18 NFL Rookies Who Will Start from Day 1
Some rookies are projects. Actually, most are. But times have changed, and the majority of prospects chosen early in the NFL draft are expected to play significant roles immediately.
With this year's draft now in the books, we can think of 18 particular rookies from 17 different teams who will be expected to start from the very beginning of their NFL careers.
Jonathan Cooper, Arizona Cardinals
You don't take a guard with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft if he won't start from the get-go.
The Arizona Cardinals are in dire need of offensive line help after surrendering a league-high 58 sacks and averaging a league-low 3.4 yards per carry last season. North Carolina product Jonathan Cooper immediately becomes the best lineman they have.
Expect him to beat out Daryn Colledge to start at left guard, opposite Adam Snyder.
UPDATE: Never mind, Snyder's been released. So it'll probably be Cooper and Colledge.
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons lost Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes earlier this offseason, and the fact that they felt strongly enough about Washington product Desmond Trufant to trade up to draft in him in Round 1 indicates that Trufant should be favored to earn a starting job opposite Asante Samuel.
He's quite seasoned with four years of significant playing time under his belt, so there's no reason to believe Trufant won't succeed in that role right off the bat.
Matt Elam, Baltimore Ravens
This is all about the openings left by Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. The Baltimore Ravens didn't have the money to bring in any free agents who are better than Florida product Matt Elam, so expect him to play a major role right away.
He's only 21 after coming out early, though, so Elam will still have to fight off James Ihedigbo.
Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers spent their first two picks on defensive tackles, bringing an end to the Dwan Edwards/Ron Edwards duo in the middle. Ron is gone, so expect top selection Star Lotulelei to start right away next to Dwan.
Lotulelei has two-and-a-half years of college starting experience and appears ready to play a major role from the beginning of the year.
Leon McFadden, Cleveland Browns
Buster Skrine has starting experience, but he had some real coverage issues in 2012, and 34-year-old Sheldon Brown is gone.
That leaves the Cleveland Browns starved for someone to complement Joe Haden in the secondary. They might expect San Diego State product Leon McFadden to step into that role immediately.
The scrappy third-round pick will surely have some growing pains coming out of the Mountain West Conference, but he has the speed and technique to survive.
Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions are in desperate need of some impact players up front after losing Cliff Avril in free agency, so they'll likely rely on No. 5 overall pick Ziggy Ansah as a starter opposite Jason Jones in Week 1.
The BYU product only started one season in college, but he has the size and skill set to step in and play a significant role immediately. That's why Detroit used such a valuable pick on him.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
After drafting Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, the Green Bay Packers now have a slew of options at running back. While they're likely to use a committee in the backfield, expect the NFL-ready Lacy to lead the pack right away.
Alex Green averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last year, and James Starks averaged just 3.6. The latter is already reportedly on the trade block (h/t NFL.com's Ian Rapoport). Time to shake things up.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
With Kevin Walter gone and no free agents coming in to replace him, it's obvious the Houston Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins in Round 1 because they believe the Clemson product can contribute as the chief complement to Andre Johnson immediately.
The guy had 1,405 yards and a ridiculous 18 touchdowns in the ACC in 2012, so he might be ready despite coming out early.
Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars
Going back to the philosophy we've touched on, you don't draft a guy in the top five who won't start from Day 1.
Eugene Monroe is locked in as the Jacksonville Jaguars' left tackle for a while, but after dominating the SEC in 2012, there's no reason to believe Luke Joeckel won't be plugged in on the right side from the get-go.
He'll have no issue beating out Cameron Bradfield for the starting job this summer.
Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
The only question now is where No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will start. If the Kansas City Chiefs are able to deal current starting left tackle Branden Albert, Fisher will likely be used on the left side right away.
But the Central Michigan product has plenty of experience on the right side too, so if Albert sticks around, they'll plug Fisher in there.
Dallas Thomas, Miami Dolphins
This situation is also tied to a potential Branden Albert trade. If the Miami Dolphins acquire Albert from the Chiefs, he'll start at left tackle, leaving third-round pick Dallas Thomas to battle Jonathan Martin for the right tackle spot.
Considering how much starting experience Thomas has in the SEC and how much Martin struggled in 2012, the Tennessee product has to be considered the overwhelming favorite in that competition. Since he also has the ability to play guard, expect him to start somewhere as soon as the 2013 campaign gets under way.
Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings
As one of the three guys the Minnesota Vikings picked up in Round 1, Xavier Rhodes should be the early favorite to replace the departed Antoine Winfield at cornerback.
The Florida State product has three quality years of college experience under his belt, and he's expected to be good enough to hold it down right off the bat.
Rhodes might not be the No. 1 guy, but I can't see him being beaten out in camp by both Chris Cook and Josh Robinson.
D.J. Hayden, Oakland Raiders
If the Oakland Raiders liked D.J. Hayden enough that they almost drafted him third overall, they obviously feel strongly enough about the Houston product to make him their No. 1 cornerback as a rookie.
Of course, when Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Joselio Hanson are your current corners, your hands are sort of tied.
Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles used their highest draft pick this century on Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, which indicates that they fully plan on making him their starting right tackle immediately.
That said, I wouldn't be as confident in Johnson starting as some of the players drafted around him, because he's still considered quite raw.
D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers
I'm not convinced Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker has the skill set to perform well as a rookie on either side, but the San Diego Chargers have no choice. The No. 11 overall pick is still better than any options on the San Diego roster, especially now that Jared Gaither has been released.
Watch for the All-SEC tackle to be handed the starting right tackle spot right away.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
If you trade up into the top 10 to take the draft's best wide receiver, he had better be your No. 1 guy right away. That will be the case in St. Louis after the Rams let Danny Amendola get away in the offseason.
There's also absolutely nobody on the Rams roster who has a chance to land ahead of West Virginia product Tavon Austin on the depth chart.
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams
This one's simple because the St. Louis Rams have a major lack of talent in the linebacking corps. Alec Ogletree might not be a perfect prospect, but the Georgia product is certainly ready to play a major role after serving as a starter in the SEC each of the last two years.
Expect him to join James Laurinaitis in the starting lineup in Week 1.
Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans brought in blue-chip free-agent guard Andy Levitre earlier this offseason, as well as Chris Spencer and Rob Turner, but that shouldn't stop them from giving Chance Warmack the starting right guard spot opposite Levitre.
As a three-year starter in the SEC at Alabama, the No. 10 overall pick will only be kept out of the starting lineup if he gets hurt.