2021 NFL Draft Steals: 5 Sleeper Rookie Picks Set To Outperform Draft Slot

Last Updated: May 5, 2021

Anthony Cervino identifies the 2021 NFL Draft Steals: 5 Sleeper Rookie Picks set to outperform their 2021 NFL Draft spots.

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2021 NFL Draft Steals: 5 Sleeper Picks Who Could Have Great Careers

*I used Marcus Mosher’s 2021 Top 150 NFL Draft Prospects Big Board to identify my top NFL Draft steals.

1. Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears (Drafted Round 1, Pick 11)

My No. 1 draft steal is Justin Fields. Although the consensus believed Fields was the third-best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft behind Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson — you can make the case for Fields over Wilson as well — the Ohio State alum slipped to 11th overall to the Bears. The Bears originally held the 20th overall pick but traded up to No. 11, originally held by the Giants.

Fields was ranked as the fourth overall player on Mosher’s big board and the second-ranked quarterback but was the fourth signal-caller drafted behind Lawrence, Wilson, and Trey Lance.

The fact that Fields lasted as long as he did is nothing short of mindblowing. Not only did the 49ers elect to draft Lance ahead of Fields, but teams that include the Falcons, Dolphins, Lions, Panthers, Eagles, and Broncos all passed on him. I could make a case for all of those teams to have a need at quarterback and take Fields, especially Carolina and Denver. Perhaps the Broncos actually think they have a shot at Aaron Rodgers?

The Bears haven’t had much luck with quarterback despite their storied history. Their best was Sid Luckman. Who was second? Probably Jay Cutler. Chicago won a Super Bowl with Jim McMahon and went to another one (and lost) with Rex Grossman.

Fields was a must-have for the Bears. Most notably, for the futures of GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy.

2. Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions (Drafted Round 1, Pick 7)

While Penei Sewell still went in the top 10, the all-world tackle was not expected to last past the fifth overall pick. In fact, like many, I am still scratching my head about the Bengals passing on Sewell in favor of Ja’Marr Chase.

Let’s get something straight. I am not down on Chase. He might emerge as the best wide receiver in this loaded receiver draft class. He could be the NFL’s next big thing at wideout. My issue is quite elementary. Pop Warner, if you want to remain in football terms.

I understand the logic. Let’s pair Joe Burrow with his top receiver from their days at LSU. However, I would comprehend it more if Cincinnati had a good offensive line. Actually, scratch that. If Cincinnati had an average offensive line. The Bengals’ front five is not even average.

AT the end of the 2020 season, Pro Football Focus ranked Cincy’s offensive line 30th. In translation, they were the third-worst unit in the NFL. Longterm, the Bengals would benefit from the perceived best offensive tackle prospect since Trent Williams more so than Chase, especially considering the health of Burrow, who landed on the injured reserve list from a severe knee injury back in Week 11.

For the Lions, Sewell fell right in their laps. The Dolphins could have selected Sewell with the sixth pick but went with Jaylen Waddle instead. PFF ranked Miami’s front five 28th. Similar to Cincinnati, Miami did not have a drastic need for a receiver. The greater deficit was in the trenches.

Contrary to how we are used to seeing things go for the Lions, it looks like they might be heading in the right direction. While the Lions were the team with the immediate need for an alpha wide receiver, they decided to take the generational talent on the line despite the fact that PFF ranked their line as the 13th best in the NFL last season.

It’s early, but Lions GM Brad Holmes is off to a terrific start. Here’s to many broken knee caps, Dan Campbell.

3. Christian Barmore, DT, New England Patriots (Drafted Round 2, Pick 38)

The Patriots are back to doing Patriots things. Although Bill Belichick‘s biggest handicap is drafting offensive skill position players — most notably, wide receivers — the greatest NFL head coach in league history has a knack for finding value. He did just that with Christian Barmore.

The 2021 NFL Draft rookie class was not the best lot for pass rushers or interior defensive linemen. Barmore was not only the top-ranked IDL on most bards, but he was also Mosher’s 26th-best protect overall. The Patriots selected the Alabama alum in the second round, 38th overall.

While the Patriots did trade two fourth-round picks to move up in the second round to select Barmore, the value was there to do so. Though Barmore’s fall was anticipated, I doubt many respected him to fall into the second round.

Barmore was proven to be inconsistent on tape, but when he popped, he popped, especially against the best competition facing Ohio State and Notre Dame offensive lines. What stands out about Barmore, also, is the fact that he can be an asset in pressing the quarterback. Normally, interior defensive linemen are elite run stuffers. The outliers — the Quinnen Williams and Aaron Donalds of the world — can also be disruptive defending the pass.

I am not saying Barmore will emerge as the next Donald — the elite of the elite don’t grow on trees — but with a defensive mastermind like Belichick calling the shots, he has a good chance to exploit Barmore’s most-becoming traits at the pro level.

4. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Cleveland Browns (Drafted Round 2, Pick 52)

Many, including myself, had the Browns taking Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with their first-round pick. Not only did they get their guy, but they paid second-round value (52nd overall) for a prospect ranked 16th on Mosher’s Big Board.

The Browns are a team that did not have many holes following the first and second waves of free agency. However, since their defense was the reason why they were bounced out of the playoffs, upgrading it this offseason was of the highest priority.

If Taysom Hill is what I like to call a MacGyver-like presence on the offensive side of the ball, Owusu-Koramoah is a similar type defensively. In 2019 and 2020 combined, Owusu-Koramoah played 195 snaps on the defensive line, 680 snaps in the slot, 20 snaps at cornerback, 433 snaps in the box, and two snaps playing deep, according to PFF.

The true test is seeing if Browns DC Joe Woods can creatively dial up a variety of ways to exploit Owusu-Koramoah’s skill set.

5. Jabril Cox, LB, Dallas Cowboys (Drafted Round 4, Pick 115)

While the Cowboys made a questionable splash, selecting Micah Parsons 12th overall, the Penn State alum was not the steal of the draft for Dallas. In fact, it was another linebacker. The 51st player on Mosher’s board, LSU LB Jabril Cox fell to the Cowboys 155th overall in the fourth round.

While Cox started his final year at LSU, he was also a three-year starter at North Dakota State and is touted as the 2021 class’s blest coverage linebacker. Cox finished his collegiate career with nine interceptions and 23 defections between the two schools combined.

Per reports, Cox fell because of his medicals. Plus, the fact that his run coverage needs immense improvement, especially in between the tackles. An off-the-ball linebacker with above-average coverage skills — Cox was a corner and safety in high school — Cox projects to be a terrific fit in DC Dan Quinn’s system.


Anthony Cervino

Anthony Cervino is an NFL Writer and Betting Analyst for The Game Day. He is also a lifelong NFL savant and self-proclaimed league historian. In the industry, Anthony has excelled in both the fantasy football and sports betting space with fantasy his proverbial bread and butter. Anthony has made appearances on SiriusXM, amongst other publications. He is also the co-creator of the FF Faceoff (Faceoff Sports Network) and the FF Faceoff Mental Health Podathon partnered with the Hayden Hurst Foundation. Industry Clout: 15th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for both draft and in-season accuracy (2019) | 8th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for sleepers (2020) | 13th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for in-season accuracy, including 2nd at quarterback and 3rd at tight end (2021).

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