Top 10 Impact Defensive Rookies for 2007

Willis

1. Patrick Willis – Ole Miss ILB (49ers): Willis will bring a “Merriman” type value after being drafted 11th overall by San Fran. He was a “steal” and fell way too far for a player of his caliber. Willis has everything you need in a LB: speed, strength, playmaking ability, coverage skills, and big hitting consistency – to be the next great LB in the NFL. He has the instincts teams desire and will start Week 1 for the 49ers as the left inside linebacker next to pass-rushing speedster, OLB Manny Lawson (last year’s 1st rounder from N.C. State). Willis is used to the tough physical play coming from the SEC conference and was named Defensive Player of the Year for his brilliant performance. At 6-foot 1, 240 pounds, he is the same size of All-Pro MLB Ray Lewis, resembling a similar game, and sports the same #52 as he does. The comparisons are worthy enough to point out. All 10 of the teams that passed on Willis will regret their decision, seeing him hold up the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. I think it’s realistic to say that he has the best shot of any of the players drafted in 2007 to make the Pro Bowl – he is that good and is NFL-ready. Willis is a young Ray Lewis in the making, and he will help turnaround a dismal 49ers defense like Lewis did for Baltimore coming out of the “U” in 1996, also as a player many teams passed up on Draft Day. Though he had to sit long, patiently waiting for his name to be called in N.Y., Willis will not have to sit around this time, as he will not wait too long in showcasing his skills, becoming the next anchor of the newly, revamped 49ers defensive unit. He will learn from the best there is, in assistant and LB’s coach, Hall of Famer Mike Singletary. Willis is the complete linebacker a coach dreams of and Mr. Nolan will soon call him the leader of the pack; with teams intimidated of his presence on the field.

2. LaRon Landry – LSU SS (Redskins): Landry is the best safety to come of college since teammate Sean Taylor (Miami). Landry is an imposing strong safety that can change a game at any given moment, knocking out the other team’s best receiver, delivering a bone-crushing hit. He will make an immediate impact like Willis, for Washington and Head Coach Joe Gibbs. At 6-foot 2, 205 pounds, this safety can cover lots of ground and has a knack for the football, ball carriers, and quarterbacks as a blitzer. He has the talent to become one of the best at his position and will form a 1-2 punch at safety that is unheard of nowadays. Landry will provide a spark on defense for Washington and will bring the playmaking skills over from LSU to the already, talented Redskins defense. Landry will have receivers hearing his footsteps over the middle, making sure they know he is there with a jarring collision, also having quarterbacks aware of his presence, and running backs ready, as he runs them over en route to the QB. He is an exciting player to watch and will make strides toward becoming a Top Safety in the NFL right away in Washington.

3. Jamaal Anderson – Arkansas DE (Falcons): At 6-foot 6, 280 pounds, Anderson is in the mold of a Julius Peppers or Michael Strahan. He has athleticism/explosiveness like a Peppers and size/strength like a Strahan. He has all the tools to become a successful DE right away as a starter. Anderson has the quickness, to along with a good first step, and has the burst to rush the QB, turning the corner at end. He is the prototypical defensive end and will be a good complement next to John Abraham. Anderson can put 10-12 sacks his rookie year like Peppers did and be in the backfield before you can say “Vick” to tackle the ball carrier. He will certainly develop in a Pro-Bowl end and will show why he is better than Tampa’s Gaines Adams, who was selected ahead of him. Anderson is more of a balanced lineman and is ready to succeed Week 1.

4. Amobi Okoye – Louisville DT (Texans): Okoye will instantly become Houston’s best interior defensive lineman once he sets foot on the field and have the chance to be the second best defensive player next to last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, second round pick DeMeco Ryans. Last year’s #1 overall pick Mario Williams will draw all the attention and Okoye will enjoy the one-on-one opportunities in getting to the QB. At 19 years old, this 290-pound athlete draws comparisons to the best DT in the league – Bears Tommie Harris. He has the size, quickness, and strength to rush the QB and stop the run as an anchor for the Texans. Williams and Okoye will develop into a strong tandem on the d-line and should make the Texans respectable on defense for the first time in the franchise’s short span. He can play both end and tackle because of his burst off the line and his strong frame that will only enhance his chances to become a bigger, stronger player, as he gets older. His work ethic is unquestioned and his hunger/desire to be the best is as good as it gets.

5. Anthony Spencer – Purdue DE (Cowboys): Spencer is an ideal fit for Dallas in the 3-4 defense. He can log in playing time at both OLB and DE for the Cowboys. He has the same size of Dwight Freeney, and he can quickly get to the QB. He is agile and has a relentless approach in pursuit to whoever has the football. He is a tough football player and can put up double-digit sacks for Dallas this year. Spencer is going to have the same type of impact teammate DeMarcus Ware had in his rookie year. He will surprise many at first and then will be known as a hard working, undersized end/linebacker, who excels coming off the edge for sacks, hurries, and forced fumbles.

6. Chris Houston – Arkansas CB (Falcons): This is the second Razorback who plays for the Atlanta Falcons to make my Top 10 Impact List. He is my first second draft choice to make my list so far. Houston has the size (5’11” 188 pounds), speed (fastest player in the draft), and ball hawk ability (great closing quickness to get to the pass) to become the starter and a Pro-Bowler early for Atlanta. Houston will start along with one of the best corners in the league, speedster DeAngelo Hall. They will team up to form the most talented pair of CB’s in the NFL. In terms of all the physical attributes and athletic skills, Houston will be the starter Atlanta has been looking for opposite of Hall. He can press/jam at the line of scrimmage, play zone, and defend the deep ball effortlessly. He has rare speed and can make plays few athletes can, reminding me of a young, Dunta Robinson. He was a steal in the second round for Atlanta and teams will start to anticipate that going to his side may not be the best option. The Falcons have a potential, locked in set of corners that will be in place for a decade or more.

7. Paul Posluszny – Penn State LB (Bills):
This former Nittany Lion was a tackling-machine in college under Coach Joe Paterno. The 6-foot 2, 235-pounder will start right away for Buffalo at the MLB position. His resume lists: broke several records at Penn State, Bednarik award winner, and Butkus award winner. He set the standard for linebackers and has the intangibles and instincts to produce on the professional level. He is a tough defender and leads by example. Posluszny will be a “Zach Thomas” type of MLB for the Bills. He will always be in place for the tackle and will is the sure, wrap-up tackler in open space. He is smart and will have continue to excel because of he is an overachieving, hard worker who loves the game. Poslusnzy will make Buffalo fans forget about London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes after this season’s performance.

8. LaMarr Woodley – Michigan DE/LB (Steelers): Woodley is another “system” player picked by the right team in Pittsburgh. He fits the Steelers quite well and will outperform 1st round teammate Lawrence Timmons (Florida State). He can play the run well and rush the passer at both LB and DE. He will produce like all hybrid Pittsburgh pass rushers seem to do. He many not start right away, but will unseat either James Harrison or Brett Keisel later in the year. He has the advantage of a quick first step, along with upfield speed to pressure the QB. He can separate from blockers and get past the blocker off the edge. Woodley has a strong motor and gives it his all on every play with a combination of agility and hustle. He is similar to Cardinals DE/LB Bertrand Berry, who is a double-digit sack player every year.

9. Darrelle Revis – Pittsburgh CB (Jets): Revis has the ability to become the next top flight pro corner for New York. He has the size, speed, quickness, and instincts that a shutdown CB has. It may take him half a season to progress and develop into the every week starter he will be. He might also have to work on his man-man coverage skills to take the next step. Revis will make it as an All-Pro in either Year 2 or 3 for the Jets. He has the potential and is the perfect size for a cornerback. He can return punts and has the playmaking ability to change a game. Revis will be a fan favorite once the fans see him take it to the house via the punt or interception return. He is a special player and can bring stability to a weakness on the Jets defense.

10. Reggie Nelson – Florida S (Jaguars) / Jarvis Moss – Florida DE (Broncos): Both of these players have the talent to contribute immediately for playoff contending teams. Nelson will start at safety for Jacksonville and is a natural cover safety that can make the big play often. He is a sure tackle in the open field and fills a glaring hole for the Jaguars in the secondary. Moss will be a back up to start the season that will supplant either Lang or Ekuban as the starting DE. He is a better pass rusher then both veterans and is intriguing prospect coming off the edge at 6-foot 6 inches. He is still young, but will make his presence felt on third downs, dropping back in pass coverage or getting to the QB with pressure. Moss will give Denver the depth on the d-line they’ve been lacking and will add a new dimension as a spark plug, to an old, aging defensive line.

Honorable Mentions:

Quincy Black – LB New Mexico (Bucs):

Black is a big LB (6’3” 230 pounds) who can play both middle and outside spots, and has the skills to become an everyday starter in Tampa, for years to come (starting this year next to Derrick Brooks). This 3rd round draft pick will become an instant factor on special teams and will work his way up to starter. Black is the second most talented LB in the Draft next to Willis and will open up eyes with his speed and pursuit to the ball carrier and QB. He will put up big numbers and help Tampa in the pass and run departments, as a forceful hitter in the Cover 2.

Antwan Barnes – LB Florida International (Ravens):

This fourth round pick will have the an impact for Baltimore’s aggressive defense. He will play a key role as a linebacker vying for important playing time, down the stretch. He was the fastest LB in the Draft and can play DE also, similar to standout pass rusher Terrell Suggs. He will raise eyebrows this season and have an impact starting on special teams, like former Raven LB Adalius Thomas had as a rookie. He can easily be the replacement for Thomas and help out Ray Lewis and Co. on defense, getting to the QB for sacks.


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