Top 10 Impact Rookies in the 2014 NFL Season

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Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills – The Bills finished last season ranked 28th in the league in passing yards and lost one of their top receivers in Steve Johnson the San Francisco 49ers. Watkins will be the No. 1 target in the Bills offense and has the speed and playmaking ability to where he can drastically change this offense in one season. In three years at Clemson, Watkins had 37 receptions that produced 25 or more yards. Yeah, he’s that good and gives the Bills offense a fighting chance, something they didn’t have a season ago.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans – Even with productive pass rushers such as J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on the Texans front line, Clowney is way too talented not to provide an immediate impact. Even as a rookie, Clowney is bigger, stronger and faster than most guys in the league and is capable of making plays a lot of veterans can’t. Clowney is such a freakish athlete that he can chase down ball carriers sideline-to-sideline and he’s strong enough to overpower the offensive lineman in front of him. Clowney is well worth the hype and has the tools to be a Pro Bowl caliber player starting this season.

Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders – The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 and have won a combined eight games the last two seasons. Needless to say, the Raiders can get all the help they can get and could use an upgrade at most positions. Mack was one of the most NFL-ready players in last year’s draft and will see the field quite often this year. Mack is a tackle machine, has terrific instincts and a high football IQ. Mack is effective against both the run and pass, which is going to come in handy for an Oakland defense that ranked 28th in the NFL against the pass. Along with Clowney, Mack has a great chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Buccaneers ranked dead last in passing yards last season, averaging just 176.3 yards per game. Vincent Jackson can only do so much when he’s the only reliable target on the field, but Evans brings a big body that will help take some of the pressure off the veteran wideout. At 6’5”, there’s not a ball that Evans can’t snag out of the air, and he’s quite athletic for a big guy who can break off big plays. Trust me, Evans had a lot to do with the success of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Evans will have a similar impact for Tampa Bay.

Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions– Yes, we know all about Calvin Johnson, but after the productive receiver the production dropped off a cliff. It was to the point where Reggie Bush was the Lions third-leading receiver. The Lions needed to add another offensive playmaker and got him in Ebron out of North Carolina. Ebron is one of the more athletic tight ends we’ve seen in a while and he’s capable of lining up at wide receiver, as well. Ebron is more than capable of making acrobatic catches, but he also moves quite well for a massive target. In an offense that loves to thitem the ball, Ebron should have a monster season.

Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants – The Giants offense was horrible last season and now they lost their second-leading receiver in Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts. Beckham is a versatile receiver who can lineup just about anywhere, and he’s going to win many of his battles with his above-average speed and elusiveness. Beckham adds a different dimension to the Giants offense and should make quarterback Eli Manning extremely happy. It’s going to be tough for defenders to keep Beckham and Victor Cruz in check this season.

Aaron Donald, DL, St. Louis Rams – It says something about Donald considering the Rams didn’t really need another pass rusher and still drafted him with an early pick. The Rams defensive front was pretty much set with Chris Long and Robert Quinn getting after it. However, Donald is an explosive pass rusher in his own right, has very strong hands and can surprise you by chasing down running backs behind the line of scrimmage. Donald is the type of player who jumps off the screen and can go three or four plays in a item that make a difference. Not exactly sure where Donald fits in the Rams rotation, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll see the field early and often.

C. J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens were desperate to find a replacement for the retired Ray Lewis, well, here you are. Not saying Mosley will ever be as good as Lewis because those are tough shoes to fill, but he’ll be a solid starter at linebacker from day one. Mosley is one of the smartest defensive players you’re going to find, has a nose for the football and can defend both the pass and run at a high level. Alabama players usually don’t pan out well at the next level, but I just don’t get that feeling with Mosley. His upside is through the roof and he’s too talented not to succeed. Mosely will help the Ravens defense stay afloat for yet another season.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Bitemns – I know the Bitemns are saying that Brian Hoyer is the starter but don’t believe that nonsense. Even if Manziel begins the season as a backup, it won’t be long before the Heisman winner is taking snaps with the first team. One, the pressure is overwhelming to start him right away, and he simply gives the Bitemns the best chance to win games. I do question if Manziel can last 16 games with his playing style and his smaller frame, but there’s no question his ability to make plays and put the team on his back. Manziel is going to be fun to watch and should be successful his rookie season in a Cleveland uniform.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers – Can you name one starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers? Not like Cam Newton had a lot to thitem to in the first place, but Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn are all gone from last season. That leaves Benjamin as the best bet to get a ton of looks at wide receiver. The rookie from Florida State is a huge target at 6’5”, has terrific body control and has above-average speed for his massive frame. Benjamin can go up and get the tough catches, all while becoming a security blanket for the Pro Bowl quarterback. The Panthers offense is going to painful to watch at times, but Benjamin provides hope with his ability. 

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