NFL Playoff Predictions: 4 Rookies Who Will Rise to the Occasion This Weekend
There's a reason why the NFL Draft is so important. It's for drafting players who can help a team get into—and have success throughout—the postseason.
Why draft a player who is of no use and decreases your odds of making the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl?
The following four rookies were drafted by their respective teams for a reason, and that reason will be their production this weekend.
Julio Jones: WR, Falcons (at Giants)
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At first, trading up for Alabama's Julio Jones didn't appear like a favorable decision for the Atlanta Falcons, mainly because their pass defense was—and still is—supremely weak.
However, the Falcons were in need of a stud No. 2 receiver and Michael Jenkins' time was up. So The Dirty Birds made a move for Jones, and he has paid off immensely.
Along with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan now has a third reliable target that complements a solid back in Michael Turner. This weekend, Atlanta plays at New York; the Giants are eerily similar to the Falcons, with a weak pass defense and an explosive pass offense.
The Giants do have a much better pass rush, so Ryan will depend on Jones to get open quickly rather often. On the year, Jones has caught 54 balls for 959 yards and has scored eight TDs.
Against the NFL's No. 29-ranked pass defense (allows 255 yards per game), Julio's ability to stretch the field and beat single coverage and his reliability across the middle will be imperative.
Seven receptions for 105 yards, two TDs
Von Miller: LB, Broncos (vs Steelers)
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If there's one guy who can take over the Steelers-Broncos game, it's Denver's Von Miller.
As the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Von has exceeded expectations. Wearing No. 58 in the AFC West makes him bring back memories of Kansas City's Derrick Thomas. Obviously it's a far-fetched example, but there's no question that Miller has that kind of potential.
With 11.5 sacks, 64 tackles, four passes defended and two forced fumbles, Von was selected to start in the Pro Bowl. If that's not Derrick Thomas-esque, then what is?
In any event, against Pittsburgh, Miller must relentlessly pressure Ben Roethlisberger. Although Ben has improved his mobility since the home game versus Cleveland, he's still not 100 percent. So expect Miller to continually attack in order to take stress off Denver's vulnerable pass defense.
That also will help shut down Pittsburgh's weakened ground game. If Miller draws a double-team, well, then that will leave Elvis Dumervil and/or anyone else in the front seven unblocked or one-on-one. And that will help with blitz packages to get Big Ben flustered early.
Six tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, two passes defended
JJ Watt: DE, Texans (vs Bengals)
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One of the many stud rookies in the Bengals-Texans game, Houston's JJ Watt is arguably the best of the group.
With Watt and fellow rookie Brooks Reed, the Texans' defense finished ranked in the Top Five against both the rush and pass, despite losing Mario Williams early on.
For the year, Watt ended up with 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four passes defended and one blocked kick.
Earlier in the season against Cincinnati, Watt had just four tackles and didn't record a sack. However, his presence was clearly a factor, as the Bengals were limited to just 285 total yards.
At home in the Wild Card Round, expect a big performance from Watt, as Cincy will look to exploit other defenders on Wade Phillips' defense. Plus, Watt will be aching to have a better performance, so he will get pressure on QB Andy Dalton, keep contain against the run and, if need be, slide back into coverage and blanket the underneath quick slant.
It'll be a complete performance—one that Houston will need to best an underrated Bengals team.
Seven tackles, one sack, three passes defended
Andy Dalton: QB, Bengals (at Texans)
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Although Andy Dalton will feel a good amount of pressure from JJ Watt, among others, on Saturday, it's not like he's never gone against a sick defense before.
For one, Dalton had to play both Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice, since the Bengals are in the AFC North. Furthermore, he's already gone against Houston and way back in Week 3, Cincinnati hosted the now 13-3 San Francisco 49ers.
Needless to say, Dalton will manage the game—not to mention, it will help quite a bit that fellow rookie receiver AJ Green will be out wide. That being said, expect Green to get a lot of double coverage, as he is Cincy's most dangerous offensive threat.
Therefore, the Texans will force Dalton to seek out Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham a lot more. Simpson and Gresham are both capable of beating single coverage and if Cincinnati can show they're not going to abandon the run game, Houston may lay off from aggressive blitzing.
Also, Dalton will take shots downfield to Green, thus keeping Houston honest and stretched out. In turn, that will make it easier to find Simpson and Gresham across the middle, which will provide them with the luxury of getting solid yards after the catch.
21 of 40, 225 yards, two TDs, one pick
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