As the NFL pre-season kicks off, talks of which rookies are poised for an exciting first year always tend to ramp up. It’s a safe bet to say that most people are looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play, but I’m not so quick to share that same interest. There are other players that are much more intriguing to watch at this point, and I anticipate will be making more headlines than Manziel. I have decided to compile a list of the top-5 rookies to watch during the 2014 season.
5) Kelvin Benjamin, WR-Carolina Panthers
With the departure of Steve Smith, the Panthers had a void in their receiving core that needed an immediate solution. The organization feels they found just that in Benjamin. The 6-5, 240 pound monster of a WR helped Florida State clench the National Championship title with a spectacular catch in the end zone to win the game against Auburn. He has a TE frame with WR speed and agility. It also helps when you have Cam Newton throwing to you as well. Benjamin has not been talked about much this summer, but I fully expect that to change come Week 4 of the regular season.
4) Teddy Bridgewater, QB-Minnesota Vikings
Of all the rookie QB’s drafted, this is the guy in the best position to get the nod to start Week 1. His competition is against Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, two guys who have proven to be formidable 2nd string QB’s in this league. If Bridgewater, who many scouts and analysts thought was the most NFL ready QB in last years draft class, can live up to those early assessments, he will steal the starting role. Don’t expect a decision to be made by the Vikings coaching staff anytime soon, however. They have had QB issues since…well…since Brett Favre walked away from the game…again. The team is desperate to have someone under center they can rely on, and the general consensus amongst those who have participated in a variety of polls regarding this QB battle is that Bridgewater should be that guy.
3) Khalil Mack, LB-Oakland Raiders
There is so much uncertainty surrounding the Raiders right now, trying to make a prediction on how they will finish the year is borderline foolish. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are two aging, injury prone RB’s who when healthy, are always Pro-Bowl caliber. The jury is still out on Matt Schaub’s ability to throw the ball, and some are wondering if Derek Carr should get the early role of starting QB. If there is one thing Raiders fans can count on, it’s that their team drafted the best LB they could have hoped for in Khalil Mack.
Until the draft officially began, NFL analysts thought Mack should have been the favorite to be selected 1st overall. Lucky for the Raiders, he fell to them with the 5th pick. Arguably the most NFL ready rookie selected, Mack has a motor that is often compared to that of Ray Lewis. He brings the same fire, drive, and competitiveness that made the Raiders famous when they were considered Super Bowl contenders. On a team that has more than a handful of seasoned vets, Mack is going to be the guy Oakland looks to build around in a quest to return to the top of the NFL food chain.
2) Sammy Watkins, WR-Buffalo Bills
You want to talk about a play maker ready to make an impact right now, it’s Sammy Watkins. He is going to bring electricity to the Bills that they have not seen in a very long time. There were a lot of questions hanging over other draft picks heads pre-draft. Not this kid, with him it’s a “what you see is what you get” kind of situation. Strong, fast, agile, and with excellent hands, Sammy Watkins will be a force in the NFL for years to come.
The only question I have for him is will E.J. Manual be able to get him the ball often enough? I still have my reservations about Manual, especially after he displayed his inability to allow a play to end, instead injuring himself fighting for extra yards. Not the thing you want to see out of your new franchise QB. But now Manual has a true weapon to target, and if they can build a solid connection, Buffalo will be more than worth watching this season.
1) Jadeveon Clowney, OLB – Houston Texans
This is my number one selection simply because of the mystery that has encircled this young athlete for so long. While everyone can agree that he is the most explosive and athletic defensive end that we have seen in quite some time, there are so many questions that have people wondering if he should have been selected first in the draft or not. Is he a hard worker? Why did his numbers in college drop so significantly during his last season? Does he have a high motor? These are questions we may not receive answers to for a while.
What we do know is he is an absolute beast whose physical nature demanded double, even triple teams to slow him down. We know that being lined up opposite J.J. Watt is already giving offensive line coaches nightmares. We know that his pursuit of a scrambling QB is relentless. Despite all of this, there are still a ton of fans and analysts alike who expect Clowney to be a bust, while others see a future Pro-Bowler in him. The mystery just makes this guy that much more intriguing to watch as the year progresses.
Nothing is for certain in the NFL, but I know for a fact that these five guys will be the ones I look forward to seeing perform most on Sunday’s.