5 Surprising NFL Rookies Who Will Earn Starting Jobs by Opening Weekend

Ryan PhillipsContributor IIIAugust 13, 2012

5 Surprising NFL Rookies Who Will Earn Starting Jobs by Opening Weekend

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    The NFL preseason schedule is already in full swing, and several surprising rookies have jumped up and put themselves firmly in the mix to become starters. 

    After one of the deepest drafts in NFL history, some players have already risen above their draft spots and established themselves as potential playmakers for their new teams.

    Here is a look at five surprising rookies who will likely have earned starting jobs by the time the regular season kicks off. 

Kendall Reyes, San Diego Chargers

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    I gave Kendall Reyes a late-first-round grade heading into the 2012 NFL draft, but he fell to the San Diego Chargers with the 49th pick. Eventually, all those teams that passed on Reyes will regret it.

    According to ESPN's Bill Williamson, Reyes has been a standout in training camp so far. Add in 2011 first-round pick Corey Liuget, and the Chargers have a pair of young defensive ends to flank guys like Antonio Garay, Cam Thomas and Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle. 

    Liuget and Reyes will be joined by Vaughn Martin at the end spots to create one of the best young rotations in the NFL. But Reyes has been outstanding thus far. Given his personality and the outstanding character he also brings to the roster, it appears that San Diego got a steal in the UConn product. 

    Don't be surprised if Reyes is starting for the Chargers when the season opens.

David Wilson, New York Giants

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    The New York Giants needed help at running back, so they grabbed David Wilson with the 32nd pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Most expected the Virginia Tech product to be a part-time player along along with Ahmad Bradshaw in the team's backfield. 

    But thanks to an impressive training camp and a really nice showing in the team's opening preseason game on Friday night, Wilson could end up overtaking Bradshaw as the team's No. 1 back. 

    Wilson rushed seven times for 43 yards in the team's opening game. He showed outstanding speed on a 48-yard kickoff return and showed that he can find the open field when running the ball. He rushed and shook his way to a 26-yard gain on one carry. 

    The Giants don't have a player like Wilson currently on their roster, and it will be tough to keep him on the bench.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

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    Questions about his fitness and ability to translate to the NFL dropped Alshon Jeffery deep into the second round of the NFL draft, where the Chicago Bears snapped him up. Now, he is in position to be the team's No. 2 receiver and be a starter when the season rolls around.

    Jeffrey has been using his massive 6'3" frame in training camp to make plays over smaller cornerbacks, and head coach Lovie Smith has been raving about the youngster. 

    In the team's first preseason game, Jeffery caught four passes for 35 yards. He is a big, physical target who will pair nicely with veteran No. 1 target Brandon Marshall on the outside. 

    Jeffery should be the team's No. 2 wide receiver when the regular season starts.

Bobby Massie, Arizona Cardinals

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    Somehow, Bobby Massie dropped to the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft despite getting a second-round grade from me. The Arizona Cardinals desperately needed help at offensive tackle and grabbed him with the 112th pick in the draft. 

    Massie has shown during camp that he absolutely should have gone higher than that. In fact, Cardinals coaches have essentially let it be known that they would like for the rookie out of Ole Miss to win the right tackle job.

    At 6'6" and 316 pounds, Massie is gigantic and has great feet for his size. He is competing against veteran Jeremy Bridges for the right tackle spot and should earn the job by the time the season starts.

John Hughes, Cleveland Browns

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    John Hughes was the 97th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and the Cleveland Browns brought him in to play right away. Now that second-year defensive tackle Phil Taylor is out for a while thanks to a pectoral injury, Hughes will have a great chance to start. 

    Hughes is 6'4" and 300 pounds as a 24-year-old out of Cincinnati. He is quick for his size and can create trouble for opposing offenses because of his combination of size, strength and speed. 

    With Taylor out for a while, Hughes will likely have solidified a starting role by the time the regular season kicks off.