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Difference Makers....Instant impact rookies article

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Published: May 3, 2016 at 12:23 p.m.

Updated: May 3, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.

Instant-impact rookies from the 2016 NFL Draft

Gil Brandt

NFL Media senior analyst


The draft is obviously about the future, but it's also about the present. Sure, you want to invest in players who will deliver long term -- but sometimes, you just want guys who can make an immediate impact practically from the moment they step on the field.

As I did last year, I've put together a list of rising rookies who will have a chance to help their teams from Day 1 on. The 11 players presented below -- arranged in alphabetical order -- can provide an instant jolt to their new organizations.

Also considered: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans; Germain Ifedi, OG, Seattle Seahawks; William Jackson III, CB, Cincinnati Bengals; Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders; Laremy Tunsil, OT, Miami Dolphins.

11 Photos Total

Roberto Aguayo, K, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Drafted in: Round 2, No. 59 overall.

The most accurate kicker in NCAA history (with a .9673 conversion rate) is a very confident player who will solve the Buccaneers' kicking problems for a long time. He is the highest-drafted kicker since the Jets took Mike Nugent -- who, coincidentally, had a brief stint with Tampa -- in Round 2 (No. 47 overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. Yes, the Bucs traded up to get Aguayo, but he really only has to win one game to make that investment worth it. Aguayo doesn't have a Sebastian Janikowski-type leg, but kickers have a tendency to get stronger with age.

Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 15 overall.

The Browns will use Coleman in the same way that the Bengals use A.J. Green. He has the speed (4.37-second 40-yard dash) to create separation. He has all the traits needed to succeed; he's tough, competitive and is very good running after the catch, especially on screen plays. He can also track the ball very well on over-the-shoulder catches. He had his share of drops in college, but that can be corrected if he learns to catch with his hands instead of his chest. He also has to work on route-running, given the limited route-tree he had at Baylor. The bottom line is, this is the kind of guy the Cleveland fan is looking for, and I expect him to flourish and produce a lot of big plays.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 4 overall.

To me, Elliott is the most complete back to enter the NFL in 10 years. I'm not saying he's better than Adrian Peterson or Todd Gurley, necessarily, but Elliott has a more well-rounded skill set, in that he can catch better than Peterson and has a slight edge on Gurley in blocking and catching. He can do everything well, and he's good at picking up blitzers. Unlike Gurley, who had the Rams' backfield to himself in 2015, Elliott is set to share carries with Darren McFadden; even so, I'd expect a debut season out of Elliott that is similar to what Gurley accomplished last year, complete with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He'll help close out those tight, high-scoring games.

Tyler Ervin, RB, Houston Texans

Drafted in: Round 4, No. 119 overall.

The Texans run a very creative offense, and I expect Ervin to be a factor on screens and draws out of the backfield. Quickness is very important in that role, and he has an explosive first step. The all-time leader at San Jose State in all-purpose yards, Ervin can also return punts and kickoffs; he'll be a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. As a smaller guy, Ervin probably wouldn't hold up well with a full-time workload, but if he can get in on 45 plays per game as a complement to Lamar Miller, he should contribute something like 800 yards. He'll really create problems for Houston's opponents.

Joshua Garnett, OG, San Francisco 49ers

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 28 overall.

The Niners moved up into the first round to get Garnett, which is not something you do for a guard unless you see something special. But I think that's exactly what Garnett will prove to be as a run-blocker in Chip Kelly's system. Kelly loves to run the ball, and Garnett is one of the best run-blocking prospects out there. Kelly knows him from his Oregon days -- in fact, he tried to recruit the kid. He's athletic, powerful in short-yardage situations and strong. He can pull and lead if asked to. Garnett should start in Week 1 and be a very effective component in the ground game, which will definitely be stronger with him in it.

Temarrick Hemingway, TE, Los Angeles Rams

Drafted in: Round 6, No. 177 overall.

OK, so unlike most of the others on this list, Hemingway has plenty of mountains to climb before getting on the field, including the presence of fellow Rams draftee Tyler Higbee. But he's got outstanding athletic ability and tons of upside, and I think he's got a real chance to make some plays for Los Angeles if he gets the opportunity. Small-school guys like Hemingway tend to leave college underdeveloped for a variety of reasons, such as a comparative lack of resources and weight facilities -- South Carolina State, for example, doesn't have a tight ends coach on staff. Thus, there would conceivably be plenty of untapped potential in Hemingway as a player.

Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 18 overall. 

Remember Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning's fruitful partnership in Indy? Kelly will be Andrew Luck's Jeff Saturday. Kelly should be the starter for the next 10 years for the Colts, who seriously needed O-line help. Kelly is very strong, smart and quick, and he can also play guard if needed. His quickness enables him to get his hands on defensive linemen and steer them. He'll keep Luck from getting sacked -- and when Luck takes off with the ball, Kelly will get downfield fast enough to block someone. He's also an outstanding leader. If the people who vote for the award paid attention to offensive-line play, Kelly could be a serious Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

Braxton Miller, WR, Houston Texans

Drafted in: Round 3, No. 85 overall.

Houston had a pretty good draft, as evidenced by the two Texans players on this list. Given how new the former QB is to the position, Miller still needs to work on his route-running, but he's a big guy (6-1, 201 pounds) who has the speed to separate quickly. I think he'll become Houston's second receiver and really be a huge help to DeAndre Hopkins, because opponents will have to respect what he brings to the field. He's very competitive and can be used in the return game and as a running back in special situations. I expect him to outperform first-round pick Will Fuller, as Fuller relies more on straight-line speed, while Miller can make tacklers miss when he has the ball -- and he has the speed to take it to the house.

Keanu Neal, SS, Atlanta Falcons

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 17 overall.

Think Kam Chancellor, only faster. Neal is very tough and very strong, and he's a perfect fit for the Atlanta defense. I think he'll be one of those guys who makes some defensive calls back there and makes the Falcons' back seven a lot better than it was last year. Opposing receivers will think twice about coming across the middle. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn recruited Neal to Florida when Quinn was on staff there. Neal should also be a very good special teams contributor.

Reggie Ragland, LB, Buffalo Bills

Drafted in: Round 2, No. 41 overall.

Ragland has a lot of the same physical qualities as David Harris, who played extremely well for Rex Ryan when Ryan was with the Jets. I expect Ragland to fill the Harris role under Ryan in Buffalo. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year had 102 tackles and seven pass breakups in 2015. The latter stat is important, because one of the things you worry about with someone who has Ragland's 4.72 speed is the ability to cover tight ends and running backs -- but that was something Ragland clearly was able to do in college. He has very good instincts and strengths, and he's an outstanding tackler. When he gets to 'em, they go down. He's also a great character person. I expect him to rack up 100-plus tackles and improve Buffalo's defense by 7 points per game.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Drafted in: Round 1, No. 23 overall.

He's a strong, Michael Irvin-type receiver who plays faster than his timed speed of 4.63 seconds. He's very tough and competitive, racking up 202 catches in 35 collegiate games. He's the type of player Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves; I expect Treadwell to excel under position coach George Stewart, who is very good at getting everything possible out of his players. The sure-handed rookie is going to make a lot of catches on quick slants to keep drives going. He also will win about 80 percent of 50-50 balls. And he'll make life easier for Adrian Peterson, thanks in no small part to his blocking abilities.


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As long as he doesn't start of strong and find himself in the concussion world missing a few games along the way.

15 minutes ago, QuantumZebra said:

I'm excited for Neal. If he turns into a headhunting field general it will transform our defense.


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25 minutes ago, gazoo said:

I'm waiting for the "you Kant Cumpair" crowd to show up and tell us how they feel a former 40 year career 2 time Super Bowl winning NFL talent evaluator  how he can't compare Neal to Cam Chancellor. 


While I believe there are comparisons in the players skills / abilities, I think it is more comparing them int he role they will play in the defense and how they will be functionally used on the field. Not that Neal compares to Cam literally as a player...

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2 minutes ago, Leggggggo said:

While I believe there are comparisons in the players skills / abilities, I think it is more comparing them int he role they will play in the defense and how they will be functionally used on the field. Not that Neal compares to Cam literally as a player...

I wouldn't read that much into it.  But clearly, Brandt thinks very highly of the Neal pick and thought enough about him to make the comparison.

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14 minutes ago, Leggggggo said:

While I believe there are comparisons in the players skills / abilities, I think it is more comparing them int he role they will play in the defense and how they will be functionally used on the field. Not that Neal compares to Cam literally as a player...

No, the way this sentence is constructed how he is played comes after his skill set description which is what Gill was comparing "Think Kam Chancellor, only faster. Neal is very tough and very strong, **and** he's a perfect fit for the Atlanta defense". The "and" in this case separates two independent points.

Gil  also compared Laquon Treadwell to Michael Irvin just below it ( "Michael Irvin type receiver") and it  had nothing to do with how Vikes were going to use Laquon.

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1 minute ago, Flip Wilson said:

I love Gil Brandt...amazing to listen to on Sirius...83 years old and is able to evaluate every single guy who enters the draft every season. He is remarkable.

Yeah, there are certain guys who have been evaluating talent in the nfl for ages.  Guys like he and Mayock are always worth listening to and learning from.  

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11 minutes ago, xiv_T_E_C_O_ said:

I'll keep saying it, this kid is going to be special. 

I like the way he plays.  I think I heard him say he's not a mouthy guy on the field.  He said he sets the tone and lets his play dictate things on the field and that was usually enough to get guys to follow....

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No matter how good the kicking prospect is I still think using a 2nd rounder on a kicker is a mistake.  Young kickers take time to develop consistency.  Sign a vet and bring in a young player to compete.


We have signed Bryant and Graham off the scrap heap and they were more than serviceable.  

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