For most NFL rookies, their first season in the league is all about getting acclimated to the pro game and learning new systems. For others, however, the rookie season is merely an opportunity to continue the dominance displayed throughout their collegiate careers.
Many prospects entering the NFL will need time to develop into capable pro-level players. Here is a look at five players who are ready and able to make immediate impacts in the NFL as rookies.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Whether it’s the Houston Texans or someone else who takes him early in the first round, Clowney is going to be a starter from day one. I’m not willing to say he’ll be an instant superstar, but I’m also not as foolish as to say he’s going to be a bust.
Clowney is going to make his presence felt in 2014 and should be a contender for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for his production. If he’s picked first overall by the Texans, God bless Andrew Luck. I don’t see how any team could stop a pass-rushing duo of Clowney and JJ Watt. And with the defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year getting a lot of attention from opposing offensive coordinators, Clowney should flourish.
Really, at this point, there isn’t much to say about Clowney that hasn’t been said already. The former Gamecock is bubbling with potential and one lucky NFL team is going to reap the rewards for drafting him.
Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
A versatile talent packing a lot of punch, Martin may be entering the NFL as a tackle, but he looks more likely to be a guard and should get a chance to start at the position this upcoming season.
After a strong career for the Fighting Irish, Martin boosted his stock with an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. He displays outstanding technique combined with power and quickness off the line of scrimmage.
Similar to the Giants’ Justin Pugh, Martin’s lack of length is most pundits’ biggest concern regarding his stay at tackle. Ironically enough, some Giants writers have tabbed Martin as a possibility for the G-Men at No. 12.
@RobYoung6 If Evans off the board, I think Giants will seriously consider Zack Martin at 12. Some say reach, but might be best fit.
— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) April 4, 2014
— Ed Valentine (@bigblueview) March 6, 2014
Fortunately, Martin has shown the capability to move inside to guard during his time at Notre Dame and handled it admirably.
Should a team try to go against popular belief, however, and use Martin at tackle, it’ll be a toss-up. There are instances on film of opposing pass rushers getting inside on him because of his short arms. There are far more instances when Martin uses his quick footwork and recovery speed to pummel some of college football’s best pass rushers.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins may be more talented, but Robinson could go late in the first round. Placing him on a team already able to compete at a high level with a top-tier quarterback behind center could help matters. That could mean big opportunities for Robinson to make some waves, especially if there’s another star receiver already on the team to draw coverage (Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans).
The 6-foot-3 wideout had a solid year for the Nittany Lions in 2013, catching 97 passes for a school record 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. He’s not a burner by any means, but he’s a big-bodied receiver capable of taking it the distance on any given play.
Robinson is a talented possession receiver who resembles Anquan Boldin, a player he has drawn plenty of comparisons to. Despite having what many consider below average straight-line speed, Robinson’s explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, his acceleration down the field and his size make him a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks. More often than not, he’s going to come down with the football in jump-ball situations with a clear advantage over those less physical than him.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Somewhat undersized, Donald makes up for his disadvantages with unparalleled explosiveness off the snap. He shows quick feet and an unbelievable combination of power and technique to beat opponents at the point of attack and fight his way into the backfield.
As many noted, Donald stole some of Clowney’s spotlight at the Combine by impressing scouts during positional drills and registering a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash and 35 reps on the bench press.
Donald was spectacular for Pitt in 2013, leading the nation with 1.6 sacks per game and 2.4 tackles for loss per game. He was a disruptive presence in the backfield who must have NFL teams salivating at the thought of having a player of his caliber on their roster.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
For some reason, the Louisville standout is falling down big boards, but I don’t see why. While his potential and ceiling may not seem as great as UCF’s Blake Bortles and he’s not a high-profile enigma like Johnny Manziel, Bridgewater is the surest thing at the quarterback position in the last two draft classes.
Bridgewater has great size (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), better mechanics and a superbly accurate arm. The lower level of competition at Louisville might be a concern, but the game tape shows a player capable of excelling regardless of his opponent.
The former Cardinals QB is an efficient leader who performed as expected in 2013, throwing for just under 4,000 yards, with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Unlike many of the quarterbacks in this draft, Bridgewater did all of this playing in a pro-style offense and did so with great poise in the pocket.
He reportedly underperformed at his Pro Day, letting loose with some wobbly throws and showcasing poor footwork. Still, the film on Bridgewater is more consistent, showing a much more promising and polished star ready to break out in the NFL.
With his draft stock seemingly declining, Bridgewater could strike similar luck as I mentioned with Robinson earlier—landing on an already-winning team with established talent already on the roster. Bridgewater may not get a chance to start as a rookie, but if he does, I believe he can be a strong first-year starter, and have success similar to what Andrew Luck had right off the bat. There will be mistakes made, but that’s all part of the growing process for a guy who possesses the skill set to be a future star.