The beginning of the NFL season is just weeks away, and we’ll soon get our first real glimpse of how the rookies drafted back in April fare in a game that actually matters. As is always the case, some of those players won’t live up to the hype, while others will shine through and make it obvious why they were so highly sought after. Let’s take a look at five of those NFL rookies who should be making a big impact in the NFL this year.
1. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
Far and away the best running back in this year’s draft, Cleveland took Richardson with the third overall pick. At 5’9 and 230lbs, he is a strong, powerful rusher who can move defenders with ease. He has the ability to hit the hole with speed, and run for the big gains. Richardson possesses good hands and should be productive when used as a receiver.
He looks to start straight away in Cleveland, and will probably be their best offensive player. The Browns don’t have much in the way of receiving options, and will start the season with another rookie as their quarterback. A lot of people are looking to Richardson to provide the type of play that can help Cleveland become competitive in a tough AFC North division.
One slight concern is the fact that Richardson is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee. Cleveland is confident he’ll be back for the beginning of the regular season, but how much of an impact the operation will have remains to be seen. Regardless, Richardson is one of the best running backs to come out of college in years and he will be given every opportunity to prove he belongs in the NFL.
2. Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys
Taken with the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft, the Cowboys actually traded up to get their man, and they expect big things from the cornerback out of Louisiana State University.
Claiborne has great speed and can keep up with the fastest of receivers. He was one of the most athletic football players in the entire draft and performs well against the run with his excellent tackling ability.
Like Richardson and most first round picks, he will start straight away and should immediately improve the Cowboy’s defensive ranks.
What must be taken into consideration is the speed of the game in the NFL and the quality of its quarterbacks and receivers. How will Claiborne fare when facing the likes of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald? I think it’ll be tough for him, but he has all the talent in the world necessary to make the adjustments and become an excellent NFL defensive back.
3. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
The second Browns player in our list, Weeden caused much discussion this year, primarily because he joins the NFL at the age of 29. While many saw this as somewhat of a wasted pick, questioning how many productive years they will get out of him, others saw his maturity as an advantage and something that will help him develop quickly.
Weeden only became the starting quarterback in his junior year at college, but was excellent on his way to completing 67 per cent of his passes. He has good arm strength and is an intelligent football player who has proven to be a leader both on and off the field.
The Browns recently named him as their starting quarterback, replacing third year player Colt McCoy, who never managed to develop quite as Cleveland would have liked.
As mentioned earlier, the Browns are not exactly loaded at the wide receiver position, and as a result Weeden could struggle.
However, the starting job is his to lose. Weeden must take the chance to show that his age is a positive and that the Browns were right on taking him.
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Playing his college football on the blue turf of Boise State, the Bucs traded into the 31st pick in this year’s draft to select Martin.
He has a good combination of speed and power, and should quite comfortably be an every down back. He can pick up yards after the initial contact and is more than adequate as a receiver.
The Bucs currently have Martin listed as their number two running back behind LeGarrette Blount, but the general consensus is that this won’t be the case going into the regular season. Tampa Bay obviously saw enough in Martin to move up in the draft to get him, and reports coming out of training camp point to the rookie taking the majority of reps with the first team.
Martin could be one of the surprises this year. He is a well-rounded running back, and even if Blount manages to maintain his grip as the number one rusher, I don’t think it will be long before Martin becomes the main man for the Buccaneers.
5. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
He was always going to be the second player chosen this year behind fellow quarterback Andrew Luck, but for many, Griffin will be the one who has the biggest impact this season.
As the Heisman Trophy winner, Griffin was one of the most potent quarterbacks in his senior year, passing for 37 touchdowns and rushing for ten more. He has a rocket arm, coupled with a quick release and a football brain that has coaches chomping at the bit. The fact that he is such a threat on the ground makes him such a dangerous player, and he has many comparing him to last year’s excellent rookie quarterback, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.
I think Griffin is more of a complete quarterback than Newton. He is the type of player that a franchise can be built around. If he turns out to be the man the Redskins think he is, he could be one of the league’s best passers for many years to come.
As with first overall pick, Andrew Luck, who landed in Indianapolis, Griffin doesn’t find himself surrounded with talent at wide receiver. Perhaps Pierre Garcon offers the most legitimate threat, but this season could see Griffin taking off running more than the Redskins would like him to.
Barring any disasters, Griffin should be a success in the NFL. It’s not often that a quarterback of his calibre comes along, and his natural ability and proven leadership skills make him one to watch this season.
So there you have it, our five NFL rookies to watch. What do you think? Which rookies are you keeping your eye on?