2007 NFL Rookie Impact Players (Offense)

More than ever teams are now looking for rookies to make an immediate impact in their first year. Long gone are the “redshirt” mentalities of most teams, because they expect rookies at all levels (high draft picks, middle and low draft picks, and undrafted free agents) to earn their spot and help the team from day one. This expectation is not as far fetched as in the past with college systems becoming more sophisticated and the learning curve between big time college football and the pros becoming less steep. Before the 2007 NFL Draft respected NFL talent evaluator Mike Mayok of NFL Network summed it up best by saying “NFL coaches now expect that their Day 1 draft picks (Rounds 1-3) will be able to step onto the field and compete in their first year”. He added “With the limited amount of players that can dress each week coaches are looking for draft picks that can help out everywhere, especially on special team where we saw the impact of Bears rookie Devin Hester on the NFL”.

The 2006 NFL Season showed that this trend is on the upswing as this draft class produced a record number of rookie impact players with 35 rookie starters in NFL lineups on opening day not counting punters and kickers. The impact rookies producing high marks in 2006 came from offense, defense, and special teams including: NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (Over 2,000 yards passing and Over 500 yards rushing), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Houston Texans LB DeMeco Ryans (Over 100 TKLS), explosive Chicago Bears WR/DB/KR Devin Hester (NFL Record 6 Returns for Touchdowns), Jacksonville Jaguars RB/KR Maurice Jones-Drew (13 Total TDs), San Diego Chargers tough RT Marcus McNeil, New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush (88 catches), 7th round surprise New Orleans Saints WR Marques Colston (Over 1,000 yards receiving) , and many others.

Here is a look at some of 2007’s offensive rookies that I believe will continue the trend of first year impact players.

  • RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Peterson is my number one candidate for rookie of the year in 2007. He has all of the requisite skills (size, speed, and vision) to be a solid NFL running back plus he will be running behind Pro Bowlers mammoth guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie. The Vikings first round pick will probably spend some time splitting carries with incumbent RB Chester Taylor, but I believe Peterson will be too valuable for Vikings coach Brad Childress to leave on the bench. The tandem should capitalize on the NFL’s new trend of having two quality backs (Colts, Bears, and Chargers). Peterson left school as a junior and has a history of nagging injuries (Missed seven games in 2006 – broken collarbone), but he is productive when healthy. He left Oklahoma as their third all-time runner with 4,045 yards in three seasons.
  • WR/KR Ted Ginn, Miami Dolphins – With the early reports that I am hearing from Dolphins training camp, I think GM Randy Mueller and Head Coach Cam Cameron got this one right. Fans will always have want to use hindsight, but Ginn is an explosive player with game breaking speed. He will provide a speed compliment to possession type Marty Booker and fast but not blazing Chris Chambers. His ankle injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl is all healed and look for him to make immediate impacts on special teams (Will make you forget Wes Welker). He could quite possibly be this year’s Devon Hester (Raw, but Explosive Homerun Threat). In his last year at Ohio State, he caught 59 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns and as a returner averaged 11.1 per punt return, with one touchdown.
  • RB/FB Brian Leonard, St. Louis Rams – Leonard looks to me to be the second round steal of the draft. He has the speed, toughness, and versatility to be the primary halfback backup and a spot lead blocker at fullback when needed. Much like former Bears combo back Brad Muster from “back in the day”, the Rams will utilize Leonard in so many ways. With star RB Steven Jackson needing an occasional breather, he can fill the role of a “big” back in short yardage situations (45 TD’s at Rutgers) and expect to see, Rams Head Coach Scott Linehan and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson throwing the ball a lot to Leonard (over 200 catches in his college career) on screens and shallow crosses. Leonard is also a “gamer” so also look for him to excel on punt and kicking teams.
  • WR/KR Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans – Jones is a small school (Lane College) explosive wide receiver who is quickly moving up the Texans depth chart. He was selected in the 3rd round and during pre-season he has show that he could be the complimentary receiver that the Texans and Pro Bowler Andre Johnson have needed. Jones may have solidified himself as a player in the Texans recent pre-season game versus the Dallas Cowboys. In the Texans 28-16 victory in the “Governor’s Cup”, Jones once again stood out including some highlight-reel plays. He returned a first-quarter punt 91 yards for a touchdown, the longest in Texans preseason history. Then he caught his first NFL touchdown, a leaping 19-yarder in the corner of the end zone, which made him the NFL preseason leader in TD’s with three. This guy will not only thrive as a special teams ace, but he’s going to be a much-needed weapon for new QB Matt Schaub.
  • WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – In the past the Lions have been hit or miss with their wide receiver draft picks, but they seem to have gotten it right this time. It usually takes receivers two to three years to develop, but Johnson is a physical ‘freak” who will become an absolute nightmare for NFL defensive backs. He is a true difference maker with the size of T.O, but possessing better speed (4.35) and less attitude. Expect him to line up as the number two receiver, taking double teams off Pro Bowler Roy Williams and shifting WR Mike Furrey (BPR 69 and NFL second leading receiver) to the slot. In Mike Martz’s offense look for Johnson, Furrey, Williams, and Shaun McDonald in crazy four and sometimes five receiver packages. Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season at Georgia Tech and had his best game in the Gator Bowl versus West Virginia narrowly losing 38-35. In the game he caught nine passes for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns.
  • WR Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts – Some may wonder “How can a rookie have an impact on the Super Bowl champs?”. Gonzalez unlike most rookies is stepping into a defined role and he will not be asked to “be the man”. He will provide the perfect slot 3rd wide receiver behind stars Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne for the Colts, who lost veterans Brandon Stokley and Ricky Proehl in the off-season. Gonzalez, who has deceptive speed will be quarterback Peyton Manning’s guy to look for on third downs and in the red zone. I like the tough Ohio State product’s sure hands and crisp routes and I could see him catching over forty passes with five touchdowns. He may not have the eye popping stats in year one, but look for him to grow as Harrison moves closer to ending his career.
  • TE Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears – If a tight end has ability they can make a lot of noise in their first year (see former Eagles TE Keith Jackson from ’88). I believe that late round first pick Olsen has the down the field pass catching ability to have a similar impact as fellow TE’s from the “U” Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. Olsen is running a close battle with incumbent Desmond Clark, but expect him to supplant Clark by season’s end as quarterback Rex Grossman’s security blanket. Olsen has already shown in the pre-season that he is the real deal leading all Bear’s TE’s with 6 catches for 68 yards (11.3 ypc) and a long of 23 yards. He only scratched the surface of his ability in college posting 87 receptions for 1,215 yards (14.0 avg.) and six touchdowns in his career.
  • RB Tony Hunt, Philadelphia Eagles – For years Eagles fans have been clamoring for a “big” back to take some of the pressure off of mercurial running back Brian Westbrook. Birds’ fans got their wish as the Eagles in the third round grabbed Penn State’s 2nd all-time leading rusher (3320 yards). This year’s Senior Bowl MVP has a good forward lean and seems to be picking up the Eagles offense well enough to unseat Correll Buckhalter and emerge as the number two running back in Philadelphia behind Westbrook. Look for Hunt on short yardage and goal line plays as he has the desire and drive to punch it in from close. He is working on his pass catching ability and block assignments, so expect to see him in the regular season. He has impressed already in the pre-season with 2 TD’s against the Panthers.
  • Center/Guard Samson Satele, Miami Dolphins – Anyone who doesn’t believe that a center can make an impact as a rookie, take a look at 2006 Jets first rounder Nick Mangold. Mangold was solid in making all of the line calls as the Jets made the playoffs. I am not sure that Satele will have the same effect on the Dolphins, but he should be an anchor in the middle of their line for years to come. The second rounder from Hawaii is a thickly built (311 pounds) but athletic player that has a good pop coming off the line and has the ability to hold his own against bigger opponents by playing with great leverage. Started an NCAA-record 53 games and he will be looked upon to protect 37 year-old quarterback Trent Green.
  • QB Brady Quinn, Cleveland Browns – Football’s new “Golden Boy” from Notre Dame didn’t do himself any favors by missing most of training camp in a holdout, but he is now poised to take over as the Browns starter. With Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson playing uninspiring football this pre-season, Quinn has exceeded expectations by coming and impressing. In limited time, Quinn has thrown for three touchdowns, no interceptions, and completed over 64% of his passes. With Romeo Crennel on the hot seat look for Quinn to step in by week 4. Quinn may not produce a huge amount of wins in 2006, but he has the pedigree ( 46 collegiate starts, 95 touchdown passes and over 11,000 yards) to make an impact for years to come.
  • OT Jared Gaither, Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens may have made one of the best picks in NFL Supplemental Draft history by grabbing this large (6’8, 325) mauling offensive tackle in the fifth round this summer. Gaither was supposed to be in college, but he had several problems staying on the field (preseason suspension, injuries and academic troubles) and needed to go to the pros. With veteran Pro Bowl LT Jonathan Ogden being an injury risk (toe), Gaither will be looked to replace Ogden and not miss a beat. In 2006, the NFL saw the impact of rookie Marcus McNeil on the Chargers o-line and look for Gaither to have a similar impact. He emerged in 2005 as the Terrapins’ most talented lineman in his first season when he started eight games as a freshman at Left Offensive Tackle and did not allow a sack. Should be a cornerstone player for the Ravens for years to come.
  • OT/OG Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans Saints – With the Saints finding and inserting small college o-lineman Jhari Evans into their lineup in 2006 and the rookie having an almost Pro Bowl year, they were looking for a similar player in this year’s draft. They seem to have found another impact small college (Towson St) mauler in fourth round pick Bushrod. He is a big (6-4½, 315) tough developmental type who has the demeanor, speed (4.92), and footwork to play guard or offensive tackle in the NFL. With RT Jammal Brown nursing an injury, expect to see Bushrod somewhere on the Saints o-line. He should help in leading the way for McAllister and Bush.
  • Kicker Justin Medlock, Kansas City Chiefs – Everyone who knows me knows I am not a “kicker guy”, but Medlock impresses me. Chiefs Head Coach Herman Edwards believed enough in Medlock that he traded Chiefs long time kicker Lawrence Tynes to the Giants.  Medlock is working hard in training camp to be consistent, but I don’t think that will be a problem.  He is a left footed kicker who made 24 of 28 field goals last year for UCLA including a string of 14 straight halted at Notre Dame. He ranked first nationally in field goals (2.18 per game) and 10th in the NCAA and first in the Pac-10 in scoring (8.82). He could be this year’s version of Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski.