Saquon Barkley, Roquan Smith top list of 32 NFL rookies who'll make an instant impact
Here's a look at one rookie for each team who'll provide an immediate contribution in 2018
The 2018 NFL Draft is over and there is a lot of talk about which team had the best draft haul, but in most instances it will take a few years before we know exactly how a team fared. There are some players, however, who are in a position to make a difference right away.
Here's a look at which draft picks have the best chances to make an instant impact on their new teams as rookies. The selections below are from different rounds of the draft, not just the first -- quality players who find themselves in situations where they'll be asked to be important contributors in their debut seasons.
Josh Rosen, QB: The Cardinals may take it slow with Rosen, but I think he'll beat out Sam Bradford in camp and the preseason and start in Week 1. Rosen is surgical in the short-to-intermediate ranges and has Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson at his disposal. Don't forget about second-round pick Christian Kirk either. He should be a slot target Rosen will look for often.
Deadrin Senat, DT: To single out one Falcons 2018 pick for this article is difficult, because I really like what Atlanta's front office did in the draft. Grady Jarrett desperately needs a quality running mate on the interior, and Senat is a bowling ball with a high motor and active hands. He likely won't duplicate Jarrett's pass-rushing production, but the former USF standout will thrive against the run right away. The sleeper here is not Calvin Ridley, but fourth-round running back Ito Smith.
Orlando Brown, OT: The Ravens have a young left tackle with elite traits in Ronnie Stanley, and while Brown doesn't possess the same athletic prowess, his film speaks for itself. After losing Ricky Wagner in free agency last offseason, the right edge of Baltimore's offensive front became a liability. Brown is a road-grader in the run game, and his length makes edge-rushers take a wide arc to the quarterback.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB: Behind a bolstered defensive front with new pieces Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy and Harrison Phillips -- the latter could've been the "instant impact" pick -- along with steady veterans like Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes, Edmunds is going to spend much of his time roaming free at the second level, a scary proposition for opposing offenses. At nearly 6-foot-5 and 250-plus pounds, the former Virginia Tech star absolutely flies to the football and has the length and athleticism to cover out of the backfield. He's in line for the starting middle linebacker gig next to Matt Milano, another fine athlete who quietly turned in an impressive rookie campaign a season ago.
Ian Thomas, TE: No, Pete Prisco didn't force me into this selection, although this is Pete's guy. Thomas is an above-average receiver for the tight-end position with NFL size and some moments of high-caliber blocking. While I expect Cam Newton to look Greg Olsen's way most often in 2018, I can see Thomas emerging as a big-play target after the first month of the regular season.
Roquan Smith, LB: Smith was a top-5 prospect on my Big Board, he'll be an immediate starter, and he landed with respected defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, someone who's coached a number of stud linebackers at the professional level. Smith does everything you need from a linebacker in today's NFL, and he covers like a safety. He's penciled in for 125 tackles as a rookie.
Billy Price, OC: I have concerns about Price's lateral quickness, which hurt him against speedy one-gappers and when facing twists up front. Everything else with his game checks out. He's a nasty, run-blocking stalwart and while he can get off balance when dealing with counter moves, the longtime Ohio State starter works hard to recover in pass protection. With a big hole at the pivot, Price should start from Day One and will be a big upgrade from Russell Bodine.
Baker Mayfield, QB: Although Cleveland traded the first pick in the third round to get Tyrod Taylor and is paying him $16 million in 2018, I can't see him starting for very long -- if at all -- this season. Mayfield was the No. 1 pick in the draft and finds himself on a club with an solid group of pass-catchers.
Michael Gallup, WR: Gallup was a first-round prospect in my estimation, a smooth pass-catcher proficient in every skill necessary to thrive in the NFL. He's in the ideal situation in Dallas, as the Cowboys seemingly want someone who can stretch the field at times and also move the chains on critical third downs. Per Sports Info Solutions, Gallup caught 17 passes on third down that went for a first down in 2017, the fifth-most in the nation.
Bradley Chubb, DE: Von Miller has needed help on the opposite end of Denver's defensive line since DeMarcus Ware retired, and the Broncos have a big, strong, multi-faceted edge-rusher in Chubb who should mainly find himself in one-on-one situations as a rookie. Probably not 15 sacks for the former NC State stud, but he should near double-digit sacks, and he'll be a force against the run.
Frank Ragnow, OC: The Lions running game wasn't going to take off simply with a talented ball-carrier. Detroit needed to get stronger up front, and the club's front office has spent the last two years prioritizing the offensive line. Ragnow isn't flashy. He's NFL strong right now, rarely impacted by counter moves, and a bulldozer for the ground game.
Green Bay Packers
Jaire Alexander, CB: New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will mix coverages -- like every coach -- but he'll mostly lean on man behind his array of exotic blitzes. Alexander can be a ball-hawk in zone, and he has the supreme athleticism and tenacity to succeed in man coverage. He'll lock down even some of the quicker wideouts in the league.
Justin Reid, S: Reid is a heady, versatile safety who can cover bigger slot receivers and has the awareness and athleticism to make plays peeling off his coverage down the field. He's not the most reliable tackler against the run, but he's typically one of the first defensive backs to get his helmet near the line of scrimmage. Reid and Tyrann Mathieu formulate one of the most fun and interchangeable safety tandems in the AFC.
Darius Leonard, LB: The Colts were in dire need of speed on their defense, especially at the linebacker position as they transition to principles of a 4-3 alignment as their foundation in 2018. Leonard is high-cut but flies all over the field and is a gifted man-to-man coverage linebacker. He'll be productive in a three-down role as a rookie.
D.J. Chark, WR: The Jaguars don't have a lot of open starting spots on their roster, and while I don't believe he's a natural hands catcher, Chark should be able to hit some big plays for Blake Bortles as a rookie. Even if he's a low-volume player, the deep connections will go a long way for Jacksonville's ground game.
Kansas City Chiefs
Dorian O'Daniel, LB: I loved O'Daniel as a prospect, a sleek linebacker/safety hybrid who plays with urgency, powerful hands against blockers, and elite-level agility to mirror the jukes of ball-carriers. He was a late first-rounder on my Big Board. He'll add speed to a linebacker group in need of a player who can quickly get from the middle of the field to the sideline and feels comfortable sinking in coverage.
Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James, S: James roaming behind Los Angeles' impressive pass-rush should be a frightening thought for opposing running backs and quarterbacks alike. The 6-3, 210-plus pound safety is a dynamic athlete, recognizes play designs quickly, and lays the lumber as a tackler. He'll be a 75-tackle, three-interception, three-sack player as a rookie.
Los Angeles Rams
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE: I didn't understand the "undersized" label for Okoronkwo during the pre-draft process. He was three-eighths of an inch under 6-2, and he tipped the scales at 253 at the combine ... plenty big enough to be a stand-up rusher. Anyway, his film is loaded with speed-rush wins, plays in which he controlled bigger offensive tackles with hand usage, and awesome bend and dip around the corner. He's going to eat in Wade Phillip's system with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the inside.
Mike Gesicki, TE: Gesicki has All-Pro talent mainly because he's a reliable pass-catcher with freakish athletic talents and traits that'll help him score touchdowns inside the red zone in the NFL. The Dolphins don't have a ton of threatening perimeter pass-catchers, but this former Penn State star should thrive between the tackles and could even line up on the outside, as he has the body type of a big wide receiver.
Ade Aruna, DL: Going deep in the draft here with Aruna, a size/burst specimen at nearly 6-5 and 262 pounds who quietly ran 4.60 at the combine. Mike Zimmer will put Aruna in clearly defined, one-gap spots in sub-packages, and the former Tulane standout will be an important role player along the Vikings' defensive line as a rookie.
New England Patriots
Sony Michel, RB: Michel is a sudden, make-you-miss air back who fits the mold the Patriots love at their running-back position. Yes, Rex Burkhead and James White are in New England, but Michel has fresh legs and should be more involved in the inside running game than his veteran counterparts.
New Orleans Saints
Tre'Quan Smith, WR: While Marcus Davenport is in a similar situation across from Cam Jordan as Bradley Chubb is with Von Miller in Denver, I think Smith will be more "instant impact" for the Saints as a rookie. Coverages will roll toward Michael Thomas this year, and we know Drew Brees is capable of turning secondary and tertiary targets into consistent producers. Smith is a springy athlete who can win after the catch and down the field.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley, RB: Never mind for a second that the Giants didn't get the best draft value with Barkley at No. 2 overall. He's on the team, and New York did draft Will Hernandez in the second round to create a bulldozing left side along with Nate Solder. Barkley should be a 15-20 carry per game creator and will create plenty of highlights in the screen game.
New York Jets
Parry Nickerson, CB: Had Nickerson been an inch or two taller, he'd have been a first- or second-day selection. He ran sub 4.40 at the combine and showcased aggressive ball skills throughout his illustrious career at Tulane. He's likely to be on the field often as a rookie, even if it's covering slot receivers. That role has become a full-time position in the modern NFL.
Maurice Hurst, DT: Hopefully Hurst's heart issues are behind him. On the field he's a Geno Atkins type of upfield penetrator, and he's not totally reliant on quickness of the snap. He uses his hands extremely well, and because he isn't 6-3, Hurst normally wins the leverage battle on the inside. He's set up to dominate on the inside with Khalil Mack garnering major attention on the edge.
Dallas Goedert, TE: Goedert will find himself as TE2 behind Zach Ertz in Philadelphia; however, the departed Trey Burton did catch 60 passes for 575 yards with six receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons with the Eagles. Goedert is a matchup nightmare out wide and has the long arms and strong hands to make difficult catches outside his frame look routine.
James Washington, WR: OK, so Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the primary receiving targets among the receiver group in Pittsburgh, yet someone needs to fill Martavis Bryant's role. That can be Washington, a faster-on-the-field-than-at-the-combine player. The former Oklahoma State superstar was the best deep threat in the 2018 draft and tracks the ball extraordinarily well. He won't be a 75-catch player as a rookie ... he could average close to 20 yards per reception.
San Francisco 49ers
Fred Warner, LB: The BYU tackling machine quietly flew under the radar as one of the more athletic, refined linebackers in this draft. Playing behind a defense with three former first-round talents, Warner is a prime position to fill up the stat sheet as a rookie.
Rasheem Green, DL: This is the type of versatile, pass-rushing defensive lineman the Seahawks love. While I won't call him Michael Bennett 2.0, Green is a similar type of player, someone built to rush from the inside in nickel packages. He uses a devastating swim move and has outstanding burst off the snap. Although he's not a productive run-defender, Green will pressure the quarterback often as a rookie.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones, RB: Jones is a one-cut slasher with jets that flip on immediately once he's through the line of scrimmage. The Buccaneers really needed a reliable feature back, and they now have one in the former USC star. The improved offensive line means Jameis Winston's crew will be able to lean on the ground game more than it has been able to recently.
Harold Landry, DE: Many saw Landry as a clear-cut first-rounder due to his speed and dip around the edge, and while I didn't hate him as a prospect, I thought he needed to go to a team that wouldn't ask him to be the alpha rusher as a rookie so he'd have time to develop some counter moves. In Tennessee, with Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan flying around the corner, Landry won't have to be the No. 1 guy right away. He should still make some game-changing plays in obvious passing situations in his debut season.
Derrius Guice, RB: Guice was a first-round talent the Redskins nabbed in the middle of the second round due to some teams' concerns over maturity or off-field issues. If those aren't problems, Washington has their feature back of the next three-to-five seasons. Guice is a violent, surprisingly fast and elusive runner with immense power.
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