NFL Rookies Who Will Shock the World in 2013
NFL teams, media and fans spend months on end dissecting draft prospects, analyzing team needs and creating mock drafts. After the draft, the cycle spins all over again as fans and fantasy football junkies grade, break down and project how all the rookies will produce in their new jobs.
By the time rookie minicamps roll around, everybody knows everything there is to know about all the important rookies.
So how come every season rookies come out of nowhere to make a huge impact?
For all the focus on the big names, the flashy talents and the first round or two of the draft, there are always second- and third-day rookies who come out of nowhere and play at a high level.
Who are the mid-rounders and the small-schoolers who'll step up? Who are the unusual suspects who'll leap into the starting lineup? Which NFL rookies will shock the world this season?
Kerwynn Williams, Indianapolis Colts RB
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Want to know which little-known prospect could make a big-time impact?
Look at Kerwynn Williams.
The lightning-quick Utah State tailback and returner caught the NFL's attention with a spectacular performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Williams racked up 235 yards and three touchdowns and pinged the radar of plenty of teams looking for a backfield playmaker.
The Indianapolis Colts got surprisingly good production from Vick Ballard last season, but no running back is an island in today's NFL. Donald Brown has had his chance, and Williams will have no other competition to speak of.
Given the attention opponents will pay to the Colts passing game, Williams should have plenty of wide-open turf to rip up.
Marquess Wilson, Chicago Bears WR
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Last season's arrival of Brandon Marshall finally solved the Chicago Bears' No. 1 wide receiver problem.
With Devin Hester moving back to full-time returner, Alshon Jeffery recovering from a season-ending injury and Johnny Knox prematurely retired, seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson should have every opportunity to challenge Earl Bennett for the third receiver spot.
If Jeffery doesn't start training camp in top form, the 6'3", 194-pound Wilson could even challenge for starting reps.
Wilson fell to the seventh round due to discipline concerns. His size and crazy college production (he led the team in receiving as a senior despite playing only nine games before leaving the program) mean he could make an impact early.
Gavin Escobar, Dallas Cowboys TE
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The Dallas Cowboys drew poor reviews for their draft work in 2013, reaching for first-round draft pick Travis Frederick and taking athletic tight end Gavin Escobar when they already have eight-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten.
However, two-tight end sets are currently sweeping the NFL, and Escobar is a special athlete. At 6'6", 254 pounds, he's just a hair taller and a bit lighter than Witten.
With the frame to add bulk but stay lean, Escobar could very quickly become a favored target of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Kenjon Barner, Carolina Panthers RB
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Kenjon Barner has a whole lot of running talent ahead of him on the Carolina Panthers depth chart. Besides Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, quarterback Cam Newton eats up a lot of carries too.
Barner, though, was spectacularly productive at Oregon, reeling off 21 touchdown runs as a senior. With 1,767 yards on 278 carries (6.4 yards per carry), there's no doubt he can make plays when given an opportunity.
With the way the Panthers love to spread the workload around, Barner should get an opportunity.
Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders LB
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The Oakland Raiders may have signed three free-agent linebackers (Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Nick Roach), but third-round draft pick Sio Moore still has an opportunity to surprise people.
The 6'1", 245-pound Moore was an explosive playmaker at Connecticut. In his senior season, Moore led the team in tackles for loss with 15.5 and finished second on the team in sacks with eight.
A player with that kind of talent doesn't stay down for too long. Beyond that, as Bleacher Report Senior Analyst D.J. O'Connor wrote, the Raiders have been toying with deploying a 3-4/4-3 hybrid over the past two seasons.
Moore is the type of explosive, disruptive athlete who can make an instant impact when deployed situationally.
Marquise Goodwin, Buffalo Bills WR
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While most of the media attention of the Buffalo Bills draft has been on their surprising first-round selection of quarterback EJ Manuel, they quietly added two real weapons to help Manuel out.
One is savvy-beyond-his-years USC product Robert Woods, an excellent all-around receiver prospect. The other, though, might make a bigger, quicker impact.
Marquise Goodwin is blessed with fantastic after-the-catch ability, which is a perfect fit for head coach Doug Marrone's offense. Though Goodwin's not as dominant or terrifying as Percy Harvin, he could play a similar role for the Bills, taking dump-offs from Manuel and turning them into big gains.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals RB
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Andre Ellington suffered a hamstring injury at the combine. That kept him from putting up full-speed explosion test numbers—both in Indianapolis and at Clemson's pro day.
However, Ellington's tape and production reveal a perfect third-down and change-of-pace back, with good speed, wiggle, hands and pass protection.
The Arizona Cardinals starter is inconstant power back Rashard Mendenhall, the theoretical No. 2 is rarely healthy Ryan Williams, and Ellington's only other competition is fellow late-round rookie Stepfan Taylor.
Ellington should have every opportunity to earn a steady diet of reps in the regular season, and he has the talent to make the most of those chances.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers WR
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The 2013 draft class is chock-full of interesting, talented, playmaking wide receivers who could have an opportunity to make an impact right away. Markus Wheaton, though, is a little more interesting and talented than most of them.
The first things to notice about Wheaton are his explosion numbers. He put up a 4.40 40-yard dash time, a 4.02 shuttle time and a 6.80 three-cone drill at the combine. He also posted a 37" vertical leap and 10'0" standing broad jump.
The next most interesting thing about Wheaton is his production. He caught 91 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
Third? His spot on the depth chart. After No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown and re-signed restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, the reps are there for Wheaton's taking. With the run-after-catch skills he's got, he could easily become the next young Pittsburgh Steelers breakout receiver.
Earl Watford, Arizona Cardinals OG/OC
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Unless an interior lineman cleans and jerks a defensive tackle over his head on a goal-line stand, it's almost impossible for one to shock the world.
James Madison University product Earl Watford, though, could do just that. A guard in college, the 6'3", 300-pound Watford has the compact build of a center. Incumbent Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge and rehabbing center Lyle Sendlein were both part of an offensive line that was one of the worst in the NFL.
The opportunity is there for Watford to push either player for a starting job. If he can make the most of his chance, he'll have successfully made the shocking jump from the FCS to the NFL.
Phillip Thomas, Washington Redskins S
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The Washington Redskins defensive backfield was crying out for an infusion of youth and talent, and Phillip Thomas brings both to the table. The fourth-round draft pick out of Fresno State has excellent two-way ability.
With 208 pounds on his 6'0" frame, he has the size and strength to make an impact in the running game. Yet he led the NCAA with eight interceptions in 2012, showing outstanding instincts and ball skills as a playmaking "centerfield" safety.
The only knock on Thomas is his lack of elite deep speed; his 4.57 40-yard dash time is on the upper edge of acceptable for a coverage defensive back.
Overall, though, Thomas is exactly the kind of big, smart playmaker who can stop the bleeding in the Redskins secondary.