One Rookie That Will Be Surprisingly Productive for Each NFL Team
Denard Robinson could make an immediate impact as a rookie running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 2012 NFL rookie class was as impressive a group of rookies as the league has ever had.
The emergence of top-two picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as immediate superstars was expected, but the rookie class became spectacular because of the many other surprise standouts that emerged during their rookie seasons.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a third-round pick, yet he was just as impressive as both Luck and RG3 as he led the Seahawks to the playoffs.
Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris, who finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards last season, was a sixth-round pick. Also a sixth-round pick was Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who set the NFL record for most field goals over 50 yards in a season and was an All-Pro selection.
Wilson, Morris and Walsh were just three of the many rookies who became unexpected standouts in their first respective NFL season.
The 2013 NFL draft class didn't have the star power of last year's draft, but as last year's rookie class showed, there should be plenty of rookies who will emerge as productive players between September and December of this year.
In the following 32 slides, we will take a look at one rookie from each team who may not have been a high draft pick or be receiving national attention, but could be a surprise breakout player in his rookie season.
The Arizona Cardinals could get a much-needed spark to their pass rush this season from fourth-round pick Alex Okafor out of Texas.
Okafor is a technically sound pass-rusher who can come in and make an immediate impact as a rusher off the edge. He does not have tremendous explosiveness and is not a great run defender, but he could be an immediate asset as a rotational pass-rusher.
Incumbent starting outside linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield each managed just four sacks for the Cardinals last season. While Okafor will have to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, his ability to turn the corner with speed and his outstanding hand play as a rusher will translate immediately.
Okafor could immediately emerge as the team's top pass-rushing outside linebacker, and he should quickly earn a place in the rotation with Acho, Schofield and free-agent addition Lorenzo Alexander.
The Atlanta Falcons used their first two picks in the 2013 NFL draft on cornerbacks. Their first-round pick, Desmond Trufant, will be expected to come in and immediately take on a starting or nickel cornerback role, but second-round pick Robert Alford could end up making a big impact this season as well.
Alford has to make a difficult jump from the FCS ranks (Southeastern Louisiana) to the NFL, but he has the talent to do so, quickly and effectively. An explosive athlete who is physical in coverage and has great ball skills, Alford is a good fit to play in the slot, and he has the talent to win the team's nickel cornerback job and make a big impact.
Alford is good at making plays on the ball, and he is certainly dangerous with the ball in his hands. He will have to prove himself quickly in order to get a spot among the top three cornerbacks, but he has the talent to do so.
At the very least, his speed and tackling ability for a defensive back could make him a special teams standout in his rookie season.
The Baltimore Ravens released Vonta Leach earlier this week, which should open immediate playing time at the fullback position for Kyle Juszczyk, their fourth-round compensatory selection out of Harvard.
While many teams have largely phased out the use of a fullback, the Ravens still employed one quite frequently last season. Leach lined up at fullback for 465 snaps during last year's regular season, the third-most among all NFL fullbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
While Juszczyk may not be quite the blocker that Leach is out of the backfield, he offers more than Leach as a receiver. While releasing Leach could indicate a decrease of fullback significance in the Ravens offense, the team's investment of a fourth-round pick in Juszczyk indicates that he should receive considerable playing time as the team's new starting fullback.
Leach is widely considered the NFL's best blocking fullback, so Juszczyk will immediately step into an important role as his replacement. He will serve as a lead blocker for Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but he could also play an important role as a receiving option out of the backfield.
New Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett used a flex tight end frequently in their offense last season at Syracuse. That role could quickly be reprised in the Bills' offense this season by seventh-round pick Chris Gragg.
Gragg lacks the size and blocking ability to be an in-line tight end in the NFL, but he is a dynamic athlete and skilled receiver who could be a very good situational fit in the Bills offense. Gragg can be flexed out as an inside receiver off the line, or he can be an effective receiver out of the backfield as an H-back.
Gragg gives the Bills versatility and athleticism that they do not have from any other tight ends on their roster.
The Bills added many talented receiving weapons in this year's rookie class. Second-round pick Robert Woods should be an immediate starter, while third-round pick Marquise Goodwin and undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers also have the talent to be immediate impact players.
Gragg, however, can play a unique role on their offense as a tight end/receiver/fullback, which Marrone and Hackett should take advantage of this season by finding ways to get him the ball.
The Carolina Panthers have one solid safety in Charles Godfrey, but there will be a wide-open competition next to him following a disappointing season for Haruki Nakamura.
Free-agent addition Mike Mitchell and second-year player D.J. Campbell will be the favorites to start at strong safety, but undrafted rookie Robert Lester could factor into the competition as well.
Lester is considered an option to start at strong safety, according to Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com, and given the weak talent crop at the position, that option is plausible.
He is not a great athlete, and he has some significant issues both in coverage and in tackling that caused his draft stock to plummet in his senior season. That said, he was one of the most high-impact playmakers on the Alabama defense that has led college football's past two national championship teams.
Lester isn't the favorite to win the job—Campbell lined up as the first-team safety at least one day in OTAs, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer—but he has a bigger opportunity for playing time than the Panthers' Day 3 draft selections. At the very least, Lester is a good bet to make the Panthers' roster for depth and to be a big contributor on special teams.
With the exception of longtime standout Lance Briggs, the Chicago Bears' linebacker corps sans Brian Urlacher will look very different in 2013.
They signed free agents D.J. Williams and James Anderson to fill starting spots, but they also added two talented draft picks in Florida's Jon Bostic and Rutgers' Khaseem Greene.
As a second-round pick, Bostic will be expected to challenge Williams for the starting middle linebacker spot immediately. The fourth-round pick Greene, however, may prove tough to keep off the field.
Greene is an athletic linebacker with great instincts. He can make plays from sideline to sideline and is a hard-hitting playmaker who excels at forcing fumbles. He is also a skilled coverage linebacker.
Greene's best fit on an NFL defense is at weak-side linebacker, where he will likely back up Briggs as a rookie. Though Anderson is no slouch on the other side of the defense, Greene should challenge for immediate snaps with his all-around game and ability to rally to the ball.
At the very least, expect Greene to make some key plays as a rotational outside linebacker and to make a big impact as a special teams player.
Sixth-round wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is going to have to make a big impression in the preseason as he competes for playing time among a deep group of receivers in Cincinnati. That said, the Arkansas product has the game as a vertical receiver to get on the field as a rookie and emerge as another playmaker on the Bengals' weapon-laden offense.
Hamilton should have an opportunity to compete with second-year wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones for playing time at wide receiver. While Sanu has the edge on the competition to be the No. 2 wideout, Hamilton could make an immediate impact in vertical passing situations.
Hamilton is a skilled downfield receiver who has more deep receiving ability than either Sanu or Jones. Even if he is only the team's fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart, the Bengals could make an extra effort to get him on the field on 3rd-and-long and similar situations where they are looking to hit a receiver with an intermediate-to-deep throw.
Hamilton is not particularly quick or explosive, but he has the polish to come in and make big plays right away as a rookie.
Due to a lack of size and strength, Leon McFadden has been projected by most as a slot cornerback. After being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 2013 draft, however, he is likely to end up as a starting cornerback on the outside.
While McFadden may be better suited for playing as a nickel cornerback, the San Diego State product is already the team's best option to start opposite Joe Haden. He makes up for subpar measurables with great quickness and good physicality. He is an instinctive playmaker who plays the ball well.
Whether he sees the majority of his snaps outside or in the slot, he is capable of coming in and playing right away. While bigger, faster outside receivers could give him trouble, he should at least provide an immediate upgrade in coverage over Buster Skrine, and he will not be a liability in run defense.
He is an experienced cornerback who can be both a playmaker and a steady presence in the secondary, but he could also excel on special teams if used in that capacity.
The Dallas Cowboys have a very talented starting duo of cornerbacks in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but there is little depth behind them. As a result, fourth-round pick B.W. Webb is another small-school cornerback in the 2013 rookie class who should earn immediate playing time.
Webb is a great fit to play inside as a nickel/dime cornerback, where he should challenge slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick for immediate playing time. During an interview with Sirius XM Radio in May, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Webb is a "real, legitimate candidate to come in and compete for a lot of playing time, especially in our money packages" (h/t Dallas Morning News).
Webb is an explosive athlete who does a terrific job of making plays on the ball in the air with his recovery speed and leaping ability.
He isn't quite polished enough from a technical standpoint to thrive immediately on the outside, and he has to make a tough transition from William & Mary to the NFL. But in a situational role, he could be a dangerous playmaker when he steps onto the field.
Webb should also be an immediate special teams standout. He could receive repetitions as a kickoff/punt returner, but he could be a terrific addition to kickoff/punt coverage teams as well.
Quanterus Smith likely would have been a Day 2 draft selection if not for a torn ACL that he suffered during his senior season at Western Kentucky. He fell to the fifth round, where the Denver Broncos may have selected one of the 2013 NFL draft's biggest steals.
Smith has made quick progress from his injury. He participated in individual and position drills during OTAs and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp, according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post.
Smith is an explosive edge rusher who combines a terrific first step with great length and strong pass-rushing moves. If fully healthy for the start of the season, he can make an immediate impact as a situational pass-rusher opposite Von Miller.
He will be groomed as an eventual replacement for former starting defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who Denver released this offseason after his agent didn't get the paperwork in on time. Dumervil finished his rookie season as a situational pass-rusher with 8.5 sacks, and Smith has the pass-rushing ability to make a similar impact in 2013.
No. 5 overall pick Ezekiel Ansah gets all the hype, but he wasn't the only athletic freak the Detroit Lions drafted at defensive end this year. Like Ansah, fourth-round pick Devin Taylor combines terrific length with great athleticism, giving him high upside as a defensive end.
Starting opposite Jadeveon Clowney last season at South Carolina, Taylor looked like a player who hadn't quite figured out how to take advantage of his measurables on the football field. He has to become more fluid and technically sound, but if he can progress quickly in the preseason, he could immediately earn meaningful playing time on the Lions' defensive line.
The Lions lost their top three defensive ends from last season, which leaves them very thin on talent at the position. Taylor can be disruptive as an outside-inside rusher and as a big, long run-stopper. He could also end up playing an important rotational role behind projected starters Ansah and Jason Jones.
Taylor hasn't shown yet that he has the pass-rushing fluidity to be a sack machine in the NFL, but he is athletic in pursuit and strong enough to beat NFL offensive linemen. Without any other obvious candidates to step up for the Lions at defensive end, expect Taylor to begin making a name for himself as a rookie.
For a sixth-round pick out of Illinois State, Nate Palmer has a very good opportunity to come in and contend for immediate playing time with the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers have very little depth behind starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, which opens up an opportunity for Palmer to make an immediate impact as a rotational player at the position.
Palmer was a very productive pass-rusher at Illinois State, and he is well suited to play the hybrid outside linebacker role in the Packers' 3-4 defense. He is a good athlete who can get into the backfield quickly off the edge.
Palmer needs to make a tough transition from the FCS level to the NFL, and he probably won't be great as a rookie. The opportunity is certainly there for him, however, as his top competition behind the starters will come from Dezman Moses and converted defensive end Mike Neal.
With his combination of size, athleticism and tackling ability, Palmer should make an immediate impact for the Packers on special teams.
Following the departure of Connor Barwin this offseason, the Houston Texans drafted two pass-rushers in the middle rounds to provide depth behind starters Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus.
They drafted LSU's Sam Montgomery in Round 3, but fourth-round pick Trevardo Williams is more likely to make an immediate impact as a rookie. The Connecticut product is a more natural fit to make the transition to outside linebacker.
Williams is an explosive athlete with great speed but also has good strength and decent pass-rushing technique. He is best suited to rotate in as a pass-rusher in his rookie year, but he could contribute against the run as well.
Following rookie minicamp, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said Williams was "a little ahead of Montgomery" (h/t HoustonTexans.com).
If that continues to be the case—which it likely will—Williams is a good fit to reprise Mercilus' role from last season. As a rookie last year, Mercilus rotated in as the team's third outside linebacker and finished the season with six sacks.
Kerwynn Williams isn't an obvious choice to make an immediate impact based on his situation. He is a seventh-round pick joining an Indianapolis Colts roster that became very crowded at the running back position with the addition of free agent Ahmad Bradshaw earlier this week.
That said, Williams stands out as the roster's most dynamic and explosive runner. He is a speedy and shifty scatback who can make defenders miss with subtle, sharp cuts. He is also a skilled receiver out of the backfield.
Given his elusiveness, Williams should be able to carve out a situational role on the Colts' running back depth chart. He is not much of a between-the-tackles runner, but he will provide a good complement to the more physical Bradshaw and Vick Ballard.
Williams should get a small share of carries and receptions as a rookie, but his biggest opportunity to make an impact in 2013 will likely come as a kickoff returner.
He was Utah State's leading kickoff returner for his first three seasons on the team. His open-field running ability makes him very dangerous in that role, which he is expected to take over for the Colts, according to Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.
Denard Robinson played quarterback at Michigan and was one of college football's most explosive athletes and dynamic runners. A fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Robinson's skill set should immediately translate to making impact plays as an offensive skill-position player in the NFL.
Robinson is not expected to play a huge role in his rookie season. Jaguars general manager David Caldwell told Alex Marvez of Fox Sports that Robinson will likely receive "10 to 15 snaps" on offense per game in 2013.
Nonetheless, he could be very effective in a limited role. He is a dangerous runner, both outside and between the tackles, and will also be developed as a receiver out of the backfield. He can outrun defenders with his speed and has good moves, making him a consistent big-play threat.
Marvez said Robinson is expected to be a kickoff returner for the Jaguars. He has also taken snaps at quarterback in OTAs, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, which suggests his possible usage as a Wildcat quarterback.
Whether it be as a ball-carrier, receiver out of the backfield, kickoff returner or even as a Wildcat quarterback, expect Robinson to be an X-factor for the Jaguars offense in 2013. Opposing defenses will have to pay attention when Robinson enters the game, as he has the open-field running ability to make opponents pay.
Running back is typically the easiest position for rookies to step in and make an immediate impact, which could be the case for third-round compensatory selection Knile Davis in Kansas City.
Jamaal Charles is the only proven running back on the Chiefs roster, and he is most consistently effective when used in a role where he receives 12 to 15 carries per game. If Davis can prove his ability to run against NFL defenses in the preseason, he could immediately see a solid number of touches out of the backfield in his rookie season.
As a big back with explosive speed and agility, Davis has the potential to help form a terrific one-two punch in Kansas City.
The biggest concern for Davis is that he has not had a productive season since 2010. He missed the entire 2011 season with an ankle injury, and he did not look like the same running back in 2012, managing just 377 yards on 112 carries. He did not exhibit the same explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability in 2012 that led him to a 1,322-yard season as a sophomore.
Davis looked to be back to form at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. If his explosiveness shows to be back on the field as well, he could be a very valuable weapon for the Chiefs offense in 2013.
According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, second-year running back Lamar Miller is expected to overtake Daniel Thomas and become the feature back for the Dolphins this season. Fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee should also have a shot to jump Thomas on the depth chart and become Miller's primary complement at running back.
Gillislee does not have the explosive athleticism of Miller or the power of Thomas, but he is a well-rounded back who can produce right away in an NFL backfield. He is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who takes contact well, while he also has very smooth cuts to make defenders miss.
One area where Gillislee could specifically play an immediate role is in pass protection. Gillislee is unspectacular as a receiver out of the backfield, but his ability to pick up blitzers could make him an important addition to the lineup in passing situations.
Gillislee doesn't stand out as much as the running backs drafted ahead of him, but he could easily be one of the rookie class' best backs. He should be an asset as both a ball-carrier and pass-protector if he gets the chance to play in 2013.
Gerald Hodges could go straight from being a fourth-round pick to an immediate starter on the Minnesota Vikings' defense. Erin Henderson has moved to middle linebacker in OTAs, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, which would leave the weak-side linebacker position open for Hodges to seize.
The Vikings do not have much competition on the roster for Hodges, who is capable of taking on a starting role. While there is nothing that particularly stands out about his game, he is a rangy linebacker who plays the run well and is also effective in coverage.
Hodges is unlikely to be a star as a rookie, but he shouldn't be a liability either. His top competition for a starting spot could come from fellow Penn State product and seventh-round draft pick Michael Mauti, but Hodges should be penciled in at this point.
The Vikings will be relying on Hodges to step up as a rookie. If he doesn't, it could be another rookie—Mauti or undrafted addition Nathan Williams (Ohio State)—who has to move up and fill the void at weak-side linebacker.
As a second-round pick on a team starved for wide receivers, Marshall product Aaron Dobson is expected to make an immediate impact for the New England Patriots. How big of an impact he makes as a rookie could be surprising.
The Patriots have no established outside receivers on their depth chart, which gives Dobson the opportunity to immediately emerge as the Patriots' No. 1 flanker and Tom Brady's go-to outside weapon.
Dobson is a skilled downfield receiver with great size and hands. With an elite quarterback leading a consistently prolific offense, Dobson could easily put up huge numbers in his rookie season if he catches on quickly.
The Patriots need a receiver who can get deep and use his size to make big plays up the sideline. If Dobson can be that player, he will have many opportunities to catch the ball and could put up impressive numbers for a rookie wideout.
Drafted into an offense that frequently uses three or four wide receivers, New Orleans Saints fifth-round pick Kenny Stills enters a good situation. While the Saints have two solid starters in Marques Colston and Lance Moore, Stills will have a legitimate shot to compete his way into the No. 3 or No. 4 spot on the team's receiving depth chart.
Joe Morgan is the favorite to earn the No. 3 job, although he is coming off a DUI arrest in May. Second-year receivers Nick Toon and Chris Givens will also be in that competition, but neither player has an NFL reception.
Stills is a talented wideout who showed the skills at Oklahoma to be an immediate NFL weapon. He may be best suited to play in the slot as a third or fourth receiver. He does not have great size, but he is a fast wideout who runs strong routes and is good at getting open for intermediate targets.
If Stills can earn a spot among the Saints' top four receivers—which he should have a good shot to do—he will have a chance to make plays for quarterback Drew Brees this season. In one of the NFL's most prolific offenses, Stills could be in a very good position to succeed.
The New York Giants lost an integral piece of their three-man defensive end rotation with the departure of unrestricted free agent Osi Umenyiora this offseason. Third-round pick Damontre Moore will have an immediate opportunity to fill that role, and he is capable of taking advantage.
Moore is going to be used as both a defensive end and outside linebacker for the Giants, according to Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. This arrangement should give him many opportunities to rotate into the game as a rookie.
Coming off a 12.5-sack season at Texas A&M, Moore can immediately rotate in as a pass-rusher at both defensive end and as a "joker" strong-side linebacker. He is also a physical and tough defender who tackles well and can be an asset in run defense.
Moore should have immediate opportunities to rotate in at defensive end with Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, but also at strong-side linebacker with Keith Rivers and Aaron Curry.
The New York Jets completely overhauled the guard position this offseason. They signed free agents Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman as potential starters, but also drafted Kent State's Brian Winters in the third round and Michigan's Will Campbell, who is being converted from defensive tackle, in Round 6.
Of the two rookies, Winters has a legitimate chance to start on the Jets' offensive line as a rookie. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Jets head coach Rex Ryan has yet to declare Colon or Peterman as a starter, and Winters is rotating in as he competes with both for the same starting spot.
Winters, who is kicking inside from the left tackle position he played at Kent State, could quickly become the team's best guard. He does not have outstanding strength or athleticism, but he is a tough, physical, technically sound mauler who wears down his opponents.
The Jets are replacing two starters at guard, and the best-case scenario may be for Winters to step up and prove himself ready to start as early as Week 1.
It would be hard for any quarterback to perform as well as Russell Wilson did as a rookie, let alone a mid-round pick. But if there is a surprise quarterback who could emerge in the 2013 rookie class, it could be the Arkansas product who shares the Wilson surname (no relation).
Fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson isn't currently in line to be the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback, but that doesn't mean he won't start as a rookie.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told the Contra Costa Times in May that Matt Flynn is the team's starting quarterback "until the competition dictates otherwise." While Flynn is the projected starter at this point, the competition could dictate otherwise if Wilson impresses through training camp and the preseason.
Wilson has more downfield throwing ability than Flynn and more upside as a long-term starter. He is a skilled pocket passer who is capable of being the NFL's top rookie quarterback this season if he earns the opportunity to play.
Even if Flynn starts the season out as the starter, Wilson could push to overtake him by midseason if Flynn struggles and Wilson continues to develop positively. Christopher Hansen, Bleacher Report's AFC West Lead Writer, tweeted that he likes Wilson's chances of becoming the starter at some point during the season if Flynn "isn't getting the job done."
The Philadelphia Eagles could potentially have a brand new starting four in their secondary comprised of free-agent additions (cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung).
Another new addition to the team who could compete for playing time at safety is fifth-round pick Earl Wolff.
As he develops, Wolff could prove to be the team's best option at strong safety. Like Chung and Kurt Coleman, Wolff is a physical run-support safety who is best at making stops in the box. That said, he may be also be a coverage upgrade over both Chung and Coleman.
Wolff is unlikely to be an immediate starter at safety, where the Eagles also have Nate Allen, but it is not out of the question. Wolff received first-team repetitions at the end of OTAs, according to Bo Wulf of PhiladelphiaEagles.com.
At the least, Wolff could see some playing time in some packages as a third safety. He should also be a terrific addition out of the gates to the Eagles' kickoff and punt coverage teams.
Many compared Oregon State product Markus Wheaton to Mike Wallace in the pre-draft process, so it was quite appropriate that the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Wheaton will now be faced with the task of filling Wallace's shoes in the Steelers lineup. He is capable, and if he can come close to doing so right away as a third-round pick, he will be considered a steal.
While Emmanuel Sanders should see an expanded role on the outside with Wallace's departure, Wheaton should immediately become one of the Steelers' top three receivers. He is an explosive athlete with both long speed and lateral agility, and he can be a weapon both outside and in the slot.
In three-receiver sets, Wheaton will likely rotate outside and inside with Sanders opposite of No. 1 wideout Antonio Brown. Regardless of whether he is the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, there should be plenty of opportunities available. As the team's third receiver last season, Sanders racked up 74 targets.
Wheaton does not have great size, but he is a physical receiver who attacks the football in the air and runs good routes to get open. His all-around skill as a receiver and big-play ability should make him a major weapon in the Steelers offense right away.
The San Diego Chargers did not retain free-agent nose tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Antonio Garay, which left them in need of a backup nose tackle for Cam Thomas. The answer to that need will likely come in the form of Kwame Geathers, an undrafted free agent from Georgia.
A massive and powerful nose tackle who weighed in at 6'5" and 342 pounds at the combine, Geathers is a stout run-stopper with decent quickness for a nose tackle. As Thomas' backup, Geathers could play an important rotational role in the middle of the Chargers' three-man front.
Thomas played 404 snaps last season, while Franklin and Garay combined for 436, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). While Thomas will likely play more snaps in 2013, Geathers can be used to spell him, especially with his bulk and power against the run.
The Chargers will look to bring pressure from their three-man defensive front this year, and Geathers' ability to plug gaps in the middle will help the defensive ends next to him and the linebackers behind him make plays.
With Michael Crabtree likely out for the season due to a torn Achilles, the door is wide open for the 49ers' other wide receivers to step into a major role in the San Francisco offense. One player with a real shot to seize that opportunity is fourth-round pick Quinton Patton.
Patton was very productive at Louisiana Tech, and he has a game that should translate quickly to an NFL offense.
He is a very skilled receiver who has great hands and body control. He is a crisp route-runner who does a good job getting open all over the field. He is a very good intermediate receiver who is also good at tracking the ball deep.
Patton has the talent to immediately challenge 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins for the starting flanker spot opened up by Crabtree's injury. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday that Patton "elevated himself" with his performance in the team's mandatory minicamp (h/t The Press Democrat).
The rookie is a versatile wideout who can line up both outside and in the slot. If Patton beats out Jenkins, he could put up big numbers as a rookie. Even if he does not, he could also be productive immediately out of the slot as the team's third or fourth receiver.
Most expected Jesse Williams to be selected much higher than the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, but he could end up playing a role far bigger than that of a typical fifth-round pick in his rookie season.
Williams was an outstanding gap-filling, run-stuffing nose tackle at Alabama, but he also has the quickness to shoot gaps and penetrate into the backfield. He will be shifting more toward the latter initially, as the Seattle Seahawks will be using him as a 3-technique defensive tackle, according to Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times.
Fortunately for Williams, the shift to the 3-technique role gives him the best opportunity for immediate playing time. The Seahawks are replacing Alan Branch at that spot on the defensive line, and Williams could immediately push free-agent addition Tony McDaniel for the starting spot.
McDaniel is unspectacular, and Williams has huge upside as a disruptive force in the middle. If he can eventually overtake McDaniel—or at least rotate in against the run—he can form an intimidating interior presence alongside nose tackle Brandon Mebane.
The St. Louis Rams are replacing Steven Jackson, their star running back of the past nine seasons. That gives fifth-round pick Zac Stacy a great opportunity to attain an immediate role in the Rams' backfield.
As Rams beat writer Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests, the Rams are likely to split carries between two or three backs by committee rather than establishing a new feature back. Stacy will have to prove his worth against second-year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, but he should be able to earn an immediate share of the carries.
Stacy is a talented running back who has terrific vision and takes on contact with good pad level. He is not as explosive of a runner as Richardson or Pead, but he can be an asset with his ability to follow blockers, find holes and run hard between the tackles.
Stacy figures to play a key role as the Rams change the guard from one star back to a committee approach. While he goes into the competition as the No. 3 back in the stable, he could change that quickly if he starts out his rookie season strong.
A physically imposing defensive end with both outside and inside rushing ability, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fourth-round pick William Gholston is the top candidate to fill the void left by departed free-agent pass-rusher Michael Bennett.
The Michigan State product could earn an immediate role on the defense behind starters Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers as both an outside-inside rusher and a run stopper. He has the size, strength and quickness to line up at both defensive end and defensive tackle.
Gholston is not a tremendously explosive or nimble athlete, and his technique needs refinement. That said, he has the strength, athleticism and rush skills to be a disruptive rotational player in 2013.
It would come as a massive surprise if Gholston has as much pass-rush productivity as Bennett did last season—a season in which the latter racked up nine sacks. That said, he has the potential to develop into a similar player as a pass-rusher, and that process could start with a strong rookie year.
The Tennessee Titans have done a good job of completely revamping their interior offensive line this offseason. They signed free agent Andy Levitre to a lucrative contract to start at left guard and drafted Chance Warmack with the No. 10 overall pick to start at right guard. They also added free agents Chris Spencer and Rob Turner to provide additional interior line depth.
The lone solid point of the Titans' interior offensive line last season was center Fernando Velasco, who is a quality starting center worthy of keeping his job in 2013. However, the Titans could complete their overhaul of the offensive line by starting fourth-round pick Brian Schwenke as a rookie.
Schwenke is a quick, physical center who is expected to be the future linchpin holding the Titans' offensive line together in the middle. As the Titans work to build their way back up the AFC pecking order, they could make that future immediate by starting Schwenke as a rookie, if he proves that he is ready.
The Titans didn't draft Schwenke in Round 4 to have him sit on the bench for long. He is an intelligent, talented center who has the skill set to win the starting job outright in his rookie season.
The Washington Redskins were very weak at the safety position last season, which leaves the door wide open for rookie safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo to compete for starting spots immediately.
Washington drafted Fresno State's Thomas first in Round 4, but the sixth-round pick Rambo could end up making a bigger impact as a rookie.
The Georgia product is lining up at free safety while Thomas is working as a strong safety, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Both players are ball hawks, but Rambo is a better deep coverage safety, which is what the Redskins have lacked at the safety position.
While Brandon Meriweather will likely keep his starting spot at strong safety—at least going into the 2013 season—Rambo has a better shot of beating out Reed Doughty for the starting free safety job. While Rambo needs to become more disciplined, both on and off the field, he has more upside and talent than Doughty, who belongs in a reserve role.
Even if Rambo does not win the starting job outright, he should at least earn defensive snaps as an athletic playmaker who can strike opponents and make big plays on the back end. He could also be an immediate asset on special teams with his range and hitting ability.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.