Projected NFL Impact Rookie Players
It’s hard to believe that NFL and fantasy fans alike already find themselves in a post-2014 draft world. Now a new level of fun begins, as those who live in a football-centered universe wait with baited breath to watch how the upcoming season will unfold.
Anticipating eyes will no doubt be watching key picks like Jadeveon Clowney and Mike Evans from the moment they set foot on the field. This year’s draft held some stand-out rookies that are almost guaranteed to have a major impact on how their team’s performances unfold this year. The following four young men (in no particular order) stand an exceptionally good chance at being game-changers in their first pro-season appearances.
1. Quarterback Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
Although he was drafted later than anybody (including himself) anticipated, Manziel is widely regarded as the best potential up-and-coming quarterback of the current draft season. The Heisman Trophy winner threw for 63 touchdowns and ran for an additional 30 in his two seasons at Texas A&M. Also known as “Johnny Football,” the QB is renowned for his ability to run (quickly!) out of the pocket to navigate away from high-pressure pocket situations. Out of his 2,169 rushing yards, over 900 of them were gained during spontaneous runs. Manziel has demonstrated his ability to make rapid, smart offensive decisions (like running) that help him perform at a standout level. Although he has room to grow in all of these areas, his impressive numbers are what make his potential worth investing in.
His physical stature almost consistently meets with scrutiny; at just under 6 feet tall, critics wonder if his passing game will suffer due to his (lack of) height. Additionally, while he is a smart and skilled quarterback, his arm isn’t extraordinary, and his best throws are usually between 15-20 yards. And then there’s the fact that he’s 21 years old; he enjoys having fun and living life. For any normal 21 year old that’s to be expected, but for a starting NFL quarterback it’s a sign of weakness; frequent socializing suggests that you don’t live and breathe football, and no head coach wants that.
When it comes to the Browns, though, Manziel is essentially a perfect fit. Johnny Football needed a team where his growth can be fostered, but his ability to improvise outside of the pocket is encouraged. Cleveland needs a quarterback; and not just any QB, but one that is passionate about both the game and his team. Together, Manziel and the Browns make up for one another’s shortcomings. It is undeniable that Johnny football will be a standout on his team this year, and he could be just the change that Cleveland has been waiting for.
2. Running Back Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers)
Despite a brief, 3-game suspension last season, Carlos Hyde has firmly established himself as a consistently improving threat to be reckoned with. In fact many have pegged him to replace the 49ers go-to RB Frank Gore. Hyde is fast, and is renowned for his ability to quickly move his feet even though he’s nearly 6ft tall and packing a full 240lb frame. He was the first Urban Meyer coached RB to bust the 1,000 yard mark, and rushed for a total of nearly 2,500 yards in the past two seasons. Additionally, these two seasons saw Hyde rake in 35 touchdowns.
His off-field antics (including his alleged assault on a woman at a bar) bring to light character concerns that could haunt him his entire career. Hyde is a well-rounded and talented player, but he’s not considered a guaranteed threat. Like many other young rookies, he’s not without his rough edges.
For a team like San Francisco, Carlos Hyde is a perfect fit. He is hungry to prove himself and to establish his new position on the team; perfect timing, considering Gore is on his way out. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Hyde starting this year, and breathing a bit of new life into the 49er’s offense. His hard work and propensity for improvement can only do good things for San Francisco, and talk of him being rookie of the year has already started to circulate.
3. Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills)
Keeping with the idea that nobody’s perfect, Sammy Watkins came off of a disappointing sophomore year (due to a suspension stemming from controlled substance possession and injuries) to become arguably the best receiver in this year’s draft. He brings an unconventional asset to the table with his ability to capitalize on kickoff returns. His career stats include an impressive 3,391 yards, 27 touchdowns, and the ability to run a 40 in 4.39 seconds.
The Bills traded up to gain Watkins, a move not unprecedented by a team with a shaky ownership situation. This, in turn, places a legitimate amount of pressure on Sammy Watkins to not only perform, but perform well. Anything short of a play-off appearance could make the decision to draft Watkins look like a premature move.
There is little doubt, however, that Sammy Watkins will be anything less than an incredible asset to the Bills this year. His intellectual abilities, coupled with his obvious athleticism make him a well thought out acquisition for a team that needs a strong WR (like Watkins) to add depth to E.J. Manuel’s game. Again, talk has already circulated that Watkins will likely be the offensive player of the year if all goes as planned.
4. Tight End Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions)
Eric Ebron was an unexpected draft choice for the Lions; some fans thought Detroit would focus on attempting to improve their defense rather than boost their offense. Ebron brings some impressive numbers to the table, including over 1,800 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. He has demonstrated an ability to connect with his quarterback and read the field in order to perpetuate plays and he can catch, which is an increasingly attractive trait for a tight end to possess in today’s NFL.
Eric Ebron has young talent; and that means that some of his best skills still need to be developed. Although he can perform as a receiver, he has room for improvement in his catching game. His blocking skills are solid, but could be stronger.
All around, Ebron is an outstanding athlete. His versatility and speed make him a standout, and he will no doubt do more for the Detroit Lions than any defensive player that the team could have drafted. He does have some work to put in in order to hone his skills, but his raw potential is through the roof, and Detroit will need every bit of what he can bring to the table this year in order to maximize their performance this year. Ebron will no doubt be a standout on his team, but in the league as well.
*All statistical information obtained from www.sports-reference.com