With those 15 consecutive wins to open his NFL career in 2004, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger defined what instant impact means for rookies. And you can count on surprising production from first-year players again this season.
Here's 10 players -- not including obvious high draft picks such as Miami RB Ronnie Brown, Chicago RB Cedric Benson and Tennessee CB Adam Jones -- who we expect to make a few things happen immediately in 2005:
1. Darren Sproles, running back/returner, San Diego: Kansas State's career rushing leader, the 5-6, 181-pound Sproles is expected to handle both punt and kickoff returns in San Diego. And the Chargers want the fourth-round pick on the field as a third-down situational back for about 10 offensive snaps per game, where his excellent speed will help draw some of the swarming defensive attention that Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson constantly receives. Look for Sproles to be used in various formations, as the Chargers employ him as an X-factor who gives defenses different looks and headaches.
2. Chris Canty, defensive end, Dallas: While the headline names in the Cowboys' draft belonged to first-round defensive ends Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, don't make the mistake of overlooking Canty, the third defensive end taken by Dallas over the weekend. Canty is still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery in October and a detached retina in January, but Dallas believes he'll be ready to play by training camp. When he does play, the Cowboys think he'll give them excellent depth in their defensive-line rotation, allowing them to match up better with the beast of the NFC East, the Eagles, who are known for their deep D-line. With Canty around, undersized right end Greg Ellis won't have to play more than 60-65 percent of the snaps, which should make him more effective against the run and in the pass rush.
3. Mike Nugent, kicker, New York Jets: No kicker in the NFL will likely have as many sets of eyes on him in Week 1, given that the Jets drafted the former Ohio State star in the second round with their first overall pick. Why so high? Because New York's veteran kicker, Doug Brien, was just 2-of-5 on kicks 30 yards or longer in the playoffs last season -- a stat that kept the Jets from playing at New England in the AFC title game. With a strong right leg that converted a nation's-best five field goals of 50 yards or more last season, and 34 touchbacks on 55 kickoffs, Nugent might be the difference in two or three close games in 2005, and that could put the Jets into position to topple New England from atop the AFC East.
4. Ryan Moats, running back, Philadelphia: In many ways, Moats is a virtual clone of Eagles starting running back Brian Westbrook, and that is no mere coincidence. With the fourth-year veteran Westbrook unhappy with his contract situation and making noise about wanting a huge deal next year, Philly just gained the upper hand in any potential stand-off. With Moats, the Eagles have a potential replacement if they deem Westbrook's demands unreasonable. Like Westbrook, Moats is quick and elusive, and is the kind of multiple-threat back the Eagles prefer in their version of the West Coast offense. Look for the Eagles to have Westbrook and Moats in the game simultaneously at times, with one of them lined up in the backfield and one of them split out, trying to create mismatches for the defense.