Rookies set to make impacts in the NFL
The NFL season is upon us, you can almost feel it. In fact, the Ravens have their rookies report July 11 while the Bears newcomers arrive to camp on July 16. Saints rookies check in on the 18th and Lions the next day. All other teams’ total rosters arrive a week later.
Speaking of rookies, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore grabbed NFL Rookie of the Year honors in ’17. Who will be the this year’s versions?
Many rookies arrive on sight fully qualified to compete and excel in the NFL. Here are names from each franchise who I think will make a splash this season.
First round pick Lamar Jackson should see the field early as he competes with incumbent Joe Flacco. Fourth round choice Kenny Young, a John Curtis and UCLA product, totaled 110 tackles last season for the Bruins at linebacker and runs a 4.6 forty. Tight end Mark Andrews (Third round) runs a 4.67 forty, won the Mackey Award in 2017, has a great catching radius and thrived at Oklahomas as a third down receiver.
First rounder and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is penciled in at starter. Fifth round Right guard Wyatt Teller, like Edmunds also a product of Virginia Tech, finishes blocks and is a very good pass blocker. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, third rounder from Stanford, had 103 stops last season, including 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Top pick Josh Allen sits behind new quarterback A.J. McCarron, but for how long? Allen has a powerful arm and can spin the ball.
First round pick Billy Price, a center, was a four-year starter at Ohio State including 55 starts for Buckeyes. Third rounder Sam Hubbard, another former Buckeye, tallied 13.5 TFL and seven sacks at defensive end last year. Also, third round linebacker Malik Jefferson (6’2-235) played three seasons with the Texas Longhorns, recording 233 tackles, 25.5 TFL and 12 sacks.
It’s difficult for me to fathom Baker Mayfield in any role other than starting quarterback by October, if not before. Cornerback Denzel Ward, another first round pick, has 4.32 speed and a 39″ vertical with the lockdown defender his former college teammate Lattimore brought into the league last year. Running back Nick Chubb, taken in second round, is built to assume much of the workload.
First round pass rusher extraordinaire Bradley Chubb is a force with 4.6 speed and Pro Bowl potential. Fourth round linebacker Josey Jewell had 124 stops for Iowa last season on his way to winning the Jack Lambert Award. Second round pick Courtland Sutton had consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons at SMU.
Free safety Justin Reid, a Baton Rouge native grabbed in third round, had 99 tackles and 11 pass breakups at Stanford in ’17. Their third round pick, speedy tight end Jordan Akins, is sure-handed, but already 26 years old so an instant impact is expected. Ex-Mississippi State left tackle Martinas Rankins (third round) will challenge for reps.
Left guard Quenton Nelson is scary good, which explains his high first round selection. The Notre Dame product had 35 reps on the combine bench press test. He’s strong, agile and consistent. Right guard Braden Smith (Auburn) is a second rounder who should team with Nelson at the guard spots to help immediately bolster what has been a weak spot in Indy. Edge rusher Kemoko Turay (Rutgers) is a somewhat raw second rounder who can at least rush the passer early in his career. Running back Nyheim Hines, a fourth rounder who is short and squat at 5-foot-8 and around 200 pounds, runs a 4.38 forty. The NC State product has opened eyes at offseason workouts. Fifth round wide receiver Daurice Fountain from Northern Iowa, a raw but physically gifted talent out of the FCS, had 150 catches for 23 touchdowns in his final college season.
Former LSU receiver D.J. Chark (second round) has looked natural in offseason work. Free safety Ronnie Harrison, a third rounder, shows great technique and comes into the pro game as an excellent blitzer. Offensive guard Will Richardson, a fourth rounder from NC State, is quick out of his stance.
Nose tackle Derrick Nnadi, third rounder from Florida State, did 25 reps on bench press test. He anchors down the middle on run downs. Free agent Darrel Williams from John Ehret and LSU should earn a spot at backup running back due to his versatility. He is an excellent receiver. Another free agent, defensive end Dee Liner from Arkansas State, started his college days at Alabama. Second round pick Breeland Speaks (Ole Miss) runs a 4.87 forty at 285 pounds. Able to play defensive end or defensive tackle, Speaks is a disruptive force.
Tight end Cole Hunt, undrafted out of TCU, has a high football IQ and a 6-foot-7 frame. The Chargers will miss starter Hunter Henry for the season due to injury so that opens up more of a chance for Hunt to make the team and perhaps more. Former Nortwestern running back Justin Jackson (seventh round) had four consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons, totaling 5,440 career yards and 41 touchdowns while adding 122 catches. Ex-Florida State safety Derwin James is a day one starter. Super athletic with a 40″ vertical, James should be a difference maker for an already talented defense. Uchenna Nwosu, second round pick from USC, has played defensive end and linebacker.
Tight end Mike Gesicki, with 4.54 forty speed, should start and be a star. Defensive back Micah Fitzpatrick, first rounder from Alabama, won the Jim Thorpe Award. You can put him down as a Rookie of Year candidate. Linebacker Jerome Baker, third rounder from Ohio State, runs a 4.53 forty with a 36.5″ vertical. Baker should make an impact as a sideline-to-sideline defender. Kalen Ballage, fourth round running back out of Arizona State, is a power back at 225 pounds but also a good receiver with kick return skills.
First round guard Isaiah Wynn from Georgia had 42 starts. Bulldogs teammate Sony Michel totaled 1,227 yards (7.9 yard per carry) and 18 touchdowns for last year’s SEC champions. Braxton Berrios, taken in the sixth round out of Miami, is a tough and relentless slot receiver and return man at just 5-foot-9 He fits the system in Foxboro.
Jets- Former West Jeff and Tulane cornerback Parry Nickerson has steal potential as a sixth rounder who bagged six interceptions in 2017. He has already flashed skills during the offseason workouts. Sam Darnold possesses all traits needed to lead an offense. the ex-USC star should be the answer to Jets long-time QB dilemma. Defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd, second rounderfrom little known Fort Hayes State, has star potential.
Right tackle Kolton Miller, first round from UCLA, could be a decade-long starter in the NFL barring injury. Fifth rounder Maurice Hurst from Michigan was a four-time Big Ten All-Academic selection on top of being a consistently disruptive force. Only his heart issue can prevent him from making an NFL impact.
Fifth round pick Jaylen Samuels from NC State can be used in assortment of ways as runner, receiver and blocker. Second rounder James Washington, was an impact receiver at Oklahoma State; with 4.47 speed, he averaged nearly 21 yards per catch for Cowboys in ’17. He played in a loaded college offense so moving to a pro group featuring Leveon Bell and Antonio Brown should be a natural fit.
First round linebacker Rashaan Evans (Alabama) has nailed down a starting spot while second rounder Harold Landry (Boston College) is a hybrid on the edge who should play right away in a situational pass rusher role. Nose tackle Mike Ramsey from Duke has drawn attention despite being undrafted. Cornerback Joshua Kalu, also undrafted out of Nebraska, capitalized on opportunities in mini-camp and OTAs while displaying great timing on pass defense and special teams.
Marcus Davenport is raw as expected but expect the first rounder’s learning curve to become easier as season progresses. He’ll pay dividends. Fifth round cornerback Natrell Jamerson out of Wisconsin is a special teams dynamo. Will Clapp was drafted in the seventh round like recently-retired right tackle Zach Strief, and the players have similar attributes that make you think Clapp, a Brother Martin and LSU product, will stick around awhile. He is capable of playing center or guard, which increases his value, but the Rimington Award finalist found his best spot at center. Running back Boston Scott, the sixth rounder from Louisiana Tech, has great fan appeal at just under 5-foot-7, but he should carve out his niche with explosive running skills and return ability.
Three potential starters were chosen in the first three rounds. Offensive guard Will Hernandez. picked in the second round, looks like a Pro Bowler. First round pick Saquon Barkley, of course, is expected to carry the load for G-Men after he finished his days at Penn State as school’s all-time rushing touchdown producer. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter, third rounder from Georgia with 4.42 forty, has already demonstrated impressive athleticism and skills which could make him more than a pass rush specialist.
Tight end Dallas Goodert had 198 career catches for 2,988 yards and 21 scores for North Dakota State, and the second rounder has a chance to shine in an offense that utilizes tight ends frequently. Free agent Jeremy Reaves, a safety from South Alabama I believe should have been drafted, is a big time hitter who can play nickel and forces turnovers.
First round tackle Mike McGlinchey from Note Dame has super feet. Dante Pettis, second rounder from Washington, is at the very least an intriguing return specialist who also shows polish at receiver. Richie James, undersized slot receiver taken in round seven from Middle Tennessee, has dynamic skills. This duo will add to the weaponry for franchise QB Jimmy Garappolo.
Running back Rashaad Penny will be afforded every opportunity to earn Rookie of the Year for an offense desperate for consistent production in the running game. Defensive end Raheem Green, third rounder from USC, had 10 sacks and 12.5 TFL in 2017.
Ronald Jones, second round pick from USC, ran for over 1,500 yards last season. Left guard Alex Cappa, third rounder from Humboldt State, is tough and physical enough to play early if he adjusts to the big step-up in class quickly. Defensive tackle Vita Vea, the nearly 35-pound mountain man from Washington, is a nimble athlete who had 41 reps on the bench press test. Cornerback Carlton Davis, second rounder from Auburn, was a three-year college starter. Second round pick M.J. Stewart out of North Carolina is very physical and alters routes of receivers but he may end up as more of a safety.
Derrius Guice, second round pick out fo LSU, runs angry but instinctive, using his powerful lower body to stay on his feet. The Baton Rouge native should start by the season opener. Nose tackle Da’Ron Payne, first rounder from Alabama, is key piece up front with eye catching 4.9 speed. Free safety Troy Apke, fourth round safety from Penn State, has all the closing speed you coudl wants and brings good abilities to special teams. Undrafted cornerback Danny Johnson out of East Feliciana and Southern University had 16 career interceptions in 45 college starts. He can also return kicks.
Christian Kirk, playmaking second rounder out of Texas A&M, is looking to grab the gauntlet from 35 year old Larry Fitzgerald. Kirk was the SEC’s all purpose yardage leader in ’17. Left guard Mason Cole, third rounder from Michigan, can play center or guard but even survived in the Big Ten at left tackle. First rounder Josh Rosen will share the QB spot with Sam Bradford. I expect Rosen to finish the season as starter as Arizona eyes the future.
First round wide receiver Calvin Ridley is expected to be a game changer opposite Julio Jones. Third round defensive tackle Deadrin Senat (USF) shows tremendous balance and quick reactions. Fourth rounder Ito Smith, workhorse runner from Southern Miss, had 42 career scores as the Golden Eagles’ all-time all-purpose leader. Sixth rounder Russell Gage is a special teams gem and a tireless worker at receiver who will not be denied.
Fourth round edge rusher Marquis Haynes from Ole Miss had 32 career sacks against top competition. Top pick D.J. Moore (4.45 speed) will be a primary target for Cam Newton, and the fearless receiver out of Maryland has qualities matching former Carolina standout Steve Smith. Second round pick Donte’ Jackson (Riverdale and LSU) relies on his 4.32 speed but is skilled enough to see field early as a slot corner type teams covet in the modern NFL.
James Daniels made 25 starts at Iowa, and the former center is working towards a starter spot at left guard. Second rounder Anthony Miller from Memphis managed 238 career grabs with 23 touchdowns. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith was the SEC Defensive Player of Year in 2017 at Georgia and had 232 stops in final two seasons. Many want to see if Smith is the next great middle linebacker in the Chicago lineage that includes Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher.
Cowboys- No. 2 pick Connor Williams is super athletic and sharp with a 3.67 GPA during his days at Texas. He is good enough to break into the starting lineup despite the skills of the Cowboys starting quintet on the offensive line. Former Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has the talent to be a tremendous every-down performer if the first rounder talent is not stunted by a worrisome neck issue from late in his college career. A fourth round pick at tight end, Dalton Schultz drew comparisons to Jason Witten before the draft so it’s fitting the Stanford product will not try to replace the Dallas legend.
Top pick Frank Ragnow was considered by many to be the best run blocker in the SEC the past couple of seasons at Arkansas. He should slide into a starter’s spot at left guard but he couls also play center at an elite level. Second rounder Kerryon Johnson was last year’s SEC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 20 touchdowns and carrying the load in the Auburn rushing attack. Fourth round defensive end DeShawn Hand out of Alabama will contribute right away in the rotation up front.
First pick Jaire Alexander, cornerback from Louisville, has skills and a 4.38 forty which means much is expected of him early. Middle linebacker Oren Burks, third rounder out of Vanderbilt, is super in pass drops as a former safety who can impact the special teams units. Seventh round defensive lineman James Looney from Cal had 35 starts as a versatile defender up front in the pass-happy PAC 12.
Fifth rounder Ogbonnia Okoronkwo explodes off edge. He recorded 21 sacks while at Oklahoma. Free agent Steven Mitchell from USC can stretch the field at receiver. Fifth round linebacker Micah Kiser tallied 396 stops, 32 1/2 TFL and 19 sacks during his final three seasons at Virginia.
First round pick Mike Hughes from UCF has super anticipation. He should contribute in a major way in year one. Second round pick Brian O’Neill from Pittsburgh is an all-effort offensive tackle who converted from tight end. Sixth rounder Colby Gossett, who made 46 starts at Appalachian State, has the makings of long-time starter at guard in NFL. O’Neill and Gossett help complete Minnesota’s quest to completely rebuild their offensive line from a weakness to a major strength in just two offseasons.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…