by Oliver Connolly
So we’re now into the 2014-15 football season. Baseball’s All-Star break is over, rookies have assembled for training camp and we’re ready get some live football action going. Now it’s time to ramp up the weekly OC!
This week I’m looking at those rookies, breaking from the traditional format of four quarters with four different topics, and selecting which rookies will have an impact on their squads in the first season. I’ve opted for those not selected in the first two rounds of this year’s NFL draft. Those players should have an impact and I’m looking to highlight some who some fans may not have heard of yet, but certainly will by January.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, Titans
Mettenberger is a talent who’s been groomed for the NFL. His arm strength was easily the best of any of this class. While rookies go through their teething pains it’s much better as a coach to have a player who can get himself out of a mental error by using his cannon of an arm. Playing behind the unfortunately injury-prone Jake Locker (missed 14 games in past two years) gives Mettenberger an excellent chance to come in and prove his worth at some point during the season and possibly usurp Locker.
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Panthers
Gaffney is in a difficult spot in Carolina. He’s sat behind both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. However both are once again injury prone and Ron Rivera now likes to run a complete three-man committee. The scheme fit is perfect for the former Stanford Cardinal; he can pound it inside but is sneakily effective at getting in and out of a crease
Antone Exum, DB, Vikings
Exum is everything the Vikings new head coach, Mike Zimmer, will be looking for. Despite small playing time in school – largely due to an ACL tear – the versatile safety/cornerback brings attitude, athleticism and instincts that remind me of Tyrann Mathieu. He just knows how to get to the football. I worry about him being isolated in Zimmer’s scheme, but if he can adapt quickly he has all the tools to thrive from week one in a pass heavy division.
Jemea Thomas, DB, Patriots
The Pats took Thomas in the sixth round out of Georgia tech and is another scheme and skill versatile player. He’s a true enforcer and is always willing to sacrifice his body and health. Everyone around the Georgia Tech program raves about him and I’m sure the veteran players will have an immediate respect for the young man who at just 5’9 – 192 – really brings aggressiveness and pure strength way above his size.
Bruce Ellington, WR, 49ers
A rookie sleeper everyone is raving about. It looks as though this may be the year that Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers may implement more spread concepts and move to a pass-first game. Ellington possesses world class speed and is the option the 49ers could need to blow the top off a defense. He’s also a devastating YAC player meaning the 49ers can now use more multi-packaged plays.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Packers
Lyerla may have more upside than anyone in the entire draft. It sounds like hyperbole for a player who went undrafted and was kicked out of school for his last year but it’s absolutely warranted. His body size resembles that of Aaron Hernandez and he can generate yards like Hernandez’s ex-teammate Rob Gronkowski. Think of a body that puts the best of Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham all into one. It’s a frightening thought, particularly when you couple that with the best quarterback in pro-football and a top-3 offensive mind in Mike McCarthy. IF he can get his act together of the field, and I for one hope he does, he’s going to be an all-time draft steal and a great player for many years.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Ravens
Another player who’s showed some scary off the field behaviour. But on the field Taliaferro might be the running back of Gary Kubiak’s dreams. He has everything; size, speed and vision. Everything that was lacking from last year’s Ravens who had one of the worst rushing performances in history. Ray Rice’s expected ban will shift Lorenzo up the depth-chart even further, he just has to keep his nose clean.
Terrance West, RB, Browns
The Browns nailed the draft. And outside of Manziel, West may have the most upside. A small school FCS phenom who dominated last year with a great blend of power and speed as well as an innate toughness. Ben Tate is the player most expect to help upgrade the running back position but watch out for West who could be the long-term Browns starter.
Lamin Barrow, ILB, Broncos
Barrow is perfect for the Broncos. They’re one of if not the most loaded teams in all of football and Barrow displays just what John Elway did so well this offseason. Yes, they made some big name splashes, but Elway looked at exactly what caused Denver trouble last year and targeted niche players. Barrow is an athletic player who is being moved inside to help in sub-packages. He can cover the entire field on third downs and is equally happy zoning underneath as he is chasing the quarterback or covering man-to-man.
Davante Adams, WR, Packers
Any wide receiver who can gain his own yards after the catch paired with the best QB has a chance to have a real impact in year one and Adams will be no different.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Bills
Richardson is a good guard with underrated athleticism. He flat out stunk at the senior bowl and in workouts and was taken off as many as ten draft boards but the fact remains he’s a behemoth of a man who has the size to play in the league as long as he can learn to get his hands inside consistently.
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Washington
As much as I love Antone Exum’s nasty attitude, Breeland brings the same multiplied by ten. He’s a fierce competitor out of Clemson who Washington took in the fourth round. Breeland has a funky looking frame but runs and moves extremely fluidly particularly when breaking out of peddle. He’s going to be an immediate press cover contributor and projects to be a long term starter.
De’Anthony Thomas , WR, Chiefs
The Chiefs have a shockingly lacking amount of offensive playmakers, especially considering their quarterback struggles to make plays on his own. In Thomas they have a player as dynamic as they come. In three years at Oregon, Thomas amassed 46 total touchdowns (wow) 3,186 yards from the line of scrimmage (wowzer) and 2,159 returning yards (holy cow). Like everyone I worry about his size and him translating that sort of production to the next level, but his Olympic speed makes him a deadly threat no matter what.
Jonathan Newsome, LB, Colts
Newsome may make more highlight real plays than any of the big name rookies this year. He’s lightening quick with an impressive array of moves and counter moves. The Colts are lacking massively in the edge-rush department and that’s confounded by losing key piece Robert Mathis for four games to suspension. Newsome has, in my opinion, more talent and ability to contribute than former first rounder Bjoern Werner. His only issue, as with many on this list, is off the field. If he can screw his head on and make the life decision that playing professional football is better than smoking weed he’ll be a great piece in Pagano’s defense.
Troy Niklas, TE, Cardinals
Niklas doesn’t possess the upside or raw talent off other tight ends in this year’s class but his demonstrative demeanour, competitive will and great football brain are going to carry him a long way. He’s a wonderful third option in the Cardinals offense behind Fitzgerald and Floyd.
Tom Savage, QB, Texans
I had Savage rated higher than most coming into the draft and I love the pairing with the quarterback inclined Bill O’Brien. He has a prototypical NFL frame and can really deliver a fast ball when he wants to. He should have a productive enough rushing attack and a HOFer as reliable as they come on the outside (if Andre Johnson stays) everything is cued up for Savage to take the starters reigns at some point in the season.
James White, RB, Patriots
White is a total long shot. He may not even make the Pats roster. But it’s another player who’s extremely competitive and adds a different skill set to that of Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley. He’s a solid player who can run the ball and was Wisconsin’s all-time leading receiver from the running back position. He should do well in the league and with the Patriots.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts
If I had the same job as my good friend Neil Dutton (Fantasy guru and podcasting breather) I’d be screaming at fantasy players everywhere to nab Moncrief early on. For starters he’s playing for a top-5 quarterback but the main plus for Donte are those around him who’ll be challenging him for targets. Hakeem Nicks is unreliable (forget the ‘contract year’ nonsense talk, he was in one last year), Reggie Wayne is recovering from knee reconstruction and TY Hilton is a burner not a possession receiver. Pass over Moncrief at your own foolishness, he’s going to be a big time first year player.
Storm Johnson, RB, Jaguars
I really believe Storm Johnson will shock some people with just how talented he is. The former UCF standout can perform in a one-cut scheme or a downhill power scheme. The Jaguars made the decision to move on from MJD this offseason and that opens up a wonderful one-two punch power option with Toby Gerhart and Johnson. If you’re a fan of the Seahawks style of football you’re going to enjoy what they’ve got going on in Florida.
Telvin Smith, OLB, Jaguars
Another Jag. This time Telvin Smith an exceptionally talented former Florida State Seminole who failed a drug test at the combine. But people in and around the program defend Smith to a hilt describing the positive test as ‘out of character.’ On the field he’s a perfect fit for Gus Bradley and his newly remodelled defense. He’s 6’3 – 218 – moves exceptionally well in space and could be this class’s premier cover linebacker.
Russell Bodine, C, Bengals
The Bengals have become a notorious draft and develop club, Bodine projects to be the next on the list. Most of their rookies are now struggling for game time but with a new gaping hole at center Bodine has a great opportunity to become Cincy’s long term offensive line leader.
Brock Vereen, S, Bears
The Bears have arguably the worst safety group in the entire league and their best hope to improve that is Vereen. Vereen can play all over the field. The Minnesota Golden Gophers used him in multiple facets: in the box, free safety, slot corner, edge rusher and outside corner. The Bears targeted Vereen in the draft and moved up to go and get him. He doesn’t move one defensive group up too much but he could put a plaster over a lot of the Bears problems.
Pierre Desir, CB, Browns
Pierre Desir is a product of the new age NFL. Both in bigger defensive backs (6”1, 198) and scouting all levels intensely. His size, length, speed, body type and attitude are eerily similar to premier corner back Richard Sherman. And Desir projects to be at least a #2 corner in 2-3 years. He’s on a team that has, in my opinion, the best corner in football (Joe Haden) and an exceedingly talented rookie in Justin Gilbert. So Desir has time to develop and all the talent in the world (don’t believe me? Just ask him!) He’s confident in his own ability and no one has anything but great things to say about his work ethic and attitude to get better. He’s a future All-Pro.
- Michael Sam – St. Louis Rams
- Taylor Heart – Philadelphia Eagles
- Cassius Marsh – Seattle Seahawks
- T.J Jones – Detroit Lions
- Yawin Smallwood – Atlanta Falcons
Until next time…
To hear more from Oliver Connolly make sure you check him out on Twitter