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With the current wage scale, rookies are the best commodity in the NFL. Sure, the draft is about adding for the future, but it’s also about finding that perfect fit to immediately boost an NFL team into the stratosphere. A first-year player who can influence the outcome of games on a week-to-week basis while allowing the front office flexibility to add surrounding talent over years, is a boon for NFL franchises.
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With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, let’s take a look at some rookies who landed in spots that will allow them to make an immediate impact.
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Since most NFL teams expect — or at least hope — every early-round selection to make a big impact right away, I’ll couch my list as those players I believe can impact their franchise’s playoff hopes and Super Bowl aspirations. (As much as I think Jared Goff will positively influence the Rams’ offense, for instance, I don’t see the first-year quarterback helping L.A. leapfrog the NFC West powers in 2016.)
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
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Hate or love the pick, there is no question Elliott will be a boon for the Cowboys’ offense in Year 1. The Ohio State product is a three-down stud who can carry between the tackles, owns burst at the second level, can catch passes and was a solid blocker in college. He should be the workhorse from Week 1.
If the oft-injured Darren McFadden can run for 1,089 yards in the Cowboys’ offense, the upside for Elliott should be considered massive. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL is a boon for any rookie. For Elliott, it will allow him to immediately become one of the NFL’s elite rushers. Elliott shouldering the load will also take some weight off Tony Romo Jerseys’s collarbone.
Yes, the Cowboys’ defense is clustered with question marks. But consider Dallas went into 2014 with one of the most maligned defenses in recent memory and still rode the running game to the playoffs. With Elliott churning out yards, Dallas can keep its defense on the sidelines, help Romo stay healthy and give the Cowboys a chance in a weak NFC East.
Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings edged their way into the playoffs last year with a stout defense and pounding rushing attack behind Adrian Peterson. Mike Zimmer’s squad failed to make the leap from good to great because they lacked a reliable weapon in the passing game. Stefon Diggs was a great rookie story, but the Vikes’ receivers were often bullied and rarely won at the point of the catch cheap jerseys.
Forget the slow 40 time — that’s overrated and overstated. The 6-foot-2 Treadwell gives Teddy Bridgewater a much-needed receiver who can win one-on-one battles, especially on intermediate routes. Treadwell brings size and toughness to a receiving corps that too often came up weak in 2015, especially on third down. The rookie also adds a vital red-zone threat to balance out the play-calling when space gets cramped.
Poised to remain a player in the NFC North, Treadwell can push the Vikings from an upstart squad that almost (read: should have) pulled off a playoff upset to one that has the chance to go deep into January.
Robert Nkemdiche, defensive lineman, Arizona Cardinals
Nkemdiche couldn’t have landed in a better spot. The interior defender tumbled on draft day due to literally falling out of a window and concerns about the consistency of his motor. Coach Bruce Arians and a flock of veteran leaders should straighten out the troubled pass rusher.
The Cards desperately needed pass-rushing aid this offseason. In Arizona’s two playoff games the rush barely breathed on quarterbacks, sacking Aaron Rodgers Jerseys and Cam Newton Jerseys a combined two times. Manufacturing pressure with exotic blitz packages can work wonders over the course of the regular season, but in January, steady penetration from the front line is necessary against higher-grade quarterbacks.
Adding Chandler Jones was part of the puzzle. Having Nkemdiche fall in their laps at No. 29 overall could be the difference-maker. At 294 pounds, the rookie possesses the size and athleticism to push the pocket and get up field. He might have a motor problem, but when motivated he can be a devastating playmaker. With Calais Campbell Jerseys eating up double teams, Nkemdiche is primed to see plenty of winnable battles out of the gate — especially against weaker guards that litter NFL offensive lines.
Ryan Kelly, center, Indianapolis Colts
Who is happier, Kelly after landing with a franchise quarterback or Andrew Luck, who might have just found his best friend for at least the next half decade? The Colts owned one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL the past several seasons, leading to Luck being hit 375 times cheap authentic nfl jerseys since 2012, the most of any quarterback.
The Alabama center should solidify the middle of the Colts’ line, keeping interior pressure off Luck and allowing the quarterback to step up in the pocket, something he hasn’t had the luxury of doing very often. Kelly exudes toughness and intelligence, a vital combination for the pivot position.
The Colts lost their grip on the AFC South last season after Luck suffered injuries, thanks to the constant beatings. In a wildly improving division, to regain their standing, Indy must protect the quarterback. Kelly will aid in that endeavor.
Jarran Reed, defensive tackle, Seattle Seahawks
Based on his talent, his selection in the second round and team need, Reed should be viewed as one of the steals of the draft.
The Seattle Seahawks’ secondary receives plenty of due credit, but their front four is just as devastating, with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril leading the charge. However, the Seahawks needed to add power in the middle with Brandon Mebane’s exit to San Diego in free agency. Reed fills that role and should see plenty of playing time early on for the NFC West powerhouse. It would be a surprise if the 6-foot-3, 307-pound ox didn’t start Week 1.
Reed is not an interior pass rusher and the Seahawks likely will go to sub-packages on third downs anyway. What the rookie does bring is elite run defending up the gut — a handy trait against the Todd Gurleys, Adrian Petersons, Eddie Lacy Jerseyss and David Johnsons of the world — and power to eat up blockers on the inside. The Seahawks’ interior defense was the weakest part of their unit. Reed will immediately improve the group.
The addition of Reed assures there will be no fall for the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense.
Paxton Lynch, quarterback, Denver Broncos
I’ll just anticipate taking heat for adding Lynch to a list of “immediate impact players.” I get it. Almost every analyst, coach, commentator, blogger, janitor, beverage purveyor and dairy farm specialist believes Lynch needs a year or two of seasoning before he’s NFL-ready.
I’m basing my opinion — in May — on the fact that Mark Sanchez is currently QB1.
Did anyone watch Sanchez play quarterback last year? He threw more worm-burners than catchable passes in four appearances in 2015 — in an offense that once made Nick Foles and Sam Bradford look playable, mind you. Watching Sanchez flounder on Thanksgiving was more distasteful than Aunt Sally’s Funyun-topped green bean casserole.
Yes, coach Gary Kubiak runs a simpler offense that caters to quarterbacks, and the signal-caller will have one of the best defenses in the NFL to lean on, yada, yada, yada. I just don’t believe after seven mediocre NFL seasons that the light will come on for Sanchez.
If all those consistently spouted positive attributes about Kubiak’s offense are true, the rookie should and will play. Lynch’s talent will force Denver’s hand, much as Blake Bortles’ did two years ago in Jacksonville. First-round quarterbacks play in Year 1 in the NFL, even if it’s not from Day 1.
Since Aaron Rodgers Jerseys was famously selected as Brett Favre’s heir in 2005, Brady Quinn and Jake Locker are the only first-round quarterbacks not to start a single game as rookies. Two of 26. There are no more true redshirt years. It’s a sink-or-swim league, especially for early-round quarterbacks.
Unless general manager John Elway changes gears and adds another veteran, my money is on Lynch starting early this season. With Denver’s repeat Super Bowl aspirations very much alive, the rookie’s play will have a major impact on the AFC playoff race come December.
The section below is where you can voice your displeasure that I neglected to mention your favorite pick from your favorite team, espouse how that omission is an affront to you and all that is good and true, and insinuate that this exclusion makes me an infidel worthy of being cast into the abyss.