With quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and even Russell Wilson leading the way, today’s NFL rookies are not looking like rookies. They are rather looking like veterans as several of them are filling in and making an immediate impact on their team. Of course the quarterbacks will get all the shine, but other than the popular guys like Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Kendall Wright, Mark Barron and a few others, there are several other rookies who may have slipped in the draft, but are still making noise around the league. Here are a few rookies who may become household names, but are not getting much recognition in the NFL.
-Wolfe was the 36th pick in the 2012 draft and as the Broncos continue to flex him in with certain defensive packages, he continues to capitalize on the opportunities he gets to prove that he deserves as many reps as they are willing to give him. Wolfe is listed as a defensive end, which is where he primarily lines up in their 3-4 packages, but he also sees snaps at defensive tackle in their 4-3 packages. Wolfe is proving that he can be useful in multiple looks will help him continue to prove he is worthy of starting. He currently has 17 tackles and three sacks this season, and he might be their starter next year as veterans Ty Warren and Jason Hunter are on the IR.
CB Josh Robinson – Minnesota Vikings
-With Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook listed as the starters, Robinson primarily sees time at nickel cornerback. But with Winfield’s durability issues, Robinson also gets time on the edges. The Vikings have traditionally been a Tampa-2 defense, but you see a lot of man coverage with them as of lately. Robinson has been one of the best rookie cornerbacks this season aside from Janoris Jenkins and Morris Claiborne. If this is Winfield’s last year in Minnesota, I wouldn’t count Robinson out as a starter next season. However, nickel cornerback is one of the most important positions on defense. If Robinson keeps up the good work there, he may stay at Nickel, as the Vikings have added depth to the cornerback position by acquiring AJ Jefferson earlier this season from Arizona for a 7th round pick.
LB Bobby Wagner – Seattle Seahawks
-Being on the top ranked defense will get several players overlooked when your defense has big names on it. Players like Bobby Wagner tend to be the dark horse on those teams. He currently has 43 tackles and 1.5 sacks this year. The Seahawks’ base defense is a cover-3, in which Wagner doesn’t have to cover a tight end or running back. But when in coverage, Wagner does a phenomenal job and he is also decent at blitzing off the edge. The Seahawks had a pretty decent draft in 2012 as they scooped Wagner, Bruce Irvin and Wagner’s college teammate Robert Turbin. Wagner has probably been the most impressive rookie among them all so far. However, collectively the entire Seahawks defense (nicknamed “Legion of BOOM”) plays well as a unit and are very unselfish. Wagner’s play on the field and personality off the field makes him perfect for Pete Carroll’s squad. Keep your eye out for him for future reference.
WR Alshon Jeffery & DE Shea McClellin - Chicago Bears
-In the midst of a limited role due to veterans Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Ear Bennett, rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has been targeted 14 times by quarterback Jay Cutler, and he has caught all 14 passes, totaling 2 touchdowns and 184 yards receiving. Jeffery has a huge stature at 6’3”, 215 pounds, and he has above average route running abilities for a rookie. He recently fractured a bone in his hand, which will cost him a couple of games off the active list. The Bears have great cohesion as a team, so despite Jefferey’s injury, they should be able to persevere and continue to win games.
Fellow rookie teammate Shea McClellin has been just as productive as Jeffery on the opposite side of the ball. Many thought McClellin could be a day one starter, but the impressive play by veteran defensive lineman Henry Melton has somewhat taken away snaps from McClellin. But when he is in the game, he is very aggressive against the run and makes impressive moves with his hands to beat offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage, helping him record two sacks so far this season. He is a primary defensive end, which is what he was scouted as coming out of Boise State. But do not be surprised if Chicago mixes up packages and has McClellin playing a few downs as an OLB.
WR T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts
-The third rounder doesn’t have jaw-dropping statistics as of yet, but as the Colts are in a rebuilding process, Hilton has proven to be one of fellow rookie Luck’s most reliable targets. The speedster from FIU ran a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine, and he has been proving to be a very good slot wide receiver through the first six weeks in the NFL. Through five games, Hilton has recorded 11 receptions for 196 yards and got in the end zone once as well. Luck has been utilizing the talent around him above anyones expectations of him, and Hilton is one of the guys who will continue to grow chemistry with Luck, as well as fellow rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
RB Daryl Richardson – St. Louis Rams
-With the injury to Isaiah Pead, who was originally projected to be the complimentary backup to Steven Jackson, seventh round pick Daryl Richardson has filled in the vacant backup role and has capitalized on his given opportunities. Richardson has rushed for 246 yards through six games and is averaging more than five yards a carry. But according to Evan Silva from www.rottoworld.com, Richardson and the Rams both know that Richardson is just a good runner in space and not inside. That doesn’t seem to be a concern in St. Louis as long as S-Jax stays healthy. Richardson gained 99 total yards against the Dolphins, 88 of them coming on toss sweeps and screens, but Silva also pointed out that Richardson’s seven carries inside resulted in just 11 yards. If the Rams want to continue to contend in the NFC West, they’ll have to keep using their best players to their advantage and not burn downs by trying to run Richardson inside, which is what S-Jax is for. When used right this season, Richardson has proven to be effective.
LB Miles Burris – Oakland Raiders
-The fifth rounder out of San Diego State has been getting better week after week. He had an impressive NFL debut on Monday Night Football when he recorded six tackles and one for a loss. After week one, he saw limited snaps, as Oakland has been running a nickel defensive set for more than half their defenses snaps, with LBs Rolando McClain and Phillip Wheeler in their nickel set. But after McClain’s dismal performance against Denver, Burris took over for him in their nickel package and was in for 75 percent of the defense snaps against Atlanta in Week 6. Oakland just got LB Aaron Curry off the PUP list, and if he proves that he has fully recovered from his knee injury, Burris, Wheeler and Curry might be the starters in Oakland’s 4-3 defense sets, as Burris has proven to be more effective than McClain so far this season. Oakland might benefit from all four LBs if they are able to properly incorporate a 3-4 defense, which is where McClain was most effective in college and helped him get drafted in the first round. McClain, Burris and Curry can play in the middle, but Burris was most effective in college as an OLB pass rusher. Don’t be surprised if he jumps out of your tv screen once a 3-4 defense is incorporated in Oakland.