NFL Free Agency: 15 Rookies Who Will Get Huge Deals in 2015

Frank PassalacquaAnalyst IIJune 21, 2011

NFL Free Agency: 15 Rookies Who Will Get Huge Deals in 2015

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (botom row R) poses for a photo on stage with the members of the 2011 Draft class and the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame class during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    This year's NFL draft gave dozens of players an opportunity of a lifetime for aspiring professional athletes to make an impact on their team.

    With talent all across the board, teams have taken the time to carefully scout and do whatever possible to fill their roster to it's strongest potential.

    The rookies will have three seasons before their contract is up for renewal in 2015. They will have to practice, train, watch film, study playbooks and play their hearts out for a starting position on their team for a lengthy and successful career as an NFL player.

    In no particular order, here are the top 15 NFL rookies selected in the 2011 NFL Draft that I feel will play to their best ability, make an impact, and sign a huge deal in 2015. 

    If there is a player that you feel I left out on this list, it's not that I don't think they're going to be a successful player in the NFL, this is just a short personal list of my opinions on who will dominate for their team.

    Many players drafted are going to have a great career, so if they're not on here, don't fret. 

15. CB Patrick Peterson—Arizona Cardinals

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    TEMPE, AZ - APRIL 29:  First round draft pick Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals poses with a team helmet during a press conference to introduce him at the team's training center auditorium on April 29, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Taken with the fifth overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals, Patrick Peterson is looking to turn the struggling Cards back in the direction they were headed three seasons ago. 

    Peterson had seven interceptions as an LSU Tiger, and played outstanding defense. 

    Not only can he help better the D, but his presence can also be felt in the special teams. In 2010, Peterson returned two punts for touchdowns. A quick, versatile player like this can do a lot for his team. In fact, Peterson had the second fastest 40 time in the combine with a 4.34.

    The Cardinals had one of the worst defenses in the league last year, ranking 30th in points allowed (27.1), 29th in yards allowed (373.6), 23rd in passing yards allowed (228.4), and 30th in rushing yards allowed (145.2).

    Any team looking to improve will have to start by cutting those numbers significantly. 

    Peterson can step in and take a leading role on the team as a rookie and start things off right. 

    With the upcoming moves the Cards are trying to get accomplished in free agency, they can really turn the team around. 

14. DT Nick Fairley—Detriot Lions

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Nick Fairley, #13 overall pick by the Detriot Lions, holds up a jersey during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    What happens when you take dominating players and put them on the D-Line? You get plenty of sacks.

    Last year, the Lions took Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and just added another big man in Nick Fairley with the 13th overall pick in this years draft. 

    Fairley weighs in at 291 pounds and rocked in his time at Auburn. With 56 tackles, 11.5 sacks and an interception, Fairley will fit in perfectly with what Detroit is trying to do. 

    The Lions currently have Suh, Lawrence Jackson, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch on the line, and adding Fairley can only make them improve.

    The Detroit Lions are really starting to turn the city of Detroit into believers. A team that went 0-16 just three years ago has managed to draft plenty of talent to steer the team towards victory.

    They may have only gone 6-10 in 2010, but they were surely the best 6-10 team the league has seen. 

    Give this team another year or two, and they'll be serious contenders. 

13. OT Anthony Costanzo—Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts took Anthony Costanzo with the 22nd overall pick out of Boston College.

    While this position often tends to get overlooked, I think he can fit in great as a Colt. Costanzo will be taking over for Ryan Diem, who really struggled last year, meaning the Colts are automatically better than they were.

    The Colts really need to improve their offensive line. Peyton Manning took a huge amount of big hits last year, which led to a disappointing season for them. 

    There really isn't much to say about this guy except he gives Manning a lot more time in the pocket to get the ball off comfortably. 

    Costanzo will certainly help the Colts and Manning should really be thankful. I think Gabe Carimi might've been a better pick simply because he can block for the run more, but Anthony can still get the job done with that great coaching staff guiding him.

12. TE Virgil Green—Denver Broncos

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    Virgil Green is a guy I think can have a huge year in 2011. Taken in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos, Virgil will certainly be a weapon for Tim Tebow and the gang.

    He may not have the most impressive numbers, but he has a great amount of potential ahead of him. 

    The Broncos are lacking at the tight end position, as Daniel Graham only had 18 receptions for 148 yards and no touchdowns in 2010. 

    Having a star in Brandon Lloyd, who received almost 1,500 yards last year, along with Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos are only adding to their list of talented guys. 

    This will be a huge year for Tim Tebow, I predict. Many have their doubts about him, but not too many people can do what he can. He, along with the rest of the team, will give the Broncos a lot of success in 2011.

    If Green can come into Denver and have a better season than Graham previously had, you can bet he will be the starter for some years to come. You will be able to tell right from preseason what kind of player Green will be.

11. OG Danny Watkins—Philadelphia Eagles

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Danny Watkins, #22 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, holds up a jersey on stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Oh Danny, how can we not love that face?

    Selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, the 26-year old Danny Watkins is aiming to step in and give Michael Vick more time in the pocket; something that crippled the team late in the season.

    Watkins was a first-year player out of Baylor, and has already found himself on a team. 

    Many are criticizing the pick due to his older age and lack of experience playing football. Well, let me tell you this. Watkins played hockey since he was a kid, and was also a volunteer firefighter. If he can walk onto the Baylor squad and get selected in the first round, I think he's more than ready. 

    He is a big guy who dominated defenders in college and will look to do exactly the same for he Eagles. He may not be the biggest guy on the line, but he may be the most fit. Size isn't everything, it's how he blocks and uses his body to protect the Vick and open up holes for the running game.

    The Eagles suffered a lot of injuries to that offensive line last year and failed to find a solid replacement. Danny Watkins will go into training camp as that man. 

    You can tell just by the look on his face that he is ready to be an Eagle.

10. LB Greg Jones—New York Giants

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    Greg Jones was taken by the New York Giants in the sixth round of this year's draft, and how he slipped that far is beyond me.  

    What will he provide for the Giants? Jones is a solid linebacker who could take the starting spot of any linebacker on that roster. He is a persistent player who will not let anyone past him. 

    He recorded 154 tackles for Michigan State in 2009, so this man knows how to play.

    If you've seen him play, you'll know that he does an excellent job of wrapping up a player and bringing him down. He can also give some big hits to anyone he pleases. Jones is fast, hard-hitting, and your ideal linebacker.

    Jones will most likely start for the Giants in 2011, and his presence will be felt. The Giants only allowed 101.2 yards on the ground last season, and with Jones on the field, expect that number to go down.

    I think this guy will be a giant Giant for many years to come. This late-round gem was an emerald, but now he's a sapphire. 

9. QB Jake Locker—Tennessee Titans

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27:  Quarterback Jake Locker of Washington runs a passing drill during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Jake Locker is an animal. Taken by the Titans as the eighth pick, this is one guy that is just a beast with the football. 

    While playing college ball as a Washington Huskie, Jake threw 53 touchdowns and ran 29 in himself. He may not be your typical "textbook" quarterback, but that's what impresses me.

    Locker runs the ball with the mentality of an All-Pro running back. He doesn't necessarily have the quickest feet, but he has the power. At Jon Gruden's QB Camp, Gruden and Locker sat down and reviewed film. After watching Locker run, Gruden stated, "When you run, you try to hurt people, don't you?"

    Locker runs the ball like he's Peyton Hillis, and that may or may not be an issue for him in the NFL.

    Locker has been subject to injuries in the previous years, and that is his only true kryptonite. If this guy can stay healthy during his NFL career, he can do some good things for Tennessee.

    They have some good guys already on that roster, and adding Locker only makes them a better team. Locker will fill the spot that Vince Young has left, and will do an even better job. 

8. RB Dion Lewis—Philadelphia Eagles

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs for a touchdown during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo by
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    I don't even know where to start on this guy.

    Dion Lewis was a sophomore out of Pittsburgh University taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round. During his two years as a Pitt Panther, Lewis put up nearly 3,000 yards for 30 touchdowns. 

    My friend currently attends Pittsburgh University and had the privilege to watch this guy play in person. He told me that if Lewis would've waited until he was a senior, he easily could've been a top-five pick in the draft. This means the Eagles got a huge steal, in the fifth round nonetheless. 

    Lewis is the definition of quick. He isn't the tallest guy you'll see by far, standing at 5'7'', but that and his speed can be used to his advantage. He is quick on his feet and can break a defender's ankles with one juke. Think I'm making this up? Just watch any video of him and you'll understand.

    Dion will have a huge impact on the Eagles' running game, and will play along his close friend LeSean McCoy, who also attended Pitt. McCoy has been already an outstanding player in only his second year, and adding Lewis will make the Eagles have one of the deadliest 1-2 punch duos in the league. 

    As long as Dion can stay healthy, you can bet you will be hearing his name pretty often in the future. 

    Just in case you don't believe me:

7. LB Ricky Elmore—Green Bay Packers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Defensive ends Brooks Reed #42 and Ricky Elmore #44 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrate after stopping the USC Trojans on the final play on December 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Arizona won
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Is this Green Bay Packers' linebacker Clay Matthews? No, but it certainly does look like him. Now they'll have a third Fabio on defense.

    Call this one Ricky Elmore. Elmore was taken in the sixth round and was yet another great steal in the draft. In just two years playing as an Arizona Wildcat, Elmore managed to get to the QB 21.5 times for a sack. 

    That linebacker squad was probably one of the best in the league, and it's only getting better. 

    The Packers have a lot to celebrate. Not only have they celebrated being the Super Bowl Champions, but they can also celebrate the fact that they have one of the best scouting teams in the league. Look at how many people thought that picking Aaron Rogers while they still had Brett  Favre was a waste of a pick—now who's laughing? 

    Elmore will work his way up and be a future star on the team. His time may not be now, but it will come. And when it does, watch out.

6. ILB Casey Matthews—Philadelphia Eagles

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    EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 6: Linebacker Casey Matthews #55 of the Oregon Ducks warms up before the game against the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Wait, is this Clay Matthews' brother? Yes, it is. 

    Casey Matthews was taken by the Eagles in the fourth round and was one of their best selections in the draft. 

    Casey is a mirror image of his brother Clay—they could pass for twins. But will Casey follow in the footsteps of his world champion brother? Well for the past two years, the two have been privately training and working out together. 

    If the time Clay spent mentoring his little brother pays off, then the rest of the league will be in deep trouble. One Matthews in the league is enough, but throw a younger and stronger version of him in the mix, and you've got chaos.

    Matthews will look to start for the Eagles as soon as possible. He may have to sit and watch his rookie year, but it will only pay off. He now has Stewart Bradley to look up to and help show him the way, and if Bradley suffers another injury, you can bet Casey can take over with high confidence and a high motor. 

    Matthews is a great athlete and will do well for the Eagles.

5. DE JJ Watt—Houston Texans

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, poses for a photo with J.J. Watt, #11 overall pick by the Houston Texans, on stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Ge
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    JJ Watt is a man that will give everything he does 110 percent. Selected 11th overall by the Houston Texans, Mario Williams now has a sidekick.

    Watt had a great year in 2010 with Wisconsin, recording 62 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He has a strong motor, and can be an elite Texan. 

    Watt looks a lot like Chris Long, taken by the St. Louis Rams four years ago. Except Watt has a little more mmph to his step. You can always tell how a player will be from watching film, and seeing Watt play is like watching a DE that has been in the league for years. This guy just has it. 

    Not too many players can bring a running back down with a diving attempt from their fingers, but Watt can.

    The effort and amount of productivity JJ will provide for the Texans will be ginormous. He is my favored winner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and will certainly give it a good shot. 

4. QB Blaine Gabbert—Jacksonville Jaguars

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers passes during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 27, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    David Garrard has been replaced by a man who the Jags seem to have a little more faith in. 

    Blaine Gabbert from Missouri will look to take this team to the next level. 

    Last year, the Jags only averaged 191.6 yards per game through the air. Gabbert can easily boost that number. As a two-year starter in college, Gabbert threw for around 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns. He can also use his feet, as he ran in eight touchdowns himself. 

    The Jags have some good players on the roster, but are in some serious need for change. Gabbert will be a Jag for the next couple of years, comfortably too, may I add. 

    Going 8-8 isn't too bad of a record; they're right on the breaking edge of some good things. With Gabbert now under center, I'd expect a pretty decent year for Jacksonville in 2011. 

3. RB Mark Ingram—New Orleans Saints

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    KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball during the SEC game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Congrats New Orleans, you just got one of the best players in the draft, all the way at the 28th spot.

    I really don't know why so many teams would pass up on Ingram's talent, but that sucks for them. Reggie Bush will no longer be missed. 

    Ingram displayed his full potential in 2009, putting up 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. For a man who stands at 5'9", those are some quality numbers.

    I like Ingram and I like what he can do for the Saints. He reminds me of what Adrian Peterson did for the Minnesota Vikings in 2007. I think he will be the new hit in the city, and he definitely gives them something else to cheer about. 

    Ingram will most likely start for the Saints in 2011, and will remain in that role. Chris Ivory did a great job filling in for the injured Bush last year, so it will be an interesting preseason to see which of the two players comes out on top. 

    When all is said and done, I think Ingram will be Drew Brees' new best man. 

2. WR A.J Green—Cincinnati Bengals

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  A.J. Green attends the NFL PLAYERS Premiere League Flag Football Game at UCLA on May 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    One man's loss and is another man's gain. That is the case for the Georgia Bulldogs and the Cincinnati Bengals.

    AJ Green was rated the best wide receiver in this year's draft, and I think watching his combine showed that. He has outstanding hands and has some things going for him.

    Green is a playmaker who can do anything with the football. He looks ready to play at the NFL level, and if he adds more muscle he could be a Pro Bowl receiver sooner rather than later. His 4.38 speed doesn't make anyone frown either.

    Everyone loves to watch a one-handed touchdown grab, and that is something that AJ can bring to the table. I say a good 700-900 yard season awaits this young man in 2011.

    Georgia plays a pro-style offense, so Green doesn't have to adjust too much. With all the craziness going on in Cincinnati the past couple of months, fans can soon rest easy.  

1. QB Andy Dalton—Cincinnati Bengals

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Andy Dalton attends the NFL PLAYERS Premiere League Flag Football Game at UCLA on May 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    Last but certainly not least is Andy Dalton. Look at him, he was born to be a Bengal. 

    I don't know why, but watching this guy play for TCU and perform at the combine makes me predict that he will do the most for his team out of all the quarterbacks drafted. The Bengals were named Worst Team of 2011 by ESPN The Magazine, but I think the addition of Dalton and AJ Green will help turn this franchise around.

    Dalton is hard to hate, unless you're a Baylor or Wisconsin fan. 

    Cincinnati should be thrilled about Andy's arrival. He slipped to the 35th overall pick in the draft, and I'm sure many teams will be kicking themselves after seeing what this guy will do for the Bengals.

    In college, Dalton led the Frogs to an undefeated season and a 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the 2010 Rose Bowl. 

    He may not be a guy to light it up every Sunday, but he will get the job done. This is the man of the future for Cinci, and I believe the Bengals will have a much better year in 2011. 

    Go Dalton!