A season ago, Deebo Samuel, Miles Sanders, Elgton Jenkins, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin were NFC rookies picked after the first round but played like first-round picks during their rookie seasons. And you, NFL fan starved for football, know all about your favorite team's first-round pick in the 2020 draft. It's time to really get acclimated with the non-Round 1 selection who has the talent -- and situation -- to flourish in his debut season in the NFL.
While the COVID-19 shortened offseason will negatively impact many rookies across the league, we'll still get some mid-to-late round picks who'll easily acclimate to the pro game and become key pieces on their respective team. On Tuesday, I identified my favorite rookie sleepers in the AFC. Below is the NFC version.
Impressive stat to know: 32 quarterback pressures on 320 pass-rush snaps in 2019 at Oklahoma
Gallimore dropped significant weight before his final season at Oklahoma, and he morphed from a space-eating run defender into a lightning quick, one-gap penetrator. Finally freed from the nose tackle role, Gallimore was a menacing disruptor with a fun blend of first-step explosion and an array of pass-rushing moves. Dallas' defense was ravaged in free agency, and the 6-foot-2, 304-pound Gallimore has the perfect size and skill set to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Maliek Collins on the Cowboys' defensive front.
Impressive stat to know: 18 tackles for loss and six pass breakups in 2018 and 2019 combined at Colorado
Taylor is relatively new to the game of football and played just two seasons at Colorado but produced in a big way.
Everything about Taylor's game translates ideally to the NFL as we know it today. At 6-0 and 228 pounds with blistering 4.49 speed, he as range for days and plays with zero hesitation. Taylor's coaches trusted him as a slot cornerback often. In fact, per PFF, 294 of his snaps in 2019 came at that position, more than his 251 snaps in the box as a traditional linebacker. For being a raw second-level defender, Taylor took on and dispatched blocks decently well and his electric burst keeps him close to the football frequently. Taylor's in a perfect situation in Philadelphia, because the Eagles desperately needed more athleticism in their linebacker group.
Impressive stat to know: Over 70 receptions and 1,000-plus yards with 10 touchdowns in each of his two seasons at Liberty
Gandy-Golden went the junior college route then dominated at Liberty for two seasons with an intimidating combination of size, rebounding prowess, and deceptive yards-after-the-catch capabilities. Though most of his games were against lesser competition, he was remarkably steady in 2019 regardless of opponent. At a legitimate 6-4 and 223 pounds with nearly 10-inch hands, Gandy-Golden towers over most cornerbacks and he plays to every inch of his frame with an assertive "my ball" mentality. While not overly fluid to create separation on routes with multiple cuts, he's explosive enough to generate just enough to create a bubble with his box-out skills and catch radius and is a load to bring to the turf.
Washington is in dire need of secondary options behind Terry McLaurin in its receiver group, and Gandy-Golden will be a nice complement to him because the rookie is completely different stylistically than McLaurin.
Impressive stat to know: Eight interceptions and 17 pass breakups in three seasons at UCLA
Holmes is the rookie featured in this article in which I'm least confident. His play is wildly up and down, so it's nearly impossible to pinpoint which version of the defensive back you're going to see each game. Son of former NFL running back Darick Holmes, Darnay has bloodlines teams love and he ran 4.48 at the combine.
There's nothing from an athletic standpoint that's too challenging for him on the field. Holmes can just be much too aggressive biting on breaks in a receiver's route or simply allow too much separation. The latter is a strange occurrence because he's so athletic. Anyway, Holmes enters a Giants secondary in dire need of springy, playmaking ability, and he undoubtedly has that.
RB A.J. Dillon
Impressive stat to know: Two seasons of 1,500-plus rushing yards at 5.3 yards per attempt (2017 and 2019) at Boston College
Dillon is a train with some bounce in his step, and he laughs off weak arm-tackle attempts in the open field. At 6-0 and 247 pounds, Dillon has tree trunks for legs, and they're loaded with explosiveness, as evidenced by his 4.53 in the 40, a 41-inch vertical, and 131-inch broad jump. There's just enough lateral burst in his running style to make one defender miss per run, and that's usuallly all he needs to do to break a long run. While not as nationally regarded, Dillon's 1,589-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2017 as a 19-year-old freshman was Adrian Peterson-esque.
Aaron Jones is, of course, the No. 1 back in Green Bay, and is quite the flexible athlete in his own right. But Dillon's modern-day power back vibe will add a punishing element to the Packers' ground game in 2020.
LB Troy Dye
Impressive stat to know: Averaged just under 98 tackles per season in his four-year stint at Oregon
Dye has the awesome linebacker pairing of Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr in front of him in Minnesota, but Dye has the experience, length, and particularly the coverage savvy to get on the field early in his career with the Vikings.
A rare four-year starter and high-level producer, Dye isn't flashy, he just glides to the football on outside runs and flies down the seam with tight ends then finds the football. He dealt with injuries in his final season at Oregon but played through them. He has the well-rounded game Mike Zimmer will absolutely adore.
EDGE Julian Okwara
Impressive stat to know: 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks across his final 22 games at Notre Dame
Okwara is a dude at 6-4, 252 pounds with nearly 35-inch tentacles. His power is effortless, and it looks like he could add more weight to his frame, which should be a scary thought for offensive linemen who struggle to anchor against bull rushes. While never totally dominated in college, Okwara did have some long stretches without much pass-rushing production. His high-level play is of first-round caliber because his hands are so powerful, and he's an effortless athlete around the corner.
After Trey Flowers, Detroit has to get more pass-rushing help, and Okwara has the game and NFL veteran caliber strength to make an impact as a rookie.
Impressive stat to know: Accounted for a whopping 41.7% of Tulane's receiving yards in his Age 20/21 season at Tulane in 2018
Mooney was easy to overlook during the pre-draft process. He never caught more than 48 passes in a single season in his collegiate career and stands 5-10 and 176 pounds. But his quarterback play was average at its absolute best at Tulane, which hindered his production a great deal.
If you're going to be that small in the NFL, you better be fast, and Mooney is. He ran 4.38 at the combine and had 37-inch vertical. On film, he demonstrated awesome concentration when tracking the football down the field and played bigger than his size because of his leaping talents. Allen Robinson is an underrated star in Chicago, and Anthony Miller flashed in his second season, but if Ted Ginn has lot a few steps, Mooney can be the deep-ball specialist for the Bears as a rookie. He's very polished in that role.
Impressive stat to know: Forced 30 missed tackles in 2019 at Tennessee, the most among any draft-eligible receiver, per PFF
Jennings was a dual-threat quarterback recruit when he joined the Tennessee program in 2015 but was flipped to receiver almost instantly and never looked back. Jennings is magical with the ball in his hands, and each time he starts carrying the football after the catch, you're reminded he was a dual-threat quarterback out of high school.
At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Jennings has quality size but is a lower-level athlete and won't run by many NFL cornerbacks. He shields with his body well and is a raging bull after the catch. No play caller schemes receiver production better than Kyle Shanahan, and his offense is predicated on skill-position players' ability to run after the catch.
Impressive stat to know: Led all draft-eligible tight ends with 14 contested-catches in 2019 at Stanford, according to PFF
Parkinson is the latest in basically the same type of tight end to enter the league from Stanford during the David Shaw era -- except he wasn't utilized in line as a blocker really at all. That doesn't really matter though. But like Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper, and Kaden Smith before him, Parkinson is towering and unreal bringing in the football with defenders draped on him.
Russell Wilson has loved targeting big-bodied tight ends during his fun tenure in Seattle, and Parkinson's 6-7 frame and rebounding mastery will be a welcomed additions to the Seahawks' pass-catching contingent.
RB Eno Benjamin
Impressive stat to know: Caught 77 passes over the past two seasons at Arizona State
Benjamin had no business lasting until the seventh round. None. But explaining the immense value he represented is not the point of this article. A super-bouncy feature back in college -- who averaged 5.5 yards-per carry on 300 attempts (!) in 2018 -- with above-average contact balance, a fine athletic profile and soft hands, Benjamin is ready to produce in the NFL right away.
However, he'll begin his pro career behind Kenyan Drake and second-year runner Chase Edmonds. But we all know how quickly a team can move through a running back committee. Keep an eye on Benjamin. He's good.
Impressive stat to know: 81 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and five pass breakups in 2019 at Utah
Burgess is well-equipped to be a slot defender in the NFL. He's part nickel corner, part safety, part linebacker, and we're starting to see more of these types not just pop up but excel on Sundays.
While somewhat pushed out of the spotlight by other secondary stars at Utah, he repeatedly flashed on film while I watched his teammates. Then, at the combine, Burgess rocked his workout with a 4.46 time in the 40 at 5-11 and 202 pounds. The Rams lost elite coverage linebacker Cory Littleton in free agency, and Burgess, essentially comfortable in any situation defensively, will help fill the void from the veteran's departure.
Impressive stat to know: Nine interceptions in his last 26 games at California
Ashtyn Davis was the Cal safety who received the most hype this past draft cycle, and while watching his film, Hawkins consistently made plays. I love his combination of quality range and quickness in his feet to close on the football in front of him at the intermediate level. He's unafraid to throw his weight around against the run, and is decently effective in the box too.
Hawkins actually has an uphill climb to get on the field with Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen in front of him, but he's one of those players who, thanks to instincts more than anything else, is involved in the action often.
S/LB Jeremy Chinn
Impressive stat to know: 13 interceptions and 31 pass breakups in four years at Southern Illinois
I was flabbergasted watching Chinn's film. He just didn't look like he belonged in the FCS level, and, frankly, I'm not sure I've ever watched a safety that big (6-3, 221) move as fast with as much acceleration (regardless of level).
Chinn ran 4.45 with a 41-inch vertical and a 138-inch broad jump, meaning his radius to breakup passes is larger than your garage door. His click-and-close is incredible, and his range is outstanding. While not a deft block-defeater, he's typically ahead of pulling guards at the second level. And I thought Chinn's change-of-direction skills were more impressive than that of Isaiah Simmons. For real. I can't wait to watch him in Carolina's young defense.
TE Adam Trautman
Impressive stat to know: 23 touchdowns in his last 22 games at Dayton
Every year, a small-school prospect (or two or three) pop out of nowhere at the Senior Bowl and prove they can play "up" in competition. Trautman was one of those players this year. After dominating the Pioneer League, Trautman freed himself in one-on-ones against linebackers and safeties with good regularity.
He snaps out of his breaks at each level of the field but is probably best underneath and after the catch because Trautman isn't a tremendous athlete. But working the short levels of the pass game is fine in New Orleans with Drew Brees, and with Jared Cook now 33 years old, Trautman could get run early.
Impressive stat to know: Back-to-back 70-plus catch, 1,100-plus yard, 10-plus touchdown seasons at Minnesota
There were some mysterious character concerns with Johnson that floated around during the pre-draft process, which have to be the reason he fell to the fourth round. Because his film was ultra-clean for the past three years at Minnesota.
Slippery and fully aware of how to shake press at the line -- mostly from the slot -- Johnson is a short-area separation creator and is a running back after the catch. He plucks wayward passes in his vicinity with ease too. Yes, he's on a team absolutely loaded with pass-catchers, but if there are any injuries, or if Tampa Bay wants to cater to Tom Brady's love for reliable slot receivers, Johnson will get on the field and produce.