Predicting Every NFL Team's Biggest Impact Rookie in 2020
To riff off of Mike Tyson's famous saying, "Everyone has a brilliant plan during the NFL draft until a prospect disappoints once he's on the field."
Nothing from the draft ever goes according to plan.
A rookie's performance is relative to expectations for each team situation and comparative to his draft peers. Impact performers arise based on opportunities, flexibility, skill set and value.
Those prospects become franchise cornerstones. Sometimes, those individuals are obvious. Oftentimes, they're not.
First-round picks are viewed as the most talented, but the bust rate found within that round is significant. Eighty-six percent of last year's rosters across the league were made up of players acquired outside the opening frame, according to ESPN and NFL Network's joint draft telecast.
This year's projected breakthrough performers are those with the potential to provide the greatest immediate impact for every squad, and they're not all going to be each organization's top pick. More often than not, another first-year option is better positioned to earn said designation.
Arizona Cardinals: OT Josh Jones
The Arizona Cardinals were freaking out when Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones fell to them in the third round. The previous statement isn't hyperbole.
"We're calling saying, 'What's going on, did he kill somebody last night?'" head coach Kliff Kingsbury said during an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (h/t Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals' official site). "'Is there something we don’t know about? What's the issue?' They were kind of scratching their heads as well."
Arizona chose Jones with the 72nd overall pick after the 6'5", 319-pound blocker graded as the best offensive tackle in the 2020 draft class, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones can immediately step in at right tackle and seamlessly transition into Kingsbury's offensive scheme, since it's the same one Houston ran last season.
Atlanta Falcons: DE Marlon Davidson
The Atlanta Falcons made it a point to revamp their edge-rushers.
Vic Beasley is gone. Dante Fowler Jr. signed a three-year, $45 million free-agent deal to play in Atlanta. The Falcons chose Auburn's Marlon Davidson in this year's second round. Plus, the front office acquired 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris from the Miami Dolphins, according to the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley.
Clearly, the team wasn't happy with its lackluster pass rush after last season's 28-sack effort.
Of those mentioned, Davidson brings versatility as a 303-pound base end who can slide inside and rush the passer. The 47th overall pick's stoutness will help set the edge on early downs, while new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will have multiple mix-and-match options for sub-packages.
Davidson's ability to collapse the interior alongside Grady Jarrett will only help the team's other edge acquisitions.
Baltimore Ravens: RB J.K. Dobbins
The Baltimore Ravens set an NFL single-season record in 2019 with 3,296 rushing yards, yet the franchise's backfield should be even better this year with the second-round addition of J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins finished third in the FBS last season with 2,003 rushing yards. He left Ohio State as the program's second all-time leading rusher behind Archie Griffin, who is the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
More importantly, Dobbins' system fit as part of Baltimore's scheme could make him deadly. According to CBS Sports' Will Brinson, the 21-year-old back finished second in rushing yardage from the shotgun formation.
Mark Ingram II is Baltimore's offensive hammer, but he turns 31 before the end of the year. Dobbins should work his way into the backfield rotation before eventually turning into the Ravens' lead back.
Buffalo Bills: RB Zack Moss
Devin Singletary will become the Buffalo Bills' lead back with Frank Gore, who led the team with 166 regular-season carries in 2019, still available in free agency.
Singletary performed well as a rookie, but the Bills invested a third-round pick in Utah's Zack Moss, who should immediately be an excellent complementary piece and could develop into a starter.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 223-pound Moss' 38 percent missed tackle rate led all single-season efforts by any running back with 150 or more carries since the 2014 campaign.
"Sometimes I like to go out there and set a tone from the jump," Moss told reporters. "I like to be physical and try to have defenses have to make a lot of business decisions when they're making tackles against me."
Carolina Panthers: S Jeremy Chinn
The Carolina Panthers addressed only one side of the ball during the the 2020 draft, and the defense should be considerably better as a result.
General manager Marty Hurney seemingly settled safety before the event by re-signing Tre Boston and agreeing to a free-agent deal with Juston Burris.
But Jeremy Chinn, whom the team selected with the 64th overall pick, is a different breed made for today's game.
"Chinn gives us an opportunity to have somebody that can be versatile, that can play the nickel, that can play the tight ends that we're going to face man-to-man, could be an excellent run-defender as well, so he brings versatility," head coach Matt Rhule told reporters.
The 6'3", 221-pound athlete's varied skill set will create flexibility within the scheme.
Chicago Bears: CB Jaylon Johnson
The Chicago Bears released Prince Amukamara this offseason but didn't replace the veteran cornerback.
The team didn't have a first-round pick thanks to the Khalil Mack trade, but the Bears maximized one of their second-round picks with the selection of Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson.
Johnson was generally viewed as a first-round talent, though he tumbled slightly after offseason shoulder surgery.
"But when Jaylon was there, we turned the card in quickly because he's a guy we had graded high and it was a guy that fit our board as far as how the grades were coming off, and then it was a position of need for us as well," general manager Ryan Pace told reporters.
The two-time first-team All-Pac-12 defensive back allowed only three touchdowns in 1,256 career coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Logan Wilson
Joe Burrow would be the logical choice as an impact performer for the Cincinnati Bengals, since he is this year's No. 1 overall pick and quarterbacks affect games more than any other position.
But a learning curve will exist for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
An easier transition should occur at linebacker, where Logan Wilson can step in as the quarterback of the defense and rack up tackle after tackle. Wilson is a converted safety with an outstanding skill set for today's game.
The 6'2", 241-pound linebacker accumulated 94 or more tackles in each of his four seasons with the Cowboys, and he's comfortable working in space. He should be immediately inserted at MIKE linebacker after Nick Vigil's free-agent departure and post big numbers as a rookie.
Cleveland Browns: S Grant Delpit
Jedrick Wills Jr., whom the Cleveland Browns chose with the 10th overall pick, certainly fills the roster's biggest need. However, he will make the transition from right to left tackle, and young tackles tend to improve dramatically over time.
As Wills grows accustomed to his new role, Cleveland's second-round selection, Grant Delpit, should be an immediate starter at free safety and a crucial part of the team's evolving defense under new coordinator Joe Woods.
Delpit should immediately improve the Browns pass defense by matching up with the AFC North's outstanding tight ends (Mark Andrews, Eric Ebron, C.J. Uzomah, etc.), covering the slot and/or playing the deep third. According to Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash, the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner's 27 combined interceptions and forced incompletions over the last three years tied for the most at the FBS level.
Dallas Cowboys: C Tyler Biadasz
The Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones deserves plenty of credit for this year's draft class. But one pick stands out a little more than the others with the owner/general manager completing a once-unthinkable deal.
The Cowboys traded with the rival Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round to select Wisconsin center Tyler Biasdasz.
Biadasz entered the 2019 campaign as college football's top-rated center. He didn't play quite as well as expected yet still won the Rimington Trophy. Plus, concerns about offseason shoulder surgery pushed him down boards even more.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said Biadasz emerged as a "blinking light" on the team's board based on how highly the organization valued him, per the Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins.
With Travis Frederick's abrupt retirement, a fellow Wisconsin alum should immediately take over at center.
Denver Broncos: C Lloyd Cushenberry III
The Denver Broncos reworked their offensive interior this offseason after Connor McGovern and Ron Leary left in free agency.
The team signed Graham Glasgow as a countermeasure before selecting LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry III with the 83rd overall pick in the draft.
"Lloyd Cushenberry is a strong, powerful center that we've drafted in the third round from LSU," John Elway tweeted. "He gives great effort, is from a championship program and has outstanding leadership qualities."
What the Broncos general manager didn't mention is Cushenberry will likely become an immediate starter at center. Glasgow can stay at right guard as the rookie takes over snapping duties.
Denver will be far more explosive with new wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, but Cushenberry's work in the middle will make the entire offense more effective.
Detroit Lions: CB Jeffrey Okudah
A third overall pick should be the biggest impact performer from a team's rookie class. But Jeff Okudah's addition to the Detroit Lions roster goes beyond draft status.
The Lions couldn't stop the opposition through the air last season. Matt Patricia's squad finished dead last, allowing 4,551 passing yards.
Changes were needed and made. Darius Slay is out, while the front office signed Desmond Trufant.
Okudah is the real key, though, because he doesn't have any choice but to step in from day one and serve as the shutdown corner he's capable of being.
"He fits the mold of a top-flight corner," general manager Bob Quinn told reporters after making the pick. "He can cover big guys. He can cover small guys. He can support the run."
Green Bay Packers: TE Josiah Deguara
The Green Bay Packers inexplicably decided not to address wide receiver during the draft, but the team did add a receiving threat in Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara.
Head coach Matt LeFleur expects to use the hybrid in multiple roles, as he explained to the Wisconsin State Journal's Jason Wilde:
"He is extremely versatile The thing he brings to our offense is we can be in the same personnel grouping, and we can line him up on the line of scrimmage, or in a wing alignment, or we can line him up in the backfield. I just think that adds stress to a defense in terms of, 'How are these guys going to line up and what exactly are they going to do?'"
Basically, Deguara can serve as Green Bay's version of Kyle Juszczyk, especially after Jimmy Graham's departure.
Houston Texans: DT Ross Blacklock
The Houston Texans didn't have much draft capital to add an impact rookie after trading draft picks for Laremy Tunsil, Duke Johnson and Brandin Cooks. But the organization did acquire a second-round selection as part of the DeAndre Hopkins deal.
Head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien chose TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock once the Texans were finally on the clock at No. 40 overall.
The immediacy of Blacklock's selection originated from D.J. Reader's free-agent departure. Houston needed to fortify its defensive front and did so, though Blacklock's skill set varies greatly from Reader's.
The 290-pound rookie is more of an explosive up-field defender who can play all across the defensive front, but he could struggle at the point of attack. Even so, Blacklock adds another big body as part of Houston's defensive line rotation.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Michael Pittman Jr.
The Indianapolis Colts didn't have a first-round pick thanks to the DeForest Buckner trade yet landed a prospect who the team believes is the best wide receiver in this year's class with the 34th overall pick.
Michael Pittman Jr. should immediately take over as the Colts X-receiver and turn into the unit's WR1 sooner rather than later.
"I'm not sure this guy's not the best receiver in the draft. That's how strongly I felt," head coach Frank Reich said of Pittman in the Colts' Building Something Special series. "We wanted a big body. We wanted a guy who was physically tough—not just a big body. Who would do the dirty work, who would block, who's really good at the contested catches, the 50-50 balls going down the field."
General manager Chris Ballard called the 6'4", 223-pound target "Vincent Jackson-like."
Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson
Everyone continues to wait for the inevitable breakup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The team didn't move its franchise-tagged player during the draft even though Ngakoue said he won't sign a long-term deal and openly feuded with team management.
As such, the Jaguars covered their bases by drafting another edge-rusher, LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson, with the 20th overall pick. .
"He's 6'3", 265 pounds and we feel like he can bring a presence on the edge," general manager David Caldwell told reporters. "He can set the edge as a very good run-defender. ... We'll play him probably in a two-point stance, and he'll be our rusher opposite Josh [Allen] and Yannick [Ngakoue] and we'll go from there."
Once Ngakoue is gone, Allen and Chaisson will form an exciting duo.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Willie Gay Jr.
As Kansas City looked on while every other team passed on Willie Gay Jr., head coach Andy Reid said everyone within the organization was "holding their breath" in hopes of Gay falling to the 63rd overall pick, per Arrowhead Pride's Pete Sweeney.
On the field, Gay fits what every team wants in a modern linebacker. His coverage grade was tops among linebackers against Power Five competition since 2017, per Pro Football Focus.
Gay brings baggage, though. Mississippi State suspended him eight games during the 2019 campaign because of suspected academic fraud. Plus, a pre-bowl-game dust-up occurred between the linebacker and Garrett Shrader, which left the quarterback with a broken orbital bone, per the Clarion Ledger's Brad Logan.
If the Chiefs are comfortable with the person—and they seem to be—Gay can be a fantastic addition.
Las Vegas Raiders: WR Bryan Edwards
The Las Vegas Raiders reshaped their wide receiver corps after tight end Darren Waller served as the team's primary threat during the 2019 campaign.
In doing so, general manager Mike Mayock spent three draft picks on Henry Ruggs III, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Bryan Edwards. Edwards' size (6'3" and 212 pounds) and physicality outside the numbers give him a chance to excel early, even coming off a foot injury.
"Edwards is the opposite [of Ruggs], big, physical, tough," Mayock told reporters. "We love the physicality he brings."
Mayock added that the team had a second-round grade on Edwards yet landed him a round later.
While Ruggs' speed will change how opponents defend the Raiders, Edwards will likely do a lot of the necessary dirty work as a big part of the team's passing attack.
Los Angeles Chargers: RB Joshua Kelley
The Los Angeles Chargers replaced Melvin Gordon III with a fourth-round running back capable of pulling an Austin Ekeler.
Joshua Kelley is an outstanding back, though not highly regarded, who should start as a backup but ultimately take over as lead back.
Ekeler earned his spot and won't give it away as one of the league's best dual threats. At the same time, Kelley is a no-nonsense runner who immediately gives the Chargers a more physical presence.
The 212-pound back isn't simply a short-yardage specialist. His 4.49-second 40-yard-dash speed also makes him a home-run threat.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn views the rookie as a potential Pro Bowl talent.
"We feel like he can get to that point, I can tell you that," Lynn said, per Chris Hayre of the team's official site.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers
Usually, replacing veterans a team moved earlier in the offseason isn't a sound draft strategy. Yet, the Los Angeles Rams had to make changes.
Cam Akers almost certainly won't come in and become the NFL Offensive Player of the Year like Todd Gurley did three years ago. But this year's 52nd overall pick has the potential to eclipse the veteran's numbers from last season (857 rushing yards and 3.8 yards per carry).
"What he was able to do [at Florida State], the versatility, the skill set," head coach Sean McVay told reporters of Akers. "You know there's certain players when you flip on the tape, you just feel them, and they're a threat to score anytime they touch the football."
Akers should surpass Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown in short order.
Miami Dolphins: CB Noah Igbinoghene
The Miami Dolphins started draft weekend with 14 selections. The team finished with 11 after some maneuvering for specific prospects.
The team's three first-round picks will garner most of the attention. However, one of the three should provide more of an instant return than the others.
Noah Igbinoghene should immediately step in as the team's nickel corner after the organization invested heavily in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. The Dolphins understand and abide by the old adage "A team can never have too many corners."
Despite all the hype, Tua Tagovailoa could begin his career as QB2 behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Austin Jackson, meanwhile, might be in the starting lineup from the onset, but he's the furthest behind on the developmental curve compared to the other offensive tackles chosen among the initial 20 picks.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Jeff Gladney
Since 2015, the Minnesota Vikings spent five first- or second-day draft picks on cornerbacks. This year, the Vikings used the 31st overall pick to select TCU's Jeff Gladney.
The move was as much about addressing a problem area as a philosophical approach to team-building. Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes are no longer with the team.
Gladney sets up as a starter opposite Mike Hughes. The 5'10", 191-pound defensive back is a feisty competitor with excellent ball skills. According to Pro Football Focus, Gladney forced the most contested targets (45) in college football since 2018.
"But if you have that swagger, if you do give up a play or something and come back and go compete again, I think that's a special personality that we look for in corners," general manager Rick Spielman told reporters.
New England Patriots: LB Josh Uche
Bill Belichick loves versatility. The New England Patriots head coach wants to take advantage of those with varied skill sets to expand his game plans—particularly on defense, where today's game is all about creating mismatches.
The organization spent the 60th overall pick on Michigan hybrid Josh Uche, who is both an off-ball linebacker and one of the better pass-rushers from this year's class.
"We had him in every package known to mankind," Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown told the Boston Herald's Andrew Callahan. "There's a ton of learning with that package stuff. We demand a lot from our players, and I thought he handled it really well."
Brown demanded a lot from Uche, which signals a relatively easy transition for the defensive weapon in New England's scheme.
New Orleans Saints: EDGE Zack Baun
A clear path doesn't exist for any of the New Orleans Saints' incoming rookies to immediately take over significant roles. However, Zack Baun's positional flexibility and versatile skill set should give him the best chance to become an early contributor.
"Obviously, I'm more comfortable on the edge, that's where I spent all of my time in college," Baun told reporters after being drafted. "But I really just consider myself a linebacker that can do a lot of different things."
As an edge-defender, the rookie can play in sub-packages and provide a boost to the Saints pass rush. But Baun's value derives from getting after quarterbacks and dropping into space. The 23-year-old defender covered the slot at times in Wisconsin's scheme.
Baun should start off as a SAM 'backer as he works himself into more meaningful snaps.
New York Giants: S Xavier McKinney
The run on safeties didn't start until the second round, and the New York Giants greatly benefited because the team had its pick of backline defenders.
Alabama's Xavier McKinney became the team's choice. He's a versatile defensive weapon capable of filling multiple roles, though he should immediately step in as the starting free safety. The second-round pick played 26 or more of last season's snaps at free safety, box safety and slot corner, per Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle.
His skill set certainly had its share of fans.
"One of the best safeties I've ever watched," an evaluator told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. Another compared McKinney to Earl Thomas III, according to Breer.
McKinney and Jabrill Peppers give the Giants a positionless pair of defensive backs to use in a multitude of manners.
New York Jets: WR Denzel Mims
The New York Jets spent the majority of their offseason fortifying their offensive front so quarterback Sam Darnold is better protected. His options in the passing game didn't receive the same attention.
New York's best downfield threat, Robby Anderson, left in free agency. Breshad Perriman signed to offset Anderson's loss. The Jets still needed more playmaking ability and used their second-round selection on Baylor's Denzel Mims.
"That's something that we've been talking about before we even started last year, keep adding guys that can bring speed to the field and put pressure on the other team," Jets head coach Adam Gase told reporters.
Mims shows excellent body control with 4.38-second 40-yard-dash speed. In fact, he led all college football receivers in contested catches since 2017, per Pro Football Focus.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Jalen Hurts
To say the Philadelphia Eagles' decision to select Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts wasn't well-received may be an understatement.
The organization, specifically general manager Howie Roseman, values backup quarterbacks more than most, and it should.
Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz has an extensive injury history dating back to his prep days. Plus, Hurts adds value beyond a typical backup. Last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up will almost certainly be used in specific packages to take advantage of his athleticism.
"He's a great runner. He can throw on the run. He has a unique set of skills that we're going to look at it," head coach Doug Pederson told reporters.
Whether Hurts is forced to take over for Wentz at any juncture or just serves as an offensive weapon, he'll create opportunities for the Eagles offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Anthony McFarland Jr.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are set at running back...until they aren't.
James Conner is the team's lead back and an effective piece within the team's offensive scheme. However, he's never played a full season, with nine missed games over the last two years.
As such, the team's RB2 is an integral part of the unit.
General manager Kevin Colbert chose Maryland's Anthony McFarland Jr. with this year's 124th overall draft pick. McFarland and his 4.44-second 40-yard-dash speed brings extra juice to the backfield.
"He gives us a little changeup different from the guys we have," Colbert told reporters.
But there's possibly more to the selection. If Conner gets dinged at any point, McFarland has the talent to become Pittsburgh's starting running back by the end of the 2020 campaign.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk
The San Francisco 49ers offense took a significant step forward after the acquisition of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. But Sanders signed with the New Orleans Saints this offseason.
Deebo Samuel showed he's a star-in-the-making during Super Bowl LIV, but Kyle Shanahan's offense needs more at wide receiver. The team liked Brandon Aiyuk so much that Shanahan and general manager John Lynch seriously considered him with the 13th overall pick before trading up and choosing the Arizona State product with the 25th selection.
"I think it was two days before [the draft], I said to Kyle, 'You know what? I know people might raise some eyebrows, but I really don't care. At 13, if we get stuck, and we can't trade out, I'd be perfectly happy taking Aiyuk,'" Lynch said during an interview on The Peter King Podcast (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area's Josh Schrock). "And he said, 'I'm so glad you said that because I feel the same way.'"
Now, Aiyuk and Samuel can be on the field at the same time to create headaches for the opposition.
Seattle Seahawks: OG Damien Lewis
An organization's belief in a draft pick can be seen in how it reacts afterward.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks chose LSU guard Damien Lewis with this year's 69th overall draft pick. Two days later, the franchise released D.J. Fluker.
Lewis can immediately step in at right guard and bring a similar level of physicality. The 327-pound blocker was arguably the best pure guard prospect in this year's class, and Seattle saw an opportunity in the third round to get younger and create some salary-cap flexibility.
Yes, Wilson should be quite happy with another quality addition to Seattle's revamped front five.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Antoine Winfield Jr.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will never have an offseason like the one they're currently experiencing ever again.
A stellar draft class with multiple value picks became icing on the cake after they acquired quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
But the rookie class shouldn't be overlooked, especially the franchise's first two selections. Tristan Wirfs will immediately start at right tackle, but there could be a few bumps in the road as he refines his technique.
Antoine Winfield Jr. slid into the second frame even though he's the most instinctive defensive back in the class. Neither Jordan Whitehead nor Justin Evans should prevent the 2019 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year from being a Day 1 starter.
"He made big plays all year," director of player personnel John Spytek told reporters. "It didn't matter what game you watched. It wasn't just one or two games where you turned it on and saw interceptions."
Tennessee Titans: CB Kristian Fulton
Tennessee Titans brass doesn't know exactly how it will use this year's second-round pick, Kristian Fulton, but the team plans on finding a role for the incoming cornerback.
"I don't know where everybody is going to fit, but I certainly like [Fulton] and we'll start working with him as soon as we possibly can," head coach Mike Vrabel told reporters.
The Titans have four predominant outside corners in Fulton, Adoree' Jackson, Malcolm Butler and Johnathan Joseph. Logan Ryan remains a free agent after serving in the role the last three seasons.
All four have the capability of sliding over to the slot, but Jackson seems like the most likely candidate with Fulton playing on the outside in sub-packages. The rookie played nickel some, but it's probably better to make him comfortable first.
Washington Redskins: EDGE Chase Young
Chase Young brings Defensive Rookie of the Year potential to the Washington Redskins.
"It would have been very, very hard to convince me that somebody else would be as impactful as the guy that we drafted," head coach Ron Rivera said, per ESPN's John Keim.
This year's second overall selection fits an elite physical profile often reserved for No. 1 choices like Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett. Joe Burrow just happened to produce the greatest season by a quarterback in college football history to force the Bengals' hand with the top pick.
Young deserves the attention as the best non-quarterback in the class. His explosive qualities as an edge-rusher shouldn't just pace this year's rookie class; he could very well be one of the league's top sack artists in short order.