Unheralded NFL Rookies Who Will End Up Starting by Season's End
A number of prospects from the 2013 draft class will be plugged into immediate starting roles. And by season's end a number of others will have emerged as mid- and late-round steals and fought their way into the starting lineup.
The following players may be in position to compete for a starting job in training camp, but likely will open the season in a reserve role.
Due to their situations and the veterans in front of them on the depth chart, each of these prospects will have an opportunity to emerge as a starter by season's end.
Jamar Taylor, CB, Dolphins
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Richard Marshall and free-agent acquisition Brent Grimes are expected to open the season as the starting cornerbacks in Miami. However, both veterans are coming off injury-shortened seasons, which likely played a role in the Dolphins selection of Boise State's Jamar Taylor in the second round.
Taylor lacks elite size but was one of the most well-rounded cornerback prospects in the 2013 class due to his physical style of play and willingness to step up against the run.
If healthy, Grimes will likely maintain his starting role, but Taylor could push Marshall for playing time.
Marshall's play has been in decline for a number of years, which contributed to his departures from Carolina and Arizona, and his 2012 back injury certain doesn't bode well for his future in Miami.
Aaron Dobson, WR, Patriots
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Danny Amendola should be able to step in for Wes Welker, but the veteran talent around him on the Patriots roster leaves a lot to be desired.
Four of the Patriots five leading receivers from a season ago were let go this offseason, with only Rob Gronkowski returning.
Michael Jenkins and Julian Edleman will be given an opportunity to lock down a starting job, but Aaron Dobson may be the guy to eventually emerge as Tom Brady's newest favorite target.
Dobson was hardly a household name in college, but the Marshall University product developed into one of the most reliable pass-catchers at the D-I level.
According to John Pollard of STATS, Dobson did not drop a single pass during his senior year. That type of consistency should immediately endear him to Brady and Belichick.
Brian Winters, OG, Jets
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The New York Jets attempted to fix their patchwork offensive line by bringing in veterans Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman this offseason.
Colon is a capable starter when healthy but has suited up for just 13 games over the past two seasons due to knee injuries.
Peterman, on the other hand, has been a workhorse, starting 47 of a possible 48 games over the past three years for the Lions. But the decline of his play led the Lions to part ways with the 31-year-old guard this offseason.
Should either Peterman or Colon need to be replaced for any reason, Brian Winters would be the first man to step into a starting role for the Jets.
Winters excelled at left tackle at Kent State but is being shifted inside to guard in New York. According to the New York Post, he enters training camp with a chance to compete with Peterman for the starting job.
Shamarko Thomas, S, Steelers
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The Steelers drafted Sharmarko Thomas out of Syracuse as insurance for veteran Troy Polamalu. And while Polamalu won't lose his starting job any time soon, he's missed 22 games over the past four seasons and at the age of 32 he isn't getting any younger.
Thomas may not be the next Polamalu, but he possesses remarkably similar physical tools and plays the game with the same intensity.
Few young players work as hard as Thomas, who spends his offseason completing workouts such as pushing cars up hills, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And while he may be slightly undersized, don't bet against a prospect with the drive and determination of Thomas.
Polamalu can never be replaced, but when he almost assuredly misses some time in 2013, it will be Thomas to step into a starting role.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Giants
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Once viewed as a potential top-10 pick, Johnathan Hankins' stock fell considerably during the course of the 2012 college football season and subsequent NFL draft process.
But the Giants scooped him up in the second round and will give him an opportunity to compete for playing time early in his career.
Hankins is a prototypical nose tackle and should put pressure on incumbent starter Linval Joseph, a second-round pick in 2010 who has yet to fully live up to expectations.
While Hankins' combine performance was underwhelming—especially his 5.31 40-yard dash—his athleticism is actually fairly impressive for his size. His ability to explode off the snap and close in quick bursts gives him the ability to be a dominant run-stopper at the NFL level.
David Bakhtiari, OL, Packers
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The Packers struggled to find the right offensive line combination in 2012, giving starts to four different offensive tackles and five guards.
Few changes were made this offseason, as fourth-round picks David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter were the only significant additions.
Bakhtiari played left tackle at Colorado but could complete for playing time just about anywhere on the Packers' offensive line.
Guard Josh Sitton may be the only lineman with a guaranteed job entering camp, and the Packers are likely to give Bakhtiari a shot at multiple positions while they determine how to arrange the best protection for Aaron Rodgers.
Veterans Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang hold an upper hand in the competition, but don't be surprised if Bakhtiari bumps one of them from their starting role by season's end.
Cornelius Washington, DE, Bears
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Cornelius Washington has plenty of competition in Chicago, with Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin standing between him and a starting job. But Washington should be able to force his way onto the field as a situational pass-rusher early in his career and work his way up from there.
Washington was a reserve 3-4 outside linebacker for much of his career at Georgia, playing behind Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones, but he has the skills to emerge as a starter in the pros.
While Wootton is likely to open the season as the starter, McClellin and Washington will push him for playing time.
McClellin was used almost exclusively as a pass-rusher during his rookie year—73 percent of his snaps were as a pass-rusher, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—and will likely play a similar role in 2013.
Washington has a similar skill set to McClellin, but is a more physical run defender, which may give him the upper hand in beating out Wootton for a starting role.