10 Rookies Who Will Have an Impact in The NFC East
It's funny that in April we all get wrapped up in the players coming out of college—many of whom will be forgotten in the next year—and in the months of June and July, we tend to lose that feeling of optimism with essentially nothing going on until training camp.
With training camp on the horizon, an evaluation of the 10 rookies who have the potential to tip the scales in the NFC East feel like the right thing to do to bridge that gap.
This list may feel obvious at times, as all four first round picks are on it, but considering these players have the greatest odds at succeeding I'd be a fool to not include them.
So, without further ado...
Trent Williams, OT—Washington Redskins
Why does it feel like I've posted that headline before? Oh yeah, because I predicted Trent to go to the Redskins prior to the draft.
Williams was a surprise to many at this pick considering the consensus was that Russel Okung was the No. 1 tackle, but clearly Mike Shanahan felt differently.
With Chris Samuels retiring, Williams has a great chance to start from the get go, so obviously he will impact the Redskins to some degree.
He has so much potential that the only thing working against him is himself, as questions about his work ethic began to surface before and after the combine.
Obviously the biggest move the Redskins made was to bring in franchise QB Donovan McNabb, but his protector was the next priority and the 'Skins made a great selection to address that need.
Brandon Graham, DE—Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles took us all by surprise with this pick. With a gaping hole at safety and Earl Thomas still on the board, they took pass rushing specialist Graham.
Being a Giants fan, I was upset at this pick because I absolutely loved Graham, as did nearly everyone else. He had a great showing at the Senior Bowl and followed it up with a solid combine.
The evolution of the NFL is such that you need two things to win a championship: a franchise QB and a defense that can get after the opposing team's franchise QB.
Graham will help Philly with the latter.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE—New York Giants
Depending on the performance of those in front of him on the depth chart, Pierre-Paul may have the least impact on the field of all four of the first round picks.
At this point, all I can do is speculate, but my best instincts tell me that he will be strictly a passing down player, rotating in on third down and otherwise obvious passing situations (at least for this season).
That being said, the outside linebacker position is still up in the air, and if Pierre-Paul impresses in training camp, switching Mathias Kiwanuka back to OLB might still be a possibility.
That seems to be on the back burner, however, as the coaches have expressed their willingness to give Clint Sintim and Michael Boley chances to prove themselves. Rest assured, it is a short leash.
Dez Bryant, WR—Dallas Cowboys
For the Cowboys' sake, Bryant had better not find himself in the position he's in, in this picture.
Jerry Jones moved up in the first round to take Bryant. The rationale was that the biggest mistake he made as GM in the draft was when he passed on Randy Moss.
He wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
As Bryant's character issues became more and more of a problem for the first 23 teams in the draft, when No. 24 came around the Cowboys did whatever they could to get the top 10 talent.
Many said that Bryant was a shoe-in for the top 10 this year before he ran into trouble with the NCAA. After being mentored by former Cowboy Deion Sanders, the NCAA suspended Bryant indefinitely, drawing questions about the player's character.
That being said, he is a fantastic athlete with tremendous hands and a knack for catching balls when double or even triple covered. His leaping ability sets him apart from the rest of the wide receiver class.
It seems to be hit or miss with Bryant, but no one can deny he is a special talent when he puts on the pads. They just better hope he can keep the part under his helmet together.
Nate Allen, FS—Philadelphia Eagles
Nate Allen may actually have more of an impact than some of the first round picks on this list, as he is expected to start immediately for the Eagles.
Despite their need for a vocal leader and someone to replace Bryan Dawkins as a heavy hitting run-stopper, the Eagles felt they could not pass up taking Allen, who has superior play-making skills and ball-hawking ability, not to mention a high football I.Q.
The Eagles rarely miss on early selections, and I think this one will be no different.
Sean Lee, LB—Dallas Cowboys
Despite lingering knee problems and questions about whether or not he can stay healthy after having knee surgery in the past, Sean Lee gives the cowboys a versatile player that adds depth to their otherwise aging linebacker position.
Kieth Brooking played well enough for the Cowboys last year, but as the season wore on, it became evident that they will need a replacement in 2010.
Lee will probably not start right away for America's Team, but I imagine at some point late in the season he could be inserted into the lineup. His talent is too great to keep on the bench.
Linval Joseph, DT—New York Giants
Linval Joseph may be another one of those second round players that sees just about as much action as a first round pick, if not more.
Especially when comparing his playing time to fellow draftee Jason Pierre-Paul, who is currently behind two players on the depth chart.
Joseph's playing time will mostly be affected by the recovery of Jay Alford, who missed the 2009 season from a torn ACL.
He and the team have stated that he is returning to strength ahead of schedule, but they said the same about Osi Umenyiora after his 2008 injury and he clearly was not the same last year.
If Alford gets back to 100 percent, I expect he and Barry Cofield to occupy the starting DT positions.
The Giants were much worse against the run last year than they have been in the past. Like many of their problems, you can chalk it up to injuries, but I'm here to tell you it was more than that.
They lacked a run stuffing big man in the middle, a spot that Fred Robbins occupied for so long. Robbins was still on the roster in 2009, but he was not the same player that we have seen these many years.
Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard were bust pickups in free agency in 2009 and Joseph shouldn't have a hard time displacing them on the depth chart in training camp.
Perry Riley, LB—Washington Redskins
Coming in to this draft, I thought Perry Riley had a chance to be a steal in the middle rounds. Defensive players from LSU, and in the SEC in general, tend to be very disciplined and ready for the NFL right off the bat.
It's hard to figure out if Jim Haslett plans on giving Riley a starting spot right away, but what is clear (to me, anyway) is that the 'Skins got a solid performer for the future.
Riley is a good fit for Haslett's 3-4 scheme, and it will be interesting to monitor his progress through training camp.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB—Dallas Cowboys
It's funny that every year it seems like the Cowboys have a weak secondary despite drafting solid players like Mike Jenkins, but their depth at that position is still in question no matter what anyone thinks.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah can come in, much like Terell Thomas did for the Giants, and be a solid Nickel corner and rotation player.
At a position like corner back, you can never have too much talent, so the Cowboys did themselves a favor with this selection.
Mitch Petrus, OG—New York Giants
As much as I want to believe Kareem McKenzie can be a viable option at right tackle for the Giants all season, I just don't think he can stay on the field or keep up the high level of play he showcased in the past.
Mitch Petrus is not a tackle, but he could replace Rich Seubert in the lineup and let Will Beatty slide into left tackle, with David Diehl moving over to the right, which is an easier position than left tackle.
In my opinion, the left tackle is the second most important position on offense. He has to protect the QB's blind side and stop some of the more athletic pass rushers in the league, as they typically play on the right side of the defense.
Petrus is going to be the offensive lineman steal of the draft, mark my words.
Just Missed The Cut (One For Each Team)
Chad Jones, S—New York Giants: I know it's a sad story to bring up, but I can't help but think about the impact Jones would have had on the field if he had not gotten into that horrific car accident and broken his tibia and fibula in his leg.
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim—Philadelphia Eagles: Another pass rushing specialist that may or may not see the field this year, but will not disappoint if he does.
Sam Young—Dallas Cowboys: has the potential of a second round pick, but his career at Notre Dame was not very impressive.
Terrence Austin—Washington Redskins: has the potential to be a Wes Welker type of player for Shanahan, but needs to gain some weight to be an every game starter in the NFL.