Seven NFL Rookies Who Can Break Out Right Away

While every front office is excited about its new players added early in the draft, some will be expected to step in and produce right away. Here are seven who are ready to make an impact.
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We tend to grade draft classes inconsistently, putting a lot of weight on a team that may have selected a superstar early in the draft over another that uncovered four or five starters who all regularly perform above replacement level. Here, we’ll try and spread the love around a bit, even though we’re naturally going to lean toward those who came into the league with bigger expectations.

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The No. 2 overall pick has a chance to accumulate sack and pressure numbers right away. Grouped with Montez Sweat, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Ryan Kerrigan, Washington can put him in advantageous matchups immediately and explore some of the different placements utilized by Ohio State. It would be surprising if Young was just a static weak-side defensive end, especially with all the different talent at Ron Rivera’s disposal. At Ohio State, he was in the backfield creating a pressure situation on 20% of every pass play he faced. Even if that number shrinks accounting for NFL talent, Young is still the early clubhouse leader for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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Like Young, Kinlaw played everywhere on the defensive line in college. There are plenty of classic interior bull rushes on film but there are also some pretty special moments when Kinlaw is playing like a rusher well below 315 pounds. This kind of athleticism is going to be a boon for the 49ers, who are simply replenishing their generational defensive line from last year’s Super Bowl run. Assuming he can pair with Nick Bosa, the two may form one of the scariest stunt combinations in the conference.

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You’re not going to get drafted by Andy Reid if you’re not versatile, and the Brian Westbrook comparisons aren’t made lightly. Edwards-Helaire can find himself on the field for three downs right away. His blown block percentage at LSU was exceptionally low (1.6%) and his ability as a receiver out of the backfield ballooned in 2019, as he was split out wide on more than 20% of his snaps with the Tigers. As Patrick Mahomes grows into a more autonomous role as the conductor of this offense, he’ll appreciate a running back he can grow with.

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Kmet is one of approximately 1,100 tight ends on the Bears’ roster right now but shouldn’t have a difficult time working his way into a regular timeshare with Jimmy Graham. The Bears utilized two tight-end formations frequently on certain downs (it was their third-most utilized personnel grouping on first-and-10, for example) and he’s wonderfully improvisational inside the goal line. That will be rewarded, especially if the more mobile Mitchell Trubisky wins the job out of camp.

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With Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Godwin taking up all the attention, there is an opportunity for Johnson if he can get on the field and establish himself in the rotation. Johnson is a good run blocker and his college highlight reel is full of acrobatic catches. Johnson is fun to watch in that every route feels like a prize fight and with an 86% catch rate his senior year at Minnesota and a 38% share of the Gophers’ total targets, they are battles he wins pretty often. 

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Here’s a bit of a wild-card pick. There’s always a chance that Joe Looney keeps the center job out of camp, but with a potentially extended offseason anything could happen. Biadasz could be the long term heir apparent to Travis Frederick and, should he get some playing time early in his rookie year, there is a solid foundation for him to have early success. Rookies who are buttressed by talent like that, and who play in front of a cerebral, quick-release quarterback tend to grade out better by default. That said, Biadasz, brings a lot to the table. He allowed one sack during his final season at Wisconsin, and the Badgers had a positive EPA on every run play that came to his gap. That’s not easy to do in the Big Ten.

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A blast to watch, Davis-Gaither was overshadowed a bit being in the Isaiah Simmons class. However, his collegiate splits show a similar Swiss-army-knife workload, with a ton of experience in coverage and in different blitz looks. Sports Info Solutions had Gaither as the fourth-best coverage linebacker in the country in terms of yards per target (just behind LSU’s Patrick Queen). He also had one of the lowest broken tackle percentages in the country, despite 99 tackles in 2019 (13.5 of which went for a loss). It seems like the door is wide open for him to win the job out of camp this summer and inherent some lofty responsibilities quickly.

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