25 NFL Draft Prospects Who Will Be Instant Pro Starters
Immediate returns are becoming more and more important to NFL teams.
With coaches and general managers being fired more often after only one to two years and leashes getting shorter and shorter, "waiting" on a high draft pick to mature is a risky proposition.
Plenty of players are going to get drafted on potential this April—pass-rushers who need to add weight, quarterbacks who need to refine their game or skill-position players who fit nicely into a niche. Some might even go high in the first round.
In contrast, here are 25 players (grouped by position) who are certain to start from the first day they step onto an NFL field.
1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith is the most physically gifted QB at the top of the draft, and his mobility in the pocket and almost uncanny ability to extend the play until someone gets open will get him drafted in the first round by a team that will need his talents from Day 1.
2. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
While there are other wild-card quarterbacks at the top of the draft (Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley), the only other one sure to start his rookie season is Tyler Wilson. His combination of athleticism and arm talent will get him drafted as a starter in either the first or early second round.
3. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Scouts are split on whether Luke Joeckel is the best player in the draft or even the most talented offensive tackle on his team (Jake Matthews, returning to school, should be a top-five pick next year).
Either way, Joeckel is the top tackle in the draft and has the run- and pass-blocking ability to immediately upgrade half the teams in the league right now. He'll go very early (top five, maybe top three) and be installed on the blind side on Day 1.
4. Barrett Jones, C/OG, Alabama
Barrett Jones doesn't have the elite skill of many of the other guys on this list, so he could easily fall to the second round. The reason he's sure to start his rookie season, however, is because of his versatility.
He's played everywhere from left tackle to center and should easily win a job on the interior of the offensive line of whichever team drafts him.
5. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Chance Warmack is one of the better interior linemen to come out in a long time. While the position he plays means he likely won't be a top-10 pick, he has a chance to be one of the few guards to crack the top 20.
Wherever he gets drafted, he's sure to be an immediate upgrade and should challenge for a Pro Bowl spot his first year.
6. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Jonathan Cooper is probably one of the more borderline players on this list, but he's another legitimate first-round prospect and should be the second guard selected. He's polished in pass protection (if a bit penalty-prone) and should slide right in at left guard (right guard in a worst-case scenario).
7. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
If Tyler Eifert isn't the starting tight end on the team that drafts him, it will be because it's a team that already has an established star at the position.
He is already a pro-level pass-catcher and blocks better than he's given credit for. He should be a stud from the moment he steps onto an NFL field.
8. Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
Some scouts like Zach Ertz better than Eifert, and it's difficult to argue that one is better than the other. Both are outstanding prospects.
This could be a year in which two tight ends are drafted in the first round, but several weapon-needy teams are hoping these guys fall to the top of the second round.
9. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Keenan Allen may not have the elite downfield speed of some receiver prospects and the shiftiness of a guy like Tavon Austin. He is, however, one of the few legitimate high-end receiver prospects who is assured of being a No. 1 (or "X") in the league.
At worst, he's a Michael Crabtree type who needs the right spot to succeed. At best, he can be his team's primary target from the moment he puts on that baseball cap in April.
10. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Cordarrelle Patterson, like Keenan Allen, has the ability to be a No. 1 and has more top-end physical tools than Allen.
Patterson can go through long stretches of mediocre play and is not the most mature prospect, but he's not going to fall too far after almost assuredly testing well at the combine and dazzling teams at his pro day.
11. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
DeAndre Hopkins is a raw prospect who needs to land in the right situation to succeed at the next level. If he's allowed to continue to run half-speed when he knows the ball isn't coming his way, he's never going to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Warts aside, Hopkins is able to create separation and come down with the ball from its highest point. Look for him to be drafted at the top of the second round and be a team's new starting wide receiver.
12. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Whether one puts Star Lotulelei near the top of recent interior linemen who have come out recently (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, etc.) or near the middle (Michael Brockers, Nick Fairley), it is clear that he has talent that teams near the top of the draft covet.
A physical specimen, he shouldn't have any problem getting by on his natural talent as he refines his game for the pros.
13. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
On a 3-4 team, Sheldon Richardson should be able to start at either DE position or (depending on the coach) even at nose, as many teams are adapting Wade Phillips' slanting-nose technique.
In a 4-3, he is likely to play under tackle, where he may be viewed as more of a situational pass-rusher, as Nick Fairley was in his first season.
14. John Jenkins, DT-NT, Georgia
John Jenkins should slide right in as a nose tackle in either a 3-4 or 4-3. There are so few elite pivot players in the 3-4 in the league that he should find a starting position right away.
His massive body and athletic ability will command a lot of attention and free up pass-rushing lanes for the players behind him.
15. Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
Jesse Williams probably should have been getting more attention before the national championship game. But after winning on that big stage (and playing phenomenally), he is going to go early in April.
Another nose tackle prospect, he could go early in the first round or anywhere in the second depending on how teams view him in comparison to Jenkins. He's a better fit in the 3-4 but could play in either.
16. Bjoern Werner, DE/OLB, Florida State
One of the elite pass-rushing prospects in this draft, Bjoern Werner is sure to go in the top five and start immediately as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
He fits better with his hand in the dirt. But as a guy who just recently started playing football, plenty of coaches may may see him as capable of a more versatile role.
17. Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Another elite pass-rushing prospect, Damontre Moore is going to be coveted by a lot of teams once Werner falls off the board.
Any team that might take him as a situational player would gratefully trade back to let another team move up and grab him. He should go top-10 and start harassing passers right away.
18. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Depending on how the run of pass-rushers ends up falling on draft night, Dion Jordan, much like Aldon Smith of the 49ers, could land on a team where he makes an immediate impact but doesn't begin his career as an every-down player.
In all likelihood, however, a team in the pass-rush-craved NFL will insert him right into the starting lineup.
19. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones might be the best pass-rusher in the draft, but he could fall on draft day because of a condition called spinal stenosis that could shorten his career.
That might mean he won't be a starter 10 years from now. But in his first year, he should be great for a team willing to take the risk.
20. Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Forget Manti Te'o (as some teams may do after recent events)—Kevin Minter is the best interior linebacker in the draft. He's not an elite-level prospect like Patrick Willis. He's more like James Laurinaitis in that he can start at multiple positions and rack up enough tackles that you need him on the field.
21. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Alec Ogletree has always been a linebacker in a safety's body. His success at the next level will be dependent on whether he can add the necessary weight to consistently hold up when the blockers coming at him are much heavier than they were in the SEC.
All that said, he makes too many "wow" plays to keep off the field.
22. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The top cornerback prospect of the class, Dee Milliner (like almost every other CB) will probably need time to acclimate to covering NFL receivers. But any team that takes him in the top 15 will almost certainly take him as a starter.
His tough and physical play should help him as he gets used to covering the league's bigger bodies.
23. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Johnthan Banks isn't as thick or physical as Milliner, but he is probably the better ball hawk. While he may fall to a team looking for a high-end nickelback, Banks is likely to step into the starting lineup his rookie season whether he's the team's No. 1 or No. 2 corner.
24. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The best coverage safety in the draft, I've heard scouts talk about Kenny Vaccaro as a top-10 pick or a guy they'd love to grab at the top of the second round.
No matter where he falls, no team is going to draft ball skills like that and put them on the bench.
25. Eric Reid, S, LSU
Eric Reid doesn't have the elite ball-hawk status of the other defensive backs on this list, but he can make plays whether the ball is in the air or coming at him on the ground. He can play either safety position, and while he's used to playing in more of a center-field role, he will intrigue teams that want their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
Like the other guys on this list, look for Reid to be a playmaker from the moment he steps onto an NFL field.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.