NFL Rookies Who Will Make an Immediate Impact

Andrew ButlerCorrespondent IJune 30, 2008

        Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB, Arizona Cardinals

     The Cardinals' pass defense was 28th in the NFL last year, and moving Antrel Rolle to free safety will work out much better in the long run.  Rodgers-Cromartie finished off his impressive Senior Bowl week with an interception against some of the best football players in the NCAA, while answering those who made questions about his ability to produce at the next level coming from a small school.  At the combine he displayed a 4.3 40-yard dash and an amazing vertical at 38.5 inches, ridiculous.  That kind of speed and vertical on a cornerback thats 6'2'' is scary.  He should pose serious threats in the NFL with his ability, and will make his name known for a team that lacks talent at the cornerback position.

        Johnathan Stewart RB, Carolina Panthers

     Johnathan Stewart is my boy—he was the best running back in this draft and will tear it up in the NFL.  But before I hurt any Oakland or Arkansas loyals, let's wait until this season is done. I can't deny McFadden's production in college, but after watching Stewart play, you can tell he has that edge to bust through multiple defenders and keep running.  At that, the Pantheres have made it clear that they have plans to emphasize the run much more this year. has compared him to LaDainian Tomlinson, though I'm not sure if I can go that far. This guy is like a much more talented Maurice Jones-Drew, and will complement DeAngelo Williams' speed very well with his bruising, tackle-breaking running style.  Not to mention he's also a great blocker and will fit in well with an improving offensive line.

        Curtis Lofton LB, Atlanta Falcons

     This guy looks great on film—a very good tackler, great instincts, and very smart. The Falcons' defense needs to get stronger.  With subpar linebacker Michael Boley and aging veteran Keith Brooking, Lofton will make his name known this season posting 100 plus tackles.  Many doubt his ability because of his small size, but I've heard of that one before with Demeco Ryans, Lofa Tatupu, and Shawne Merriman. During his senior season, he recorded 157 tackles and earned the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.  Lofton looks like a solid all-around linebacker for a defense that needs him, look for him to make a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

        Quentin Groves DE/OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars

     Groves is a beast, very fast and agile with his 4.57 40-yard dash.  When you watch him on film you can see his strength and fast armwork that allow him to blow by defenders. He does has some injury problems, which made him rest for a good portion of his senior year in 2007, but he still managed to tie the Auburn record for most sacks with 26.  He posted 9.5 sacks his junior year and six as a sophomore. This guy blows past the line and is constantly attacking the quarterback. He may be one of the most athletic defensive players in this draft, but is held down and drafted low because of his injury prone label.  Look for him to add more power to the tenacious Jaguar defense.

        Trevor Laws DT, Philadelphia Eagles

     Here's another player whose production has been questioned because of his size, but has a great character and work ethic to make it at the next level. Laws finished his career at Notre Dame with more tackles than any lineman in the past 20 years, the sixth best career total by a Notre Dame defensive lineman.  He's a team leader and posted excellent grades, earning academic honors for the Fighting Irish. He's started at both end and tackle during his career, and he also put up nine pass deflections in his senior season.  He is extremely tenacious and unrelenting on the field to get to the ball despite his undesireable size. He also showed off his skills by being one of the best performers on the bench press, posting 35 reps, and his workout looked impressive to many scouts.

        James Hardy WR, Buffalo Bills

     Here's a former basketball player at 6'6'' who is aggressive and fast, a perfect fit for a Hail Mary with his size and athleticism. He has some character questions, but if he can stay out of trouble, look for this bad boy to tear up the field.  He posted 36 touchdowns during his career at Indiana, breaking the previous school record of 30, which also puts him third all-time on the Big 10 receiving touchdowns list lead by Braylon Edwards on top.  This guy is long and athletic and should become a real red-zone threat for a team that lacks talent at wide out, his height and vertical make him perfect for reaching over DB's that try to cover him.

        Dan Connor LB, Carolina Panthers

     Coming from Penn State—aka Linebacker U.—tells you everything you need to know.  He broke Paul Posluszny's record for most career tackles last year at Penn State. Connor is very aggressive and an excellent tackler, he has a nose for the football and has excellent leadership skills.  He will do very well for the Panthers after the loss of Dan Morgan, many compare him to Paul Posluszny.  He's a steal in the third round, and had even been considered to go in the first round in some mock drafts.

        Erin Henderson* LB, Minnesota Vikings, undrafted sleeper pick

     Undrafted but signed with Minnesota Vikings, this projected third round pick posted 133 tackles as a Junior for Maryland and is now playing beside his brother E.J. Henderson for the Vikings. He made the move late in his career from QB to LB, but wasn't allowed to return to Maryland because he declared himself draft-eligible.  He attended the 2008 NFL combine, was a 2007 Playboy Preseason All-American, and posted 247 tackles in just two seasons.  He led the ACC in tackles his junior year, and was second his sophomore year.  He was a third team All-American and a Butkus Award semifinalist after just two years at LB.  He went undrafted because of injury questions, but he is a clear sleeper and has yet to get a full understanding of the position, and he's already earning himself all-american honors.

        Other Players Looking to Make a Strong Impact:

     Glenn Dorsey DT, Jerod Mayo LB, Ryan Clady OT, Mike Jenkins CB, Phillip Merling DE, Malcolm Kelly WR, Ray Rice RB, Tavares Gooden LB, Jamaal Charles RB, Pat Sims DT, Philip Wheeler LB, Beau Bell LB, Xavier Adibi LB, Tashard Choice RB, Red Bryant DT, Shawn Crable LB, Anthony Collins OT, ONeil Cousins OG, Tom Zbikowski S, Tracy Porter CB, Matt Forte RB