The 2011 NFL draft was full of excitement and surprises as we saw teams trading up and down throughout the draft.
With big moves from the Saints, Browns, Chiefs, Redskins, Lions, Falcons and Patriots, teams were busy trying to make themselves contenders for next season. As we get closer and closer to the start of the preseason, the need for rookies to report to team activities grows.
With new coaches and personnel all over the place, it is getting progressively harder for these new coaches to implement their systems. The lockout is making it increasingly difficult for teams and players to prepare for the upcoming season.
With the draft over and the uncertainty of the labor situation, this is the list of players that I feel will provide the greatest impact for the 2011 NFL season.
WR Johnathan Baldwin, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, will have plenty of opportunities to thrive in Kansas City's offense.
They traded ahead of a couple teams in order to grab one of the best pass-catching receivers in the draft. He will come in as the No. 2 receiver and will see plenty of one-on-one coverage, due to his athleticism of being 6'4" with a 42-inch vertical. I look for him to be a breakout player for the Chiefs.
Matt Cassel is coming off a spectacular season. Next season, the Chiefs will pass the ball more, and he will definitely get the ball early and often. He instantly becomes the No. 2 option in Kansas City. They needed a big target that could be a red-zone threat. This guy was highly productive in Pittsburgh. This guy has Sidney Rice upside.
I am looking for him to get around 500 or more receiving yards and four or more touchdowns as he transitions to the NFL. He will have a very promising NFL career.
Gabe Carimi will be one of the pieces that will definitely come in and help protect one of the Bears' most important assets in Jay Cutler.
This team was a game away from playing in the Super Bowl last year and Carimi could be the missing piece. This guy has the nasty, mean side that will definitely be appreciated by Bears fans.
Coming into the season, Carimi will be an instant starter for the team that found one of their bookend tackles and J'Marcus Webb last year.
They are assembling an offensive line that can compete in the NFC North where the Lions, Packers and Vikings can all get after the quarterback. With this addition the Bears will surely make a push for the Super Bowl this year.
Maybe they will do well in free agency to shore up other areas of need like a No. 1 wideout.
Akeem Ayers will come into the NFL as the starting linebacker for a strong Tennessee Titans defense.
Do not let his 4.7 40-yard dash at the combine fool you. This guy is a very athletic player, with the ability to be one of the league leaders in tackles year in and year out.
I can see this rookie putting up pretty solid numbers—75 or more tackles and forcing three or more turnovers on a much-improved Titans defense.
We could even see him lead the team in tackles, even with Stephen Tulloch on the roster. He is extremely skilled and playing in front of that talented defensive line, with that strong secondary, he will shine.
Adrian Clayborn is a high-motor guy that will provide an immediate impact on a defensive line loaded with talent.
Starting opposite of Bowers, he will definitely showcase his talent and pass-rushing ability. This guy will definitely be the run-stopping threat on the Bucs defensive line.
This unit will be one of the most productive units in the NFL. Don't be surprised to see a couple Pro Bowlers from their stingy defense.
This rookie will definitely have a spectacular season having around 50 tackles, force four or more turnovers and four sacks. He has a relentless motor and a strong desire to win. Clayborn will be a force to be reckoned with this upcoming NFL season, whenever it starts.
Christian Ponder is the quarterback of the future for the Vikings. He has the intelligence to be a good quarterback in the Chad Pennington mold.
He will play early because he has Adrian Peterson in the backfield to help ease the burden on him. Another thing that helps him is his underrated athleticism; he is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks out of the draft class.
I can see him playing as early as Week 4 due to him playing in a similar system in Florida State. Ponder will put together a nice rookie campaign amassing 1,800 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, 13 passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns.
Leonard Hankerson will come into the season as the Redskins No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on the depth chart because they are lacking talent at that position.
He is a fast, athletic wideout with pretty reliable hands. I can see a scenario of the Skins letting Santana Moss go which would definitely increase his value.
I could see this wideout having a pretty good season for the Skins. I can see him put together a campaign where he gets around 600 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
The Shanahans had to see something special in him if they waited until the third round to pick him up. We will see a special player next year for the Skins—just watch and see.
Mark Ingram is in an interesting situation in New Orleans as they have two other running backs on their roster.
Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush would both be ahead of him on the depth chart. Due to Ingram's ability to run the ball, catch out of the backfield and pass block, he will be a valuable asset to the Saints.
Ingram will supplant Thomas on the depth chart towards the end of the season as the No. 1 back. I can see him contributing in the run and pass game.
The Saints will definitely run the ball more with him in the backfield. I can see him getting around 900 yards of total offense and four or more touchdowns, because Pierre Thomas will be the main red-zone threat.
Christian Ballard has the chance to be the starting defensive end opposite Jared Allen. He will be very productive because of the constant double teams that Allen and Kevin Williams will face.
Ballard will be a player that definitely benefits from having guys like these on the line and will look to gain valuable knowledge from Allen.
He will have over 40 tackles and five sacks during his rookie campaign. Look for the Vikings to have one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL.
This guy will instantly bring in something that Minnesota will be losing with Ray Edwards walking in free agency.
Danny Watkins will be one of the starting guards for an Eagles team poised to make a playoff run.
Watkins being 27 already will not hurt him as I can see him being one of the best linemen on the team. He is not the most athletic lineman, but he is coachable, has great footwork and is a very intelligent player.
Watkins will be a rookie that starts all 16 games and has the potential to make the Pro Bowl early in his career.
He helps lead the Eagles to the NFC Championship and provides the protection that Philadelphia has been lacking from the guard spot for years.
Ryan Williams, one of the most talented running back prospects of the draft, has a chance to come in and provide an immediate impact for the Cardinals.
Injuries have plagued Chris Wells, so Arizona drafted Williams to come in and compete. This guy can flat out play football, and I look for him to rack up rushing yards while splitting carries with Wells.
I am projecting Williams to finish the season with over 600 rushing yards and five touchdowns after he takes over the starting job near the tail end of the season.
He will definitely be a premier running back in a couple years time, Arizona got a steal in the second round.
James Carpenter is one of the most underrated lineman out of this year's draft.
Carpenter is arguably the best run blocker in the draft class. He was the only player to play left tackle for his career, for one of the biggest schools out there.
The former Alabama product will definitely help turn the Seahawks into one of the best rushing teams in the NFL.
He will come in and start all 16 games, while not giving up more than seven sacks for the entire season.
Robert Quinn will have the chance to provide the St. Louis Rams with a dominant pass-rushing defensive end opposite of Chris Long.
Quinn has the pass-rushing ability to be one of the league leaders in sacks for many years. He sort of reminds me of the Giants Osi Umenyiora with his quickness, speed, strength and motor. I think he will be a Pro Bowl defensive end.
After getting used to the speed of the game again after sitting out, I can see Quinn getting around 40-50 tackles and 6.5 sacks next season, as he helps lead the Rams into the playoffs.
He will make the teams that passed on him pay all season long.
Mikel Leshoure has the tools to be a great running back in the NFL. He has a skill set similar to Steven Jackson, with the ability to catch, pass block and run down hill.
With the return of Matthew Stafford, I could see him being more of a pass-catching running back because the Lions are more of a passing team.
Leshoure will be an interesting rookie to watch. He has the potential to rush for 1,000-plus yards. He could eventually become the starting running back in Detroit because Jahvid Best is not a full-time running back at the NFL level.
I can see him getting around 1,000 or more total yards and scoring seven touchdowns.
Justin Houston is a first-round talent that slipped in the draft due to character concerns. He has outstanding size and athleticism.
Playing opposite of Tamba Hali will definitely help this guy generate big numbers due to the double teams that Hali will encounter.
This rookie will definitely be one of the more productive outside linebackers out of the rookie class. I can see him finishing the season with 50 or more tackles, four forced turnovers and six or more sacks.
He is the real deal at outside backer.
Da'Quan Bowers is going out to prove all of his doubters after being deemed a bust because of his bad knee.
Bowers led the NCAA in sacks last year with a bad knee and will carry his success over to the NFL. He will be on a young defensive line that is packed with immense talent with McCoy and Price anchoring the middle.
This is one of the few teams that will be able to get a consistent pass rush with their front four.
Bowers will definitely have a great season next year. The rookie will finish the season with 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss, force four turnovers and 6.5 sacks.
He will torment quarterbacks in the competitive NFC South for years to come.
Greg Little will be the No. 1 pass-catching target for Colt McCoy in Cleveland. He is a big receiver that is hard to bring down.
He has those elite run-after-catch abilities that will make him a premier player— the best rookie receiver in the NFL next year. The guy has great hands, great quickness, great athleticism, and he is the only No. 1-type receiver on the Browns' roster.
Greg Little comes in next year as the undisputed No. 1 receiver. With guys like Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie on the roster, he will get more opportunities.
With the increase in opportunities, I am looking for him to be a solid candidate for Rookie of the Year, if not win the award. He will score touchdowns and get yards—many yards—after the catch.
Look for this guy to have around 700 or more receiving yards and six or more touchdowns.
Patrick Peterson will make a huge impact for the Arizona Cardinals with his play-making abilities as a return specialist.
Peterson has the speed, size and athleticism to be an elite corner in the NFL. With Cromartie on the other side, they will form one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Due to the fact that he is such a great talent, I can see teams avoiding him for a portion of the season.
He will still be a guy that will record around 50 tackles, four interceptions, two touchdowns and have over 500 return yards on special teams.
With his speed and agility, he will be a player to watch in 2011.
This guy has Larry Fitzgerald written all over him. With his elite athleticism, he will definitely be one of the premier players out of this draft class for years to come.
He steps onto the field as the Bengals No. 1 receiving option.
If Carson Palmer actually comes to the team next year, he will definitely rise on this list. He has rare play-making ability that will definitely allow him to see a lot of production throughout his rookie season.
I see this guy having around 750 or more receiving yards and six to nine touchdowns as an NFL rookie.
Nick Fairley has all of the tools to become one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the NFL. Having a guy like him next to Suh will give the Lions one of the most potent pass rushes in the NFL.
The Lions did the right thing by providing Suh with another pass-rushing specialist, so I look for him to get around six to eight sacks as a defensive tackle. Fairley is the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the draft class.
At the end of the year, he will be near the top for defensive tackles in hurries, turnovers, sacks and tackles for loss.
I am projecting 35 or more tackles, five or more sacks, 15 hurries, and he will force seven or more turnovers.
From day one, stepping on the field, Cameron Newton will be the face of the Carolina Panthers franchise providing instant offense.
He has the strong arm and athleticism to really be a threat as a NFL rookie. Coming into the season with James Stewart, Steve Smith and a talented offensive line, he should make a splash.
I can see him getting around 2,400 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and scoring 15 total touchdowns. The only downside would be the high turnovers and low completion percentage.
I can see him committing 25 or more turnovers his rookie season, but he will improve with time.
This guy is going to be a perennial Pro Bowler throughout his NFL career. He has the speed, strength, toughness and work ethic to be one of the greats.
Even though he is more of a 3-4 outside linebacker, his skills will allow him to make an easy transition to the 4-3 and be very productive in his career.
The Denver Broncos will definitely allow him to play to his strengths, which is rushing the passer. Quite similar to what the Lions, Raiders and several other 4-3 teams in the NFL do, you will see him get over 80 tackles, force more than five turnovers and record five or more sacks for his rookie season.
He will be runner up for NFL Defensive MVP.
Julio Jones will be an immediate impact player for a very potent Atlanta Falcons offense that will pass the ball a lot more this upcoming season.
The team traded away a lot to start him opposite Roddy White. He will be the team's main red-zone threat because of his size and athleticism.
Due to the decline of Tony Gonzalez and the fact that teams will be double-teaming White all the time, I can see him being a threat early and often. When he was drafted, he immediately began building a relationship and chemistry with Matt Ryan. By the start of 2012, he will be one of the names to watch.
I can see Jones getting 800 or more receiving yards and eight to 12 touchdowns as a rookie. His actual speed, quickness and athletic ability will soon make him the favorite target in Atlanta.
He has the upside of a Randy Moss without the character problems. Potential Pro Bowler and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Daniel Thomas will be the feature back of the Miami Dolphins who will look to run the ball more next season. He will not have to compete for the starting job with the departures of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
Miami is a team looking to turn the page, so I see neither one of them back. Daniel Thomas will be running behind an improved offensive line and Jake Long the best offensive tackle in the NFL.
I am looking for Thomas to have a breakout season, finishing around 1,300 total yards and nine total touchdowns in his rookie year. Will definitely be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
He will be the workhorse that they wish they would've gotten in Ronnie Brown.
Jimmy Smith is a shutdown corner, arguably the best cover corner in the NFL draft.
He will come in and make an immediate impact for the Baltimore Ravens as their starting cornerback. This guy will be a borderline Pro Bowler during his first season as a Raven.
Projecting around 45-60 tackles and five or more interceptions. Having a guy like Ed Reed will definitely help this rookie out.
He is the best corner in the draft and will contribute on day one. He could be the next Chris McAlister.
Aldon Smith...surprise surprise!
I have another Smith at the top of the list. Aldon Smith is a guy with elite pass-rushing skills. This guy will step into San Fran and be an immediate impact as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
Look for him to get 60-plus tackles and 10-plus sacks at the end of his rookie season in route to winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
On a team where Patrick Willis, Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Smith will garner a lot of attention, it frees up this rookie to unleash havoc.
Smith will be near the tops in sacks. Think Brian Orakpo-type numbers.