB hits.
Dickerson stayed relatively healthy, missing Week 1 while finishing his recovery of his torn ACL and Week 18 with a thumb injury in a meaningless closer for the Eagles' playoff seeding.
The latest draft pick of the top-40 selections for Alabama in last year's draft was also the quietest of the bunch thanks in large part to the depth of New England's defensive line and steep learning curve in a Bill Belichick defense. When Barmore finally came on he was electric.
He recorded at least three tackles in all but one of the Patriots' final six games including a sack.
Barmore will likely be ready to go for New England in the playoffs after a knee injury scare closed his first regular season.
Patrick Surtain didn't break any records and that might have more to do with prominent next-gen stats for corners are only just now starting to be normalized.
He did lead all rookies with four interceptions and according to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered the lowest passer rating among rookie cornerbacks.
Surtain locked down everyone from Terry McLaurin to Ja'Marr Chase all season and has quickly risen through the ranks as one of the league's top lock-down corners.