Buying or Selling Each 1st-Round Rookie as a Day 1 Starter

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2018

Buying or Selling Each 1st-Round Rookie as a Day 1 Starter

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Front offices generally project first-round rookies as immediate impact assets or the players who will change the franchise's trajectory. Ideally, it's a search for Day 1 starters, though it's a little different for quarterbacks who need development.

    Still, that quarterback picked in the first round will eventually carry heavy expectations as the leader in the huddle at the most important position in the game. A proverbial redshirt year holding the clipboard serves as a learning period before the coaches hand him the keys to the offense.

    Edge-rushers, offensive linemen and coveted first-rounders at other positions also face pressure, especially when teams trade up and surrender multiple picks to acquire them.

    Before most teams start OTAs, let's take a look at each first-round pick. Who steps on the field as a Day 1 starter? Which rookies have to wait their turn behind a veteran?


No. 1: Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    General manager John Dorsey laid out his plan at quarterback during free agency when he acquired Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills. The eighth-year signal-caller's contract voids at the end of the season, barring an extension, per Spotrac.

    The Browns brought in a stopgap passer to start the 2018 season while the No. 1 overall pick takes a year to study the game.

    Dorsey talked about the process Baker Mayfield must go through before seeing the field, per's Mary Kay Cabot. "To make this guy the best long term - that's what he's thinking about - you have to teach him to understand the game of football first," he said. "I've always said, in college you play the game and in the pros, you're going to learn the game of football."

    Head coach Hue Jackson pointed out past mistakes in handling the quarterback position, per Cabot. "We have been playing young quarterbacks here in Cleveland for the past two years and putting them in some tough situations," Jackson said. "It's really important that he understands. When he is ready to play, he will be ready to play."

    Mayfield took most of his snaps in shotgun formation at Oklahoma. He's still getting comfortable as a signal-caller under center. Taylor will start, but the No. 1 overall pick could see the field later in the season if the Browns don't have a shot at the postseason. 

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 2: Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman sent a clear message during the draft. He's all-in on quarterback Eli Manning going into his age-37 season, and there's an urgency to win now. How do we know?

    At No. 2, the Giants went with a running back, which indicates a need to build around Manning. Gettleman also acquired Will Hernandez to strengthen the interior of the offensive line. The UTEP product should help keep defensive tackles away from Manning and clear lanes for Saquon Barkley.

    Barkley immediately elevates the Giants backfield that currently rosters 31-year-old Jonathan Stewart, 2017 fourth-rounder Wayne Gallman, third-year ball-carrier Jalen Simmons and undrafted rookie Robert Martin. 

    Looking at the running back depth chart, Barkley doesn't have much competition for carries. He'll take the bulk of rush attempts and serve as a viable receiving threat out of the backfield starting in Week 1.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 3: Sam Darnold, Quarterback, New York Jets

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Similar to the Browns, the New York Jets established their intentions at quarterback during free agency. General manager Mike Maccagnan re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater, knowing he'd target a signal-caller in the first round of the draft.

    Head coach Todd Bowles didn't rule out Sam Darnold as a Week 1 starter, but he must climb over two veteran quarterbacks on the depth chart. McCown looked solid last year before breaking his left hand. The team expects Bridgewater to participate in organized team activities despite concerns about his knee, per reporter Rich Cimini.

    The Jets don't have the strongest offensive line. McCown and Bryce Petty took a combined 47 sacks last year. Spencer Long serves as an upgrade at center, but Bowles isn't going to throw out the potential franchise signal-caller Week 1 unless there's full confidence that he can handle leaks up front.

    Secondly, it would serve the Jets well to give Bridgewater time on the field to showcase him as a trade asset. Once Darnold starts, there's no turning back, but it's not going to happen until midway through the year at the earliest. McCown has never started a full 16-game season, and he's not going to start at age 39.

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 4: Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Cleveland Browns

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    Phil Long/Associated Press

    The Browns need a lead cornerback after trading Jason McCourty to the New England Patriots. The front office acquired slot cornerback T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines. The latter put together a solid year with the Bills, but injuries have cost him several games in the past three seasons. 

    According to Cabot, the Browns will depend on Denzel Ward to start as a boundary defender hence the decision to keep him out during rookie minicamp with a minor hip injury. "He strained his hip flexor on the first day of rookie camp, and sat out the final two days, but only as a precaution. He would've practiced — and wanted to — if the Browns allowed. But Ward is slated to be the shutdown corner this season, and Jackson isn't taking any chances." 

    As mentioned, Gaines already has a history with soft-tissue ailments keeping him on the sidelines. Cleveland can't rely solely on the veteran to elevate the pass defense. Expect Ward to have every opportunity to start over Jamar Taylor, who has become trade bait, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 5: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph has a good problem on his hands. How will he play all of his pass-rushers?

    Denver added edge-rusher Bradley Chubb to a solid group. Former 2014 undrafted acquisition Shaquil Barrett notched 11 sacks in the past three seasons. Just two years ago, Shane Ray recorded eight sacks. The team declined to pick up his fifth-year option, but we shouldn't discount a refocused campaign after battling a wrist injury in 2017.

    The Broncos didn't have a pressing need on the edge opposite Von Miller but went with the best-player-available approach. At No. 5, it's hard to pass on the top prospect at the position. Denver's decision to decline Ray's option suggests Chubb has a good chance to start right away. The fourth-year pro isn't in the team's future plans. 

    Chubb's talent and upside will help him earn a starting spot for Week 1. In this scenario, Ray could become an attractive trade asset or play out the season in rotational role.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 6: Quenton Nelson, Offensive Guard, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    For those who didn't know, Jeremy Vujnovich, who went undrafted in 2013, started all 16 games at left guard for the Indianapolis Colts. It's fair to say, general manager Chris Ballard shut the door on his starting opportunities with the No. 6 overall pick, Quenton Nelson.

    It's difficult to find any negatives on Nelson. As the first offensive lineman taken in April's draft, he fills a need and answers ongoing criticism about Andrew Luck's pass protection—assuming the QB returns to the field for the upcoming season.

    In reality, the Colts have made moves over the past years to improve the front five in protection, but Nelson brings a certain no-nonsense demeanor with some nastiness needed to become the glue on the interior. Along with Barkley, he's one of the safest picks to start Week 1.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 7: Josh Allen, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The Bills had to prepare the quarterback position in case they missed on an early prospect. Signal-caller AJ McCarron won a grievance case against the Cincinnati Bengals, which granted him free-agent status. Buffalo signed the fifth-year pro to a modest two-year, $10 million deal.

    However, the Bills made two moves to acquire quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo acquired the No. 12 pick from the Bengals then jumped to No. 7 in place of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the draft. 

    Allen will have a fair opportunity to start over McCarron, who doesn't have a major advantage in playing experience. He's started three games since his 2014 entry and threw 14 passes over the past two seasons.

    Keep in mind McCarron has a two-year deal and the team felt comfortable with him before trading up to acquire Allen.

    The Bills tossed Nathan Peterman to the wolves as a starter last year against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11, and we saw how that turned out five interceptions later. Buffalo must fully prepare their rookie signal-caller before turning the offense over to him. Expect McCarron to start with the door open for Allen if the 2018 season goes off the rails. 

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 8: Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Among first-round selections, Roquan Smith to the Chicago Bears feels like one of the best fits. The fanbase soaks up quality play at linebacker—a needy position for the defense. 

    Jerrell Freeman started the previous campaign on injured reserve, then faced a two-year suspension for his third failed drug test before announcing his retirement. Christian Jones started a majority of last year's games at inside linebacker, but he signed a deal with the Detroit Lions during free agency. 

    Smith fills a void next to Danny Trevathan, but he's not expecting to walk into a starting position, per NBC Sports Chicago reporter JJ Stankevitz. "I'm not thinking about just being a starter," Smith said. "I'll start on special teams if that's what they want me to do, I'll do it. It's not like I'm just saying, 'Hey, I have to be the starter.' You crawl before you walk."

    It's a humble approach that you'd like to see in a rookie, but the defense would immediately improve with Smith as the all-purpose defender in the middle. He's certainly a Week 1 starter.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 9: Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle, San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have their priorities in order. They acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a midseason trade with the Patriots to address the most important position on the roster. During the draft, general manager John Lynch acquired pass protection.

    Left tackle Joe Staley has two years left on his deal, and right tackle Trent Brown showed improvement in his third season, but the 49ers wanted an upgrade in Mike McGlinchey. Lynch then traded Brown to the Patriots, who needed an offensive tackle. It's a game of "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" between the two front offices. 

    McGlinchey lined up at both tackle positions at Notre Dame. He played a full season on the right as a sophomore. As the pick at No. 9, he'll start opposite Staley in Week 1 to solidify the perimeter protection for Garoppolo. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 10: Josh Rosen, Quarterback, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals acquired a quarterback who's ready to play right away. Josh Rosen operated in a pro-style offense under head coach Jim Mora at UCLA. He doesn't need extensive work getting comfortable under center and comes into the league without concerns about accuracy.

    Throughout the evaluation process, the talk about Rosen's game focused on his character. Is he too outspoken? Does he really love football? Well, we'll have answers to those questions in his rookie year—but not in Week 1. 

    The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford during free agency. In the past two years, the 30-year-old started 17 games and has a 71.8 completion percentage. Critics will say his dink-and-dunk passing inflates those numbers, but he unleashed some range on his throws with the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Unfortunately, a knee injury limited Bradford to two games last year. Head coach Mike Zimmer described the quarterback's knee as "degenerative." 

    Based on Bradford's injury history and the fact he'll take snaps behind a shaky offensive line, expect to see Rosen toss passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk within the second quarter of the season. He'll have an early chance to take the field among rookie quarterbacks, but it's not going to happen in the first week. 

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 11: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Miami Dolphins

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    During the evaluation process, analysts had difficulty projecting Minkah Fitzpatrick's position after he played the "star" role at Alabama. The standout defensive back doesn't have much experience on the boundary. Keep safety and slot cornerback in mind.

    Head coach Adam Gase shot down the idea that T.J. McDonald would move to linebacker to free a spot for Fitzpatrick at safety, per Palm Beach Post reporter Hal Habib. "T.J. is playing safety," Gase said in his first comments since the draft. "If we have to make adjustments somewhere. ... He's not moving to linebacker. He's going to be a safety and then we're going to figure out a way to get our best 11 players on the field." 

    McDonald offers experience as a veteran at safety, but it's hard to justify cutting back on Bobby McCain's snaps in the slot with his progression over the past year.

    In 2017, the Dolphins extended McDonald's contract four years, but the front office had no idea Fitzpatrick would fall to them at No. 11 in the draft.

    College Football's 2017 Defensive Player of the Year will show enough to replace McDonald, who's only played eight games in Miami.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 12: Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Buccaneers selected a big-bodied defensive tackle to headline their 2018 draft class. Vita Vea, at 347 pounds, projects as an immediate help to the run defense, which ranked 23rd last season.

    The Buccaneers have a potential quality run-stopper to complement Gerald McCoy in the middle. We'll find out if Vea has upside as a pass-rusher, but his ability to latch on to ball-carriers should ease the linebackers jobs. 

    Tampa Bay acquired Mitch Unrein and Beau Allen, but neither player should pose a threat to Vea as a starter, especially with Chris Baker and Clinton McDonald signing deals with the Bengals and Broncos, respectively.

    Vea will start and provide an immediate impact to shore up the front line against ground attacks in the upcoming season.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 13: Da'Ron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Washington Redskins

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins addressed their porous defensive line with the No. 13 overall pick. In the upcoming season, NFC East running backs Ezekiel Elliott, Barkley and the Philadelphia Eagles stable of tailbacks will attempt to gouge last year's worst run defense. The front office prepared for this issue with Da'Ron Payne.

    Payne joins fellow Alabama product Jonathan Allen on the defensive line. He'd effectively replace Ziggy Hood, who's a backup player at best. Washington also added fifth-round interior defender Tim Settle (Virginia Tech) for good measure, but he's going to take snaps in a rotational role. 

    Don't expect Payne to accumulate sacks. He's an interior defender who's strong enough to hold up at the point of attack with the technical ability to shed blocks and record stops. The Alabama product isn't the cure-all acquisition for the run defense, but Washington won't finish last in the category for the upcoming season.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 14: Marcus Davenport, Defensive End, New Orleans Saints

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    When the front office trades first- and fifth-round selections, along with next year's first-round pick, for a defensive end at No. 14, he better start Week 1. Don't worry, New Orleans Saints fans, there's room for Marcus Davenport to learn on the fly.

    Davenport's ability to absorb the technicalities of the position will help him solidify a starting spot. Despite logging 21.5 career sacks at Texas-San Antonio, he's still a raw addition to the defensive line. He also stood up as opposed to lining up in the three-point stance at the end of his collegiate career. 

    According to head coach Sean Payton, via Times-Picayune reporter Josh Katzenstein, Davenport took reps on the right side of the defensive line during rookie minicamp.

    The Saints re-signed Alex Okafor, who contributed as a pass-rusher on the right side but tore his Achilles in November. The 27-year-old poses competition for Davenport, but time away from the field during the offseason likely moves him to a reserve role. The rookie starts and plays through the ups and downs in his first year. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 15: Kolton Miller, Offensive Tackle, Oakland Raiders

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Two years ago, the Oakland Raiders fielded one of the top offensive lines in the league. After quarterback Derek Carr took some hits in the past couple of years, head coach Jon Gruden felt the need to address the offensive tackle position early in the draft.

    The Raiders traded back and selected Kolton Miller with the 15th overall pick. At UCLA, injuries shortened his collegiate experience, but he started on both sides of the offensive line—most recently at left tackle. 

    According to's Paul Gutierrez, Miller only saw reps at left tackle during the three-day rookie minicamp.

    Despite going into his age-35 season and coming off Lisfranc surgery, Donald Penn shouldn't be counted out as a starter. The 13th-year man earned back-to-back Pro Bowl selections in the last two seasons.

    Penn's return would shift Miller to the right side, where he's expected to start at a position that's been a revolving door. Menelik Watson, Austin Howard, Vadal Alexander and Marshall Newhouse have all spent significant time on that end. 

    Alexander will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. There's absolutely no way the Raiders leave Miller on the bench behind Breno Giacomini at right tackle. He'll start Week 1.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 16: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Head coach Sean McDermott lost a reliable middle linebacker in Preston Brown during free agency. In response, the Bills selected athletic second-level defender Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16. The Virginia Tech product stands at 6'5", 250 pounds with the ability to pressure the pocket.

    Would he replace Brown or line up on the strong side with more pass-rushing responsibilities?

    According to WKBW Buffalo's Joe Buscaglia, McDermott gave direction to Edmunds at middle linebacker where he also practiced during drills. "McDermott had Edmunds lined up at middle linebacker, practicing how he attacked running plays through specific gaps. Once they got to 9-on-9s, Edmunds once again played the middle linebacker spot."

    Assuming this trend continues, Lorenzo Alexander takes the strong-side position, where he racked up 12.5 sacks two seasons ago. At a position in need of playmakers, Edmunds lands with a team ready to roll him out as a Week 1 starter.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 17: Derwin James, Safety, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Surprisingly, safety Derwin James fell to the Chargers at No. 17. The front office opted not to re-sign Tre Boston. With the addition of the Florida State product, the team can comfortably move on at the position.

    James possesses the physical tools to help in run support, line up against tight ends and cover in space. A player with that type of versatility should appear on the field in Week 1 with a sizable role. 

    The Chargers have their secondary bookends and slot defenders in place. The safety positions should have plenty of combinations during practices; joining James are fourth-rounder Kyzir White, Jahleel Addae, Adrian Phillips and Rayshawn Jenkins. 

    Despite the depth at the position, you can write James' name as a starting safety in ink.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 18: Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers double-dipped at the cornerback position with their first two draft picks. Kevin King provided minimal impact during his rookie term. Quinten Rollins landed on injured reserve with an Achilles injury and struggled when on the field last season.

    Rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and second-rounder Josh Jackson have opportunities to land starting jobs with strong offseason performances. The Packers signed a savvy 35-year-old veteran in Tramon Williams, but general manager Brian Gutekunst probably didn't foresee the team having a shot at two impressive collegiate talents at the same position.

    According to the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel's Michael Cohen, the rookie cornerbacks worked on the inside and outside during practices.

    Defensive backs Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett took the majority snaps in the slot last year. The Packers traded the former to the Browns, and the latter signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Alexander, who's the more athletic of the two rookie cornerbacks, will take over a starting position with snaps on the boundary and in the slot.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 19: Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    During the offseason, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett started to discuss the possibility of utilizing Jaylon Smith as a strong-side linebacker, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill:

    "The SAM in our defense is an important spot but there is so much nickel defense being played in the NFL. Often times you only have two linebackers out on the field, so you want to give him more than just that role. He might be a SAM in base but you want to make sure he has a role when we’re playing our two linebackers defense as well." 

    Whether Smith shifts over to the strong side or not, there's one certainty: The Cowboys starting linebacker unit will undergo some changes. Anthony Hitchens signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, which opens another spot.

    The Cowboys have early expectations for linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, per Hill. "The Cowboys expect [Vander Esch] to have an immediate and definitive impact. Their love for him and his potential, which began with linebackers coach Ben Bloom as far back as the combine, has only grown with his presence at camp."

    At Boise State, Vander Esch flashed the ability to cover in space with two interceptions, five pass breakups and 91 solo tackles during his junior year. Expect him to pair with Sean Lee when two linebackers take the field.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 20: Frank Ragnow, Offensive Lineman, Detroit Lions

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    For offensive lineman Frank Ragnow, it's not a question of if he starts for the Detroit Lions in the upcoming season, but where the Arkansas product lines up Week 1.

    According to Tim Twentyman of the team's official site, the coaching staff will make the decision as Ragnow and Graham Glasgow take reps as a unit. "The Lions want to get Ragnow and Glasgow on the field together before they make any decisions on who will play center and who will play left guard. Glasgow referred to himself as an 'interior offensive lineman.'"

    It's a fluid situation, but Detroit hopes to see their first-rounder shore up the interior alongside Glasgow and two-time Pro Bowler T.J. Lang. 

    The front office acquired running backs LeGarrette Blount and second-rounder Kerryon Johnson. There's an urgency to integrate Ragnow's physicality into the group as the coaching staff looks to establish the ground attack.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 21: Billy Price, Center, Cincinnati Bengals

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The Bengals selected a snap-exchange partner for quarterback Andy Dalton. Center Billy Price suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle while participating in the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    During his introductory press conference, he offered some optimism when asked about the healing process: "Way ahead of schedule. I went to see Dr. (David) Altchek up in New York, he was moving my arm and saying, 'Wow, you got that back fast.' So I was like, 'Hey, I like hearing that.'"

    Altchek has already cleared Price for training camp. It's a major positive for his rookie outlook. Russell Bodine started all 16 games at center for the Bengals last year but signed with the Bills during free agency.

    Price will have a shot at a wide-open position without much competition. Barring an injury setback, pencil him in as a Week 1 starter. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 22: Rashaan Evans, Inside Linebacker, Tennessee Titans

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans lost a valuable asset in the front seven during free agency, allowing Avery Williamson to walk and sign with the Jets.

    Initially, Jayon Brown appeared to be the lead replacement for the spot next to Wesley Woodyard, per's Cameron Wolfe. "The 2017 fifth-round pick will see his role increased after Williamson's departure. The Titans will certainly add more competition here via draft and/or free agency, but Brown's coverage ability can be an asset if he wins the starting job."

    The Titans signed Will Compton and selected first-rounder Rashaan Evans as the competition for the inside linebacker spot. The Alabama product doesn't lack coverage skills. He also shows the quickness and field awareness to play all three downs.

    Head coach Mike Vrabel may mix and match the three candidates at inside linebacker, but Evans' ability to play in space and run down ball-carriers going downhill gives him an edge in the competition.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 23: Isaiah Wynn, Offensive Lineman, New England Patriots

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    Bill Sikes/Associated Press

    Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn will have a shot to fill a vacancy at left tackle after Nate Solder inked a deal with the Giants. The Georgia product lined up at left guard for 12 games as a junior then moved to left tackle for 15 contests in 2017.

    In all likelihood, Wynn's versatility piqued the Patriots' interest along with the need to protect quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. It's worth noting, New England waived 2017 third-rounder Antonio Garcia with a non-football injury designation. He sat out his rookie season with blood clots in his lungs.

    Still, Wynn isn't a shoo-in to start on the left side. Brown, acquired from San Francisco, and LaAdrian Waddle will also have a shot.

    Even though Wynn and Brown will miss OTAs with shoulder injuries, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia highlighted the two as favorites to start on the left, per NESN's Zack Cox. "Scarnecchia indicated Wynn — who played both left tackle and guard in college — and Brown — who primarily played on the right side in San Francisco — currently are the leading candidates to replace Solder."

    Despite Brown's extensive track record on the right side, his NFL starting experience gives him the edge at a premium position to start the season. Meanwhile, the coaching staff will continue to prepare the versatile Georgia product for a full transition to left tackle.

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 24: D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Most early mock drafts had Calvin Ridley as the first wide receiver off the board, but D.J. Moore's rising stock pushed him over the Alabama prospect.

    After the Carolina Panthers traded wideout Kelvin Benjamin midseason, the offense clearly lacked playmakers. Moore, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright will battle for a place slightly behind Devin Funchess on the depth chart. 

    Funchess stands at 6'4", 225 pounds as a big-body target. Moore's ability to rack up yards after the catch projects as a suitable complement to the fourth-year pass-catcher.

    Smith and Wright could see just as many targets as Moore throughout the 2018 season, but the coaching staff will look to unlock the Maryland product's upside for an immediate upgrade in the aerial attack. Quarterback Cam Newton will have a high-upside catch-and-run option at wide receiver on the field for Week 1. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 25: Hayden Hurst, Tight End, Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens took a page out of their 2015 blueprint, when they drafted two tight ends. Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle haven't panned out as planned, but Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews join a competitive position. 

    Hurst doesn't have comparable red-zone production to Andrews, but he does show reliable hands, which he flashed during the team's rookie minicamp, per the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "He looked very fluid and sharp running routes and decisive in everything he did. He also caught just about everything with the exception of a lunging one-handed attempt at a pass in the back corner of the end zone."

    Last year, Boyle, Williams and Ben Watson all started. The Ravens' heavy use of tight ends opens the door for Hurst to start Week 1 despite the depth at the position. Watson's return to New Orleans creates an opportunity for the rookie. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 26: Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Despite ranking No. 8 in passing yards, the Atlanta Falcons offense seemed to underachieve at certain points during the 2017 campaign. The front office acquired a smooth route-runner in Ridley to add another layer to the aerial attack.

    As a rookie, Ridley will likely carve out a role as the No. 3 wideout, a spot that didn't always qualify as a starter with fullback Derrick Coleman and tight end Levine Toilolo in the lineup last year. 

    Coleman and Toilolo both left in free agency, and the Falcons didn't just use a first-round pick on Ridley to leave him on the bench for long.

    Don't rush to add Ridley to your one-year fantasy football team as a slot receiver within a talented position group, but he should draw a Week 1 start in a three-wide receiver set.

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 27: Rashaad Penny, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks have a competitive group at running back. Rashaad Penny must look the part of a starter to take a leap forward on the depth chart. In the past season, Chris Carson and Mike Davis flashed in brief bright spots in the backfield.

    However, general manager John Schneider felt the need to select Penny in the first round. Obviously, the Seahawks want more out of their backfield as the offensive line takes shape.

    Penny put his receiving skills on full display at rookie minicamp, per News Tribune reporter Gregg Bell"Penny — who led the nation in rushing with 2,200 yards and 23 touchdowns at San Diego State — looked better in the passing game than perhaps the Seahawks expected. At one point, he was split out catching slant passes, like a wide receiver."

    Head coach Pete Carroll noted the team would like to use the San Diego State product as a three-down back who can also stand inside in pass protection via Bell. "We're gonna work real hard with his pass protection and make sure that he's up to speed there," Carroll said of Penny. "We'd like to see if we can make him available to us on all three downs. Kind of like we use Chris [Carson]." 

    You can check all the boxes with Penny. Highly productive collegiate ball-carrier, smooth receiver and developing pass-protection skills. The Seahawks coaching staff clearly sees him as a starter. Based on his early preparation, we should follow suit. 

    Day 1 Starter? Buy

No. 28: Terrell Edmunds, Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    General manager Kevin Colbert decided to revamp the Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh released safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, the former a consistent starter over the past four seasons and the latter having served in a reserve role.

    As for the additions, Burnett likely holds the pole position for a starting spot next to Sean Davis. He started in all 102 appearances with the Packers.

    First-rounder Terrell Edmunds will have to unseat Burnett to earn a starting job. Expect the Steelers to roll with the veteran in the lineup.

    At the moment, the coaching staff wants to see exactly where Edmunds fits. The Virginia Tech product took reps at linebacker during rookie minicamp, which is perhaps a move to compensate for the loss of Ryan Shazier's coverage skills in the middle of the defense. 

    Edmunds will eventually take over at safety, but defensive coordinator Keith Butler will rely on Burnett's experience in the meantime. 

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 29: Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The No. 2 defense in the league could potentially have another versatile playmaker in defensive tackle Taven Bryan. Here's a short-term projection that may not seem obvious now, but expect the Florida product to start in 2019.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars will squeeze one more year out of Marcell Dareus then release him next offseason. Why? He carries an $11.6 million cap hit for the 2019 campaign but doesn't hold dead money for the final three years on his deal, per Spotrac. The front office can cut him and recoup the cash. The same concept applies to nose tackle Abry Jones at $4 million next year. Taven presents a cheaper alternative and upside as a pass-rusher up front. 

    Jacksonville acquired Taven with the long haul in mind. He's going to see snaps in a rotational role through his rookie season. As a sophomore, expect a major leap in his snap count after the Jaguars release one of their veteran interior defenders.

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 30: Mike Hughes, Cornerback, Minnesota Vikings

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    It's a pretty simple answer for cornerback Mike Hughes. He's going to see limited snaps in a reserve role with the Minnesota Vikings. It's the deepest position on the roster.

    Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes will retain their starting spots on the boundaries. The Vikings re-signed Terence Newman, who served as the primary slot cornerback last year. He's going into his age-40 season but remains an effective defender. 

    If Newman shows decline in his play, Mackensie Alexander would probably slide into the slot position.

    Barring multiple injuries, there's no room for Hughes to make a significant impact as a rookie. The Vikings have quality and depth at cornerback, but they play in a division with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It's smart to keep a spare high-potential cover defender on the roster.

    Expect Hughes to battle Mackensie for the No. 3 spot next year, assuming Newman finally retires.

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 31: Sony Michel, Running Back, New England Patriots

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    Fantasy owners will tell you that predicting the most productive Patriots running back on any given week compares to solving a quadratic equation. As far as the starter position, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, James White and Rex Burkhead all started games but none logged more than eight in 2017.

    Lewis signed with the Titans during free agency, but the Patriots acquired Jeremy Hill. Sony Michel's first-round draft tag doesn't simply vault him into pole position. The Patriots may plan on using five tailbacks in various situations based on the given matchup. 

    When the 2018 season ends, Michel may outperform his fellow running backs, but there's a strong possibility the rookie starts the season in a rotational role alongside three veterans already familiar with the offensive system. 

    For those expecting Michel to become the guy Week 1, remember he paired with Nick Chubb for four years. In three of those seasons, Chubb logged more carries by a significant margin. 

    Michel will have an immediate role, but don't expect a prominent one right out of the gate.

    Day 1 Starter? Sell

No. 32: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Ravens haven't given any indication they're ready to bench quarterback Joe Flacco for Lamar Jackson, though, we know the 33-year-old has been officially put on the clock—deliver the goods or else.

    Jackson hasn't talked to Flacco, and the 11th-year veteran doesn't seem to want a connection with his understudy. We all understand competition can bring out the best or worst in people.

    For the time being, Flacco doesn't have to worry about losing his job to a rookie who needs time to develop. However, Jackson's progression could be rapid. He's the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner who spent three seasons at Louisville under Bobby Petrino, a former NFL coach. 

    In 2017 the Ravens ranked 29th in passing yards. Flacco threw 18 touchdown passes and barely eclipsed 3,000 yards. The front office acquired multiple assets at wide receiver and tight end.

    Now, there's no excuse for a pedestrian year throwing the ball. The Super Bowl XLVII champion and MVP still has a stronghold on his position, but two more down years may force the organization to re-evaluate the starting spot in 2020. Until then, Jackson will hold the clipboard. 

    Day 1 Starter? Sell


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