NFL 2011: Top 12 Most Important Rookies for the 2011 Season
Check out my top 12 rookies who are poised to have a serious impact this season.
Some of these guys are on here because I think they will immediately play well. Others are on here because their teams need them to step in right away.
Because of the circumstances of the draft this year, teams were forced to draft much more on need. For some of the rookies, this means their franchises will be placing even more pressure on them than usual.
Highlight videos for each players included. Enjoy.
12. AJ Green
The best pure receiever of the draft. Green is a freak athlete with Randy Moss-like leaping ability and hands to match.
The Bengals will be passing a lot because they will likely be playing from behind in many games. AJ will have plenty of chances to shine.
On the flipside, how he handles the lack of any proven quarterbacks will likely shape the team's future for years to come. If Andy Dalton lives up to expectations and AJ can deal with some growing pains, the Bengals could have a pretty sweet young tandem.
Green's size allows for him to be a serious red-zone threat. At the same time, he moves and runs routes exceptionally well for a taller receiever. All this has him poised to make an impact in 2011.
11. Julio Jones
The Atlanta Falcons and their GM Thomas Dimitrov made it pretty apparent that good or bad, Jones was going to have an impact in 2011.
By trading away five draft picks, they put a lot of pressure on the kid to come in day one and make one of the hardest transitions at any position into the NFL.
I'm not saying I don't like the move. Having Roddy White opposite Julio and the rest of that offense sends the Atlanta Falcons swag points through the roof. The potential for Madden-like offensive firepower is terrifying.
All this being said, it can't be denied, the move was more than a little bit risky.
Whether he plays well or not, Julio will be talked about all season long.
10. Ras I Dowling
Ras I Dowling is the perfect football player for the Patriots. He is smart, driven and has football instincts that can't be taught.
Paired with Devin McCourty, the Pats could potentially own two of the best young corners in football, down the road.
The New England secondary has been a weakness as of late, they haven't won a championship since they had a corner like Ty Law or Asante Samuel.
If Dowling can make an immediate impact it will also allow Kyle Arrington to play a role that is more suited to his talents.
New England needs to improve their defense, Ras I will have to play a role in order for the Patriots take a step in that direction.
9. Demarco Murray
Murray is a little sketchy because of some injury issues. Hey, Adrian Peterson got passed on because he was supposedly injury prone. That didn't work out so well for those who passed on him.
Murray showed flashes of ninja like ability at Oklahoma. He's a big play machine.
Check this out, Murray holds records at Oklahoma for: points scored, touchdowns, all-purpose yards and receiving yards for a running back.
The guys coming through Oklahoma year in year out are no joke. Let's not forget Adrian Peterson recently played in Norman.
In an era of multi-back offenses, there's always room for a guy who can't help but take the rock for six.
8. Jimmy Smith
The Ravens defenses of the early 2000s were some of the best in NFL history. Recently however, the Ravens have been slightly less dominant.
They just don't have the true corner that those teams had. The Ravens still play a defense similar to that of Rex Ryan's, and that puts a lot of stress on their cornerbacks.
Jimmy Smith in an incredibly talented athlete. He was considered by some as second only to Patrick Peterson as far as corners were concerned in this year's draft. Unfortunately, because of some character issues that were pretty far in his past, he was passed on by some teams.
If Smith can become a shutdown corner, the Ravens will once again have a defense that can win games on their own.
7. Da'quan Bowers
The talent this guy has, coupled with the defensive coaching staff in Tampa Bay makes his potential almost limitless.
A knee injury caused him to slip into the second round. Before issues with the knee surfaced, he was being considered as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
With Adrian Clayborn, the Bucs other draft pick on defensive line, Bowers could be a manchild this season.
6. Cam Heyward
Cam Heyward is pretty similar to Bowers. He's on a team with a great coaching staff and a better defense than that of the Bucs.
He also played in the Big 10, a conference with an identity similar to that of the Steelers.
Heyward is a physical monstrosity and fits the 3-4 defense in Pittsburgh well. He could be a staple for years to come.
5. Marcel Dareus
Marcel Dareus's play in the national championship game against Texas showed his athletic ability despite being such a big dude.
Let's be honest, the Bills have needs at just about every position. The good new is, I believe they drafted a premeire 3-4 DT, one of the hardest positions to find in the NFL.
Dareus dominated in the toughest conference in football, and he's got a motor that big guys don't always have.
4. Patrick Peterson
The Cardinals got a steal because Peterson is the best player in this year's draft.
With Larry Fitzgerald and talks of Kevin Kolb coming to town, Arizona will most likely be able to move the ball. Even if Rodgers-Cromartie is part of the deal for Kolb, Arizona's secondary portfolio is still looking strong, to quite strong.
With Peterson on defense, the Cards potentially have a secondary that can cover any receiving core in the league.
3. Muhammad Wilkerson
The Jets need a pass-rusher on the defensive front. Shaun Ellis is on the end of his legs, and his strength has always been against the run.
If the Jets do end up signing Asomugha and Wilkerson develops into a ferocious QB killer, that defense becomes unstoppable.
If Wilkerson rises to the ocassion, his impact will be felt dramatically. Unfortunately, if he doesn't perform, the Jets could be vulnerable, especially if free agency doesn't work out.
2. Tyron Smith
The Cowboys have made it very apparent they are putting a lot of faith in Tyron Smith.
Dallas is hoping Smith can start for them this season at left tackle. He's versatile enough to play both tackle positions, as is Doug Free, another Cowboys offensive lineman.
How well he plays will likely determine how well the Dallas offensive line plays this season. That's a lot of pressure for a rookie. Make no mistake, Tyron Smith will have a lot to do with how the season goes for the Boys.
1. Cam Newton
OK, so this is a no-brainer. Still, Cam is either going to save the Panthers from the abyss, or he's going to send them into a downward spiral the way only a first overall bust can.
If any player has the chance to break the stereotype that spread-style quarterbacks can't have success in the NFL, it's Cam.
That doesn't mean I'm not skeptical. Only time on the field will tell whether he can read the entire field and make plays from the pocket.
Whether you're a fan of Newton or not, he is definitely one of the most intriguing players of the rookie class.
C'mon, as an NFL fan, part of you has to be hoping Cam can ball out the same way he did at Auburn on Sundays.
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Nick Fairley: Detroit Lions
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