Here’s a reductive way to look at rookies: you want your first round picks to be impact players by year one, your second round picks by year two, your third round by year three. It doesn’t always work like that in practice. One on side, your first round picks sometimes need a year or so to adjust. And on the flipside, your second or third round picks can sometimes contribute from day one. Here’s a look at some day two picks who could do just that.
The problem with starting this article with the earliest-picked players is they can seem bleeding obvious. Outside of Sammy Watkins, Buffalo have the “Seattle offensive line” of wide receiver depth charts. They are willingly paying Corey/Philly Brown money, for heaven’s sake.
A reliable, high-effort, technically-sound player like Zay Jones is a step in the right direction. Jones caught 1,746 yards of passes at mid-major competition last year. The step up in competition will be tricky, but it’s not as if the current roster is coping too well anyway. Receivers don’t tend to dominate in their rookie year, especially not one without the extreme physical traits to sometimes just get by on that. But this is about contributing, not dominating, and a technically-able, not-slow possession receiver should be able to do that.
You didn’t get many better names in the draft this year than Lamp. Nor did you get many better linemen. Lamp had an odd draft build-up, soaring up draft boards into top 12s or top 16s overall. I didn’t feel this level of love. I compared him to Joel Bitonio, who just secured a big-bucks contract extension in Cleveland. From last year, Cody Whitehair would have been a pretty apt comparison too, except Whitehair is more of a pure guard/center. Both, you’ll note, were picked around this range in their respective drafts too.
Lamp was a left tackle for Western Kentucky, much like Bitonio was, but people muttered (as they do) about arm length and that was that. Fact is, Lamp could in theory play anywhere on an offensive line which has been overhauled since ranking second-last in 2016, per ProFootballFocus. He could be a serviceable left tackle (though with Russell Okung there now, he won’t need to be). He could play right tackle when Joe Barksdale inevitably gets injured. I suspect he’ll start at left guard, day one, and after a couple of iffy moments in the first couple of weeks, he’ll excel.
Depending on the extent of your Latavius Murray mancrush, this is one heck of an obvious pick. Cook was a first-round talent beset by those “off-field issues”, hence the second-round pick. He also tested pretty poorly at the combine, with a slow 40 time particularly. Thing is, Cook’s never been a back to test you with breakaway speed. He was always, at college, a
shifty player with great vision, capable of finding a small gap or using receiving skills to make space for himself and make players miss.
Betting on a running back to contribute early in their professional career tends to be a safe bet. Minnesota’s existing running back stable – Murray, Jerrick McKinnon, err…Bishop Sankey? – isn’t exactly inspiring. I mean, I don’t know if Cook can transcend a mediocre O-Line, but I do know the existing options can’t. Cook has the opportunity, talent and pedigree. That’s why he’ll go that early in your fantasy draft, too.
Baltimore’s approach to their offense in this year’s draft is best summarised by their day 2 picks. To wit, three players who can help with the pass rush. It drove Mike Tanier over at Bleacher Report to entertaining distraction. But heck, the Ravens did have needs in their front seven, so why not just go for it?
Of these three, Bowser looks the most like a three-down impact player. Normally when rookies are listed at outside linebacker, they’ve played 4-3 end at college. So, they’re used to being among the bulkier, in-the-trenches bull-rush kind of guys who have to convert. Not so Bowser, who dropped into coverage plenty to go alongside his 8.5 sacks and acceptable run defense. He’s raw, but full of athleticism and easy to imagine being able to do a bit of everything from day one.
From the other two, Wormley is a run-stopping force with pass-rushing chops who occupied enough blocks to help Taco Charlton break out. You’d fancy he’ll be rotated in early. Williams looks like a fine third-down pass rusher to start with. Baltimore had question marks hanging over their pass rush this offseason, so there’s opportunity here.
I’ll admit that this is the one I’m least confident about on this list. But it’s also the most fun to think about. Kizer’s stock was up and down like a sine wave last year, eventually settling mid-second round because of issues around consistency, a lack of college success, and that eternally-coded mumbling about “maturity”.
A shame really, because he’s an incredibly talented quarterback who, if he puts it all together, will be even more of a steal than when Oakland drafted Derek Carr in the second round. Kizer makes beautiful throws, has good accuracy (when his receivers actually catch the damn thing), toughness and elusiveness, and decent field vision. His shortcomings are, like a lot of rookie quarterbacks, on consistency and decision-making. He’s in a perfect situation in Cleveland, even if I wasn’t sold on them drafting a quarterback. If Kizer gets to grips with the system (moving from shotgun to under center will be another challenge), he could well start in Week 1. He’s only got a pair of below-average starters in
Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler to get past. If he does, he has what looks like a fantastic offensive line to play behind, and a decent run game (including a very good pass-catching back) to help him on his way.
Sometimes everything just fits for a rookie to get in on the action early. The ferocious Giants defense lost one starter from 2016 – defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. And…well, lookie what we have here. You can mumble about whether to give rookies opportunities, and what it takes to develop a player. You can overthink it.
It’s as simple as this. Hankins’ backup in 2016 was Jay Bromley. Bromley was rated by PFF as the 109th-best defensive interior player in the league. That is, to be blunt, shite. Tomlinson was solid, dependable and above all consistent playing at possibly the toughest college level. Being consistently good is such an important attribute on the defensive interior, Tomlinson should thrive. Though I am rooting for him as he seems like a cool guy, and he’s a fellow trumpet player. We stick together.
Both the Colorado cornerbacks in this year’s draft flew under-the-radar, but much as I like Chidobe Awuzie, Witherspoon’s my favourite. He’s a long, rangy, instinctive corner, stuffed to the brim with speed, agility, athleticism, and one heck of a knack for deflecting passes. If he could tackle, and if this class weren’t so stuffed in the secondary, he’d probably have been a top-16 pick. So the 49ers have a bargain.
They also have no cornerbacks. Tramaine Brock was a starter last year. Then he got charged with domestic violence and child endangerment. So. We’re left with Jimmie Ward, K’Waun Williams, Will Redmond…and you thought the ‘Niners receiver corps was bad. But this is where projecting comes in – I really don’t see Witherspoon as a slot corner. If he’s going to contribute, it’s going to be on the outside, and that’s a trickier place for a rookie to start. Thing is, much as his tackling skills aren’t great, give him deep safety help, let him deflect passes, track running backs and play coverage as well as he did, and he might just be a star.
People gnashed their teeth at the fact New England didn’t pick until this slot, and still picked up a first-round talent. Rivers played at FCS college level, sure, but he was incredible there. Rivers formed an terrifying tandem with Avery Moss (drafted by the Giants this year), with the pass rush propelling Youngstown State to the FCS National Championship game. In three years, Rivers tallied 41 sacks, with 14 coming in 2016. Come draft time, Rivers became a darling of scouting reports everywhere.
If the Patriots had a weak point heading into this season, it was the pass rush. Trey Flowers is reasonable, but Kony Ealy is unreliable, and Rob Ninkovich is getting on in years. Rivers
will have a significant jump in competition, but his measurements suggest Belichick can use him on third down from Week 1, and there’s a simple path towards starting.
The Titans had #2 tight end Anthony Fasano on the field for over 50% of snaps last year before hotfooting to Miami. Those snaps aren’t going to be all picked up by core special-teamer Philip Supernaw. Nor are they by injury- and lack-of-effort-prone Jace Amaro. Sothere’s scope for Smith to play 30-35% of Titans snaps in a 2TE-heavy offense. Smith seems more willing than able blocker, but he’s streets ahead of plenty other top TE prospects from this year (hi, Evan Engram and Bucky Hodges).
Smith is dynamic and determined, and is third in receiving yards in his college programme’s history. Okay, said college is Florida International, but nonetheless for a tight end to achieve that is impressive. And whoever gets the TE2 spot in this Titans offense is going to get opportunity for 300-400 yards and 4-6 touchdowns this season, and playing opposite a wily veteran and able blocker in Delanie Walker will help no end.
A theme of this piece has been opportunity versus ability. When you get this far down, ability is hard to project. But there are few more open opportunities in the league than “New Orleans defensive line”. The Saints have had an abysmal defense for what seems like aeons. The pass rush is possibly the worst of that. Opposite Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan, Hendrickson will likely start below veterans Alex Okafor and Hau’oli Kikaha on the depth chart. But Okafor was so-so in four years in Arizona, while Kikaha is recovering from his third career ACL tear.
In any event, 4-3 defensive end is a position that benefits from rotation. Even if, as is likely, Okafor starts, don’t be surprised to see Hendrickson brought in on passing downs from the get-go. ProFootballFocus rated Hendrickson the most productive pass-rusher in college football last year. He recorded 9 sacks and 78 total pressures in 258 pass rush snaps. Before that, he recorded 15 sacks in 2015. Okay, so his college (Florida Atlantic), don’t play at elite college level, but those are big numbers! New Orleans should get this pass-rushing phenom on the field often.