October 20, 2017
Home > NFL > Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, Bucs’ O.J. Howard Among Top 12 Instant Impact Offensive Rookies
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard is among Fourth & Goal's Top 12 Instant Impact Offensive Rookies. USA TODAY Sports/ Kim Klement

Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, Bucs’ O.J. Howard Among Top 12 Instant Impact Offensive Rookies

The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and many NFL fans are wondering which rookies can help their team immediately this upcoming season.

While NFL franchises are hoping first-round selections can make an immediate impact, that is not always the case, as seen in Rams quarterback Jared Goff, Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, and Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson in 2016.

Below is a list of the top 12 instant impact offensive rookies based on their talent and ability to get on the field early this season.

12. Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

If there’s one rookie quarterback that will find success in 2017, it will be Watson. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound two-time Heisman finalist joins a Texans squad that is ready to compete for a Super Bowl title, but has been missing one key piece, a franchise quarterback. Houston has won the AFC South the past two seasons, but have watched their Super Bowl hopes disappear due to poor quarterback play in the postseason. While quarterback Tom Savage is expected to lead the Texans on the field at the start of the regular season, it likely won’t take long before head coach Bill O’Brien hands the reins over to Watson. Houston’s rookie quarterback led Clemson to back-to-back College Football Playoff berths in his final two seasons and helped the program win its first National Championship since 1981. The Texans have been looking for a quarterback that plays his best under the brightest lights, and Watson consistently showed his ability to perform in pressured situations throughout his collegiate career.

11. Los Angeles Chargers OG Forrest Lamp

The Chargers may have gotten the biggest steal in the draft, selecting Lamp with 38th overall pick. The 6-foot-4, 309-pound offensive lineman has drawn comparisons with Dallas Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin, and some draft analysts projected him as the top offensive linemen prospect in this year’s class. Lamp is expected to earn a starting role in his rookie season and should immediately help Los Angeles’ ground game and pass protection. Chargers first-year head coach Anthony Lynn will surely look to improve Los Angeles’ 26th ranked rushing attack in terms of yards this upcoming season, and adding Western Kentucky’s star athletic offensive lineman is sure to make an impact for the team’s offense.

10. Buffalo Bills WR Zay Jones

The Buffalo Bills traded up to select the 6-foot-2, 201-pound East Carolina wide receiver in the second-round, and likely have high expectations for Jones after witnessing him shine in the Senior Bowl. Buffalo’s newest wide receiver is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in the American Athletic Conference, and could potentially be the team’s eventual replacement for Sammy Watkins should the team not re-sign him next offseason. Buffalo elected not to pick up Watkins’ fifth-year option on his rookie contract, and Bills fans should expect a significant role for Jones in his rookie season. Watkins has missed 11 games over the past two seasons, and it would come as no surprise if Jones ended his rookie year as the team’s leading receiver.

9. New York Giants TE Evan Engram

While adding a dynamic pass-catching tight end was not Big Blue’s top need this offseason, there is no doubting the talent Engram brings to the next level. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound tight end recorded 65 receptions for 926 yards and scored eight touchdowns in his senior season at Ole Miss, and gives quarterback Eli Manning his best tight end option since Martellus Bennett’s lone season in New York in 2012. Manning consistently looks to get tight ends involved in the offense and threw over 110 passes to the position last season. Engram should make an immediate impact for the Giants in 2017, and could very well be competing with Odell Beckham Jr. for the most touchdown receptions on the team this season.

8. Denver Broncos Offensive Tackle Garett Bolles

It’s no secret that the Broncos needed help along the offensive line following the 2016 season, and general manager John Elway had his pick of offensive tackles when Denver came on the clock in the first-round of the draft. The Broncos selected Bolles with the intention of him becoming their franchise left tackle, and will have no problem inserting him into the starting lineup from the outset of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-5, 297-pound offensive tackle should immediately help Denver’s ground game and in pass protection, and he displayed tremendous athletic ability during the pre-draft process. Bolles ran the second fastest 40-yard dash time (4.95 seconds) of any offensive lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine and should only get better as the season progresses. Pro Football Focus ranked Denver’s offensive line 24th in the NFL last season largely due to poor tackle play, and while offensive linemen tend to go overlooked, Bolles’ addition in Denver should not.

7. Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey

The Carolina Panthers added two lightning rods, McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel, to their offense in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, and will surely find ways to get their explosive rookie running back the ball in space. McCaffrey broke Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old single-season NCAA record for all-purpose yards in his sophomore season at Stanford, and Carolina’s coaching staff is sure to take advantage of his versatility. The Panthers rookie running back has the ability to take snaps out of the backfield or motion out to wide receiver on third-down passing scenarios. While their are some concerns with McCaffrey’s ability to run between the tackles at the next level, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula will look to take advantage of his strengths. McCaffrey is sure to be an instant impact playmaker at the next level, but finds himself seventh on this list due to the presence of veteran running back Jonathan Stewart.

6. Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack

The Colts landed a steal with the second to last pick in the fourth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and it will comes as no surprise if Mack ends up the team’s lead running back by the end of the regular season. Indianapolis is desperate to find some relief for veteran running back Frank Gore, and will surely need to lighten his load, as he has carried the ball a minimum of 250 times for the past six consecutive seasons. The addition of Mack should not only give Indianapolis a one-two punch in their backfield, but also a dual-threat rookie with big-play ability anytime the ball is in his hands. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound running back is coming off three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the American Athletic Conference, and recorded 65 catches for 498 yards over three seasons at South Florida.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are giving quarterback Jameis Winston all the weapons needed to compete in the NFC South, and added an explosive playmaker in the first-round of the 2017 draft that should be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Howard didn’t put huge numbers during his time in Tuscaloosa due to Alabama’s lack of an aerial attack, but that doesn’t mean the 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end won’t make an immediate impact on the stat sheets in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers rookie tight end was considered a top-ten talent in this year’s draft class and drew some lofty comparisons at the Senior Bowl back in January. NFL executives compared Howard to Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron, and Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe. While it’s unknown if Howard will live up to the hype of the last comparison, he is sure to make a significant impact in Tampa’s offense this season.

4. Los Angeles Chargers WR Mike Williams

The Chargers surely hope wide receiver Keenan Allen can return to form after missing almost the entire 2016 season, but general manager Tom Telesco made sure the receiving corps wouldn’t be lacking options even if bit by the injury bug again this season. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers could have two legitimate No. 1 receivers on the field in 2017 with the addition of Williams, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Clemson’s star wide receiver led Los Angeles’ receiving corps in yards as a rookie. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver should be an instant red zone threat for Los Angeles’ offense, and is coming off a redshirt junior season in which he recorded 98 receptions for 1,361 yards. The Chargers rookie receiver was unable to complete the team’s offseason workout program due to a mild disc herniation in his lower back, but the hope is that he will be ready for the start of training camp at the end of the month. Williams’ ability to go up and grabbed contested passes should help the Chargers this season and will likely make him a fantasy favorite in his rookie year.

3. Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook

The Minnesota Vikings landed an instant impact playmaker in running back Dalvin Cook. The Seminoles 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back was arguably the most complete back in this year’s draft class, as he has the ability to rush between the tackles and stay on the field for third down passing situations. The Vikings did sign former Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray in free agency this offseason, but it likely wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Cook lining up as the team’s No. 1 running back by midseason. Cook amassed a whopping 4,464 rushing yards, 935 receiving yards, and scored 48 touchdowns during his time in Tallahassee and is sure to elevate Minnesota’s offense in 2017. The Vikings have retooled their offensive line this offseason, signing offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency and selecting Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third-round of the 2017 draft. If Minnesota’s offensive line can open holes, Cook could very well finish his rookie year as one of the top backs in the league.

2. Tennessee Titans WR Corey Davis

The Titans look to be a team on the rise in 2017, and general manager Jon Robinson is giving quarterback Marcus Mariota all the weapons needed to succeed. Tennessee already had one of the league’s best offensive lines and backfields in 2016, and now have added a plethora of weapons on the outside, including their first-round pick, Davis. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound receiver was a model of consistency at Western Michigan, amassing 331 receptions for 5,278 yards. Davis should immediately take over the No. 1 receiving role as a rookie, and his big frame and route-running ability should allow him to find immediate success in the AFC South. The Titans rookie receiver will also open up the field for tight end Delanie Walker and receivers Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews, and fellow rookie Taywan Taylor. Tennessee came up just short (9-7) of snapping their playoff drought last season, and adding a No. 1 receiver like Davis may be the final piece needed to help get them back into the postseason.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette

Outside of the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, Myles Garrett, Jacksonville’s rookie running back may be the most talented player from this year’s class. Fournette is a bulldozer with incredible speed that should allow him to run over linebackers at the next level. The 6-foot, 230-pound running back was expected to be the Heisman Trophy frontrunner entering his junior season but a lingering ankle injury limited him to just seven games and 843 rushing yards in 2016. Despite the ankle injury, Fournette’s rare combination of talent, size, and speed landed him comparisons with Adrian Peterson, Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, and the legendary Jim Brown. While Fournette likely won’t live up to that hype in his rookie year, Jacksonville’s coaching staff is sure give him plenty of opportunities. The Jaguars scored just eight rushing touchdowns total in 2017, and Fournette should break that marker by himself this season. The Jaguars have revamped their offensive line this offseason and are hoping the additions Cam Robinson and Branden Albert enables them to move the ball on the ground. While Fournette is not joining a premier offensive line like Dallas, the No. 4 overall pick should be considered the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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