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Monday, December 10, 2018

10 NFL rookies likely to make biggest impact in 2017

Leonard Fournette

The 2017 NFL Draft is a distant memory, and now it’s time for the rookies to show their stuff at minicamp. These camps will provide the first opportunity to see the league’s newest and youngest talent on display.

As is the case every year, rookies will have a tremendous impact on the regular season and contribute to their team’s successes or failures. That was especially true last year for organizations like the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers, who saw their rookies explode onto the scene.

Which rookies will have that sort of impact in 2017? Let’s take a look.

10. Taco Charlton, DE, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys lost a ton of pieces on defense — mostly in the secondary — and have struggled with their pass rush for several years now. Randy Gregory has not panned out for obvious reasons, DeMarcus Lawrence has a rather extensive injury history, and just about everyone else on their defensive line has legitimate question marks.

Taco Charlton, who was selected in the first round of the draft, could be just what the coctor ordered.

Charlton represents a young pass rusher for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to work with. Marinelli’s history of success with similar talents can not be understated. But this can’t be a long-term project for Dallas; Charlton needs to come in and produce immediately if the Cowboys wish to overcome their thin secondary and less-than-stellar pass rush.

Both he and the Cowboys know this, so expect him to be unleashed out of the gate.

9. Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

The Bears have certainly created a mess for themselves by tossing Jay Cutler to the side, signing Mike Glennon to a big-money deal, and then drafting Mitchell Trubisky in the first-round, trading up to do so.

Glennon may feel as if he’s been “cheated on,” and Cutler offering him counsel likely doesn’t help anyone in the organization, but passing on Trubisky simply wasn’t a realistic option for the Bears. He may be a bit raw in some aspects of his game, but the generally held belief is that Trubisky is a franchise quarterback.

Chicago will head into training camp insisting it’s a competition between Trubisky, Glennon and yes, even Mark Sanchez, but sooner rather than later, it’s Trubisky who will be at the helm. And given that expectations in the Windy City aren’t grand, he’ll be able to grow without the same amount of pressure other incoming quarterbacks are subjected to.

Sure, Trubisky will have his rookie moments, but when all is said and done, he’ll have made a difference for the Bears in 2017.

8. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

The Giants have legitimate issues along their offensive line and many expected them to go in that direction early in the draft. But they didn’t. Instead, they selected Mississippi tight end Evan Engram — a talented receiver — in Round 1.

Although the choice may not have addressed their most pressing area of need, it did address a need nonetheless. In fact, it addressed a rather significant need that cost them dearly a season ago.

Because the Giants were unable to run the football with any sort of effectiveness and had no tight end capable of stretching the field, opposing defenses were allowed to sit in Cover 2, keep Odell Beckham Jr. & Co. underneath, and that essentially cut off any hope of big plays downfield.

Engram may not help in the running game, but he can open things up with his seam routes. Add in Brandon Marshall, and opposing defenses can no longer simply rely on Cover 2 to stop the Giants’ offense.

Engram will add a whole new dimension for Big Blue, which will undoubtedly be exploited by Eli Manning and the aforementioned Beckham.

7. Jarrad Davis, LB, Detroit Lions

Jarrad Davis was a highly decorated, highly successful linebacker in college, so it was somewhat surprising to see him slip all the way to No. 21 in the NFL Draft. But the misfortune of 20 other teams means nothing but good news for the Lions.

Davis is a versatile, three-down linebacker who is capable of playing on the weak side, strong side, and in the middle. He’s a hard hitter who never shies away from contact, but can also drop back into coverage with moderate success if need be.

With Detroit sporting a -12 point differential a season ago, they desperately needed a vicious linebacker capable of trimming that number down. Davis is that guy and he’ll take on that role as of Week 1. And after a few months in an NFL strength and conditioning program, Davis could legitimately become one of the best defensive players in the NFC North.

6. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

O.J. Howard will enter the league having already played in a pro-style offense under Nick Saban at Alabama. That’s great news for Jameis Winston & Co., especially when you consider that head coach Dirk Koetter loves quality receiving tight ends.

In his two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, Koetter used Tony Gonzalez almost exclusively. In fact, the future Hall of Famer tallied 176 receptions in two years under Koetter, which offers a window into what can be expected of Howard in Tampa Bay.

At 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, coupled with 4.51 40-yard speed, Howard immediately enters the NFL as a potential matchup nightmare. The fact that he’s found what appears to be an ideal fit is merely an added bonus.

Howard also creates some interesting problems for a defense because of his ability to run the seam and provide a big target for Winston in the red zone. And so long as he remains healthy, he should be a Pro Bowler in Year 1.

See Nos. 5-1 on Page 2

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