5 NFL Rookies in for a Rude Awakening in 2014
This year's draft class was a pretty talented bunch overall, but we did see some questionable marriages between those talented players and their new teams. While not every draftee on this list is a head-scratcher, each player enters the season with a notable challenge in front of them.
Whether it be playing with a not-so-talented supporting cast or being buried on the depth chart behind a talented group, all of these guys are currently on a road that will hit some rough patches.
That's not to say that some of these guys won't answer the call and step up, but it will not be easy. Johnny Manziel has it especially tough, as he joins a Cleveland Browns organization that is bleeding a bit now that Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension.
There is very little talent in that receiving corps outside of Gordon, which makes Manziel's job even tougher than it already was.
He will benefit from having a healthy group of running backs behind him, but he will need more than that to succeed as a rookie and Cleveland's likely starter.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin displayed his ability to play at a high level during his time in college, but there were clear flaws to his game. Because of these flaws, he may have a harder time adjusting to the level of competition in the NFL.
His biggest issue is that his route running is a bit sloppy at times, but that will get coached out of him as he gets more and more repetitions—though he will surely suffer some growing pains along the way. He could get away with not running crisp routes in college because he was often bigger and more athletic than most of the defensive backs lining up against him, but that won't be the case anymore.
Now that he's in the league, he won't be afforded the same opportunities to cut corners that he was given in college. Considering that Carolina will likely be depending on him as a top receiver, Benjamin may start to seem like more of a bust than anything at first.
Of course, there's no way of knowing for sure at this point in time, but it certainly puts a good deal of pressure on Benjamin.
It'll be interesting to see how he fares in a sizable role right away—it will be a much-needed reality check when he gets lined up against guys like Richard Sherman. Benjamin has all the talent and potential in the world, but he will need to develop a top-notch work ethic in order to be the player he is expected to be.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde was dealt an unlucky hand when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, largely because he's joining an already loaded fleet of runners. Frank Gore leads the group, but guys like Kendall Hunter and the promising Marcus Lattimore leave little room for any type of role in the offense.
Now, it is entirely possible that Hyde picks up the system quick and earns a big role right away, but getting an opportunity to do that will be hard enough. Each one of the previously listed runners is thoroughly acquainted with the 49ers playbook, whereas Hyde is still learning the lingo.
He's a very talented runner who will get a shot to earn some playing time, but he will need to make the most of his opportunities, as they'll clearly be hard to come by. There's no telling what type of role Hyde will have as a rookie, but it certainly won't be as the offense's workhorse back like he's accustomed to being.
Dee Ford, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
Similar to Carlos Hyde's situation with the 49ers, Dee Ford will have a hard time getting reps, as he's joining a very potent defensive front. The Kansas City Chiefs boasted one of the league's best front sevens last year and retained the majority of their pieces from 2013.
Ford will be working behind Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, two guys who are firmly entrenched as the team's starters. He will surely be given some reps with the backups, but Ford is no longer the big dog in the pound like he was in college and will have some growing to do as a player.
He will be learning to play a new position, as KC will be switching him to outside linebacker full-time, and he may experience some growing pains as he adjusts to the level and speed of the NFL. It's fortunate that he'll get to learn behind two of the best outside backers in the league, but things will be a lot different than they were at Auburn.
There's little doubt that Ford is one of the best defenders to come out of college this year, but he's joined a team that just didn't need much help along its defensive front.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick, they got themselves a linebacker who—while certainly athletic—just doesn't fit the mold of a typical Pittsburgh linebacker. Shazier is on the skinny side and lacks some of the bulk he'll need to keep up with an NFL defense.
He's joining an already crowded linebacking corps that consists of Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds and more talented backers.
He will face some stiff competition as he fights for a starting job and will have his work cut out for him. Shazier has a lot of work to do if he is to endure the week-to-week grind while still performing at a high level.
Fortunately, he has some of the best defensive coaches available in the NFL, so we should see a steady improvement in him as the season progresses, though he is sure to run into some issues he wasn't used to in college.
Shazier could get away with being a smaller, speedier linebacker during his collegiate years, but he will definitely have to bulk up if he's going to last in the NFL. Shazier will have to really step up if he is to become the next great Pittsburgh linebacker.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel had a pretty nice ride during his two years in college, but that roller coaster is about to take a pretty deep dip. He's going to have a good set of blockers in front of him just as he did in college, but he will be without the freak-of-nature receiver he's used to having along the sideline.
This wouldn't be the case if not for Josh Gordon getting suspended, but now Manziel is stuck with a mediocre group of guys after having Mike Evans reeling in everything for him the past two years.
Cleveland lacks a true No. 1 receiver with the impending suspension of Gordon, and that will make for a tough transition from college to the NFL for Johnny Football. He definitely has a unique set of skills that could allow him to make some things happen for the team, but that ability will only have light shed upon it if he can get some reliable play from his wide receivers, which is far from a guarantee.
He's lucky to have the stable of talented running backs that he does, but the running game can only do so much—sooner or later Manziel is going to need to win with his arm, and that will be where problems arise.
Manziel could very well put something together that works while Gordon is absent from the team, but on paper, it's hard to see where he could find some of the pieces he'd need.