NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals

Brent SobleskiNFL AnalystJune 27, 2017

NFL Rookies Who Already Look Like Draft-Day Steals

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    After the NFL draft, many teams are ecstatic with their hauls. The event instills false hope, because the majority of picks won't succeed at the next level.  

    There will be a multiple picks, however, who exceed expectations. These men will be lauded for outperforming their draft slots. Their teams will be deemed brilliant for seeing something no one else did.

    Every year, NFL analysts re-draft the previous year's class to determine how teams hit and/or missed on their evaluations.

    It's amazing to realize the Oakland Raiders selected Derek Carr (the league's highest-paid player) in the second round after Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were scooped up

    Here, we'll look at players drafted in the second round and beyond. After the first round, incoming rookies can be deemed draft-day steals because expectations are not sky-high immediately.  

    Anticipation is already building for the following 10 rookies, and their teams hope to get big returns on their modest investments.  

Honorable Mentions

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    Multiple rookies turned heads during OTAs and minicamps. The following have a chance to make big impacts this fall, but their standing within their respective teams is still in question. 

    Once training camp arrives and the pads are on, perhaps they will have positioned themselves to take bigger roles and claim their places as potential draft-day steals: 

    • RB Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins: The Oklahoma product has a chance to unseat incumbent Robert Kelley as Washington's starting running back. If he doesn't, there's still a role for him as the offense's short-yardage/red-zone specialist. 

    • RB Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers: Veteran Carlos Hyde is coming off his best season, yet questions persist as to whether he's a good fit in Kyle Shanahan's new scheme. Williams has the speed and vision to excel in the zone-heavy system. 

    • WR Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers: The undersized (5'8" and 181 pounds) Taylor is a sure-handed target with a knack for getting open from the slot. 

    • WR Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams: Tavon Austin is going to be heavily relied upon in Sean McVay's new offensive scheme. The organization signed Robert Woods to be a legitimate option out of the slot. Kupp can serve as Jared Goff's security blanket. 

    • OT Taylor Moton, Carolina Panthers: With Michael Oher's future still in doubt, Moton will compete with Darryl Williams to become the Panthers' starting right tackle. 

    • LB Tyus Bowser, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are searching for a bookend to Terrell Suggs, and this year's second-round pick looked equally comfortable dropping in space as he was rushing the passer during minicamp. 

    • CB Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers defense is looking for more physical man-cover corners. Sutton can fill the role as a potential starter on the outside or as the nickel. 

    • CB Rudy Ford, Arizona Cardinals: Ford recorded the fastest time of any safety in this year's draft class when he posted an unofficial 4.34-second 40-yard dash at Auburn's pro day. The Cardinals decided to move him to cornerback, where he'll compete with Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams to start opposite Patrick Peterson. 

QB DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns, 52nd Pick

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    To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius in the film Gladiator, "There was once a dream that there was a franchise quarterback in Cleveland. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish. It was so fragile and I fear that it will not survive the summer."

    This is how the game's most important position is now handled along the North Coast. The Cleveland Browns have lacked a true franchise quarterback for so long, a bulk of their fanbase doesn't even know what one actually looks like. 

    In the span of a year, the organization passed on opportunities to select Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson. However, DeShone Kizer fell into the franchise's lap with the 52nd overall pick. The Notre Dame product was the fourth quarterback chosen, yet he's positioned to become a Day 1 starter if he continues to impress. 

    "I think that by the time training camp comes around—with a little more work over this month off—I'll be ready to compete with these guys and see what I can do," Kizer said, per Patrick Maks of the team's official site. 

    Kizer already received some first-team reps during minicamp as head coach Hue Jackson rotated him with Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler.

    "He's going through a lot right now and his head's swimming, but when he gets it, and he gets the lower body, he's got a chance to be special," quarterbacks coach David Lee said, per Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot. 

    A coach's fallback position is to let his rookie quarterback sit and learn. Kizer has plenty of room for growth, yet his potential may be too much for the Browns to overlook considering their alternatives.

RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs, 86th Pick

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    Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware has a chance to be a breakout star this fall, but he'll be pushed by rookie Kareem Hunt. At worst, the third-round pick is expected to be a big part of the team's running back rotation. 

    Hunt's first hurdle is understanding the Chiefs' playbook. 

    "His football IQ is very high," running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said, per BJ Kissel of the team's official site. "He's done a good job of retaining a lot of information, and trust me, we've been throwing the book at him because we want to challenge him and see exactly what will stick and what won't stick."

    Head coach Andy Reid echoed Bieniemy's statement. 

    "The center of gravity, the way he moves. ... He catches the ball well and he's a pretty smart kid. We're throwing a ton at him" Reid said, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher.

    Beyond Ware, veterans Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller are both competing for snaps.

    However, the Chiefs traded up to the 86th pick in the third round to select Hunt. As long and he continues to absorb everything, he'll be a big part of the rotation and could even usurp Ware as the starter. 

WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 84th Pick

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter is already heaping praise on Chris Godwin.

    "He does compete for the ball," Koetter said, per Bucs Wire's Bonnie Mott. "And it's way, way, way too early to say this, but in that respect, Chris reminds me a little bit of Roddy White."

    White is the Falcons' all-time leading receiver. He was also a physical target adept at using his body to make difficult catches. Godwin excelled in the same area at Penn State.

    Last season, he was the Big Ten's top vertical threat with 504 deep receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus. He finished his final season on campus with 982 yards. He also excelled at the combine with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and tied for the best short shuttle (4.00 seconds) even at 6'1" and 209 pounds. 

    Godwin caught his coach's eye, but where does he fit? The Buccaneers are talented at wide receiver with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.

    But Godwin is talented enough to crack the rotation and become a big part of the team's passing attack during his initial campaign.

WR Ryan Switzer, Dallas Cowboys, 133rd Pick

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    Move over, Cole Beasley. Ryan Switzer is going to find a way on the field as rookie for the Dallas Cowboys.

    "Switz has been a baller in OTAs," Beasley said, per the Dallas Morning News. "He's really good getting off the press and beating man coverage. That's the hardest thing to teach. If you don't have that coming in, it's kind of hard to make it in the NFL."

    North Carolina's all-time leading receiver had the lowest drop rate of any draft prospect operating out of the slot last season, per Pro Football Focus.

    And his short-area quickness allows him to get open in the first place. Switzer tied for first at the NFL combine with a 4.00-second short shuttle. 

    Cowboys faithful should expect both Beasley and the rookie to be on the field together. 

    "[Switzer's] role is significant," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, per the Morning News' Jon Machota. "...He complements Beasley and also gives us some big-time needed depth at that position."

    Switzer also brings a rare skill set to special teams. He set an ACC record with seven career punts returns for touchdowns. The Cowboys averaged 7.1 yards per punt return in 2016, which ranked 23rd overall. 

    "I love little Switz," Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant said, via the Morning NewsJori Epstein. "He comes in, he works hard and he focuses on what can get him better."

TE Adam Shaheen, Chicago Bears, 45th Pick

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    In order to field an explosive offense, a team must present mismatches defenses. The New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski is a great example with his size and agility.

    The Chicago Bears may have acquired a similar talent in this year's second-round pick, Adam Shaheen. 

    "You see him out here catching fade balls and wreaking havoc there on the inside," linebacker Jerrell Freeman said, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam L. Jahns. "He has a lot of intangibles. He has a lot of upside."

    Shaheen (6'6", 278 pounds) is not quite as fast as Gronk (4.79-second 40-yard dash), but he did post a 10'1" broad jump, 4.38-second short shuttle and 7.09-second three-cone drill.

    "He could be a great target," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said, per CBS Chicago's Chris Emma. "...Adam’s got that big frame, he has really good feet for his routes and he’s got unbelievable hands."

    The Bears are loaded at tight end with Dion Sims, Zach Miller and the rookie. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains should allow Shaheen to be a primary target due to his ability to create mismatches.

OT Dion Dawkins, Buffalo Bills, 63rd Pick

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    Dion Dawkins' body suggests he's a guard, but he's been a left tackle through OTAs and minicamp. 

    Cordy Glenn is recovering from an ankle injury and isn't in any jeopardy of losing his job, but the fact Dawkins can handle blindside responsibilities speaks to the confidence the Bills coaching staff already has in him. 

    "I think he can play four positions. He can play left tackle, right tackle, left guard or right guard. Really it amounts to where we’re going to need him," offensive line coach Juan Castillo said on the John Murphy Show.

    His most likely landing spot will come at right tackle where Jordan Mills awaits. 

    Dawkins (314 pounds) is more comfortable at left tackle after being a three-year starter on Temple's blind side. But his versatility was on display during the Senior Bowl when he played both tackle and guard.

    "At the end of the day, I'm just going to get it done," Dawkins said, per the Buffalo News' Jay Skurski. "I know that they want me to be a guywhether it's starting the first week, or starting by Week 3, it doesn't mattereventually they want me in."

LB Ryan Anderson, Washington Redskins, 49th Pick

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    Ryan Anderson is the type of player every coach wants: reliable, technically sound and always giving maximum effort.

    The Alabama product may not be the most athletically gifted defender, but he has a legitimate chance to be a Day 1 starter for the Washington Redskins.

    No collegiate defender was better at setting the edge last season. Washington's director of college scouting Kyle Smith called Anderson a "100-percent hardass," per CSN Mid-Atlantic's J.P. Finlay

    Despite his athletic limitations, the 253-pound linebacker managed 30 tackles for loss and 15 sacks over the last two seasons. 

    "He's a very good pass-rusher with his tenacity and he has made a lot of splash plays at Alabama," head coach Jay Gruden said, per the Washington Post's Mark Bullock

    Anderson became a part of Washington's roster at the right time. Fellow edge defender Trent Murphy is suspended for the first four games of the 2017 campaign.

    The rookie has a chance to unseat Preston Smith as a starter, which will allow the veteran to return to his role as a rotational edge-rusher. With Anderson, Smith, Ryan Kerrigan and Murphy returning during Week 5, Washington's edge presence will be far stronger than it was last season. 

LB Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals, 116th Pick

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Carl Lawson is following in the footsteps of Manny Lawson, James Harrison and Michael Johnson as pass-rushers asked to play strong-side linebacker in the Cincinnati Bengals defense. 

    Cincinnati has plenty of talent along its second line in Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey and Kevin Minter. However, the coaching staff prefers a presence off the edge to be counted among the group as well. 

    Carl Lawson is shining in the role in limited practice time so far.

    "You're looking for the burst, the ability, the flexibility, how they're using their hands and their extension against blocks," head coach Marvin Lewis said, per the team's official site. "...Carl has done ... tremendous all the way through." 

    Coming out of Auburn, he was viewed as one of the class' top pass-rushers. Due to his initial burst, bend and low center of gravity, his speed rush is difficult to handle. According to Pro Football Focus' Cameron Mellor, the 6'2", 261-pound defender tied for seventh among all edge rushers last season with 69 quarterback pressures. 

    And the first-team All-American appears comfortable working in space.

    "I think he looks great," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Jim Owczarski. "Way better than most guys ... [who] make the transition from being [in] every snap ... to now dropping back. He's way ahead of a lot of guys I've coached."

CB Rasul Douglas, Philadelphia Eagles, 99th Pick

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Rasul Douglas wasn't the first cornerback the Philadelphia Eagles selected in April's draft, but he's the most likely to provide an instant impact. 

    Second-rounder Sidney Jones tore an Achilles tendon at Washington's pro day, and his availability is in question. 

    During minicamp, Douglas established himself as one of the Eagles' top three cornerbacks alongside Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson, according to NJ.com's Matt Lombardo

    But the West Virginia product is the biggest and most physical corner on the roster at 6'2" and 204 pounds, and his ball skills are stellar.

    "I look for him to have, my prediction, is probably to say about three to five picks this year," Alshon Jeffery said, per the Delaware News Journal's Martin Frank. "...The sky's the limit for him." 

    Douglas tied for the FCS lead last season with eight interceptions.

    The Eagles want to be aggressively rely on man-to-man principles this year, and Douglas' development will be a large part of how successful they are in that. He is already in a starting position, and the defense will need his length and skills to establish a strong secondary rotation.

CB Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas Cowboys, 60th Pick

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    The Dallas Cowboys have made a habit of smart picks. Whether it was Ezekiel Elliott or Zack Martin in the first round, Jaylon Smith in the second or Dak Prescott later, the team's recent success can be attributed to its drafting. 

    After obtaining Michigan's Taco Charlton in the first round, the Cowboys doubled down on defensive backs. Chidobe Awuzie's combination of versatility, coverage skills and NFL-ready physicality land him on this list.

    "We've got to find ways to put speed on the field," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, per the Dallas Morning News' Kate Hairopoulous. "...[Awuzie is] going to be an asset. He can cover." 

    There were rumblings that Awuzie's would be selected in the first round. But he eventually went 60th.

    "He's got all those factors that say, 'Hey, this guy could go do it [at safety],'" secondary coach Joe Baker said, per Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams. "Right now, we'd like to see what he can do at corner first."

    Dallas required a major overhaul among its defensive backs with the losses of Barry Church, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne in free agency. Awuzie will be one of the defense's key components as the team revamps its secondary.