Every year a new crop of rookies come into the NFL carrying expectations to carry on the traditions of the game. Some guys pan out, some are busts and some exceed our wildest expectations.
It's hard to gauge which guys will fall into what category after only a few preseason games but here are 12 guys who have already shown on the field that they have the potential to dominate the game for years to come.
Through two preseason games it's hard to believe Andrew Luck is really a rookie quarterback. He has shown remarkable poise and accuracy playing behind a very underwhelming offensive line. As many expectations come with being the first pick over all in the draft, Luck looks to be primed to exceed them all as unbelievable as that sounds.
Many people, myself included, were predicting that the Colts will be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year. With Luck pulling the trigger like he has so far I have to believe a lot of us will have to adjust those projections.
The Colts still have major question marks on both sides of the ball, but Luck has shown that he can help to elevate the play of the people around him. Even with an inept offensive line he has shown the ability to avoid the rush and still deliver the ball accurately down the field. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his game so far was his ability to shake off a slow start against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He never lost his confidence or looked overwhelmed. Instead his bounced back and led his team down the field for three scores on the next four drives.
It's that kind of performance that should make every Colts fan have hope. They have their franchise quarterback of the future to replace Peyton Manning and their offense looks to be in good hands for as long as he stays healthy.
Melvin Ingram was one of the best pass rushers in college football last year. He was athletic enough to play defensive end and strong enough to play some defensive tackle as well.
The San Diego Chargers drafted him to be a pass rushing outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme and he has made a quick transition to the pro game. The Chargers haven't had a dominant pass rusher in several years but Ingram has shown in the first two preseason games that he is up to the task of filling that need.
At the moment he is still listed as a backup but I don't think things will stay that way for long. The reason why Ingram will have a long and highly productive career is that he doesn't rely on just his impressive athletic ability to make plays. He has some of the best technique I have seen out of a pass rusher coming out of college in a long time.
The more he plays the better he will become, and barring serious injury I look for him to be a dominant player for the next decade or more.
If Russell Wilson were a couple inches taller there is no doubt he would have been a high first round pick. As it is he stuck around in the draft until the Seattle Seahawks snatched him up in the third round. With that pick the Seahawks may have pulled off the biggest steal in the draft and simultaneously have found the franchise quarterback they have been searching for.
Wilson entered camp as the number three quarterback on the depth chart. By the third game of the preseason he had earned the opportunity to start that game. And what a game he had.
He completed 13 of his 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. That's with Terrell Owens dropping at least two of his passes that were on the money. In addition he scrambled for 58 yards on the ground on just two rushes.
That he performed so well isn't a surprise to anyone who saw his first two weeks of game action. The question for the Seahawks at this point is do they start him now or wait until later in the season.
It's seems to be inevitable that he will be the Seahawks starting quarterback at some point this season, and for that matter for many seasons to come. Wilson has that "it" factor and he will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC West.
I'm a sucker for rookies like the the Oakland Raider's Rod Streater. Here is a guy that plays in junior college, transfers to Temple without investigating what kind of offense they run, only catches 15 passes his senior year, goes undrafted, and at the very least has won a position not just on the team in the preseason, but also in the rotation to play. In fact, he may just be one of the starting receivers in the first game of the year.
But Streater isn't just a good story, he is a good player. He was a great high jumper in high school, stands 6'3" and has all the physical tools you need to succeed at the wide receiver position. More than anything else that stands out to me when I watch him play is the fact that he catches everything thrown his way. It seems to me that actually being able to catch the ball well has become an underrated skill for some when it comes to evaluating wide receiver.
That's a big reason why I think Streater will have a long and highly productive career. He knows how to run routes and get open and he isn't likely to drop many passes. When you look at the wide receivers at the top of the the stat sheets at the end of the season those are the common traits most of them share.
Even if the Raiders don't start Streater right away the secret is out. People know that this kid can play at a high level no matter his not getting drafted. He will start for somebody in the NFL and he is going to make a ton of plays through out the course of his career.
I'm sure that will be a lot more than most of the wide receivers taken over him in this year's draft.
In two preseason games he has already played every possible position on the defensive line and done well. He already has eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass defensed.
Against the New York Giants last week he showed that even when he appears to be blocked he can reach out and make a tackle. Now imagine what will happen when his technique catches up to his physical gifts.
Coples still has to work on his effort to the ball when he isn't in position to make a play. He also would benefit from not having to move around on the line so much and sticking to one or two positions. He has all the tools, however, to be an amazing player in the NFL.
It will only help Coples that he has Rex Ryan as his head coach and Karl Dunbar as his position coach. They both have a wealth of knowledge and experience that will benefit him greatly. With the Jets poised to play more 4-3 defense Dunbar will be especially helpful in getting Coples' technique up to par.
I already would expect Coples to be a double digit sack guy this year. He won't be close to a finished product though. He will only get better with experience and he is going to be a nightmare for opposing offenses for the foreseeable future.
Robert Griffin III hasn't had quite the preseason that Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson have so far when it comes to filling the stat sheet. But when you watch him play you can see the flashes of what he will be in the NFL. That is a guy who can make any throw with just a flick of the wrist and who can make plays with his feet when all else fails.
While I'm sure more than a few people were disappointed in Griffin's performance against the Chicago Bears last week I actually saw some very encouraging things. For one thing the Redskins tried to run several screen plays and the Bears were all over it. For some quarterbacks that's a time to panic and either throw the ball away, which would bring on a penalty with the offensive linemen going down field to block, or take a sack which, because it was supposed to be a screen, would put their team in a really bad down and distance on the next play.
Instead Griffin chose the third option and used his legs to avoid the rush and gain a few yards. It doesn't show up on the stat sheet but that can be a really big play in the course of a game. It's the difference between second down and 20 or second down and nine.
I don't know many offensive coordinators who have many good plays in the playbook for second and 20.
But it's not as if Griffin has been just running around and not throwing the ball. In the first game against the Bills he looked good standing tall in the pocket, going through his progressions and delivering the ball downfield accurately.
In the Bears game he wasn't quite as accurate on a couple of throws but one attempt to Santana Moss was more of a miscommunication than just an errant pass. I should note that it appeared to me that Griffin was right and Moss was wrong about what route he should have run based on the coverage.
Even with the somewhat lack of success against the Bears, Griffin still looked confident and in command and not at all overwhelmed.
At the moment the Redskins don't really have a starting running back. Because so much of what Mike Shanahan wants to do on offense is predicated on having a good run game Griffin may experience some bumps in the road early on.
What I have seen from Griffin so far, however, is a guy who will stay on an even keel and eventually raise the level of play of the guys around him. His abilities are such that he can turn a negative play into a positive play in a heartbeat. The more comfortable he gets in Shannahan's offense, the harder it will be to defend him.
I don't just see good things in the future for Griffin, I see great things for him in his career. If he can stay healthy he just may forever redefine the quarterback position the way most of us thought Michael Vick would.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Mychal Kendricks in the second round to shore up their porous linebacker position. It's early but the the former PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Year already is showing flashes of dominance.
He is fast and explosive when diagnosing running plays. He has shown some great pass rushing ability off the edge as a blitzer. And when he hits people he doesn't play paddy cake, he tries to knock their blocks off!
Last year the Eagles' defense was stocked with elite talent on the defensive line and at the cornerback position but the linebackers and safeties were, at times, below average. Opposing teams exploited that fact by running the ball down their throats.
Kendricks' will go a long way in helping change that trend and keeping the running game in check. On a defense full of elite players he is already fitting right in.
I don't expect that to change for many years to come.
I have to admit that leading up to the draft I was puzzled as to why Alshon Jeffery wasn't projected as a first round pick. Sure his last season at South Carolina wasn't as spectacular as many predicted it would be but with the Gamecocks quarterback I thought that was understandable. Then there were the rumors of his weight ballooning but he he showed up at his workouts looking lean at and he actually ran a good 40 time as well.
As the draft got closer and closer I predicted some team in the second or third round would end up getting a steal with Jeffery. So far everything Jeffery has done has only reinforced my thoughts on it.
You're talking about 6'4" receiver who can go up and get the ball, has plenty enough speed for vertical routes and has excellent hands. He isn't listed as a starter, yet. I would be shocked if he wasn't starting or at least getting starter's reps and opportunities by the middle of the season.
The fact that he is on the same team with Brandon Marshall also likely means he will pick up some tricks of the trade when it comes to being a physical wide receiver without getting called for offensive pass interference.
When he gets that part of his game down there is no limit to what Jeffery can be as an NFL wide receiver.
The Philadelphia Eagles' first round draft pick defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is already showing he is ready to start and be a dominant player for them up front. He can play any defensive line position in a 4-3 defense and excel.
Cox is a work out warrior so there was never much question about whether he would be able to play the run. Pass rush ability doesn't always transfer quickly, however, when guys make the leap from college to the pros.
He has been unleashed by Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn and looks even better at getting after the quarterback than he did at Mississippi State.
Aside from Ndamukong Suh and Geno Atkins there haven't been many young defensive tackles putting putting up big sack numbers lately. I have a strong feeling Fletcher Cox is about to add his name to that list.
And not just for this season, but for many seasons to come.
I'll be honest in that I wasn't sold initially on Doug Martin as a first round pick. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of his play at Boise State and I thought he had all the tools you would look for in a top notch running back.
There's just no getting away from his relatively, for NFL standards, small stature however. Even with guys like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, short running backs that hold up over time are still anomalies in the NFL.
After watching Martin for a few games, however, I'm now a believer. He is a powerful runner that knows how to avoid the straight on collisions most running backs take in between the tackles. His pass catching ability has also translated well into the NFL game. He even looks better than decent at pass blocking against blitzers on third down.
It will help him, in my opinion, to share carries with LeGarrette Blount at least at the start of his career. In that respect he would mimic Rice who had Willis McGahee to share with for the Ravens and Maurice Jones-Drew who had Fred Taylor to share with for the Jaguars.
That will give him time to fully develop into the player he will eventually be as well as limiting the wear and tear on his body until he is ready to carry the load solo. He will also benefit from playing behind an upgraded offensive line, the core of which should be together for at least the next three years or so.
With good health I can easily seeing Martin having the same type of numbers as both of those guys over the course of his career.
I'm not sure many of the average fans of NFL football saw much of Chandler Jones in college. Playing for a team like Syracuse, which is much more well known for its college basketball team, can do that to you.
But for the people like myself who happened to watch him more than a few times you could tell this kid has some special ability.
He is tall, long and lean but he has enough strength to play the run as well. He also has some pretty impressive genes with a brother in Jon Jones who is the current UFC light heavyweight champion and another brother in Art Jones who is currently fighting for a starting defensive end spot with the Baltimore Ravens.
Just because his brothers are good in sports of course doesn't guarantee Chandler will be. What it does for me however, is to give me the sense that they can help show him how to carry himself as a professional athlete and avoid the kinds of distractions that plague other young players.
The fact is, he can play at a high level, though. He has already shown the ability to get after the passer and draw holding penalties on starting offensive lineman this preseason. Because he is playing outside linebacker instead of his college position of defensive end, of course there will be some growing pains with his pass coverage. He is enough of an athlete to shore that up pretty quickly.
What the Patriots have been lacking in recent years is that game changing rush outside linebacker. I'm sure having Willie McGinest for all those years had the fans and even the coaches somewhat spoiled.
Chandler Jones, barring injury, has the skill set to be even better than McGinest. He is just what the doctor ordered to help heal that faltering New England pass rush.
While many draft scouts were busy talking about former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw before the draft, his teammate, linebacker Dont'a Hightower ,was the guy that really caught my eye. He has torn his ACL previously in his college career but he came back even better than before.
What was most noticeable was his versatility. He could line up at any of the linebacker spots and be dominant. I was even more impressed with his pass rush ability than Upshaw's even though Upshaw was their full time rush outside linebacker.
All things considered I should have known the New England Patriots would swoop in to draft Hightower. If there is one thing Bill Belichick admires in a defensive player it's the ability to play more than one position. Hightower is the prototype in what he usually looks for in a linebacker.
At the moment Hightower is already starting as an outside linebacker but he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to show his pass rush. He has shown the ability to cover and blowing up running plays with quickness and physicality, however.
One thing is for sure and that's Belichick is going to put Hightower in position to maximize his production. With the physical tools he has that will translate to a long and impressive career.