Buying or Selling Each 1st-Round Rookie as a Day 1 Starter
While all NFL rookies feel incredible pressure, the first-round draft picks carry a little extra burden with them.
No, not the extra change in their pocket from their relatively rich contracts.
Every first-round draft pick is expected to walk on to his team and make an immediate impact. Not only do all have to make the final roster, every single first-rounder is expected to immediately be the most talented player at his position.
Even the ones who are drafted as obvious projects, or to be groomed behind a living legend at the end of his career, have to prove right away that they're worth a roster spot—be that in training camp, preseason or in mop-up duty.
Some, though, are pressed into service right away—either because they earned their stripes in camp, or because their team simply doesn't have enough bodies at their position. Either way, first-round draft picks need to get on the field and excel as quickly as possible.
Out of every first-round draft pick of the 2013 class, which will answer the opening bell? I'm buying or selling all 32 of them.
Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs OT
There's no question that No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will start as a rookie. The only question was whether he'd start on the left side, to replace incumbent veteran Branden Albert, or on the right.
When the head coach includes a rookie when describing his two book-end tackles, that's a pretty good sign he's going to start.
Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars OT
Like No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel will definitely start right away, but not at his natural left tackle position.
Per Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union, Joeckel's switch to right tackle from left tackle is going very well. Joeckel told Stellino, “It’s feeling a lot better than I thought it would."
Though there's no question Joeckel will start right away, the bigger question is how long he'll stay on the right side. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is excellent and just turned 26 years old. Are the Jaguars planning to let Monroe walk when his rookie contract expires or build the team around the two massive tackles?
Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins OLB
Dion Jordan has the speed and pass-rushing tools to make an instant impact for the Miami Dolphins as a pass-rusher. Unfortunately, his pro career hasn't gotten off to a quick start.
Still recuperating from shoulder surgery, Jordan spent rookie camp on the sideline, lightly working out rather than practicing or competing.
Jordan could be a plug-and-play 3-4 outside linebacker—but Miami, long a 3-4 team, switched to a 4-3 base alignment last season. In that look, the 6'6", 248-pound Jordan would strictly be a situational defensive end.
Though Miami will likely use hybrid fronts and heavy rotations to maximize Jordan's talents, the Dolphins plan to bring Jordan along slowly, according to Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post. Unless Jordan adds significant bulk or is simply too good to keep off the field in training camp, he'll be a rotational player at the beginning of the season.
Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles OT
There's a lot of confusion about just how much of new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's zone-read offense he's brought with him from Oregon.
Where there isn't any confusion about is Kelly's desire to control the line of scrimmage with powerful blocking, and No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson was drafted to do just that.
The 6'6", 303-pound tackle is blessed with great explosion and athleticism for his size and should have no trouble fortifying the right side of the Eagles line opposite Jason Peters.
Not only should Johnson start by opening day, Johnson told Martin Frank of The News Journal he's already running with the starters. "I just came here [Tuesday] and they told me I’m with the [starters]," Johnson said after the most recent OTA session began.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, Detroit Lions DE
With a player as raw and unproven as Ziggy Ansah, most NFL teams would choose to bring him along slowly, build his technique base and introduce him on a rotational basis. They'd choose to maximize his impact by picking his spots and build his confidence by not asking him to do anything he doesn't already do well.
The Detroit Lions, when it comes to defensive ends, are not choosers—they're beggars.
In a defensive system built on the idea that the defensive line gets to the quarterback with no help from blitzing linebackers, the Lions need three or four quality defensive ends to rotate and keep fresh.
Ansah, free-agent signee Jason Jones, fourth-round rookie Devin Taylor and 2010 seventh-round draft pick Willie Young had better fit the bill. Truth be told, the Lions could have drafted two Ziggy Ansahs and they'd both start.
Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns OLB
The Cleveland Browns have undergone one of the most aggressive, dramatic renovations of the 2013 NFL offseason.
With new defensive coordinator Ray Horton installing his brand of the 3-4, he needed outside linebackers that could rush the passer. Big-money free-agent signing Paul Kruger brought his talents from Baltimore, and Barkevious Mingo will have every opportunity to come off the opposite edge.
Standing in the way of the 6'4", 241-pound Mingo is Jabaal Sheard. After the 2011 second-round pick racked up 8.5 sacks in his rookie season, he regressed to 7.0 sacks in 2012. Sheard's tackle numbers also dropped, from 40 solo and 17 assisted to 36 solo and 17 assisted.
If Mingo can get the most out of his explosive athleticism, he should be able to pass Sheard on the depth chart. However, Mingo may not be ready to beat NFL tackles in his tall, skinny frame. I view him as a situational contributor, at least at the start of this season.
Jonathan Cooper, Arizona Cardinals OG
There's no debate here: The Arizona Cardinals will start Jonathan Cooper, and they'd be certifiable if they didn't.
In 2012, the Cardinals finished dead last in the NFL in both pass-blocking and run-blocking, according to Pro Football Focus's team grades (subscription required). Cooper steps onto the field as Arizona's most talented lineman and should stand out as one of the best in the unit from Day 1.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams WR
Even after receiver Danny Amendola walked away from the Rams in free agency, they still had talented young wideouts like Brian Quick and Chris Givens.
Tavon Austin, though, is in a different class entirely. Austin's blazing speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash, per NFL.com), outstanding explosion and playmaking ability make him the Rams' most dangerous player from Day 1.
Austin's size (5'8", 174 pounds) is a small concern, and his ability to carry the ball out of the backfield could mean he's marked for a hybrid "slash" role out of the gate. That said, wherever the Rams line Austin up, they'll line him up there early and often.
Dee Milliner, New York Jets CB
With Revis Island relocating from the Jersey Shore to Tampa Bay, the New York Jets were in desperate need of a No. 1 corner.
They found one in Dee Milliner, a 6'0", 201-pound do-everything cornerback with polished skills and serious speed. Milliner hails from Alabama, which employs its defensive backs in unusual ways (for example, they don't backpedal).
That said, Milliner's tape reveals a cornerback who is absolutely ready to step in to a starting role and play well. Despite shoulder surgery holding him out until training camp, Milliner will surely be asked to do just that.
Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans OG
Chance Warmack is one of the most impressive guard prospects to come out in years. The 6'2", 317-pound beast might even have been the best overall prospect in the draft, relative to his position.
Together with big-money free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre, Warmack is part of a massive offseason investment in the interior of the Titans line. They should be able to open some big holes for mercurial tailback Chris Johnson and re-establish the Titans run game as one of the best in the league.
There's no chance Warmack enters training camp as anything less than the Tennessee Titans' starter at right guard.
D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers OT
After rookie camp, everything looked great for offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and his short-term prospects of starting for the San Diego Chargers.
According to Ricky Henne, managing editor of the Chargers' official site, new head coach Mike McCoy said Fluker was "a leader out there." McCoy said he was looking to see who'd step up, and Fluker "stepped up without hesitation."
Unfortunately, Fluker may not be stepping up to a starting spot as the Chargers right tackle. According to several Chargers blogs, including Bolts From the Blue, U-T San Diego's Kevin Acee went on local radio and said many are concerned that Fluker is better suited to play guard.
Whether it's at tackle or guard, I still see Fluker starting Week 1; his physical ability and the Chargers' needs are too great.
D.J. Hayden, Oakland Raiders CB
D.J. Hayden was one of the most impressive cornerback prospects in this season's draft class. The only problem with him was a surgically repaired inferior vena cava—the largest vein in the body. Though it doesn't impact his ability to play football, the idea that something could happen that forces him to have life-threatening surgery again is a thought deep in the back of many minds.
That fear flared up on May 28, as Hayden had to return to the hospital for another surgical procedure on his abdomen. According to Bleacher Report's Dave Siebert, the various media reports are consistent with an internal scarring problem called adhesions.
None of this should change Hayden's spot atop the Raiders cornerback depth chart. It does give one pause when penciling him in there for the next few years, however.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets DT
The Jets used their second first-round pick on a player that represented good pick value: defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson, though, was widely thought of as a 4-3 defensive tackle and would probably play end in the Jets 3-4. This is problematic, because the Jets have drafted defensive ends in the first round in each of the two previous draft classes.
To break up the logjam, 280-pound Quinton Coples will likely move to outside linebacker. Richardson, though, may not be slotted at end. Richardson's been practicing, according to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, at nose tackle.
Though head coach Rex Ryan gave Walder an emphatic "yes" when asked if Richardson had the size to play nose tackle, he may not start over Kenrick Ellis right away.
Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers DT
Perhaps no player's draft stock rose and fell as quickly (or as often) as Star Lotulelei's. He was creeping up into the consensus top five going into the combine, but a previously undiscovered heart condition prevented Lotulelei from working out.
After multiple opinions and multiple clean bills of health, Lotulelei was ready to be drafted—but lingering doubt and being unable to show his stuff at the combine dropped his stock. Mock drafters were just starting to pencil him in in the No. 5-to-No. 10 range when the draft rolled around, and the Carolina Panthers were very lucky to have him on the board at No. 14.
Despite all the concern, there's no doubt that Lotulelei will start at nose tackle for the Panthers this season.
Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints S
I wouldn't have named Kenny Vaccaro as one of the rookies likely to make the Pro Bowl this year without confidence he would start. The 6'0", 214-pound safety is an excellent tackler and great in coverage—so great, in fact, that he could flex to cornerback in certain situations.
He'll start right away next to Malcolm Jenkins in the Saints defensive backfield and has all the opportunity in the world to make a quick impact.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills QB
It was assumed that the Buffalo Bills, who let starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick leave in free agency, would be looking to draft a quarterback early in this draft.
Rumors abounded about which quarterback they planned to take, but none of those rumors matched up with who they did take: EJ Manuel of Florida State.
Manuel is a big, talented athlete who is still quite raw as a pocket passer. According to Chris Brown of the Bills official site, quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson split reps with the starters in OTAs.
The Bills don't need Manuel to start, play well or even play this season. The question is, will he start and play well next season?
Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers OLB
Few players have so clearly fit the profile of the player they were drafted to replace.
At 6'2", 245 pounds, Jarvis Jones is a slightly bigger version of James Harrison, the free-agent departee whose spot in the lineup Jones is set to take. Jones was a monster pass-rusher in college, repeatedly racking up conference-leading numbers in tackles for loss and sacks while at Georgia.
The Steelers, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, won't just hand Jones a starting role. They're a veteran team and need to make sure Jones knows his place. Head coach Mike Tomlin told Bouchette he won't "close the door" on Jones "earning an opportunity."
Then again, there's little doubt that that's exactly what he'll do.
Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers S
Eric Reid is everything the San Francisco 49ers want in a safety.
Don't just take my word for it. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com spoke to 49ers general manager Trent Baalke about Reid, and Baalke was effusive.
"He's got the height, weight, speed that we were looking for at the position," Baalke said. "He's smart. He's tough. He's a physical football player. And we really felt he was an all-around safety."
Reid should have a clear shot at winning the starting job vacated by safety Dashon Goldson, who left via free agency.
Justin Pugh, New York Giants OG
Justin Pugh was the feel-good story of the draft's first day, when a video of his friends congratulating him on getting the call from the Giants went viral.
The 6'4", 307-pound offensive lineman started for three years at left tackle for the Syracuse Orange; when moving downstate it was widely presumed he'd switch to guard.
Instead, according to Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger, Pugh will play right tackle for the Giants. Will he outstrip veteran David Diehl and current backup James Brewer? Hutchinson says he could and "sooner rather than later."
Kyle Long, Chicago Bears OL
Almost from the day they traded for quarterback Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears' biggest problem has been how to protect him.
This season, they finally committed the resources to making it happen, signing free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a big-money deal and drafting Kyle Long in the first round.
Long, blessed with good bloodlines and versatility, could play nearly any position on the line. They plan to play him at right guard, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, because of the quality defensive tackles in their division.
Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said to Biggs, "Suh plays over the right guard, and we have to win the division first." The Bears want to win now, and Long is going to have to play now.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals TE
Though Tyler Eifert will have a great chance to make a quick impact in the suddenly loaded Cincinnati Bengals offense, he likely won't "start" by the usual definition.
When discussing how the Bengals are using Eifert in practice, reporters like Cincinnati.com's Joe Reedy keep using the phrase "all over the field." Eifert's athleticism and 6'6", 251-pound frame make him a mismatch no matter where he lines up.
That said, Eifert likely won't beat out incumbent Jermaine Gresham for the No. 1 spot on the Bengals tight end depth chart. He'll be used early and often, but I don't see him starting.
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons CB
It's always a good sign when talent meets opportunity.
When Desmond Trufant, a 6'0" cornerback who ran a 4.38 at the combine, is taken in the first round by a team that lost a Pro Bowl cornerback to free agency...well, do the math.
Unfortunately, Trufant is one of those few players hit by the arcane NFL rule that says drafted rookies can't practice until after they graduate. As Jay Adams of the team's official site wrote, the Falcons are getting creative in getting Trufant up to speed.
Despite his inability to hit the offseason ground running, Trufant will surely be running with the starters in training camp.
Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings DT
Overshadowed by their bold gambit to end up with three first-round draft picks was the Minnesota Vikings' use of one of them on a player who might be the steal of the draft.
After being rumored to go as high as No. 3 overall to the Oakland Raiders, Floyd was still on the board for the Vikings at No. 23. With three picks to spend, the Vikings wisely drafted for the future and took Floyd, even though stalwart Kevin Williams still has Floyd's eventual starting spot on lockdown.
Floyd won't start this season, but he has the talent to play at a very high level when Williams has nothing left to teach him
Bjoern Werner, Indianapolis Colts OLB
Bjoern Werner had one of the most interesting draft evaluation cycles: He went from a possible top-five selection as a 4-3 defensive end to the No. 24 overall pick as a 3-4 outside linebacker. It's a big slide in terms of draft slot, but it's not because Werner did anything wrong—he's just a odd fit with today's NFL defenses.
The trend in pass-rushers is speed above all else, and at 6'3", 266 pounds, Werner doesn't quite fit that mold. He has size, power and natural athleticism, but not elite speed or explosion.
Where does Werner fit in the Colts' 3-4? For now, behind returning starter Robert Mathis and free-agent signee Erik Walden. Neither of those players has the long-term upside of Werner, though, and if he can adjust to playing standing up, he should outstrip them.
Just not by Week 1.
Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings CB
Xavier Rhodes isn't a perfect cornerback prospect, but he's a perfect cornerback prospect for the Minnesota Vikings. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Rhodes plays with the kind of physicality that made departed free agent Antoine Winfield so good in the Vikings system.
Rhodes was very good value with the No. 25 pick; the Vikings were lucky to be able to pass on him once and still get him.
Rhodes will certainly start right away for the Vikings and will likely give them the most immediate production of any of their three first-round draft picks.
Datone Jones, Green Bay Packers DE
In one of the wildest, hardest-to-predict first rounds in memory, the No. 26 spot was a selection I was confident of: Datone Jones to the Green Bay Packers.
Jones stands 6'4", 283 pounds and has a proven knack for rushing the passer. His 4.32 short shuttle time at the combine, per NFL.com, hints at the kind of explosion he's capable of. A perfect fit for the Packers' scheme, it would make all the sense in the world for Jones to step in and start.
Jones will have to beat out some talented players to start. Still, his talent and fit give him the edge.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans WR
Unlike his colleague Mike Tomlin, Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is not playing coy with his first-round draft pick's chances to start.
"He's special," said Kubiak, according to Nick Scurfield of the Texans' official site. "He’s going to help us early, and we know that, and that’s why we brought him here."
There's no doubt that Hopkins has the ability to make an impact with Andre Johnson drawing coverage. And there's no doubt the Texans know it.
Sylvester Williams, Denver Broncos DT
Sylvester Williams is a very big man, standing 6'3" and weighing 313 pounds. He's also a gifted disruptor, registering six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss at North Carolina. Williams has the talent to be a great player in this league for a long time.
All this, though, doesn't quite add up to an automatic first-year starter; not on a unit as strong as the Broncos defense.
Mike Klis of the Denver Post wrote that he doesn't believe Broncos staff members when they tell him Williams can push his way to the front of the defensive tackle line. Incumbent starter Kevin Vickerson, who's played most of his career at or below 300 pounds, has built himself up to an impressive 330 pounds. Free-agent signee Terrance Knighton, too, figures to be in the mix.
Williams will get there sooner rather than later but likely not now.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings WR
At the beginning of the draft evaluation cycle, most media and fan mock drafts had Cordarrelle Patterson as the first wide receiver off the board. His incredible combination of size (6'2", 216 pounds), speed (4.42 40-yard dash time, per NFL.com) and athletic playmaking ability popped off the screen at Tennessee.
However, after digging into the film, NFL teams and evaluators saw the holes in Patterson's game: namely, route-running, hand craft and the other "little things'"that make an athlete a professional wide receiver.
According to Dan Wiederer of The Star-Tribune, head coach Leslie Frazier was asked if Patterson will be "eased" into things behind Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. "That is the plan," replied Frasier. "We don’t want give him too much early."
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams OLB
Alec Ogletree was an inside linebacker at Georgia, and that's where most draft observers figured he'd play in the NFL.
The St. Louis Rams have other ideas for the 6'2", 242-pound rookie, though; they plan to play him on the strong side.
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Gary Davenport wrote, that seems to be a misuse of Ogletree's talents. Having an athletic playmaker line up over tight ends and take them on in the run game seems questionable.
Yet, that's where the Rams have a need. Ogletree may need to adjust, but he'll play.
Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys OC
One of the most controversial picks of the first round, Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick was viewed by many as a third- or even fourth-round pick.
Well, the Cowboys' leaked draft board was pieced together by Blogging the Boys, and it turns out even the Cowboys had a second-round grade on Frederick. That said, once the draft is over the only thing that matters is how well they play.
According to Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News, Frederick will have an opportunity to start at center, with veteran incumbent Phil Costa willing to switch to guard. My guess is Frederick will win that battle as part of the PR war to save face.
Matt Elam, Baltimore Ravens S
Many draftniks pegged the No. 32 overall spot as the natural landing point for an inside linebacker, like Manti Te'o. After all, the Baltimore Ravens lost not only legendary inside linebacker Ray Lewis but also his heir apparent, Dannell Ellerbe, in the offseason.
Instead, the Ravens chose to replace their other departed legend: safety Ed Reed.
Matt Elam, at 5'10", 208 pounds, is used to starting; he started the last two seasons for the Florida Gators. Like Reed, he's fond of making big hits and big plays, as well as making his voice heard on the field.
The Ravens have lost a lot of starters and depth on the defense this offseason; they don't have the luxury of spending their top draft pick on a player who won't play.