10 NFL Rookies Who Will Be a Refreshing Change for Their Team

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst ISeptember 10, 2013

10 NFL Rookies Who Will Be a Refreshing Change for Their Team

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    With the first week of the NFL season in the books, it is time to reflect on how things unfolded for each team and their new crop of rookies. 

    Some teams and players have reasons to be excited, whereas others are surely disappointed in how they started the 2013 season.

    While it's important to avoid overreacting to what happens in the season opener, there are certain first-year players who stood out all preseason before finally proving themselves on the big stage.

    With one game down, here are 10 rookies who provide a refreshing change for their respective teams.

Lane Johnson

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    The Philadelphia Eagles flew out of the gates in their victory over division rival Washington on Monday night, and the offensive line was a big reason Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense was so effective.

    Injuries depleted the line last season and contributed to a poor offensive year. Fourth overall pick Lane Johnson's athleticism will be a major factor in their success in 2013. He rotated around in the opener, playing right tackle and left guard, and looked sharp while opening big holes for LeSean McCoy.

Kenny Vaccaro

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    After a fantastic preseason, first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro was one of just four defensive players on New Orleans to play every single snap in their season opener.

    He looked like a legitimate threat against Atlanta, and even made a potentially game-saving deflection while covering Tony Gonzalez. The ball-hawking safety brings a level of talent that has been missing in the Saints secondary for years. 

EJ Manuel

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    The Buffalo Bills have not had a consistently great quarterback in a long time, but they finally found one with serious potential in EJ Manuel.

    Manuel is an athletic dual-threat quarterback whose poise, throwing ability and athleticism were all on display at the beginning of the preseason.

    Named the starter for Week 1 despite suffering an injury halfway through the preseason, Manuel came out and had a respectable outing and almost upset New England.

Sheldon Richardson

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    Sheldon Richardson was one of my favorite players before the draft, and I thought the Jets stole him with the 13th overall pick.

    The defensive tackle is a scary blend of size, quickness and raw determination, and he gives New York a monster presence in the middle. Rex Ryan started Richardson in Week 1, and he looked very good, pushing the pile and creating havoc on multiple occasions.

Kyle Long and Jordan Mills

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    First-round pick Kyle Long and fifth-round pick Jordan Mills became the first pair of rookie offensive linemen to start the Chicago Bears' season opener in 30 years, and they passed their first test with flying colors.

    Long, starting at guard, and Mills, starting at tackle, looked dominant at times in the preseason and had solid regular-season debuts, which you can read more about here. Chicago has had a flimsy line for awhile now, so it is encouraging to see two rookies step in so seamlessly.

Caleb Sturgis

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    It may seem a little odd to include a kicker on this list, but Miami fans understand how important a great kicker can be after watching Dan Carpenter wallow in mediocrity over the past few years. 

    Caleb Sturgis has already been turning heads, going 9-of-9 in the preseason with a long of 58. He then went 3-of-3 in the opener, including making kicks from 49 and 45 yards out. The Dolphins may have found themselves the kind of weapon they've been missing for years.  

Star Lotulelei

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    Star Lotulelei, like Richardson, is a great defensive tackle who slipped a bit in the first round. Carolina must have been ecstatic when the Utah product fell into its laps.

    He fits perfectly in the middle of the Panthers' 4-3 defense and was a major factor in limiting the Seahawks' normally potent rushing attack to a measly 2.7 yards per carry. Lotulelei finished the opener with four tackles and nearly tackled Russell Wilson for a safety.

Geno Smith

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not exactly a powerhouse, but everyone and their grandmother had to be surprised when the New York Jets defeated them in Week 1.

    Quarterback Geno Smith has his share of doubters (including yours truly), but he showed a range of talents and an impressive poise at the end of the game in leading New York to victory. Smith is the major source of hope for an embattled franchise right now.

Joseph Fauria

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    His hilarious dance may have been the story from his NFL debut, but there is a lot more to take away from tight end Joseph Fauria's NFL debut.

    As an undrafted rookie, Fauria broke into the rotation during the preseason and looked good catching three passes in the opener, including his touchdown. As Lions fans already know, Brandon Pettigrew is flat-out awful, but Detroit may have found his replacement.

DeAndre Hopkins

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    DeAndre Hopkins has been overlooked for a long time because he lacks elite size and speed, but there is a lot to like about the Clemson product's game.

    Hopkins has great hands, runs precise routes and changes speeds effectively. Andre Johnson is still the man in Houston, but the Texans may have finally found a dangerous No. 2 receiver who could develop into the top guy down the road.