Impact rookies: Ten players poised to succeed now in ideal situations
After watching the New York Giants rely on outstanding performances from several rookies to catapult their Super Bowl run, many executive are hoping for similar success from their draft classes. But predicting a rookie's potential impact is less about their draft status, and more about the situation that surrounds them. This is why we often see rookies drafted in later stages of the draft impact the team greater than first-round picks. The following is a list of rookies who are poised to make a big impact in their first season due to ideal circumstances:
Early Doucet, WR, Arizona Cardinals: The loss of Bryant Johnson in the offseason created a huge hole in the Cardinals' three-receiver sets, but the team has identified the perfect candidate to fill the void. Doucet posted his most impressive production at LSU as a junior while playing the slot alongside first-round picks Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe and now enters an eerily similar situation in the desert. With defenses forced to double the Pro Bowl tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Doucet will get a chance to reprise his role as the big play threat in the middle of the field.
Dan Connor, LB, Carolina Panthers: The key to the Panthers defense hinges on the play of the linebackers, and Connor gives them a playmaker to offset the loss of oft-injured Dan Morgan in the middle. Although Connor's position has yet to be defined, his ability to play inside or outside gives defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac the option of sliding Jon Beason over to weak-side linebacker in their base defense. With Connor in the middle flanked by Thomas Davis and Beason on the edges, the Panthers have the speed to clog up running lanes in their 4-3 defense.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears: The Bears running game only netted 83.1 yards a game behind Cedric Benson, so Forte will get every opportunity to shoulder the load as the Bears' new feature back. With a rebuilt offensive line and renewed commitment to the running game, Forte should surpass the measly production generated by the disappointing Benson a season ago. Forte's running style and toughness is a better fit in Ron Turner's power offense, and it is only a matter of time before he claims the starting job as his own.
Quentin Groves, DE, Jacksonville: Gregg Williams' defense features a myriad of pressure schemes that bring multiple rushers off the edge. Groves' explosiveness makes him an ideal situational pass rusher, and Williams will create a package that allows him to use his speed to win one-on-one matchups outside. Although Groves isn't ready to be an every down player as a rookie, he should post double-digit sack totals as a part-time player on passing downs.
Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City: The Chiefs defense has steadily improved over the past two seasons, but an aging secondary kept defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham from being aggressive with his pressure packages. Flowers' insertion into the lineup gives Cunningham a physical corner in the mold of James Hasty and Dale Carter to mix in more press coverage with their standard two-deep looks. Flowers' skills are an ideal match for the Chiefs, and he should be an impact starter from Day One.
Jake Long, OT, Miami: Bill Parcells handpicked Long to be the cornerstone of the Dolphins offense, and his ability to pave the way for Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown will help Tony Sparano establish a smash-mouth identity for the team. No one expected the Dolphins to start the Parcells' era with an offensive player, but Long will anchor an offensive line that will attempt to maul defenses at the point of attack.
DeSean Jackson, WR/KR, Philadelphia: The diminutive playmaker will make his presence felt in the return game. The Eagles have ranked near the bottom of the league in both return categories, and their return game has lacked juice since Brian Westbrook became a full-time runner on offense. Jackson produced six return touchdowns in his three-year collegiate career, and his explosiveness makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball as a returner.
Jerod Mayo, LB, New England: The Patriots expended a rare early first-round choice on a linebacker, but Mayo's business-like attitude and versatility makes him the ideal fit in Bill Belichick's defense. Mayo is capable of manning the middle, and that allows Adalius Thomas to move back to his natural outside linebacker spot. Although Mayo's presence may not statistically improve the Patriots' fourth-ranked defense, his youthful exuberance will ease the pressure on a veteran linebacking corps that lacks athleticism.
Jacob Hester, RB/FB, San Diego: The Chargers made a major move to acquire the most versatile running back in the draft, and he steps into a prominent role as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup. Though Hester lacks the burst of an elite-level back, he is an instinctive runner who will thrive in San Diego's downhill running game. Moreover, Hester's receiving skills are superior to those of free agent defection Michael Turner and his multi-positional flexibility adds another dimension to Norv Turner's explosive offense.
Aqib Talib, CB, Tampa Bay: The Bucs add a top playmaker to their vaunted "Tampa-two" defense, and his ball-hawking skills will fortify the league's top-ranked pass defense from a season ago. Despite Monte Kiffin's intention is to start the youngster as a nickelback, Talib's size and penchant for creating turnovers makes him the best candidate to start at right corner. Buoyed by a strong pass rush upfront, Talib will be able to feast off hurried throws in the back end.