16 NFL Rookie Starters Who Will Dominate Week 1
To start in the NFL EVER is a major accomplishment. The odds of getting hit by lightning are greater than ever playing a snap in the NFL.
To start on opening day as a rookie is incredible. First-round picks are supposed to be sure-fire starters, but many struggle in training camp and end up riding the pine until they can get the feel for the NFL pace.
Five NFL rookies will be starting at quarterback the opening week of the 2012 season. Those players—Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill—will be expected to lead their teams to victory.
As for the other positions on the field, here is a look at 16 other rookies who are starting that have the chance to make a huge impact on the outcome of their first game. Based on their matchups, these 16 have the best chance at success.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon vs. Minnesota Vikings
Blackmon may have had some issues off the field this offseason, but on the field, the rookie from Oklahoma State has been everything the Jaguars had hoped for when they drafted him in the first round. Blackmon is not a polished route-runner, but with his size and strength, Blackmon is a hard matchup for NFL cornerbacks.
With wide receiver Laurent Robinson using his speed to stretch the field, Blackmon will be a nightmare matchup for shorter Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. The Vikings secondary has been a mess all preseason; do not look for things to change Week 1.
Blackmon should be able to exploit the Vikings' young safeties. He should be up for Rookie of the Week honors after the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin vs. Carolina Panthers
Martin has a chance to not only be dominating in Week 1 versus the Panthers, but he may dominate all season long. Martin is a perfect fit for the smash-mouth offense of head coach Greg Schiano, and the rookie from Boise State will use his premiere as a wake-up call to the rest of the NFL.
With nine starters back on defense from the opening game in Week 1 of the 2011 season, the Panthers do not show much improvement on a defense that finished 25th in the NFL versus the run. That unit gave up over 130 yards rushing per game last year. Only the Buccaneers, Bills and Colts gave up more rushing touchdowns.
Martin should top the century mark and get at least one score. He will have a dominating day versus the Panthers.
Indianapolis Colts TE Coby Fleener vs. Chicago Bears
Fleener, who went to college with quarterback Andrew Luck, should be the go-to target for the rookie passer versus the Bears. Fleener will be going up against a Bears linebacking corps that could be missing Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Even if Urlacher is able to play, the All-Pro has missed most of the preseason and will not be able to match up with the speedy Fleener.
The Bears also lack much experience at the safety position with Major Wright and Chris Conte getting the starts. Fleener, who is a very good route-runner, should be able to exploit the Bears defense between the hashes and have a very big day in his NFL debut.
Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris vs. New Orleans Saints
Alfred Morris, who seems to be head coach Mike Shanahan’s next pet project, is scheduled to get the nod versus the Saints opening day. Even if the rookie isn’t the “true” starter, Morris will get a majority of the carries for the Redskins.
The Saints linebacking corps is decimated due to injury and suspension. If the Redskins offensive line can handle the front four of the Saints defense, which is also down defensive end Will Smith, Morris should be at the second level all game.
Morris does not have world-class speed, but the rookie runner is shifty and very elusive. Look for Morris to be above 100 yards rushing on the ground when the game concludes.
Chicago Bears FB Evan Rodriguez vs. Indianapolis Colts
Rodriguez is definitely not a household name and probably will not be after the game versus the Colts. While he may not be noticed on the stat sheet, the rookie from Temple will have an impact on the game.
As the lead blocker for running back Matt Forte, Rodriguez will be asked to clear out the holes in the middle of a young and inexperienced Colts defense.
As a pass protector, Rodriguez will have to match up at times versus two of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Rodriguez is a solid pass-protection blocker, and how he handles his first game will affect the outcome of this game for the Bears.
Minnesota Vikings OT Matt Kalil vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kalil is a premier offensive tackle but is fortunate to get an easy opening salvo in his first NFL regular-season start. The Jaguars defensive line does not have many top-tier pass-rushers, and the listed opening-day starter at right defensive end is fellow rookie Andre Branch.
Branch has struggled in the preseason, and his backup, according to www.ourlads.com, is the undersized Aaron Morgan. Kalil still needs to focus and work his proper pass sets, but the big rookie should not have a problem versus the Jaguars. He should own the left side of the field.
Carolina Panthers OG Amini Silatolu vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Silatolu has had his own struggles this preseason, but he showed marked improvement as the weeks past. Versus the Buccaneers, the rookie will be going up against a banged-up defensive line. Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller, who both have major injury histories, are listed as the starting defensive tackles.
The backup defensive tackles are Gary Gibson and Corvey Irvin, who the Buccaneers just claimed off waivers. Silatolu will need to use the veteran experience of center Ryan Kalil to guide him through the game, but if the Panthers finish the game with 100-plus yards of rushing, Silatolu will have done his job and then some.
Denver Broncos DE Derek Wolfe vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Wolfe is a full-motor young player who has prospered thus far in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s defense. Listed as the starting defensive left end on www.denverbroncos.com, Wolfe will be matched up against Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert all game long.
Gilbert has had to bounce between the right and left tackle spots thus preseason. While he is a solid player, he is not a dominant player, and Wolfe should be able to take advantage. He will finish with at least one sack and help the Broncos defense get after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all game long.
Philadelphia Eagles OLB Mychal Kendricks vs. Cleveland Browns
Kendricks has been one of the best rookies in the preseason in the NFL, yet hardly anyone outside Philadelphia has even given him notice. That will change after Week 1 when he leads the Eagles in tackles versus the Browns.
Kendricks is an instinctive player who is very adept in coverage. He is a three-down linebacker and should be on the field in the Eagles defensive sub packages. Playing with a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden, the Browns will look to keep the football on the ground, and this will provide Kendricks with many tackling opportunities.
Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore vs. New York Jets
Gilmore did not wow anyone in the preseason, but the rookie from South Carolina was a steady presence and is still learning the NFL game. In his regular-season debut, Gilmore is facing one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL and should have a dominant game.
The Jets' best receiver is Santonio Holmes, but after him, the depth of the Jets is marginal, at best. Gilmore can handle fellow rookie Stephen Hill on an island as well as Chaz Schilens. With his size and speed, if Gilmore is tested by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, the rookie will win the battle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Safety Mark Barron vs. Carolina Panthers
Barron is a playmaker against the pass and the run. The Panthers have one of the best offenses in the NFL, so Barron will have multiple chances to make plays. The Panthers may be without the services of running back Jonathan Stewart, who is dealing with an ankle issue, so Barron will have one less threat to worry about.
Barron will be aggressive in the tackle box versus the running of DeAngelo Williams, and he has the range to go sideline to sideline to cover passes thrown by quarterback Cam Newton.
The Buccaneers will need Barron to be dominant to win the game. The rookie from Alabama will lead the team in tackles and make at least one big play to swing the game.
Seattle Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner vs. Arizona Cardinals
Wagner’s play this preseason made veteran Barrett Ruud expendable. Wagner is a physical specimen who uses speed and quickness to make plays all over the field.
In Week 1, the rookie will face NFC West foe Arizona and one of the worst offenses in the NFL. With an offensive line in flux and a quarterback situation that seems to change by the minute, look for the former Utah State star to blitz from all angles and be a force on the field.
The secondary of the Seahawks is very solid, so the Cardinals will try to use the intermediate part of the field to get their offense going. With Wagner patrolling that area, the Cardinals will not have much success, and Wagner should be up for Rookie of the Week honors on defense.
New England Patriots DE Chandler Jones vs. Tennessee Titans
Thus far, Jones is one of the most impressive rookies of the 2012 draft class, and he should continue his impressive ways versus the Titans. Jones will be going against one of the better offensive tackles in the NFL in Michael Roos, but Jones can match Roos’ length, and the rookie’s motor does not stop.
Jones can also line up inside and use his pass-rush skills versus the guards and center of the Titans. Jones shows good leverage off the ball and can hold the point of attack versus the run game. He will not play like a rookie in his debut en route to shutting down the Titans offense.
Philadelphia Eagles WR/PR Damaris Johnson vs. Cleveland Browns
Johnson was the talk of the Eagles' preseason and looks to build on that momentum in his first NFL regular-season game. Johnson may not get many looks as a wideout, but the rookie free agent from Tulsa will have a major impact on the game as a returner.
The Browns' backup linebackers, running backs and defensive backs are all young players or players who do not have a lot of NFL experience. These are the players who will comprise the special teams units for the Browns.
The Eagles special teams are coached by one of the best in Bobby April, and he will scheme the youth of the Browns very well. Look for Johnson to have a huge day on returns and possibly take one to the house.
Minnesota Vikings K Blair Walsh vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Walsh is a good young kicker who will benefit greatly from playing at least half of his games in the Metrodome. Walsh has a very strong leg, and when not having to deal with the elements, he should have a strong season.
That season will begin hot when the rookie from Georgia carries the Vikings offense. In what will be a very low-scoring game, Walsh will dominate by hitting more than three field goals and the game-winner at home.
Baltimore Ravens K Justin Tucker vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Tucker, who beat out former Pro Bowler Bill Cundiff for the starting gig in Baltimore, will play a vital role in his first “real” game for the Ravens.
Both teams have offensive firepower and top defenses. This game will come down to hitting all the extra points and the critical field goals. One of those field goals will decide the game, and the free-agent kicker from Texas will be the difference maker.