2011 NFL Predictions: Casey Matthews & 6 More Late-Round Rookies Who Will Start

Nathan BadleyCorrespondent IJune 16, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: Casey Matthews & 6 More Late-Round Rookies Who Will Start

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    EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Connor Kavanaugh #10 of the Portland State sacked by linebacker Casey Matthews #55 of the Oregon Ducks in the second quarter of the game at Autzen Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dyk
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    When the NFL draft is discussed, people tend to focus on the early picks. 2010 was all about Tim Tebow. 2011 is sure to bring the mention of Cam Newton on a daily basis.

    With the discussion focused on these players, it’s very easy to forget that players like Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis came late in the draft. Late-round picks can easily make as much of a difference as the early picks.

    The 2011 draft is sure to bring several players that can become starters in their first season. While these players may not go on to become Hall of Famers, they will make a difference for their respective teams early on.

Casey Matthews, Linebacker

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    EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 04:  Linebacker Casey Matthews #55 of the Oregon Ducks watches the action from the sidelines in the third quarter of the game against the New Mexico Lobos at Autzen Stadium on September 4, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Drafted 116th overall, Casey Matthews has a great shot at getting a starting nod. The Philadelphia Eagles only have three linebackers guaranteed to return for the 2011 season. The Eagles front office is more than aware of this need, drafting two other linebackers alongside Matthews.

    While Matthews will face competition for a starting job, he seems ready to make the jump to the NFL. At the University of Oregon, Matthews showed solid fundamentals, earning first team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010. Add in his speed, and it isn’t unreasonable to picture Matthews on the field to start the season.

Clint Boling, Guard

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    ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 11:  Clint Boling #60 of the Georgia Bulldogs blocks the line during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium on October 11, 2008 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals are weak at the guard position.

    Drafted 101st overall, Boling will have limited competition going into training camp. With free agent Nate Livings and 34-year-old Bobbie Williams as his main competition, it seems like a no-brainer to put Boling in the mix.

    Boling ended 2010 on the All-American list for Pro Football Weekly. If he is able to show this same talent during the preseason, he will easily rack up the minutes on the offensive line.

Sam Acho, Linebacker

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    AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 27:  Sam Acho #81 of the Texas Longhorns is congratulated during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks on September 27, 2008 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 52-10.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Gett
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    An aging linebacker corps is a serious weakness for the Arizona Cardinals. With Joey Porter and Clark Haggans both nearing retirement, the Cardinals went into the draft looking for younger players to take over.

    They got Sam Acho.

    Acho is a strong player who was able to bust through the line easily in college. He could quickly become a good rushing linebacker, greatly improving the Cardinals defense. 

    With a strong showing in the preseason, there is even a good chance Acho could replace one of the aging players early in the season. He should definitely earn a starting spot in 2011.

Jason Pinkston, Tackle

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 26:  Teammates Jason Pinkston #77 and Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates after a 19-17 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels on December 26, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    When the Cleveland Browns drafted Jason Pinkston in the fifth round, the goal of the team was to bolster a tackle position that was decidedly shallow. There is a chance, though, that Pinkston may become a starter.

    Pro Bowler Joe Thomas is guaranteed a spot, and the front office has said that Tony Pashos will be the other starter at tackle. Pashos, however, had his 2010 season cut short with an ankle injury that he has been working to recover from.

    If Pashos is slower to recover or suffers a setback in his recovery, the former second team All-American will get a chance to earn a spot opposite Thomas.

Greg Jones, Linebacker

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Greg Jones #53 of the Michigan State Spartans awaits the start of play against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo by Jonathan Dan
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Greg Jones is an electrifying linebacker. Named a first team All-American in 2009 and 2010, Jones showed his potential in 2009, when he recorded 154 tackles and nine sacks for Michigan State.

    Landing Jones in the sixth round, the Giants got a linebacker that could become a major playmaker. While Jonathan Goff came into his own last season, the Giants still need help on the outside. With a strong showing in the preseason, Jones could earn a spot starting on the outside and possible playing time at his preferred position, middle linebacker.

Virgil Green, Tight End

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    One of the major areas of need for the Denver Broncos to address over the offseason was the tight end position. The carousel of players lining up at tight end in 2010 did not provide any real answers, leaving a huge hole in the Denver offense.

    During the draft, the Broncos addressed this issue, drafting Julius Thomas in the fourth round as well as Virgil Green in the seventh. While Thomas was chosen earlier, it could be Green who walks away with the starting job.

    According to several draft insiders, Green’s stock fell due to an injury four years before the draft. His numbers at the combine easily eclipsed Thomas’.

    While the two will compete in training camp for the starting position, it will be Green who comes out on top.

Andrew Jackson, Guard

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    Following Andrew Jackson's injury filled senior season, the Falcons were able to pick him up in the seventh round. Odds are that this will be viewed as a steal of a pick.

    Jackson was a three-year starter at Fresno State before 2010, earning All-WAC honors twice. With only two guards signed on for the 2011 season, the Falcons could use the big lineman’s experience.

    While the Falcons are most likely going to re-sign at least one of the free agent guards before the season starts, there could easily be an opening for Jackson to squeeze his way onto the Falcons’ line.