Before we discuss the rookies that should have the biggest immediate impact, let’s look at what this draft was all about. If your team was smart, then your team would realize this was a foundation draft, or nuts and bolts draft. Not a super sexy draft with tons of top flight prospects flying off the board, but a draft where most of the players will take a few seasons of grooming to reach their full potential, and some diamonds in the rough could be found. There were no Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, or Calvin Johnson type players who will step in immediately and rise to stardom. However, there were some immensely raw prospects who could become stars in the near future.
Now the fun part. The prospects who should make an impact this season on each side of the ball, plus sleepers.
1. Le’Veon Bell RB/PITT – Bell is the perfect running back for the Steelers. Smash mouth, jump-over-you type RB, who runs like Brandon Jacobs. He should immediately become lead back in Pittsburgh, as the team will look to get back to a more even pass-run ratio from the 61% pass rate last season. He may not have the highest upside of any RB in the draft, but 800 yds and 5-6 TDs should be reasonable expectations.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson WR/MIN – Patterson was drafted to hopefully fill the void left by Percy Harvin on Adrian Peterson’s team, but it likely won’t happen this season. He’ll be WR2 on a vastly improved team, but the inconsistency of Ponder could hold him back this season. Should things break right for him, then 1000/8 could be up his alley. If Ponder struggles, knock those numbers back to 700/4.
3. Tavon Austin WR/StL – I keep going back and forth on him, as he was probably the best receiver in the draft, but goes to a team that is in complete rebuild mode. A team that also has an inconsistent QB, who may not be the answer. Then again, you don’t draft a receiver with a top 10 pick and not feature him. Since that’s the case, Austin will immediately become the focal point of the Rams offense. If the offensive line holds up and Bradford rediscovers his days from Oklahoma, Tavon could be a candidate for offensive rookie of the year. The drafting of Stedman Bailey should divert some attention from Austin, but the Rams need someone to step up at RB with Steven Jackson gone to Atlanta. He’ll either go 1200/9-10 TDs or 500/3 depending on how things break for the Rams.
4. Eddie Lacy RB/GB (short-term)/Johnathan Franklin (long-term) RB/GB – I love what the Packers did to solidify the run game, but ultimately this looks like a running back by committee, with Lacy being the grinder and Franklin being the homerun hitter. They will both help and hurt one another’s production until GB either finds a way to maximize both running backs’ effectiveness, or one runs away with the job. Money says that Lacy will be better during his first two seasons in Green Bay, but once Franklin realizes his potential, he should be feature back with Lacy the goal line and 3rd down back. 2013: Lacy- 900/6; Franklin 800/4.
5. DeAndre Hopkins WR/HOU – More of a future prospect, but his landing place and situation is intriguing. He’ll be no better than 3rd option on the Texans, as the team revolves around Arian Foster and Andre Johnson (AJ3K). However, while opposing teams focus on those two, the quick Hopkins could provide sneaky good numbers. Hopkins will primarily be the downfield threat as WR2, and may only see a handful of targets per game, but that might be all he needs to find pay dirt. 2013: 600/4 with upside for more, 8+ TDs, and nearly 1000 yards if AJ3K goes down again.
Giovani Bernard RB/CIN – Good power runner (Shady McCoy-esque), but behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Won’t likely be a starter this season, but if he impresses in camp or BJGE goes down, then Bernard’s value would rocket. Conservatively 600/4-5 wouldn’t be surprising as his baseline.
Robert Woods WR/BUFF – He’ll be as good as his quarterback this season. Similar player to Steve Johnson, albeit a bit quicker, better hands. More of a project, but will have his moments this season. Going out on a limb: 750/7 for him.
Zach Ertz TE/PHI – Probably the surprise here, but Philly needs a better tight end. Ertz is likely the optimal TE for Kelly’s offense, as he is quick for a TE, and could see some intermediate downfield targets. The downside is that he has stubby arms and doesn’t block well. 500/4 is a safe bet at this point in Chip Kelly’s inaugural season as head coach.
Honestly, I don’t like any of the quarterbacks drafted this year, but since inevitably a few will be starters, here we go:
EJ Manuel QB/BUFF – Unless you plan on starting a QB you draft, don’t draft one in the first round. Manuel was not drafted by the Bills with the 16th overall pick to sit behind Kevin Kolb. He may not be the starter week one, but he should be, and he will be the starter no later than week five. The Bills have some weapons to help him out (Steve Johnson, CJ Spiller), and drafted 2 receivers (Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin) that should help, but this is going to be a project for the Bills. The right quarterback, the right system, and the wrong offensive line. If the Bills improve this season and Manuel starts most, if not all the season, he could go 19 TDs/12 INTs/2500 yards passing, 4 rush TDs. More of a stash and reap the rewards later fantasy prospect, and the QB with the highest upside of any QB in the draft.
This was the easier of the two to pick and choose, because more names stand out than on offense. Not only that, but watching some of the players in college, one could easily see why they were highly touted. Since defensive stats vary drastically from league to league, the names provided will be the rookies who should see the most time on the field, and be in a position to rack up the statistics.
1. Jarvis Jones LB/PITT – Nasty meets hard-hitting, and the end result is QBs on the turf. There’s a reason Pittsburgh took Jarvis Jones in the 1st round. He is a hybrid LB/DE who will rack up the tackles and sacks. Jarvis was an absolute nightmare for opposing teams last season in college. He could lineup inside, outside, and on the edge of the turf. It didn’t matter; if you had the ball, he was gonna hit ya, and the Steelers are going to turn him loose. He is the rare rookie who could eclipse not only 100 tackles, but also double-digit sacks. Did I mention he played in the SEC last season? James Harrison 2.0 has entered Pittsburgh.
2. Ezekiel Ansah DE/DET – The Lions stated they drafted Ansah to start, and put the QB on the turf. He is quick off the line, can line up at OLB or DE, and has an enormous wingspan (35 1/8 in). While he may not rack up the tackles like most OLBs, he should get borderline elite level sacks and tackles for loss (TFL if your league counts those). The Lions will need someone to fill in when Suh likely gets suspended (again) for stepping on somebody, or does something else stupid, and Ansah should be that guy.
3. Tank Carradine DE/SF – If Tank’s ACL is truly healed and he regains his explosiveness, then the 49ers got themselves a steal. He only posted 80 tackles and 11 sacks last season at FSU. In other words, he has first round talent, but fell because of knee concerns. If he plays all 16 games this season, he could wreak havoc on the loaded 49ers DLine. 60+ tackles and a hope for double-digit sacks could be realistic this season, with upside for more.
4. Eric Reid S/SF – How does the NFL let the nastiest defense get nastier? By seeing the 49ers draft arguably the best safety in the draft. Not only can Reid hit, he has a knack for the football, and is very instinctive. On top of all that, he should roam free as SF’s starting free safety. 70+ tackles, 3-4 picks, and a handful of forced fumbles could be in store for the young Reid.
5. Jonathan Cyprien S/JAX – Little was known of the Florida International product before this season’s draft, but he’s a name we should learn. He’s a hard-hitting safety, who will start on an offensively challenged Jaguars squad. Posted solid numbers at FIU last season (4 picks), and plays like Dashon Goldson, with more prowess for the pick.
Malliciah Goodman DE/ATL – Very raw, but the Falcons need a pass rusher opposite Umenyiora, and he could be the answer. Could lead Atlanta in sacks and get decent tackle totals in the least.
Dee Milliner CB/NYJ – As long as the Jets continue to have Rex Ryan as coach and not address the state of the franchise, the team is going nowhere offensively, which should only allow Milliner an opportunity to lead the rookie CB class in INTs and passes defensed (PDs; if your league counts those).
Star Lotulelei DT/CAR – He could be the exception to the DT rule of run stopper only. Star is explosive and quick for his size, and has a knack for getting through to the QB. Anytime you can get 5-6 sacks, a nice number of TFL, and 40+ tackles from your DT it’s a bonus, and Star could be one of those Ngata-esque DTs who is quick enough to run over the QB.
Alec Ogletree ILB/StL – If he can stay out of trouble off the field, he could be second leading tackler on the Rams, and produce a handful of sacks from inside linebacker (ILB).
Barkevious Mingo OLB/DE/CLE – It might be an understatement calling him a sleeper, but as starting OLB on an underrated Browns defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Mingo get 5-6 sacks, a handful of forced fumbles, and tackles for loss. He is one of the few players who if things break right for him, he could challenge Jarvis Jones for defensive rookie of the year.