Identifying The AFC’s Impact Rookies
By Kevin “KT” Turner
DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) — With the 2014 NFL season just weeks away, it’s time to roll out my series of NFL Preview pieces. First up: NFL rookies.
Which rookies will make an impact in the AFC?
For each team, I’m selecting one draft pick that I see having the biggest impact for his team during the 2014 season.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: ILB C.J. Mosley (1st Round, 17th Overall)
Seen as a safe pick in terms of on the field play, the questions about Mosley’s game really were about his injuries. He entered the draft with many red flags, but he’s slated to begin the season as a starter in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense. He did struggle in the team’s 2nd preseason game against Dallas, but that’s almost to be expected a few times this year with a rookie linebacker jumping right into the mix. If he can stay healthy, the Ravens will have themselves quite a player, and will also have a player that will keep Cowboys fans wondering….what if???
BUFFALO BILLS: WR Sammy Watkins (1st Round, 4th Overall)
In what was an outstanding 2014 WR draft class, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins pushed himself to the forefront. Obviously, wide receivers drafted in the top five of the draft are expected to contribute, but Watkins even more so, as Buffalo tries to surround 2nd year QB E.J. Manuel with weapons who can make plays with the ball in their hands. The 6’1″ wideout suffered a rib injury in Week 2 of the preseason, but look for him to get a lot of receptions as the Bills work hard to get the ball in his hands 7-10 times a day.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: C Russell Bodine (4th Round, 111th Overall)
1st round pick cornerback Darqueze Dennard will have some fighting to do if he wants to be an immediate starter for the Bengals, but 4th round pick Russell Bodine is currently set to be the starter. Despite a few shotgun snap issues, the rookie from North Carolina has the capability to handle nose guards in the 3-4, which normally gives young centers the most problems. Through two preseason games, Bodine appears set to be the opening day starter, snapping to the newly resigned Andy Dalton.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: QB Johnny Manziel (1st Round, 22nd Overall)
You really didn’t think I was going somewhere else with this did you? Sure Joel Botonio and Justin Gilbert appear to have key roles for the Browns, and we don’t even know yet if Manziel will be named the opening day starter, but I think it’s pretty clear the plan in Cleveland is for Manziel to take over. You don’t draft a quarterback in the first round without the ultimate plan being for him to be the starter. If he’s not the opening day starter, I see him taking over by Week 5, and I think he’ll do quite well.
DENVER BRONCOS: WR Cody Latimer (2nd Round, 56th Overall)
One of my favorite wide receivers in the draft was Cody Latimer, and I felt he was a steal for the Broncos in the late 2nd round. I honestly thought he’d go at the end of the first round, and to add him to Peyton Manning’s arsenal could be deadly. The Broncos added Emmanuel Sanders, while losing Eric Decker, but I think Latimer will end up with a 70 catch season this year for the Broncos.
HOUSTON TEXANS: DE Jadeveon Clowney (1st Round, 1st Overall)
We’ve already seen flashes in the preseason, where he almost decapitated the head of the opposing running back. He’ll be over-aggressive sometimes, possibly opening up huge holes. He could get caught cheating in play-action sometimes. But putting him on the opposite side of a healthy J.J. Watt will be the scariest thing in the entire NFL this year.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS : OL Jack Mewhort (2nd Round, 59th Overall)
Mewhort played tackle in college at Ohio State, but like Zack Martin, he’ll move inside to play guard for the Colts. The 6 ‘6″, 310 pounder is actually a really good candidate to stay on the interior offensive line, and will be an important piece of a group that must protect franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, not only this year, but years after he receives his contract extension.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: WR Marquise Lee (2nd Round, 39th Overall)
Lee was seen as a borderline first round prospect, and the Jaguars were thrilled to see hims slip all the way to 39. The idea in Jacksonville has always been for Chad Henne to start this year, and for Bortles to take over next year, but Bortles early preseason success might have changed things a bit. Either way, Lee was not only drafted to help Bortles, he was drafted because of his dynamic ability to immediately help out on an offense that has been starved for weapons. Lee will likely start the year as the #2 wide receiver behind Cecil Shorts.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: RB De’Anthony Thomas (4th Round, 124th Overall)
Thomas is the type of guy that you have to find a place for in your offense. He’s not a prototypical running back, and hasn’t proven that he’s capable of learning how to play WR, even though he’d be undersized. The question is how do you get him the ball, aside from special teams. The Chiefs will find a way. Think Darren Sproles, or even former Chief Dexter McCluster. They’ve already shown in the preseason that they’ll plan to use him both on the ground as well as through the air. He’s more of a lateral player, but his take it to the house potential every time he touches the ball is not only something defenses have to plan for, but it’s also something that makes 5’9”, 4.5 40 guys like him very valuable in the NFL.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: WR Jarvis Landry (2nd Round, 63rd Overall)
I was in the minority, in that I felt Landry could be a 1st round pick. He nearly slid all the way to the third round, partially because of his size at 5’11” and because of his lack of speed with a 40 at 4.77. He snatches the ball, he runs great routes, he’s a mini-version of Odell Beckham, his teammate at LSU. He’ll be behind Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace, giving Ryan Tannehill plenty of options as long as he can stay upright. Landry is a future 90-100 catch type of guy. While not the most explosive, he’s a pure hand-catching wide receiver who will help the Dolphins out immediately.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: DT Dominique Easley (1st Round, 29th Overall)
The Patriots really didn’t draft any immediate starters, and Easley just had his first full-pad workout, but he ran with the 2nd team. He’ll get some burn this year in their rotation, if he can stay healthy. He was one of my favorite players to watch on tape, due to his pure explosiveness. The Patriots took a risk on him, and I see it paying off, just maybe not as fast as other picks in the draft.
NEW YORK JETS: FS Calvin Pryor (1st Round, 18th Overall)
Pryor isn’t currently running with the starters, but I expect that to change sometime in the first half of the season. The hard-hitting safety suffered a concussion early in camp that has slowed him down a tad, but he had a good effort in the 2nd preseason game, leading some to believe he’s ready to start right now. I think he’ll play some immediately in a big nickel type scheme, and will take over as full-time free safety in the first half of the year.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: LB Khalil Mack (1st Round, 5th Overall)
All I need is what I heard from Bryan Broaddus of 105.3 The Fan and DallasCowboys.com, when he said that Khalil Mack was the only person who’s given Tyron Smith any problems this year. Obviously, he was speaking first-hand after seeing the Cowboys/Raiders joint practices in Oxnard. Mack will get to the QB at the NFL level. He’s not as explosive as Clowney, but he’s the same type of player in that offenses will have to game plan around him. He good.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: LB Ryan Shazier (1st Round, 15th Overall)
No offense to Zack Martin, who will be a fine NFL player, but with the state of the Cowboys defense, seeing Shazier go just one pick before the Cowboys selected at 16 is a bit gut wrenching. Shazier is already having a great preseason, stealing the show in the Steelers’ second game against Buffalo. He is the perfect player for their defense and the type of guy defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can get the most out of. No matter how awesome Zack Martin is, I feel this is a guy we’ll look back on and always remember how close he was to becoming a Dallas Cowboy.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: OG Chris Watt (3rd Round, 89th Overall)
He appears to have made it through the neck injury that slowed him at the beginning of camp, and the latest reports have him running at guard with the first team. Watt played on the inside of Zack Martin at Notre Dame, playing left guard, while Martin played left tackle. I had a 2nd round grade on him, and he went towards the back of the 3rd round. A great pick for San Diego and an immediate starter to help protect Phillip Rivers.
TENNESSEE TITANS: RB Bishop Sankey (2nd Round, 54th Overall)
A lot of pundits have Sankey as a rookie of the year candidate. I wouldn’t fight anyone about that, because I see him as a really good running back. He was one of my highest ranked backs, but for now he’s battling Shonn Greene for the starting job. By the time the season gets going, I predict Sankey becomes the lead back with Greene becoming more of a goal-line back. At 5’9” 210, he’s a tough runner who can run inside, as well as get to the corner. I think he’s built for 25 carries a game, and has the durability to handle a heavy load. He’ll be the 1,000 yard back the Titans are looking for with the departure of Chris Johnson
Kevin “KT” Turner is the producer of the Ben and Skin show, heard 3-7 pm Monday-Friday on 105.3 The Fan. He’s also a host of Fan Jam, heard weekends on 105.3 The Fan. You can reach KT by email at email@example.com and on twitter @ktfuntweets. KT wants you to know that he loves you.
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