NFL

Predicting Which NFL Rookies Will Have the Biggest Day-One Impact

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY on Saturday, April 28, 2007
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With the NFL Draft now a thing of the past, teams will begin to move forward with rookie training camp, whether that’s virtual or in person. Not every rookie will come out firing and will have to wait their turn to contribute to their respective team. However, more than a few first-year pros ended up in situations in which they can contribute immediately. Here are the rookies who will have the biggest impact on Day one.

Chase Young, DE, Washington Redskins

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Chase Young #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Chase Young amassed 30.5 sacks over his three years with the Buckeyes, including 16.5 last year, which led the nation. Young is a force to be reckoned with, even as a rookie. He combines unbelievable power with the speed you would expect from someone 40 lbs lighter. While the Redskins didn’t necessarily need another defensive end after drafting Mississippi State product Montez Sweat last year, Young is simply too good to pass up on. He is a favorite for Rookie of the Year and could break the single-season sack record for rookies. The record is currently held by Jevon Kearse, who had 14.5 in 1999. To Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Daniel Jones: This is your warning.

Andrew Thomas, OT, New York Giants

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 13: Andrew Thomas #71 of the Georgia Bulldogs guards during a game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A rookie Andrew Thomas projects to have a significant role on the Giants offensive line almost immediately. The Giants ranked 29th in rushing attempts last year and 19th in rushing yards. Currently, they have veteran right tackle Cameron Fleming protecting Daniel Jones on the right side of the line. Fleming was average this past year, only surrendering two sacks and committing 4 penalties through 258 snaps. However, he was given a composite grade of 59.4 per Pro Football Focus and has only played one complete season in his entire career.

Thomas is a complete tackle with incredible lower body power. He is comfortable in both pass protection and run blocking and blocks with a violent demeanor. The consensus appears to be that Thomas will start the season at right tackle. Should that be the case, look for him to boost the G-Men’s offensive line right away.

 Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA - NOVEMBER 09: Clyde Edwards-Helaire #22 of the LSU Tigers rushes for a 5-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Chiefs had few holes to fill coming off a Super Bowl Season. They retained every offensive player from the championship unit and only lost two players on defense. That being said, if there were one weakness in the defending champs explosive offense, it would at running back. Current running back Damien Williams showed up a big way in the playoffs when the Chiefs needed him, but his play was sporadic at best during the regular season. He also suffered an injury that caused him to miss five games last year. 

Enter Edwards-Helaire, who is coming off a historic season with the LSU Tigers. He may be 5’8, but don’t let his size deceive you. He runs with power and excellent balance through contact. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he has the agility and strength to make defenders miss. He also presents a receiving threat out of the backfield, an important trait to have when Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback. Williams may be the starter Week 1, but Edwards-Helaire’s versatility and durability could result in meaningful touches in his first year.

Kristian Fulton, CB, Tennessee Titans

ATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 03: Kristian Fulton #22 of the LSU Tigers carries the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first half of their game at Tiger Stadium on November 03, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Kristian Fulton lands in a curious situation in Tennessee. He will begin the season behind Malcolm Butler as the backup boundary corner. However, Fulton’s path to playing time could take a multitude of routes. Malcolm Butler suffered a broken wrist in Week 9 against the Panthers, which landed him on the IR. Butler also has a tackling problem, as demonstrated by his 15.8 missed tackle percentage. The other starting corner is the former USC corner, Adoree Jackson. Jackson has lived up to his draft position after being a surprise first-round pick at 18th overall in the 2017 draft. He will take the starting spot of the departed Logan Ryan. 

If Jackson struggles in his first year as a starter or Butler has more injury issues, Fulton could be called on to be a big part of the Titan defense. The LSU product is more than capable, as he shows terrific coverage at the line and is physical at the catch point. His job will be made easier with the departure of Deandre Hopkins from the division and an overall weak receiver group in the AFC South. Look for Fulton to get meaningful reps early if Jackson struggles to replace Ryan in the secondary.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 26: Runningback Cam Akers #3 of the Florida State Seminoles on a running play during the game against the Syracuse Orange at Doak Campbell Stadium on Bobby Bowden Field on October 26, 2019 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles defeated the Orange 35 to 17.
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With the departure of Todd Gurley from the Rams this offseason, Akers could not have ended up in a better spot to see action right at the beginning of the season. A product out of Florida State, Akers had some truly impressive performances behind an atrocious Seminole offensive line. He broke current Viking running back Dalvin Cook’s rookie rushing record at Florida State and amassed 2,875 yards during his three years in Florida. He is the complete package as a running back and has elite speed at 4.47 in the 40. 

The most prominent advantage he has going for him is there is no real competition for the starting job. Competing for the running back job alongside him are Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Henderson, a third-rounder out of Memphis last year, struggled to make an impact even with Gurley’s injury issues. Brown, while slightly more productive than his counterpart Henderson, has also yet to show any clear indication that he should be the undisputed RB1 for the Rams coming into this season. Akers has a legitimate shot at earning meaningful touches from his first day on the field and may end up having the most successful rookie season out of all the running backs in the entire class. 

Lynn Bowden Jr, QB/WR, Oakland Raiders

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 26: Lynn Bowden Jr. #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats passes the ball against the Missouri Tigers in the second half of the game at Kroger Field on October 26, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Lynn Bowden Jr is a more athletic and explosive form of Taysom Hill, the Saints’ current converted skill position player.

A 2019 Consensus All-American, the Kentucky prospect did it all for the Wildcats. Although listed as a wide receiver, Bowden rushed for 1,530 yards in his three years with Kentucky, including 1468 yards this past season. He also has over a thousand yards receiving during his career and 495 career passing yards. He had 80 total kick and punt returns over his career and led the nation in punt return touchdowns in 2018. 

Bowden figures to assume a similar role with the Raiders. Coach John Gruden loves guys who can run a variety of his unique plays and schemes. Bowden will not be a starter at any position he ends up playing this year, but he will undoubtedly have one of the greatest all-around impacts on the team in general due to his positionless style.

Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - OCTOBER 05: Chase Claypool #83 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the football against the Bowling Green Falcons at Notre Dame Stadium on October 05, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana.
Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Steelers have had their ups and downs and a franchise over the last few years. Still, but they know how to do at least one thing very well.

That is to draft wide receivers.

From Antonio Brown to Juju Smith-Schuster to legendary receiver Hines Ward, the Steelers have had a very successful track record with wideouts. The trends suggest that will remain true with the former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool. 

Claypool showed out at the combine, posting an incredible 4.42 40 yard dash at 238 pounds. He also had a top 3 broad jump amongst all wide receivers. His performance at the combine matched his production at Notre Dame this year. After opting to return after his junior season, Claypool erupted for 66 receptions, 1037 yards, and 13 touchdowns. His 13 touchdowns were good for seventh in the country. Claypool may be poised for a transition to tight end in the pros, but his lack of blocking experience at Notre Dame may prevent that. Claypool should fit in well on the depth chart in Pittsburgh. 

He is currently behind third-year pro James Washington and former Toledo prospect Diontae Johnson. Both are solid players but are not the big physical presence that Claypool is. Claypool could see meaningful snaps in the red zone as a big target, and with the opposing team’s best corner on Smith-Schuster, Claypool may be able to take advantage of more undersized corners in his matchups. Look for Claypool to be a factor in the red zone this year for the Steelers.

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