Top 10 NFL Rookie Playmakers to Watch in 2011
And now for my yearly article on who I think will be the rookie playmakers of the season. You can read my article from last year here.
Ideally, a quality playmaker is a player that will have a positive game-changing impact through his ability to make big plays on either offense or defense.
I have tried to evaluate not only the single players' abilities, but also their position on the team—are they put in a position where their playmaking abilities will be fully utilized?
There are players out there with equal or better playmaking abilities, but some of them have landed on teams, or in team situations, that will hamper their impact.
You might differ in opinion—feel free—but here are the players I am looking forward to watching.
I was more or less successful in my evaluation of the 2010 rookie playmakers, and here is a quick recap:
10. Aaron Hernandez—major playmaker for the Patriots in 2010.
9. Arrelious Benn—overshadowed by Mike Williams and injured, but they still love him in Tampa.
8. Mike Lupati—Best O-lineman for the 49ers. The guy is a beast.
7. Jordan Shipley—best slot receiver of the class of 2010. He put up great numbers that would have been even better if it hadn't been for a certain WR duo.
6. Ryan Matthews—flashed his potential, but was hampered by injuries. The Chargers have high expectations for him in 2011.
5. Kyle Wilson—this was the sad story of my 2010 rookie playmakers. The Jets hope that he will show his true worth in 2011.
4. Gerald McCoy—was constantly doubled-teamed as the Bucs had no pressure on the edges, and then he was injured. McCoy has looked great during this preseason though, and is the centerpiece of the Bucs D-line.
3. Dexter McCluster—started out the 2010 season by returning a kick for a TD. A true playmaker, the Chiefs still need to find out how to make the most of him.
2. Eric Berry—stepped in early as the leader of the Chiefs' secondary, but didn't quite show great playmaking ability, even though his talent is obvious.
1. Sean Weatherspoon—showed great potential until his injury. The Falcons still have high hopes for him in 2011.
In retrospect, only Aaron Hernandez and Dexter McCluster showed up as true playmakers, with Eric Berry, Ryan Matthews and Gerald McCoy showing great potential.
10. Rahim Moore: Safety, Denver Broncos
Rahim Moore quickly established himself as a starter in the Denver Broncos secondary. Moore is a smart and hard-working player, and the Broncos will need him to be a playmaker.
Moore is in a position where he can create turnovers and big plays, relying on the advice and leadership of Bailey and Dawkins to know when to attack the ball.
Moore will get plenty of chances to show off his skills, as opposing teams will test the Broncos' run, defense and off-play action. Opponents will look to attack the Broncos deep over the middle—if they can lure Brian Dawkins into the box.
9. Jaquizz Rodgers: RB, Atlanta Falcons
Jaquizz Rodgers will, as a change of pace for the Atlanta Falcons, have his moments to shine in the Falcons' high-powered offense.
Opposing teams might look at this diminutive player and under-estimate his ability to run between the tackles, but Rodgers is tough as nails and will surely surprise some defensive lines this year.
Depending on Michael Turner's production and health, Rodgers might see more carries, and has, unlike Turner, good hands for the passing game.
Look for Rodgers to play in the mold of Dexter McCluster and Danny Woodhead.
8. Aldon Smith: OLB/DE, San Francisco 49ers
Although it was somewhat surprising when the 49ers chose Aldon Smith for the seventh pick of the draft as a 3-4 OLB, Smith has already proven his great pass-rushing skills.
Smith has struggled some in pass coverage, but he is a physical freak in the pass rush. The 49ers will look to deploy him early and often, as they need Smith to add pressure to the opposing QBs, in order to protect their relatively weak secondary.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing this albatross come flying around the corners and making life miserable for QBs this season.
7. Denarius Moore: WR, Oakland Raiders
Denarius Moore has been the talk of the Oakland Raiders preseason, as he is arguably the best player in the camp.
With his speed, size and great hands, Moore has all of the tools to become the vertical deep threat the Raiders need to stretch the field and open up their running game. Together with second-year player Jacoby Ford, the Raiders now have a dangerous pair of receiving playmakers.
The Raiders have longed for a go-to receiver, and now it's up to Jason Campbell to get him the ball. Moore has already shown that he knows what to do with it.
6. Randall Cobb: WR/KR, Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb was the last player out of the Green Room—going to a team that was already loaded at the receiver positions, while posting one of the best receiving scores in the NFL.
In college, Cobb showed off his playmaking abilities, but was expected to be an investment in Green Bay's future. In his first NFL game, Cobb showed that the investment paid off a lot earlier than expected.
In his debut against the Saints, he scored two TDs, on two plays where he actually missed his assignment. He wasn't supposed to return a kick-off that deep, and he ran the wrong route on the passing touchdown. Cobb showed what he can do if you just get the ball into his hands.
The only problem is, should the Packers let this kid be instinctive and creative, or should they hammer him until he knows his assignments and routes?
5. Phil Taylor: DT, Cleveland Browns
Phil Taylor was questioned for character issues leading up to the draft: he was projected to be more of a nose tackle in the 3-4 than a defensive tackle in the 4-3, and he arrived late to camp because of contract negotiations.
But since then, nobody has questioned Taylor's ability to make plays on the inside. He picked up the play book quickly and has shown that he can push the pocket and stop the run.
To expect a Suh-like presence from Taylor as a rookie isn't fair, but I expect him to make big plays for the Browns.
Cleveland is a perfect place for Taylor, since he can lean on Rubin's experience in the middle. Expectations won't be to great on the re-building team, but he could certainly be in Cleveland for a long time.
4. A.J. Green: WR, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green certainly didn't go to one of the best teams in the NFL, and playing with a rookie QB will make it even more difficult for him to show off his playmaking abilities.
However, during both the preseason and camp, Green has shown that he really has the "it" factor. If Andy Dalton can just get the ball in Green's vicinity, Green has what it takes to make plays against the best corners in the NFL.
The Bengals have a good running game, and Shipley and Gresham have shown what they can do underneath and on the short routes. If Green can unleash his potential as a playmaker on the deeper routes, depending on whether Dalton can get him the ball, then the Bengals could surprise a few teams this season.
3. Von Miller: OLB, Denver Broncos
Von Miller was drafted by the Broncos because John Elway saw the resurrection of his worst nightmare in Miller.
Miller has proven that he has the physical skills and the mindset to be a top pass-rusher for the Broncos for many years to come.
While he is not on the top of my list of rookie playmakers, it's primarily because I think he will need to do a lot of other things other than showing off his playmaking skills.
As opposing teams will try and exploit the Broncos weak run defense, Miller will need to contribute heavily in stopping the run and dropping back in coverage—not exactly tasks where he has shown great playmaking ability.
2. Marcel Dareus, DT/DE, Buffalo Bills
Marcel Dareus is a perfect fit for the Buffalo Bills as they attempt to improve their standing as the league's worst run defense.
But Dareus has shown that he is much more than a run stopper, and the Bills have already taken advantage of Dareus' ability to go after the QB.
With Kyle Wilson manning the NT in the Bills 3-4, look for Dareus to get plenty of opportunities to use his power in order to boost and penetrate the opposing O-lines. We probably won't see Suh-like numbers, but Dareus could have the same kind of impact on the defense as a whole.
The problem for Dareus is obviously that he is playing for a bottom-5 team in the NFL, and could be seeing a lot of double teams. Barring injuries, however, the Bills could be a tough customer this year, thanks to Dareus.
1. Julio Jones: WR, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons gave up a ton of picks to land Julio Jones in the draft, primarily because they think Jones' playmaking skills opposite Roddy White can take them to the Super Bowl.
From what Jones has shown so far, he has all the playmaking skills the Falcons were hoping to get, and then some.
It looks like the Falcons are going to use Jones all over the field, and with his ferocious style, it is going to be tough to make a game plan against Jones.
If the Falcons can run a balanced offense, Jones could be the rookie playmaker of the 2011 season—at least that's where I'm going to put my money.