The NFL draft this year sought many outstanding talents hear their name called in Radio City Music Hall this April. From the first pick, Jake Long, to Mr. Irrelevant David Vobora, 252 young men watched in awe as their craziest dreams came true.
Now that the magic of the draft has mostly worn off about three months later, the rookies as well as the other players are preparing for training camp. So just which rookies are looking to have the biggest impact on their team? This list gives you our Top 10.
1. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
This may seem crazy, and it probably is, but Matt Forte is number 1 on my list. When Forte arrived in Chicago, it looked like he was going to play behind Cedric Benson and possibly Adrian Peterson. Now, three months later, Forte is the starter. Benson was cut from the team after several DUI's and other criminal mischief, and Peterson was already facing injury problems. Thus, Matt Forte is the starter.
Forte beats out the other runningbacks for one simple reason; he is not sharing many carries. Sure, Adrian Peterson will get his share of carries, but it appears that the runningback from Tulane is the future of Chicago's running game. And probably offense too.
The Bears did absolutely nothing to fix their quarterback situation, and lost their top two receivers, Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, during the offseason. Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were acquired, but neither are as explosive as the former two receivers. Plus, the offensive line is still relatively young, but with the addition of Chris Williams, it appears that it is becoming stronger. So, since the passing game is one of the most dysfunctional in the NFL, Matt Forte will be relied on heavily to perform.
2. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
When Lane Kiffin made the selection of Darren McFadden, it was not a pick that filled a need. Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan were a very strong duo. And they both remain on the Raiders squad. So how is McFadden supposed to make an impact on a team that doesn't need him?
McFadden was the best overall player in the draft last year, whether you like it or not. His speed and ability to break tackles and be a power runner were both combined to make a very balanced runningback. The Raiders have now the starting points of a good passing game, with young quarterback JaMarcus Russell, whom the Raiders selected with the first overall pick in last year's draft, receivers Javon Walker and Ronald Curry, and tight end Zach Miller. Coach Kiffin has said he feels confident now that Russell has had a year to watch former Raider Josh McCown play.
So now, McFadden enhances the running game, placing it probably within the top 20 of the league. Kiffin is slowly building an offensive team, and McFadden, as the projected starter ahead of Fargas, is definitely going to half to contribute to make the Raiders a playoff team once again.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan was considered by several to be the best quarterback available this April, and has shown through his tenoir at Boston College that he can shine, especially when their is little talent around him. Such case is the situation in Atlanta. The Falcons acquired a talented running back in Michael Turner this offseason, and saw Roddy White develop into a nice receiver last year. The loss of Alge Crumpler, one of the league's superb tight ends, however, is a big enough blow to nearly cancel out the effect of White and Turner.
We all know the situation in Atlanta; it all started with Michael Vick. Then Bobby Petrino. General manager Arthur Blank is doing all in his power to enhance is football squad, and has called on Matt Ryan to do the job. But can he honestly expect a rookie to turn this 4-12 team into a playoff contender? Joey Harrington wasn't up to the job last year. Ryan may not even start the first week, but you can expect him to get some valuable playing time throughout the course of the season. Every snap he plays will be crutial, since the Falcons are considered to be the worst team in the NFL.
4. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers had an average passing game coming into 2008, one good enough for them to survive in the NFC South, that is. But the running game had never been anything special. DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams were one of the most underrated runningback duos in the league last year, but this offseason saw Foster being signed by another team. Williams is a small runningback, and needed a compliment. So, the Panthers asked for the help of Jonathan Stewart, considered by many to be the biggest bruiser of the runningback class this year.
The two runningbacks compliment each other so well, but Stewart is expected to get the bulk of the carries, including the ever important goal-line carries. But the major question is, can he stay healthy? This makes him even more important to his team, since he is known to be fragile. Stewart may not be as pressured as Forte or McFadden, but is still expected to rush for 700-800 yards at least.
5. James Hardy, WR, Buffalo Bills
Last year, the Bills were a team that was in the playoff hunt. Their running game with Marshawn Lynch at the helm excelled; the defense progressed as the season continued. But what about the passing game? It was definitely a crazy season in the passing game. J.P. Losman started off starting the year, but when an injury put him out, Trent Edwards, the rookie from Stanford, stepped in to try to save the day. Edwards wasn't brilliant, but was good enough. He had seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, but only had one good receiver, Lee Evans. Evans, however, is just 5'10. It was easy for him to get lost behind the cornerbacks.
So, Coach Dick Jauron drafted James Hardy, the 6'7 wide receiver from Indiana. Hardy had the characteristic Edwards needed in a receiver; height. Hardy will probably be the #2 receiver behind Evans, and should draw attention to himself, and not Lee Evans. So, Hardy will have to play aggresive to get the last piece of the playoff puzzle for the Bills; the passing game.
6. Jerod Mayo, MLB, New England Patriots
As bowl season came to a close, Jerod Mayo of Tennessee saw his stock rising. He initially saw that he was a second round pick. Then experts put him late in the first. Then middle of the first. By draft day, the New England Patriots selected him with the 10th selection of the draft.
Ever since the end of Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were critisized on the age of their defense. The loss of cornerback Randall Gay also hurt the team. Jerod Mayo was called to save the aging defense.
Since the Patriots are generally always in the spotlight of the NFL, there isn't a question that Mayo will be watched closely. He is an extremely important piece in the Patriots puzzle of returning to the Super Bowl. Mayo will have to prove that his stock rose for all the right reasons; and that he isn't a bust.
7. Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions
The Lions really weren't unbearable last year. They weren't the "10-win team" quarterback Jon Kitna promised, but, to their own standards, they did very well. The passing game was decent, the defense could have done better, but the running game was not good. Tatum Bell, last year's starting running back, was hurt mid-way through the season, and the Lions survived on the passing game.
Kevin Smith was brought in, and has immediately been named the starter. He'll have to perform, since he is in the same division that running backs Adrian Peterson of the Vikings and Ryan Grant of the Packers lurk. If the Lions want to be consistent (which means that in the last 8 games of the season, they do better than a 1-7 record) they need the running game to be healthy and hefty. Smith will have to provide both, even though he was just a third round pick.
8. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
The Titans made the playoffs last year, riding on the backs of its defense and the running game. LenDale White proved to be a good starter in the NFL last year, getting 1,000 yards rushing and surpassing Chris Brown for the starting position. So, why did the Titans take Johnson, when they're passing game obviously needs help, and every receiver was still on the board?
At East Carolina, Johnson proved to be a fast runner and receiver out of the backfield. He was also a good kick returner. But, the reason is still not 100% clear. So, Johnson will no doubtedly be pressured to perform as a receiver, since Vince Young has no consistent receiver he can develop with. Johnson was also the quickest at the combine, finishing the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Johnson has enough pressure, and should effect the passing, rushing, and returning game.
9. Glenn Dorsey, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had problems everywhere coming into the season. After trading away Jared Allen, the leader in sacks on the team, they needed some help on their defensive line. Glenn Dorsey, the Heisman contender from LSU, was their man.
Dorsey will probably start at defensive tackle, and will be expected to pressure the quarterbacks in his division, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, and Jamarcus Russell, who are all a step-up from Andre Woodson and Tim Tebow of the SEC. The Chiefs have 11 rookies, which puts more pressure on the best one, Dorsey, to perform immediately. Dorsey will need to become a sack-machine and stay healthy for the Chiefs to make it out of last place in the AFC West.
10. Keith Rivers, MLB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have one of the worst defenses in the league, point blank. Keith Rivers, the first round draft pick of the Bengals, could ease some of the headaches coach Marvin Lewis has of the defense. Rivers is used to pressure, considering he played at one of the most honored football colleges in all of the world, USC.
Rivers, who needs some improvement, will be asked to start immediately in a defense filled with high powered offenses of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Rivers will have to learn fast, but should make a significant impact on the drowning Bengals.