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Instant impact

Five draft prospects who will contribute immediately

Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 12:57PM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 5:38PM
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Running back Marshawn Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his three-year career at Cal.
Running back Marshawn Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his three-year career at Cal.
John W. McDonough/SI
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In mid-April everyone's trying to figure out who will go where in the NFL Draft? But let's not lose sight of the question that really matters: Who will be doing what come mid-October?

After checking sources around the league, these are five names I expect to be writing plenty of good things about come the 2007 regular season:

Marshawn Lynch, RB, California
(FILM ROOM: SI VideoLynch highlights)
If there was one theme regarding NFL rookies that got hammered home last season it was that running back remains the most likely position for instant impact. Maurice Jones-Drew. Joseph Addai. Reggie Bush. Laurence Maroney. Jerious Norwood. Leon Washington. The list of first-year rushing stars in '06 was as deep as anyone could ever remember. And that's saying something, considering that 30 of the NFL's 40 offensive rookies of the year have been running backs, including 10 of the past 14.

Lynch has a package of skills that make him likely to be in contention for this year's offensive rookie honors. He reminds me most of Maroney. He's fast enough (4.4) to run away from you and big enough (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) to run over you. Plus he played in a pro-style offense at Cal, and was used in a two-back system with the Bears, with that very NFL-popular approach saving his body some wear and tear as a collegian.

Lynch has proven he can both catch the ball out of the backfield and line up in the slot as a receiving option, creating potential mismatches in coverage. He can pound the ball inside, but has enough speed to make the edge and turn the corner. He can even offer a bit on the trick play front, because the former high school quarterback has been known to throw a 70-yard pass.

The teams that still need a No. 1 running back -- No. 12 Buffalo, No. 16. Green Bay, and No. 19 Tennessee -- all have Lynch very much on their radar screen. Once Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson is off the board, Lynch is likely to become a mid-first round selection. Come the fall, he'll become an immediate contributor.

Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas
(FILM ROOM:
SI VideoHouston highlights)

Everybody has different things they look for when it comes to projecting pro talent, but give me the guy who has been challenged by and beaten the best of the best at the college level, because he won't be out-classed once he steps into the NFL. He's used to competing and thriving in the upper percentile of whatever playing field he's on, and he knows how to step up his game when his opponent demands it.

That's the key NFL-ready element I see in Houston's scouting report. With the Razorbacks, he faced most of the receivers who are expected to go in this year's first or second rounds, and he won the majority of those individual battles against the likes of USC's Dwayne Jarrett, Tennessee's Robert Meachem, LSU's Dwayne Bowe and South Carolina's Sydney Rice.

Everyone in the NFL knows how much it's worth to a defense to have a cornerback capable of minimizing the impact of an opponent's No. 1 receiver. If there's a cover man capable of handling that kind of assignment as a rookie in 2007, it's going to be Houston, whose man-to-man skills are more instinctive and well-developed than any other defensive back in this year's collegiate talent pool.

"With what I did last season holding down the better receivers, I feel like if I can play against the best receivers, I'll probably have a chance at the next level,'' said Houston, who should be either the third or fourth cornerback taken in the first round, behind Michigan's Leon Hall and Pitt's Darrelle Revis.

Oh, and one more interesting footnote when it comes to Houston: He has already made friends with and received coverage tips from Deion Sanders, who used to play a fairly decent game of man-to-man himself back in the day.

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