A NFL prospect isn’t guaranteed playing time just because they come off the board somewhere in the first two rounds. Plenty of rookies will struggle to unseat veterans who currently sit atop the depth chart. The NFL is a win-now league and coaches will typically start the player who gives the team the best chance to win.
This article looks at 10 rookies who’ll have a hard time seeing significant playing time in their first season. Most of the players on this list have the talent to play right away, but the opportunity just isn’t right. Others are too raw to be inserted into a major role.
The New York Jets obviously went with a "best player available" approach throughout the 2013 draft. This is the only way to explain the selection of Sheldon Richardson. New York will have a hard time working him into the defensive line rotation.
Richardson will be fighting with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples for snaps. Last year, Coples dealt with inconsistent playing time and it hurt his overall development. New York must find a way to get all three players on the field at the same time.
The issue is that these players are very similar in that they love to get up field and work in the offensive backfield. It’ll be hard for Rex Ryan to utilize his three-man front and get all three players on the field at the same time.
This is why it’s possible the Jets will move to more of a 4-3 attack. In this system, Coples can line up at defensive end while Wilkerson and Richardson fill the defensive tackle spots. Either way, it’ll take some creativity to ensure Richardson sees a lot of playing time.
E.J. Manuel was by far the most surprising pick of the 2013 draft. Nobody thought the Buffalo Bills would use the 16th pick on a developmental quarterback. Don’t be mistaken, Manuel is absolutely a developmental player.
Buffalo should allow him to sit behind either Tarvaris Jackson or Kevin Kolb and learn the position. Manuel needs to work on just about every area of his game. This includes improving the fluidity of his throwing motion, developing the ability to go across the field with his progressions and increasing how quickly he deciphers information.
The presence of Jackson and Kolb also gives the Bills a clear out. Both quarterbacks should have no problem surpassing Manuel on the depth chart during the offseason.
Because of the instant success of rookie quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, there will be a ton of pressure on Manuel to make an immediate impact. Buffalo must be patient or they risk stunting his growth.
Despite needs along the offensive line, it’ll take a strong training camp for Kyle Long to crack the Chicago Bears’ starting lineup. The way the current depth chart looks Long will have to surpass Matt Slauson, Gabe Carimi or Eben Britton.
Complicating Long’s starting chances is the fact he needs to work on refining his overall game. Long has limited experience playing football at a high level. He only had one year of action at Oregon, and didn’t work his way into the starting lineup until the end of the season.
It's obvious Chicago made this pick based on Long’s potential and athleticism. He’s already more physically talented than his competition, but just doesn’t have the feel for the game to open the season as a starter.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to grab Stanford’s Zach Ertz in the second round was a bit of a shock. This is a team that had glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball, such as cornerback. It was even more of a head-scratcher because they already have Brent Celek and James Casey on the roster.
Ertz’s ability to make plays in the passing game will help him see the field. However, he won’t match the playing time he would’ve received had he landed with a different team.
The one thing that might help Ertz is the fact Chip Kelly is a creative play-caller. I’m sure Philadelphia wouldn’t have made this pick unless Kelly felt he could find a way to utilize Ertz’s talents. At this point, it’s just difficult to see where he’ll find opportunities.
I applauded the New York Jets’ selection of Geno Smith in the second round. He’s the type of young quarterback this franchise needs to build around. This pick also creates a light at the end of the tunnel for the Mark Sanchez situation.
However, it’s unlikely Smith earns the starting job this season. New York has both Sanchez and David Garrard to use as a veteran stop-gap.
Smith does feature the skills needed to step into the starting role if the Jets made that decision. It just won’t be the best course of action for this development. He’s going to face a ton of media pressure no matter what, but it’ll be much worse if he’s forced into the starting job to early.
Despite making rapid progress from an ACL injury suffered last season, Tank Carradine may face opening the NFL season on the PUP list. His recovery won’t be the only factor in this decision, as the San Francisco 49ers have limited roster space.
Carradine figures to fit in at the outside linebacker position. He’ll have to surpass veterans like Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and Aldon Smith to see the field. San Francisco went through most of last year with only Brooks and Smith on the active roster.
The one way Carradine can find more playing time is if he shows the ability to play some five-technique. This will require him to improve as a run defender and make some changes to the way he approaches the game. San Francisco relies on its defensive linemen to occupy blockers—not solely work in the backfield.
Kyle Long isn’t the only Chicago Bears draft pick facing an uphill battle to see early playing time. Linebacker Jonathan Bostic will have to show enough to jump ahead of D.J. Williams at the middle linebacker position.
Williams is coming off of a disappointing season with the Denver Broncos, but he still has a ton of talent. Most of his issues center on off-field problems and a lack of discipline. Chicago is giving him a chance to turn things around.
Bostic’s experience, athleticism and tenacity make him an NFL-ready rookie. He’ll see time on special teams and possibly in passing situations. However, it may be some time before he sees significant playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
After making a splash in the first round of the 2012 draft, the New England Patriots reverted back to their old ways. Bill Belichick and company decided to completely move out of the first round to add more picks. However, it hurt their chances of finding someone capable of making an immediate impact.
Jamie Collins is an extremely athletic linebacker who flashes the ability to get after the quarterback. However, he’s very raw and needs to improve several areas of his game. Collins found most of his success because he was just more physically gifted than his opponent—this won’t be the case in the NFL.
The Patriots will likely use Collins as a backup for players like Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower.
The Houston Texas’ second-round pick was made more looking towards the future than about immediate impact. D.J. Swearinger will see time on special teams, but won’t take much playing time away from Danieal Manning or Ed Reed.
Despite signing a three-year deal, it’s hard to imagine the 34-year-old Reed playing more than a season or two in Houston. This is why the addition of Swearinger makes sense. He can sit behind Reed and learn the ins and outs of the position.
Another reason Swearinger might struggle to see playing time is because he can be careless. He has a tendency to deliver late hits, target the wide receiver's head and play too aggressively in coverage. These are the type of things that will draw penalties and generate mistakes a playoff team can’t afford.
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese firmly believes in finding value and drafting the best player available. This is why he selected Johnathan Hankins in the second round despite a ton of depth at the defensive tackle position.
The Giants currently have Cullin Jenkins, Linval Joseph, Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers and Marvin Austin ahead of Hankins on the depth chart. This doesn’t include the fact Justin Tuck is rotated inside on passing situations.
Hankins might have provided New York with a ton of value, but he’ll have a really hard time seeing the field.