NFL training camps have opened up, leading to the most optimistic time of the season – every veteran looks five years younger, every player coming off an injury looks more explosive than ever, and every rookie looks like a game-changer. Here are five rookies that will make an immediate impact on Sundays.
1. Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders)
Mack, and outside linebacker, was considered by many to possibly be the best player available in this year’s draft. He inexplicably fell to the Raiders with the fifth pick, giving Oakland a defensive cornerstone for the next decade. Mack recorded 10.5 sacks in his senior season at Buffalo.
2. Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
“Johnny Football” finished his career at Texas A&M as one of the most popular – and decorated – players in college football history. Despite being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manziel was a polarizing figure coming into the NFL – his short stature (Manziel is listed at six feet tall) and penchant for partying raised a lot of questions as to whether he could lead an NFL team and handle the distractions that come with the fame and money provided in the NFL. Manziel won’t start right away, but the Browns are counting on him to turn around a franchise that is best known for failing miserably when it matters.
3. Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans)
Jadeveon Clowney was considered a top NFL prospect before returning for his final year at South Carolina. Although scouts and pundits spent the entire season looking for flaws in his game, the mammoth defensive lineman still went first overall to Houston. Clowney and his counterpart, J.J. Watt, form one of the most dynamic – and physical – duos in the league.
4. Brandin Cooks (New Orleans Saints)
As if the Saints weren’t already loaded on offense (see: Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Jimmy Graham), they were fortunate enough to land one of the most explosive players in the draft to blow the top off of defenses from the slot position. The Lincoln High product was a consensus All-American at Oregon State and won the Biletnikoff Award as the top wide receiver in college football – but was also a standout as a sprinter for the Beavers in college.
5. Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers)
Hyde was seen as one of the top running backs in this year’s class, but slipped to the 49ers in the second round as teams have valued running backs in the draft less and less in recent years. The Niners are stacked at the running back position, with multiple-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore, stud backup Kendall Hunter, and injured back Marcus Lattimore waiting in the wings to take the mantle from Gore. After Hunter went down early in camp with a torn ACL, Hyde finds himself in prime position to earn plenty of carries in his rookie season.