1-32 poll, plus which rookies made the best first impression

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This week’s edition of the 2021 NFL Power Rankings is all about first impressions, as after months of buildup and hype, we got to see every NFL team take the field for the first time in a game that counts. But first impressions from Week 1 go well beyond team performance.

Week 1 wasn’t just the start of a new season, it was also the start of a new career for the 2021 rookie class. After months of draft evaluation, analysis and argument, we got our first glimpse of how these newbies stack up in the league. Therefore, we had our NFL Nation writers highlight one standout rookie on the teams they cover. While most are names you know from mock drafts (like three of the first-round quarterbacks), others are second- or third-day picks. While one game doesn’t make or break a career, it doesn’t hurt to start fast and make your first NFL impression an outstanding one.

How we rank in our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: Preseason

Jump to:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF

Preseason ranking: 1

Top rookie: G Trey Smith

Smith had a pass block win rate of 100%. His run block win rate of 68.8% was in the middle of the pack for starting guards, but still impressive enough for a sixth-round pick making his first NFL start. At the very least, Smith validated the Chiefs’ decision to put him in the starting lineup. — Adam Teicher

Preseason ranking: 2

Top rookie: OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

With no rookies starting, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for a Bucs first-year player to make an impact outside of special teams, but Tryon-Shoyinka played 19 defensive snaps and recorded two combined tackles, a quarterback hit and had a 10% pressure rate on Dak Prescott. He also played 20 snaps on special teams. He’ll have more opportunities down the road to provide a potent pass rush option for the Tampa Bay defense. — Jenna Laine

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Preseason ranking: 8

Top rookie: WR Dee Eskridge

With OT Stone Forsythe inactive, the Seahawks had three rookies on their game-day roster, and two of them — LB Jon Rhattigan and OT Jake Curhan — only played special teams. So Eskridge is the choice by default. But his NFL debut did produce some promising moments, with a 6-yard catch and 22 rushing yards on two end-around carries, which is one way the Seahawks will get the ball in the hands of their explosive second-round pick. Eskridge, however, suffered a head injury on his second carry and didn’t return, which puts his status for Week 2 in question. — Brady Henderson

Preseason ranking: 5

Top rookie: CB Robert Rochell

Only two rookies saw action on offense or defense in the Rams’ opener. Receiver Tutu Atwell, the Rams’ second-round pick, played two snaps on offense, while Rochell played 27 snaps on defense. Rochell was inserted in the third quarter when starter David Long Jr. went to the sideline because of cramps. The fourth-round pick had an outstanding pass breakup in the fourth quarter when Bears quarterback Andy Dalton attempted a fourth-and-15 throw to receiver Darnell Mooney. He finished with a tackle and a pass deflection. “[Rochell] came in and held his own,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. — Lindsey Thiry

Preseason ranking: 3

Top rookie: DE Greg Rousseau

Rousseau is really the only choice here with DE Boogie Basham inactive in Week 1 and OT Spencer Brown and S Damar Hamlin — the only other active rookies on the game-day roster — largely contributing to a mixed special teams performance. Rousseau, the 30th overall pick, played 52% of the defensive snaps — behind only veteran Jerry Hughes for the most by a Bills DE — and had two tackles in the loss. Despite not registering a sack, Rousseau made his presence felt, especially early in the game. The Bills’ pass rush, one of the team’s biggest issues last season, remains a work in progress. — Alaina Getzenberg



Stephen A. Smith says there’s a lot to be encouraged about despite the Browns’ loss to the Chiefs.

Preseason ranking: 7

Top rookie: WR Anthony Schwartz

The third-round pick out of Auburn had a nice debut after battling a hamstring injury in training camp. He caught three passes for 69 yards and also had a 17-yard rush off a reverse. He wasn’t able to come up with a third-down grab downfield in the fourth quarter that might have been the difference in the 33-29 loss. Because on the next play, punter Jamie Gillan dropped the ball, setting up Kansas City to take the lead for good. — Jake Trotter

Preseason ranking: 10

Top rookie: CB Deommodore Lenoir

It’s early, but Lenoir looks the part of the Niners’ next fifth-round diamond in the rough. With Emmanuel Moseley out because of a knee injury, Lenoir started at outside corner opposite Jason Verrett. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lenoir played 55 coverage snaps and was targeted four times, allowing one completion for three yards. Lenoir did have a pass interference penalty, but it was a solid debut for a player who is likely to step into an integral role on a more permanent basis following Verrett’s right knee injury. — Nick Wagoner

Preseason ranking: 11

Top rookie: C Kendrick Green

The Steelers offensive line is still a work in progress, but Green had a pretty solid game in his NFL debut with a 100% pass block win rate — good for a six-way tie for best among centers. Green has a reputation of being a passionate player, bringing the physicality through the whistle. He delivered that Sunday, as Green aggressively finished blocks and continued to show the kind of edge the Steelers want to see on the line. — Brooke Pryor

Everything you need this week:
• Full schedule » | Standings »
• Depth charts for every team »
• Transactions » | Injuries »
• Football Power Index rankings »
More NFL coverage »

Preseason ranking: 19

Top rookie: CB Paulson Adebo

It doesn’t get any better than intercepting Aaron Rodgers in your NFL debut as part of a dominant defensive performance. And Adebo’s performance couldn’t have been any more important for a Saints team that was extremely thin at cornerback in Week 1. Adebo got the starting nod and handled himself very well despite being an obvious target for Rodgers, with an interception, a pass defense and three tackles. The third-round draft pick from Stanford should wind up as a No. 3 CB when Marshon Lattimore is healthy and Bradley Roby returns from suspension. But he has proven he’s ready to step in whenever needed despite opting out of the 2020 college season. — Mike Triplett

Preseason ranking: 6

Top rookie: OLB Odafe Oweh

The first-round pick showed off his pursuit skills in getting his first career sack, which helped him answer some criticism. Oweh didn’t have a sack in his final season at Penn State, causing some to wonder why he was selected in the first round. But Oweh recorded a sack in his first NFL game along with two quarterback hits. — Jamison Hensley



Ryan Clark breaks down why he’s concerned about the Packers after a huge loss in Week 1 to the Saints.

Preseason ranking: 4

Top rookies: C Josh Myers/RG Royce Newman

For all of the problems the Packers had on offense — managing only a field goal Sunday against the Saints — their two rookie starting offensive linemen were among the least of their concerns. Rodgers was sacked once with seven hits. “I thought Josh did a nice job with the variance of cadence that we did, and I thought he played well,” Rodgers said. “Wait and see what the film says, but I thought him and Royce did a nice job. The protection overall was really good.” — Rob Demovsky

Preseason ranking: 13

Top rookie: WR Rondale Moore

Moore proved the hype about his speed was real during his NFL debut on Sunday. He finished with four catches for 68 yards in the Cardinals’ victory over the Titans and returned three kicks (two punts and one kickoff) for 46 yards. But every time Moore touched the ball, he gave the feeling that something big could happen. It felt like there was always a possibility that he’d break a big play. In future weeks, he very well might. — Josh Weinfuss

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• Burrow’s expectations lifting Bengals

Preseason ranking: 12

Top rookie: LB Micah Parsons

Parsons wasn’t the best rookie by default, either. An argument can be made that he was the Cowboys’ best defender in the season opener against Tampa Bay. He had seven tackles and a pass deflection and did not look out of place when lining up in different positions. There were a couple welcome-to-the-NFL moments, like when Tom Brady threaded a pass to Rob Gronkowski despite sticky coverage. All in all it was a solid debut for Parsons, and the expectations will only continue to grow. — Todd Archer

Preseason ranking: 15

Top rookie: LT Rashawn Slater

The 13th overall pick in April’s draft stood his ground against Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young in the Chargers’ 20-16 win over Washington. QB Justin Herbert threw for 337 yards and Slater ranked 20th among tackles in pass block win rate. It was a solid performance for a guy who had not played in a year after he opted out of his last season at Northwestern. — Shelley Smith

Preseason ranking: 16

Top rookie: WR Jaylen Waddle

Waddle registered four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown on six targets — accounting for nearly a quarter of the targets on Tua Tagovailoa’s 27 pass attempts. He flashed not only catch-and-run ability on a 17-yard reception on the Dolphins’ first play of the game, but also the ability to win a jump ball during a 36-yard catch in the first half. Even with Will Fuller V joining the lineup in Week 2, Waddle should have a strong role moving forward. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Preseason ranking: 14

Top rookie: DE Kwity Paye

The 21st overall pick played 40 of 53 defensive snaps (75%) in the 28-16 loss to the Seahawks. He tallied three tackles — including one for a loss — and a fumble recovery on a play where linebacker Darius Leonard punched the ball out. Paye would have also had a sack, but the play was negated because of a penalty. — Mike Wells

Preseason ranking: 17

Top rookie: QB Mac Jones

Finishing 29-of-39 for 281 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, Jones was arguably the Patriots’ best player in a season-opening loss to the Dolphins. Opposing players were impressed. “He didn’t really make any mistakes. He was poised,” Dolphins defensive back Jason McCourty said. “Even watching him in the huddle, getting guys in, yelling, commanding. … He gave his team a chance to win.” — Mike Reiss

DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones & Joe Tryon-Shoyinka ESPN

Preseason ranking: 9

Top rookie: CB Elijah Molden

Picking a best rookie performance is a tall order considering only one of them played more than just special teams. No. 22 overall pick Caleb Farley only played eight snaps on defense and Molden played 39, so he’s the natural selection. But Molden was beaten by Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk for a touchdown on one play. Molden missed an opportunity to make a tackle for a loss on another. The rookie DB finished with two tackles on the day. — Turron Davenport

Preseason ranking: 21

Top rookie: OT Alex Leatherwood

Leatherwood, the Raiders’ surprise first-round pick at No. 17 overall, was conspicuous by his absence, which is a good thing for an offensive lineman, until he made a glaring mistake in overtime with a false start on second-and-goal from the Ravens’ 1-yard line. It did not cost Las Vegas in the end, though, and the right tackle actually acquitted himself well over the course of his NFL debut, especially since the Raiders ended up winning. — Paul Gutierrez

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Preseason ranking: 26

Top rookie: RB Javonte Williams

Williams played 33 snaps in the regular-season opener — 50% of the offense’s total. As expected after he spent so much time with the starters in training camp and preseason games, Williams was on the field in all situations, downs and distances, as he finished with 14 of the Broncos’ 28 rushing attempts in the game. While Melvin Gordon III popped the big run — a 70-yard touchdown dash in the fourth quarter — Williams will continue to get plenty of work, and as his comfort level grows in the offense, so will his output. — Jeff Legwold

Preseason ranking: 27

Top rookie: WR DeVonta Smith

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner caught a touchdown on his first NFL reception and paced the Eagles with six catches for 71 yards in a convincing win over Atlanta. His six catches are tied for the most by an Eagles rookie in a debut since DeSean Jackson in 2000. Smith led all Eagles receivers in snaps (58), further evidence he is viewed as their lead receiver. Smith’s elite footwork allows him to gain separation off the line of scrimmage, and he knows how to find an open pocket in the defense. He should have big-time production this year so long as he stays healthy. — Tim McManus

Preseason ranking: 20

Top rookie: RT Sam Cosmi

In truth, it was not a great day for Washington’s four rookies. Cosmi had a tough first assignment: Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. “Baptism by fire,” coach Ron Rivera called it. Not all of Bosa’s pressures came vs. him, and Cosmi at least showed flashes of what he can become. He ranked first overall in the league in run block win rate, but was last overall in pass block win rate. It was not a great day, but the other rookies made it tough to look elsewhere. — John Keim

Preseason ranking: 25

Top rookie: CB Jaycee Horn

Horn wasn’t perfect, as he did give up an 8-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but that was on a perfect pass from Zach Wilson to Corey Davis. What he didn’t do in playing all but one defensive snap was give up anything big down the field. He kept the plays in front of him and his man-to-man coverage allowed the defensive front to pressure Wilson. Not a bad start for the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn. — David Newton



Field Yates and Matthew Berry believe Ja’Marr Chase’s strong performance in the Bengals’ opener is a sign of things to come.

Preseason ranking: 28

Top rookie: WR Ja’Marr Chase

Chase put his preseason drops behind him with a game-changing performance against the Vikings. He caught five passes for 101 yards, the most by a Bengals rookie in a season opener. Chase didn’t drop a single target and showed how he can help the offense find bigger plays in the passing game. He beat his man down the right sideline and snagged a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Burrow right before halftime. It’s that playmaking ability the Bengals wanted when they drafted Chase with the fifth overall pick in April. — Ben Baby

Preseason ranking: 18

Top rookie: S Camryn Bynum

The Vikings only fielded two rookies in the Week 1 OT loss against the Bengals. Bynum, a fourth-round pick, earns this distinction, playing 23 snaps on special teams and tallying two tackles. Ihmir Smith-Marsette didn’t factor in as a receiver, nor did he return any kickoffs. — Courtney Cronin



Ryan Clark says Bears head coach Matt Nagy needs to start Justin Fields for the rest of the season.

Preseason ranking: 22

Top rookie: RB Khalil Herbert

Slim pickings for the Bears. Herbert far and away outperformed the rest of Chicago’s rookies with four kickoff returns for 106 yards. He opened the game with a 50-yard return that gifted the Bears great field position — only to later see Andy Dalton throw an interception in the end zone. It was that kind of night for Chicago. — Jeff Dickerson

Preseason ranking: 23

Top rookie: TE Kyle Pitts

Let’s be clear, this selection is by default. Multiple Day 3 picks were inactive in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. Other picks — Richie Grant and Avery Williams — largely played on special teams. Offensive linemen Drew Dalman and Jalen Mayfield did not have good days — three false starts between them at left guard. So that leaves Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick, who had four catches for 31 yards on eight targets. It goes to him, but not because of a standout performance. More because he had any performance at all. — Michael Rothstein

Preseason ranking: 24

Top rookie: OLB Azeez Ojulari

Ojulari registered a sack and three tackles in 34 defensive snaps — more snaps than the other five rookies combined — in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos. He had his ups and downs in his NFL debut. First-round pick Kadarius Toney was on the field for just five plays, and sixth-rounders Gary Brightwell and Rodarius Williams played 22 combined snaps, half on special teams. The Giants’ third and fourth-round picks, Aaron Robinson and Elerson Smith, are on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform lists. — Jordan Raanan

Preseason ranking: 32

Top rookie: WR Nico Collins

The Texans have five rookies on their roster and two — TE Brevin Jordan (inactive) and QB Davis Mills (backup) — did not play in Houston’s 37-21 victory over Jacksonville. The best rookie performance came from Collins, a third-round pick. Collins played 55% of Houston’s offensive snaps and had one catch for seven yards. Head coach David Culley said Collins “did a nice job in the run game,” and that they’ll need the physical Collins to continue to make plays down the line. — Sarah Barshop

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Preseason ranking: 31

Top rookie: OT Penei Sewell

With an injury to LT Taylor Decker, the seventh overall pick was moved back to his college position, offering solid protection for QB Jared Goff. He had an 88.1% pass block win rate in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. That was 23rd among 61 qualified offensive lineman in Week 1. 49ers DE Nick Bosa was very open about how Sewell looked at left tackle compared to the right. “He’s more comfortable on the left and I could tell,” Bosa said. — Eric Woodyard

Preseason ranking: 31

Top rookie: QB Zach Wilson

Wilson rallied from a shaky start and led two scoring drives in the second half to keep the Jets competitive in a 19-14 loss at the Panthers. He completed 20-of-37 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was a gritty, if not clean, performance. He held the ball too long at times, contributing to six sacks, but displayed the arm strength and improvisational skill that made the Jets fall in love with him during the pre-draft process. The Jets dressed nine rookies in Week 1 — Wilson was clearly the best. — Rich Cimini

Preseason ranking: 29

Top rookie: QB Trevor Lawrence

Lawrence threw for 332 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in his NFL debut. He dealt with six dropped passes, but was wild on some other throws, too. The bulk of his yards came after the Jaguars fell behind by 20 points late in the first half. He made some really good throws on the TD passes to tight end Chris Manhertz and wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. Lawrence clearly has the goods, but there are areas for improvement. — Mike DiRocco