The idea that college talent is the best indicator for NFL success has been proven wrong time and time again. Some of the brightest stars in the league came from unceremonious roots, while others who showed so much promise never made an impact.
Sometimes this is a product of botching an evaluation, but more often it’s about player fit. Take Ryan Tannehill, for instance. Here’s a player who was written off by Miami, let go, and only showed how good he could be after signing with Tennessee and getting a chance to play after Marcus Mariota got hurt. There are dozens of players in this same spot, and fit often determines their potential.
In this draft class everyone is hoping to make waves, though statistically becoming a star in the NFL is difficult. However, a small minority of players found themselves in the absolute perfect location to make their dreams a reality. To these players the location they were drafted is far more important than their overall pick, as they will be in the best position to succeed, become stars, and cash in on their second contract.
Mac Jones, QB — New England Patriots
Whether you’re high on Mac Jones or not is immaterial. Personally, I think his lack of athleticism was a little overblown in the pre-draft process. Sure, he might not have incredible measurables, or the biggest arm, but guys like this have succeeded in the past — provided they land on a team that understands this.
There is absolutely no better place for Jones to find a home that New England. In reality I think there are only two teams that could have used him effectively, and the Patriots were No. 1 (the other being San Francisco).
It’s a little silly to compare any rookie to the greatest quarterback of all time, but there are some similarities to Tom Brady here. Jones has an incredible football IQ, a feel for NFL passing concepts, and an innate ability to understand when to move through his reads out find an outlet, rather than risk a bad throw.
These are qualities Bill Belichick loves in his quarterbacks. The Patriots are a team comfortable with working around their passer’s skills, not push them into a scheme are ask them to sink or swim. It might not happen overnight, but when they’re ready to make Jones the starter I have every confidence they’ll squeeze everything bit of talent he has out of him.
Terrace Marshall Jr, WR — Carolina Panthers
If you rewind a year there was plenty of buzz about Terrace Marshall. The LSU receiver looked poised to break out following an injury-shortened 2019. Then Covid happened. The protracted season meant that he never got to complete the full hallmark season people were waiting for, and while Marshall improved over his 2019 campaign, it wasn’t enough to put him in the conversation with the draft’s top receivers.
A major concern was injury as well. The combine process revealed not only the known ankle injury he had at LSU, but a stress fracture dating back to his high school days. This pushed Marshall out of the first round, and allowed him to land on the best possible team in Carolina.
In a draft full of small, shifty receivers, Marshall had size much of the rest of the class lacked. His 6’3 frame slots in perfectly with Carolina’s two 1,000 yard receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, giving the Panthers potentially one of the scariest receiving corps in the league, albeit one that flies under the radar.
To cap all this off there’s familiarity. Marshall reunites with former LSU offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who was beaming when Carolina made the pick.
“He’s a good fit,” Brady said with a grin, after a quick phone call with his newest weapon. “All I can say is, we have a great vision for him as a Carolina Panther. The skillset he has is going to be a great asset to our offense. . . .
Every coach is going to say they’re excited to have a rookie, but Brady seems to have a very definite plan for a player he’s familiar with. That bodes extremely well for Marshall, provided his injuries don’t become an issue.
Najee Harris, RB — Pittsburgh Steelers
So here’s the deal: We all knew this pick was happening. Every single person in football media penciled in Pittsburgh as a landing spot for Harris, and then it came true. It wasn’t because he was the best player available in every scenario, but more an understanding that he was made to play for the Steelers.
There’s been a recent trend of hating whenever a team takes a first round running back. Yes, it’s all the rage to move away from the position as a point of emphasis in the modern NFL, but great running backs like Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook have shown that there’s still a role in the league — especially when an elite back can open up the passing game as a result.
Harris finally gives the Steelers what they’ve been lacking since the LeVeon Bell drama: Someone who can move the chains on the ground. Pittsburgh knows how to get the most out of its backs, and for this reason I think he’ll slot in perfectly and be productive from day one.
Odafe Oweh, LB — Baltimore Ravens
There’s a weight of expectation that comes from being a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, but that’s part of the fun of this too. Oweh is arriving on a team that knows how to use athletic, pass rushing 34 backers and unlocking their full potential.
There’s definitely some skill coaching to be done with Oweh, otherwise he would have been a Top 15 pick, but falling to the end of the first round is a fine exchange when it means you have a support system behind you.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has a resume brimming with experience coaching linebackers. When he was promoted from the position of linebacker coach he hand-picked Drew Wilkins to succeed him, another inside promotion for a guy responsible for personally working with some of the best Ravens linebackers in the post-Ray Lewis era.
Oweh will have a system around him to take him from a great pressure guy in college, and turn him into a beast in the NFL. That’s going to be very fun to watch, and makes this fit so well.