8 NFL Rookies in the Spotlight Heading into the Divisional Round
The divisional round of the NFL playoffs are crucial. There are eight rookies who could potentially be the biggest impact for their teams in this year's second round.
Every team has an impact rookie or even more than just one. The rookies are members who have contributed all year and will be asked to have the biggest game of their life.
The biggest impact players tend to line up along the lines, but there are a couple of non-linemen contributors as well.
Follow along as we explore the rookies who will get thrown into the spotlight for the upcoming divisional round games.
DE Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
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Chandler Jones had six sacks in the regular season. On top of that, he had nine hits and 28 hurries in his 452 pass rushes.
Jones will have to create a ton of pass rush for the Patriots in their divisional-round game.
He's the best pass-rusher they have per snap and will have to be able to create poor passes by Matt Schaub.
If Jones can step up and do his job, the Patriots will have a great chance at winning the game versus the Texans.
DE Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans
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Whitney Mercilus was a key component to the pass-rushing rotation for the Texans in 2012.
His six sacks, one hit and 14 pressures on just 317 pass rushes shows that he has the ability to get after the quarterback in Wade Phillips' defense.
His bigger issue is the inability to stuff the run.
Mercilus may never be the starting linebacker in the 3-4 defense that Phillips thinks he is.
However, he should be able to help the Texans with some pass rush in the divisional round at the very least.
OL Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens
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Kelechi Osemele played the second-most snaps out of the entire Baltimore offense with his 1,108 snaps this season.
He was effective out of his right tackle position for those snaps with his plus-2.2 rating this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
He was just as effective at left guard, earning a plus-0.9 rating there in the Wild Card Round.
Osemele will match up with some weak defensive tackles and ends in Denver during the divisional round and should be able to dominate them.
DE Derek Wolfe, Denver Broncos
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Derek Wolfe had six sacks this season as the starting left end of the Denver Broncos.
Wolfe's seven hits and 12 quarterback pressures have also added to the Broncos pass rush.
His biggest role is the ability to take on a double-team and allow Von Miller to have clear lanes at opposing quarterbacks.
He may never post top-notch stats, but he should easily be an impact player against the Ravens in the divisional round.
RB LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers
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Kyle Williams has been out for the season, and James has had to take on an expanded role on special teams because of it.
The rookie out of Oregon has been the starting kick returner since Williams' injury and has provided 29.8 yards per return.
Kendall Hunter went down at the same time as Williams, which also turned James into the "next man up."
He's performed as expected with 27 rushes for 125 yards and three catches for 29 yards in a very limited role in the offense.
If the 49ers want to have a true third-down changeup to Frank Gore, they will start using a bit more of James in the divisional round.
CB Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers
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Casey Hayward is an opportunistic nickel cornerback who has six interceptions this season as a key cog on the Packers defense.
His ability to read quarterbacks is reminiscent of his secondary mate, Charles Woodson.
Hayward will end up playing in the nickel packages because his emergence has turned Woodson into a safety for another personnel grouping.
With Hayward playing as well as he is, it wouldn't surprise to see him having a game-winning or -sealing interception in the fourth quarter versus the 49ers.
OG Peter Konz, Atlanta Falcons
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After taking over the starting role in a Philadelphia Eagles game earlier this season, Peter Konz has improved every game.
However, he has trouble facing the best players at the defensive tackle position, like Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh.
Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch of the Seahawks should provide another challenge in the divisional round.
Konz will have to neutralize those two in order for Atlanta to have any shot at establishing a running game versus Seattle.
If they can do that, expect Atlanta to have an easier day on offense.
QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
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The most crucial rookie in the entire divisional round will be Seattle starting quarterback Russell Wilson.
His offense only goes as far as he can take them.
If he can perform against an opportunistic Atlanta Falcons defense that has been tremendous in the Georgia Dome in 2012, he could lead Seattle to an upset.
However, if the Falcons confuse him like they did the Manning brothers and Drew Brees, Wilson could end up leading his team back home to Seattle instead.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.