As far as NFL predictions go, rookies are far and away the most difficult.
It is an exercise in futility to nail down how first-year players will adapt to the pro game and all that it encompasses, including better athletes, an uptick in speed and the digestion of the mental side of things.
Order of selection means little, too. Look at last year's rookie class. It can be argued that the majority of the top 10 fell on their collective face, whether it was due to struggles or a lack of opportunities. So to simply say players such as Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack will dominate right away is downright foolish.
No, rookies who will have the most impact are as pro-ready as they come, are in a favorable situation and have already flashed an ability during the preseason to get things done. Those outliers who will have the biggest impacts are outlined below.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
At 5'11", 230 pounds and a fourth-round pick, Andre Williams personifies just how little where a rookie was picked matters in terms of judging the class.
Look at his situation. David Wilson's career is over. Rashad Jennings is technically the starter and one of the more underrated players in the NFL, but after Williams on the depth chart, only Peyton Hillis has a chance at playing time next year.
Now look at his usage and performance. Williams has rushed 14 times for 83 yards on 5.9 yards per carry and a touchdown this preseason. ESPN.com's Dan Graziano writes that "...the fact that the Giants rotated Williams and Jennings in and out with their first-team offense indicates that he may be a big part of the initial plan."
It was a common thought that the Giants took Williams to act as a short-yardage back, but his usage so far suggests otherwise and his opportunities will only increase if he continues to perform at a high level with the first-team offense.
In fact, experts such as NFL Media's Chris Wesseling have circled the bruising back in red pen:
I would set Andre Williams as the favorite to lead rookie RBs in rushing even if he makes Michael Turner look like Woodhead as a receiver.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) August 5, 2014
A rookie back who is gifted ample opportunities always winds up as one of the most noteworthy players from his class in his debut year. Statistics are flashy, yes, and perhaps more importantly, Williams' ability to take pressure off Eli Manning will have the Giants sniffing the postseason.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens
There was a reason to throw the spotlight on No. 17 overall pick C.J. Mosley earlier this offseason when the Baltimore Ravens listed him as a starter over the talented Arthur Brown.
Now Mosley is living up to the hype on the field. The team's Twitter account and Ryan Mink of the team's website put it best during the Alabama product's pro debut:
Ravens force a three-and-out by the 49ers. Rookie C.J. Mosley has been ALL OVER the field. #SFvsBAL— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 8, 2014
Rookie ILB C.J. Mosley is all over the field. Sniffed out a screen pass, then almost got a sack, helping cause a third-down incompletion.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) August 8, 2014
No exaggeration there, either. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mosley ranked as the No. 17 overall inside linebacker when the dust settled on Week 1 of the preseason and recorded a sack and three tackles.
Often hailed before the draft as one of the most pro-ready prospects in the class, it was simply a matter of getting on the field and making slight adjustments before Mosley was off and running like his usual self, as captured by Mink after the contest:
Once I got that first hit in on that first drive, then I came out there on the second drive and made a play, and I just kind of got back into the mode of playing football. I’m just making my mark. We’ve been practicing for a long time. I finally got the first preseason game out of the way. I kind of got a chance to feel the speed, and how I needed to get downhill or certain things I need to do to make plays.
Mosley has the starting gig on lockdown. The talent has always been there, and his rather quick adaption to pro speed and natural instincts ensure that his play will remain at a consistent level throughout the season.
It is a rather fitting development for a franchise that knows a thing or two about developing stars at the position.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
At PFF, No. 20 overall pick Brandin Cooks ranked as the No. 5 wideout in the NFL after one week of the preseason for good reason.
A hot pick by many as a breakout star given his speedy set of skills and good fit in a pass-happy offense led by Drew Brees, it was just a simple matter of Cooks living up to the hype when he actually got on the field.
Let's just say he did.
Friday, Cooks was targeted eight times and lined up all over the field. The end result was five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, with the score best described by Smart Football's Chris B. Brown:
Brandin Cooks just made the Rams backups look like they are still in JV. Wow. Explosive.— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) August 9, 2014
An offense that lost Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason was in dire need of a speedy player who could line up in the backfield or at any wideout spot and come in and produce at a hectic clip to keep the offense moving the chains.
Cooks is that guy, plain as day. The hype since his arrival in Louisiana has been deafening, and now fans can see just what the Oregon State product is capable of every time he graces the field.
He is a bona fide star in the perfect situation. As it stands now, he is a runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
|Aaron Donald||DT||St. Louis Rams||Generates unorthodox pressure that will drive QBs to the outside.|
|Terrance West||RB||Cleveland Browns||Plenty of carries to go around, especially given Ben Tate's injury history.|
|De'Anthony Thomas||RB||Kansas City Chiefs||Versatile and explosive on multiple units.|
|Darqueze Dennard||CB||Cincinnati Bengals||Most pro-ready corner who can contribute now.|