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One Burning Question for Every NFL Team's Top Pick

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 10, 2017

One Burning Question for Every NFL Team's Top Pick

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    This time of year, optimism seems to surround every NFL player who isn't in post-operative care. Everyone is either on the verge of breaking out or primed to get back on track. But there's one guy on every team who all the fans are holding out a special amount of hope for. 

    That's the pressure that comes from being a top pick, whether you're a first-rounder or a Day 2 selection. Usually, you're expected to play a major role right away, and you're expected to deliver in that role. 

    Nothing's set in stone, though. And so here are the prevailing major questions being asked about each team's first draft pick.

Arizona Cardinals G Jonathan Cooper

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    Can a guard live up to being a top-10 pick?

    Between 2002 and 2012, only eight guards were selected in the first round of the draft, and zero in the top 16. So while Jonathan Cooper looks like a special player, there's a lot of pressure associated with being the first top-10 pick at that position in 12 years. 

    That's accentuated by the fact that the Arizona Cardinals are still left without a long-term option at quarterback and could definitely have used help at either offensive tackle spot. 

    Cooper will have to perform extremely well to prevent the Cards from regretting not using this pick to address other areas of need.

Atlanta Falcons CB Desmond Trufant

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    Can he be an effective rookie starter from Week 1?

    It's extremely hard for rookie cornerbacks to shine. While running backs and offensive linemen often step in and produce right away, adjusting to pro-level speed is extra difficult for corners. That's a big reason why a corner hasn't won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award this century. 

    With Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens all gone, the Atlanta Falcons will have little choice but to place No. 22 overall pick Desmond Trufant into the starting lineup from the get-go. It's been a while since an Atlanta rookie has faced that much immediate pressure to deliver.

Baltimore Ravens S Matt Elam

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    Is he big enough to succeed as an NFL starter from day one?

    The Baltimore Ravens said goodbye to both starting safeties after winning the Super Bowl, so it wasn't a surprise to see them use their first-round pick on Florida's Matt Elam. But Elam has big shoes to fill if he's looking to step in and mimic the departed Bernard Pollard at strong safety.

    At only 5'10", 208 pounds, he's undersized for guy who will be expected to make a lot of plays in run defense inside the box. And while Elam's known as a heavy hitter, you need to have more than that at this level. 

    On the bright side, he's been impressing his teammates early on, according to Aaron Wilson of the The Baltimore Sun.

Buffalo Bills QB E.J. Manuel

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    Can he learn to make pre-snap reads?

    This has been asked about E.J. Manuel so often that it has almost become a cliché, but it's an essential factor related to the overarching question regarding when he'll be ready to take over as Buffalo's starting quarterback.

    The No. 16 overall pick was a one-read quarterback with limited responsibilities at Florida State. It's encouraging that he already claims to be extremely comfortable with Buffalo's offense, but those comments may have been a little premature. 

    Before Manuel can be a successful starter in this league, he'll have to gain the ability to confidently make reads before the snap. 

Carolina Panthers DT Star Lotulelei

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    How much of a difference can he make in clogging a porous Panthers run defense?

    Only three NFL defensive fronts stopped opposing running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage less often than Carolina's last season, according to Football Outsiders, which is a big reason why the Panthers selected defensive tackle Star Lotulelei 14th overall. 

    Lotulelei had 19 tackles for loss during his final two seasons at Utah, which is extremely impressive for an interior defensive lineman. Now, all eyes are on him as he prepares to inevitably start from the get-go as part of a very talented D-line. 

    It won't be easy, because he'll be expected to do a lot more than recent top-round defensive tackles such as Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox and Nick Fairley.

Chicago Bears G Kyle Long

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    Will he be ready to contribute immediately?

    Kyle Long is one of three top picks projected to start at guard from day one, which makes sense when you consider how much help the Chicago Bears could use along the offensive line. But the versatile offensive lineman lacks experience at that position.

    Long, who at one point chose baseball over football and has battled some demons, has only four starts at guard at the BCS level. And on top of all that, he's missing organized team activities due to Oregon's exam schedule. 

    At least Long reportedly had a good showing at rookie camp, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, but he'll have a lot of catching up to do this summer.

Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert

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    Can he be the final piece of Cincinnati's offensive puzzle?

    Per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden spoke this week about wanting to see his offense take "major, major, major steps in the right direction moving forward."

    Three majors! That's extremely major!

    For that to happen, the Bengals will look for quarterback Andy Dalton to take several steps forward. But for that to happen, they'll need first-round tight end Tyler Eifert to step in immediately and become a force alongside Jermaine Gresham. 

    The early reviews have been positive, so it appears he's on the right track. If that keeps up, look for the Bengals to possess one of the most dangerous two-tight end sets in the league. 

Cleveland Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

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    Will he require extra time to adjust to the pro game?

    Due to the fact that he only had 15 sacks in three years at LSU, Barkevious Mingo has a lot to prove. And watching him, you can see that his technique isn't quite where NFL coaches would like it to be. But his ceiling is so high that he was drafted sixth overall anyway.

    Despite that investment, Mingo isn't being handed a starting job. 

    He's been impressing, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but is still working behind Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard.

    "Right now, the other two guys are better," outside linebackers coach Brian Baker told Cabot. "So, yeah, whether I'm supposed to say it or not.

Dallas Cowboys C Travis Frederick

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    Was he worthy of being a first-round pick? 

    When the Dallas Cowboys picked Travis Frederick at the bottom of the first round April 25, the entire nation shouted, "Who?" NFL Network's Mike Mayock said he had a third-round grade on the Wisconsin center, and pretty much nobody had him pegged as a first-round selection.

    That doesn't mean Frederick wasn't worthy of being chosen there. The truth is nobody can draw any grand conclusions regarding draft spots until we've actually seen these guys on the field. But now the pressure is on Frederick to earn a starting job in place of either Phil Costa, Nate Livings or Mackenzy Bernadeau inside and deliver immediately. 

    If he doesn't, it'll be confirmation to a lot of people that he was a first-round reach, and the Cowboys' poor draft reputation will take another hit.

Denver Broncos DT Sylvester Williams

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    Can he help offset the loss of Elvis Dumervil?

    Does that number look familiar? That's because Sylvester Williams has inherited it from Dumervil. Williams isn't a pure pass-rusher like Dumervil was, but the Denver Broncos surely hope that his sheer presence as a versatile contributor up front will help them regain some, most or even all of what they lost when the veteran defensive end left town in startling fashion.

    The No. 28 overall pick could start right away at defensive tackle. He had six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last year at North Carolina. If he can continue to utilize his quick first step as an occasional pass-rusher while improving the run defense, the Broncos won't miss Dumervil as much as they would have otherwise.

Detroit Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah

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    Will he require extra time to adjust to the pro game?

    See: Barkevious Mingo. Both were top-10 picks. But like Mingo, Ezekiel Ansah doesn't have a long football résumé. He's an incredible athlete, but the Ghana-born Ansah had just 4.5 sacks during his time at BYU and has been playing football for only three years.

    But when you spend a No. 5 overall pick on a guy, you expect him to play a major role right away, which is why the Detroit Lions are apparently throwing their kitchen sink at the raw 24-year-old. It could take Ansah time to absorb everything, but the Lions don't have a lot of alternative options at defensive end.

Green Bay Packers DE Datone Jones

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    Are the stars aligning for him to make a DROY run?

    "We ran pretty much the same defense, Dom Capers' defense, at UCLA," Datone Jones said about the speed at which he's adjusting to the Green Bay Packers defense, per Fox Sports Wisconsin. "The terminology is a little different, but I'm picking it up pretty fast."

    The No. 26 overall pick is a big, tall force who fits in perfectly with that defense. Look for him to start Week 1 and contribute as a 5- or 3-technique defensive lineman. His versatility could pay off immediately, as could the fact he'll have a ton of support from Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and the rest of that front seven. 

    After four years in the Pac-10/12, Jones could be ready to make a quick transition.

Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins

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    Can he and Andre Johnson give the Texans one of the best one-two wide receiver punches in football?

    Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald have probably been the game's three most dominant receivers over the last half-decade, but none has had top-notch sidekicks. That might have changed this offseason in Houston, with DeAndre Hopkins joining the Texans late in the first round.

    The No. 27 overall pick out of Clemson is considered to be pro-ready, and he'll certainly have enough support in an offense that already has Johnson, Arian Foster, Matt Schaub and a top-tier line.

    Hopkins, who had 18 touchdown grabs last year with the Tigers, has the hands and the skill set to deliver right away. And if that happens, that DeAndre-Andre duo could be close to unstoppable. 

Indianapolis Colts OLB Björn Werner

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    Can he replace Dwight Freeney?

    Sometimes, the obvious question is the burning one. The Indianapolis Colts replaced franchise quarterback Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck last year. Now, they'll look to top pick Björn Werner to step in and replace longtime pass-rushing hero Dwight Freeney, whose time in Indy came to an end early in the offseason.

    The Colts defense had just 32 sacks last year, as a 32-year-old Freeney continued to decline while Robert Mathis struggled with injuries. The transition from 4-3 to 3-4 didn't help their cause, but now they'll be able to mold Werner as a stand-up pass-rusher from the start. 

    The good news is he had 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss last year at Florida State, and the early returns have been very promising, according to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com.

Jacksonville Jaguars OT Luke Joeckel

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    Will he be better than Eric Fisher?

    This is just the way things are, and it's the way they'll be for many years to come. Luke Joeckel came from a bigger program and was considered to be a slightly more polished prospect than Fisher, but the Kansas City Chiefs went that way instead, leaving Joeckel to land in Jacksonville with the No. 2 overall selection. 

    Both will begin their careers at right tackle, making it even easier to compare their performances from day one. This debate might not be as sexy as Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf, but it could have a dramatic impact on the future of two organizations that have been bad for quite some time. 

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher

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    Will he be better than Luke Joeckel?

    Eric Fisher and the Chiefs have more pressure on them. The Jaguars just took the tackle that Kansas City didn't choose, but the Chiefs went out on a bit of a limb taking the Central Michigan product first overall. 

    Fisher has the size, strength and skill set to become a dominant tackle for the next decade-and-a-half, but if he becomes just another guy, the Chiefs could regret passing on a surer thing such as Joeckel. 

Miami Dolphins DE Dion Jordan

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    What role will he play?

    This is a good problem for the Miami Dolphins to have. No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan is such a versatile player that he could potentially lineup as an end or a linebacker. Hell, the guy has even played some corner. 

    You'd think the Dolphins would be leaning toward using the former Oregon Duck on the line, opposite pass-rushing stud Cameron Wake. But it's also possible they do what the Denver Broncos have with Von Miller by having him stand up. That would give Jordan more room to breathe and more opportunities to freelance.

    Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald believes Jordan will be used purely as an end from the outset, but nothing's written in stone in June, especially since we haven't had a chance to see Jordan practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Minnesota Vikings DT Sharrif Floyd

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    Did he slide in the draft for a reason?

    The Minnesota Vikings may or may not have landed the steal of the draft when the highly rated Sharrif Floyd dropped all the way to them in the 23 spot. Does that mean Floyd is a flawed prospect, or was he just in the wrong draft at the wrong time?

    Fellow defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson also fell a little lower than expected, so it might be the latter. 

    Regardless, Floyd fell, and that fall came after he recorded just 4.5 sacks during his two years at Florida while also dealing with potential concerns regarding the length of his arms. As a result, he has a lot to prove in Minnesota. 

New England Patriots LB Jamie Collins

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    Where will he play?

    We know Jamie Collins can play. The question now is: Where will the versatile second-round pick line up?

    He'll likely be a jack-of-all-trades backup as a rookie, occasionally picking up reps in specific packages, but expect Bill Belichick to find some unique ways to utilize such an athletic, explosive defender.

    We might have to wait for injuries to take place before we begin to get an answer to this question, but expect Collins to spend most of his time in the linebacking corps, where they can take advantage of his speed and coverage skills. After all, the Pats were gashed through the air by backs and tight ends in 2012.

New Orleans Saints S Kenny Vaccaro

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    Will the Saints rue not taking a front-seven defender to help transition to a 3-4 scheme?

    Kenny Vaccaro was the draft's highest-rated safety, but you could argue that New Orleans just didn't need a safety as much as it needed help up front as the D switches from 4-3 to 3-4. The Saints didn't have a second-round pick thanks to the bounty scandal, so they didn't draft a front-seven defender until late in Round 3. 

    If Jarvis Jones—who was selected two spots later—has a big year in Pittsburgh, and Vaccaro and Victor Butler both fail to shine, the Saints might regret investing in a safety so early, especially in a draft that had plenty of quality ones available in the middle rounds.

New York Giants OL Justin Pugh

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    Is he a guard or a tackle?

    Or even a center (subscription required)? Justin Pugh was a left tackle at Syracuse, but the way he's been portrayed you'd have to believe he possesses Tyrannosaurus rex-sized arms. Many don't think he can cut it as an offensive tackle in the pros, but the New York Giants have started him off in the right tackle spot. 

    That could change if Pugh struggles this summer or fall, but the Giants are probably keeping their fingers crossed, because they've already got three solid interior offensive linemen in Kevin Boothe, David Baas and Chris Snee. 

New York Jets CB Dee Milliner

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    Can he replace Darrelle Revis?

    I'll bet you've heard this one before, but there are some people who expect New York Jets top pick Dee Milliner to step in and replace the departed Revis at cornerback. Of course, the odds aren't in favor of a rookie—no matter how talented he is—doing Revis-like things at that position.

    The good news is that Milliner doesn't necessarily have to "replace" Revis. He won't be asked to face No. 1 receivers consistently from day one. But in terms of net gains and losses, the Jets should definitely be expected to take a hit going from Antonio Cromartie and Revis to Cromartie and Milliner.

Oakland Raiders CB D.J. Hayden

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    Can he get—and stay—healthy?

    D.J. Hayden could become something special. That's the case any time a cornerback is selected in the top 12, but it's especially true when you consider that the Oakland Raiders, who traded down and took Hayden, were originally willing to grab him in the No. 3 spot

    The Houston product is expected to be the team's top corner from the get-go, and my colleague, Christopher Hansen, has already made a compelling comparison to Darrelle Revis. 

    But in May, Hayden underwent an abdominal procedure that was linked to a previous heart surgery. That's more than a little disconcerting, considering that said original injury was life-threatening

    Hayden is expected to make a full recovery, but he won't be around until training camp at the earliest. And you can imagine that doctors, reporters and fans alike will be monitoring him for quite some time beyond that.

Philadelphia Eagles OT Lane Johnson

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    How intense will his learning curve be?

    As the highest draft pick the Philadelphia Eagles have had this century, No. 4 overall selection Lane Johnson will be expected to play a large role right away. But let's keep in mind that the offensive tackle has actually only played said position for two years.

    Johnson has a ton of upside, of course. But he's extremely raw for a top-five pick and should be expected to experience some growing pains early in his NFL career. In fact, the Eagles should be prepared to flex Todd Herremans back into the right tackle spot, just in case. 

Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Jarvis Jones

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    Will he start as a rookie?

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly hoping that top pick Jarvis Jones can replace the departed and aging James Harrison, but that isn't likely to happen overnight. 

    The Georgia product had 28 sacks in his two seasons with the Bulldogs, but Jason Worilds still has the seniority edge at the outside linebacker position opposite LaMarr Woodley. And veteran Larry Foote, who plays inside within that same linebacking corps, thinks "it's going to be difficult" for Jones to step in and steal that job right away, according to Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    This will be something to monitor closely in August. 

St. Louis Rams WR Tavon Austin

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    Will he be able to stay healthy?

    Nobody's questioning Tavon Austin's skills. The guy is incredibly fast and versatile and might have the ability to become a unique star at the NFL level. That's why the St. Louis Rams made him the eighth overall pick. 

    But he's also tiny enough (5'8", 174 lbs) that you have to wonder if he'll have trouble avoiding injuries as he takes shots in traffic as a slot receiver. He held up in college at West Virginia, but the NFL is a new ballgame. 

    It's hard not to be excited about what Austin has the ability to do in this league, but he'll need to be smart and have some luck on his side, too.

San Diego Chargers OT D.J. Fluker

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    Can he hold up in pass protection?

    When the San Diego Chargers were left out of the offensive tackle party early in the draft, they had to settle for D.J. Fluker, who played right tackle at Alabama and will have a chance to do so from the get-go in San Diego. 

    The problem is that the No. 11 overall pick might lack the foot speed and overall pass-protection skills to start at either tackle position, which could eventually force the Chargers to pull a Robert Gallery and try him inside. That wouldn't be ideal. The guy's massive and could improve his technique dramatically this summer, but it's still far from clear what role he'll play.

San Francisco 49ers S Eric Reid

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    Can he replace Dashon Goldson Week 1?

    Many were surprised to see the San Francisco 49ers move up to the No. 18 spot in Round 1 to take Eric Reid, who was rarely projected to go in the top 20. Yes, the Niners had the luxury of taking chances with so many picks in their back pocket, but this was a deep draft at that position. 

    Look, the Niners clearly had a thing for Reid, and their scouting department is probably better than mine, but the LSU product didn't exactly stand out a lot at LSU (although I suppose it's tough to do that on that defense). Regardless, he seems to be adjusting OK while learning both safety positions

    San Fran doesn't have a lot of alternatives beyond Reid and Donte Whitner, so the team had better hope that progress continues.

Seattle Seahawks RB Christine Michael

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    Can he leap ahead of Robert Turbin to become the team's main security policy for Marshawn Lynch?

    The Seattle Seahawks essentially spent their first-round pick on wide receiver Percy Harvin, leaving second-round running back Christine Michael as their top prize of the 2013 draft. And when Lynch was absent for the start of organized team activities, Michael was a standout in practice, according to Eric Williams of the News Tribune.

    That alone might not be enough to spring him into the No. 2 spot on the running back depth chart, but it looks as though he'll have a shot at supplanting Turbin, who is coming off a solid rookie year but might not have the playmaking ability Michael possesses. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Johnthan Banks

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    Can he handle the attempted abuse that comes as a result of lining up opposite Darrelle Revis?

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also essentially used their first-round pick on a veteran, bringing in Revis to become their new top corner. And then they went and grabbed another corner with their next-best selection, adding Johnthan Banks to the fray.

    Banks may or may not win the starting job opposite Revis, because Eric Wright still has a say. But he'll inevitably play a fairly large role as a rookie, which could make life difficult with quarterbacks potentially having to avoid Revis at all costs. 

    Just pick up the phone, Johnthan, and ask Antonio Cromartie how it feels. 

Tennessee Titans G Chance Warmack

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    Can a guard live up to being a top-10 pick?

    The penultimate page of this slideshow will inevitably feel a lot like the first one. That's because Jonathan Cooper isn't the only rookie faced with having to deliver after becoming one of those rarely seen top-10 talents at the guard position.

    Alabama's Chance Warmack went to the Tennessee Titans three picks later, and he'll also have to dominate from the get-go to be worthy of such a selection. The Titans also had lots of other holes to address, increasing the pressure on Warmack. 

    He's got Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews coaching him, though, and Chris Johnson's his running back. So things are looking up for the monster-sized 21-year-old.

Washington Redskins CB David Amerson

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    Can he rise above in a crowded defensive backfield?

    The Washington Redskins are yet another team that forfeited their top pick this year to swing for the fences earlier. Robert Griffin III is a Redskin, and as a result, second-round cornerback David Amerson is Washington's top selection from 2013.

    The Washington pass defense was terrible for much of last year, but Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall and Richard Crawford are back, and free-agent pickup E.J. Biggers is the heavy favorite to earn the nickel role. That means Amerson is either fourth or fifth in line at the corner position.

    The N.C. State product is a playmaker with a nose for the football, but he might still be too much of a liability in coverage to break through as a rookie. 

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