Special to NFLGridironGab
More than ever, teams are now looking for rookies to make an immediate impact in their first year. Long gone are the “redshirt” mentalities of most teams, because rookies at all levels (high draft picks, middle and low draft picks, and undrafted free agents) must earn their spot and contribute from Day 1 with their respective teams.
This concept is not as far-fetched as in the past. College systems have become more sophisticated and the learning curve between big time college football and the pros has become less steep than ever. Draft stats also show that NFL teams are looking to big conference players in the draft – at the 2010 NFL Draft almost 75% of the players selected were from the 6 BCS Conferences.
NFL Network’s Draft Guru Mike Mayok recently summed up the situation by saying, “NFL coaches now expect that their draft picks will be able to step onto the field and compete in their first year”. He added “With the limited amount of players that can dress each week coaches are looking for draft picks that can help out everywhere, especially on special teams”.
The 2009 NFL Season showed that this trend of rookies contributing is here to stay. Impact rookies produced high marks on offense, defense, and special teams including: NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings WR Percy Harvin (60 catches for 790 yards and 6 TDs), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing (Over 100 TKLS), Buffalo Bills safety Jarius Byrd (9 INTs), Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews (10 sacks) and many others.
Here is a look at my picks for 2010 impact offensive rookies
Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best – The Lions now have a speedster back that should fit nicely on their indoor track. I could see Best being the next Brian Westbrook as he combines speed, moves, and hands. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is hoping that he has the next Reggie Bush and I think he maybe right. Best was one of the fastest players at the 2010 NFL Combine and he is a former California state champ in the 100 meters The only question is durability (back injury and concussion last year at Cal), but look for Best to make a huge impact running, catching, and helping on kick returns for Detroit – expect over 250 touches in 2010. Best averaged an amazing 7.3 yards per carry for his college career.
Washington Redskins OT Trent Williams – I know offensive lineman are boring, but there is no denying that this former Oklahoma All-American will have a huge impact for the Redskins. In 2009, the ‘Skins had all sorts of O-line problems, but this year new quarterback Donovan McNabb should feel confident with his new blindside protector. Williams (6’4 ½, 314) was a 40-game starter at OU with experience at both left and right tackle while earning first-team All-Big 12 honors the last two years. Adapt at pass and run blocking, Williams has great athleticism to handle speed rushers.
Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant – A high ankle sprain may have slowed Bryant in preseason, but there is no denying that he has Randy Moss 1998 potential. Yes…I know about his checkered past, but the Cowboys are well equipped to help him. The former Oklahoma State star should replace underachiever Roy Williams by Dallas’ 7th game. Bryant missed all but three games in 2009 after being suspended by the NCAA for inappropriate interaction with former NFL great Deion Sanders, but there is no denying his ability. He has been compared to Houston Texan Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson and if Bryant keeps his head on straight, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, QB Tony Romo, and WR Miles Austin will be very happy men. Look for Bryant to have an impact catching “Go” routes and in the return game — 2008 numbers of 87 catches for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns, plus an average of 17.9 yards per punt return with 2 TDs.
Buffalo Bills RB CJ Spiller – If he can stay healthy, Spiller should battle the aforementioned Jahvid Best to be the NFL’s newest Reggie Bush clone. Spiller (5’11/196) is a homerun threat type of player, who should get a lot of work early in the 2010 NFL Season with veterans Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch (hand) banged-up. The former track star ran a 4.37-second forty at the NFL Combine and has great hands catching the ball. Spiller in 2009 had 31 carries of 10+ yards and eight receptions for 20 yards or more plus contributed an NCAA-leading five TDs on returns — 5.6 yards per carry average and 36 catches. Look for the former Clemson star to help out on kickoffs, catching the ball on third downs, and running the ball to the outside.
San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Matthews — Chargers head coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith made the tough decisions of releasing veterans RB LaDainian Tomlinson. But that doesn’t matter as Matthew is clearly their back of the future. The number-two rusher in NCAA football last year (276 carries for 1,808 rushing yards and 19 TDs) is a big (6’0, 218) physical runner that also has speed. Matthews should have an impact running inside, outside, and in the redzone. I am expecting the former Fresno State star to get at least 250 touches with veteran Darren Sproles helping on 3rd downs. However two areas that Matthews must work-on is catching the football (only 19 career receptions in college) and picking up a blitz.
Carolina Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen – This 2nd round pick has all the tools to be a week-in, week-out starter in the NFL. Right now he is nursing a toe injury and the Panthers are starting QB Matt Moore – 6-2 as a starter – but I think by mid-season that on-the-hot-seat head coach John Fox will start the rookie. Playing in a “pro style” offense – a huge plus for any college QB — Clausen from 2007 to 2009 improved greatly under the tutelage of Charlie Weis. The junior-eligible is tough, accurate (68% completion percentage last year), and is a leader. Look for the former Notre Dame star to get the ball to receivers Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Dwayne Jarrett. Clausen sported an outstanding 28 to 4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year.
Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey – Already several Steelers are comparing the former University Florida youngster to former team great Dermotti Dawson. Pouncey was the 2009 Rimington Award winner as the best pivot in college football. After a stellar training camp, Pouncey surged passed veteran Jeff Hartwig to assume the leadership role on the Steelers’ O-line. The former junior-eligible is very smart, has very good feet, and plays with great leverage. The former All-SEC pick should be cornerstone in the Steel City for years to come and he should be an impact player in leading Rashard Mendenhall on inside runs.
SF 49ers OG Mike Iupati – To protect star running back Frank Gore and comebacking QB Alex Smith, the Niners used their two first-round picks (11th and 17th overall) to fortify their O-line. They selected Rutgers OT Anthony Davis (Rutgers) and the rock solid Iupati. The big (6’5, 325) All-American from Idaho was one of the most impressive lineman at this year’s Senior Bowl. Iupati has 35-inch arms, good footwork, and balance to dominate on the inside. With Niners’ OC Jimmy Raye going to a more ball-control offense, look for Iupati to lead the way on many Gore runs.
Oakland Raiders OG Bruce Campbell – Another O-lineman…That’s Right. Campbell (6’6, 314) is an incredibly athletic prospect with extremely long arms (36 ¼-inches). The Raiders were extremely lucky to have grabbed him in the 3rd round. If he can fight through some preseason penalty struggles, Campbell should be a key player leading RB Darren McFadden on sweeps. The former All-ACC players should be a great pro offensive guard and look for him to be more athletic than some of his opponents — ran an offensive lineman best 4.85 forty at the NFL Combine.
The Best of the Rest
Cleveland Browns RB Montario Hardesty (Big physical runner for a pedestrian Browns’ offense)
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer (A classic Steelers between-the-tackles thumping runner)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (Has put away his college baggage and looks like the “Real Deal”)
Kansas City Chiefs RB/KR/WR Dexter McCluster (This guy is could be the next Darren Sproles as he does a variety of things well)
St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford (Get ready for a “Troy Aikmen” type rookie season. Development and a lot of lumps)
New York Jets OG Vladimir Ducasse
Carolina Panthers WR Brandon LaFell
Denver Broncos center J.D. Walton
Green Bay Packers RB James Starks
Tennessee Titans RB LaGarrette Blount
New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham