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Posted: Wednesday April 29, 2009 11:04AM; Updated: Wednesday April 29, 2009 11:04AM
Don Banks Don Banks >

Brace for impact: NFL rookies with an early chance to shine in 2009

Story Highlights

New York Giants' pass-catching duo will see the field early

Feeling snubbed will provide motivation for Jags' Eben Britton

Bears hope D.J. Moore will continue their rookie cornerback success

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Donald Brown is the second running back the Colts have taken in the first round in the past four years (Joseph Addai, 2006).
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The NFL Draft has been over for almost 72 hours, which is more than enough time to discern who'll be the impact rookies of the 2009 season. What? You expected us to wait all the way until training camps opened and actual football started being played? Get real.


Mark Sanchez, Jets

What a familiar choice we have at the game's most impactful position: Sanchez or the Lions' Matthew Stafford? We've only been wrestling with that comparison for three months now. They're really the only two of the 12 drafted quarterbacks (four first-day, eight on the second day) who can be expected to see any significant playing time this season, and I continue to believe Sanchez enters the league with a more pro-ready game than the No. 1 overall pick. Plus, the way I see it, Stafford will have a tougher time beating out Daunte Culpepper in Detroit than Sanchez will Kellen Clemens in New York.

Running back

Donald Brown, Colts

As Matt Forte and Steve Slaton proved last year, you don't have to be a first-round running back to be an impact running back as a rookie. Without a doubt there will be a mid-round rusher -- the 49ers' Glen Coffee or the Jets' Shonn Greene? -- who overachieves this fall based on late-April projections. But we're bestowing the mantle of expectations on Brown, the second running back taken, who went 27th overall to Indianapolis. Not only will he be helped by landing with one of the most proficient offenses in the NFL, but also we forsee the Colts getting him the ball plenty in the rushing and passing games because Brown is the most versatile talent in this year's running back class.


Ramses Barden, Giants

Every year the crop of rookie receivers looks like instant offense, and every year the majority of them fade into the woodwork and disappear (see 2008's Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, James Hardy, Limas Sweed, Dexter Jackson and Early Doucet). Impact can come from anywhere in the receiver class, as seventh-rounder Marques Colston reminded us in 2006.

But while I think Cleveland second-round pick Brian Robiskie is going to walk into a major role in the Browns' receiver-thin offense, on a hunch I'm giving my top billing to Barden, the 6-foot-6 Cal Poly product who is slated to inherit Plaxico Burress's job of out-skying opposing cornerbacks and safeties in the red zone. Barden caught 50 touchdowns in college, so it's a key role the third-round pick appears up for.

Tight end

Travis Beckum, Giants

The no-brainer picks would be Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew or Tennessee's Jared Cook because the Lions and Titans feature offenses tailored to use their tight ends early and often. But New York doesn't mind throwing rookies into the fire and it wouldn't surprise us if Beckum, a third-round choice, emerged as one of Eli Manning's more reliable targets this season. Hamstring and fibula injuries ruined Beckum's senior season at Wisconsin, but in the previous two seasons he abused defenses with 136 receptions for 1,885 yards and 11 touchdowns. With only solid but unspectacular veteran Kevin Boss ahead of Beckum on the depth chart, a window of opportunity appears to be wide open in New York.

Offensive tackle

Eben Britton, Jaguars

C'mon, how can we not go with the smack-talking second-rounder who entered the league over the weekend vowing to make every NFL team that passed on him regret it? The question now is whether he'll be able to fit his pads over that chip on his shoulder.

We know that Britton, for now, will compete to start either at right guard or right tackle for the Jaguars, and that first-round tackles such as St. Louis's Jason Smith, Jacksonville's Eugene Monroe, and Cincinnati's Andre Smith will likely walk into their team's starting lineups this season. But no matter. Give me the motivated player every time in the NFL, where the talent level is so close to being equal that the slightest margins often decide things.


Eric Wood, Bills

It was puzzling when Buffalo didn't draft to fill the vacancy created at offensive tackle by the Jason Peters trade, but in Wood they got a tough and tenacious player who is slated to start at guard this season after being a standout center at Louisville. Wood, the Bills' second first-round selection, at No. 28, played in a pro-style offense with the Cardinals, which should aid his quick transition to the NFL.


Alex Mack, Browns

After Cleveland went to all the trouble to trade down three times in the first round -- from No. 5 to No. 21 -- and finally select Mack, he darn well better show up as a rookie this season. Mack is an intelligent and physical player who should be a cornerstone of the Cleveland offensive line for years to come. He worked out some at guard at the Senior Bowl, but he'll likely get every opportunity to replace Hank Fraley in the middle and hold down the Browns' center position for the next decade or so.

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