Sadly for NFL fans, the draft does not even signify the midway point between the Super Bowl and the start of the next regular season. For two days packed with incessant speculation and unmatched optimism, every football fan gets a fix. And for fans of every team, hope springs that maybe these few new players can make the difference. Then, we wait for four months until kickoffs count.
Rookies present the biggest challenge. To come up with statistical inputs for rookies, we run a very complex set of algorithms that factors collegiate performance, role in college, strength of collegiate competition, “measurables,” likely NFL role, previous performance of a similar player in that NFL role for this coaching staff and trends of similar rookies in the past. This gives us the player’s projected ratio stats (expected yards per carry, completion percentage, etc.), as well as his forecasted usage for the upcoming season. From there, we can compare all rookies based on who we think will make the biggest positive impact for his new NFL team in his first year. The Top 100 from this ranking are listed below.
Clearly, it is easier for some players at some positions to come in and make a positive impact in the first year. Typically, these positions include wide receiver and inside linebacker, where the stats rack up with playing time. For 2009, we are ranking 12 wide receivers among the Top 100 impact rookies. Four of them are in the top ten. Six of the eight inside linebackers drafted also appear on this list.
Based on these rankings, with six Top 100 rookies each, Detroit and Buffalo will get the most positive impact from their rookies in 2009. With just one player each in our Top 100 – both first round quarterbacks – Tampa Bay and the New York Jets have the draft classes with the least depth.
And now the top ten:
#10: Louis Delmas, S, Detroit
The likely starter over last year’s free safety, Kalvin Pearson, former Western Michigan standout, Louis Delmas should be an instant impact player on a team starving for help in the defensive backfield. The Lions only intercepted four passes all of last season. Delmas matched that total in his sophomore and senior seasons, while racking up the tackles for the Broncos. He is a great fit along young, hard-hitting strong safety Daniel Bullocks.
#9: Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
With Plaxico Burress’ sudden release and the team’s unwillingness to bring back Amani Toomer, Eli Manning needs some help. Nicks, the 6’1″, 215-pound receiver out of North Carolina is somewhere in between those previously mentioned receivers. He has great hands like Toomer and projects to a higher yards-per-catch than the retiree, yet lacks Burress’ elite size and redzone prowess. By the end of the year, expect Nicks to ultimately win the competition with Dominik Hixon and Steve Smith to be Manning’s new favorite target in the passing game.
#8: Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee
Tennessee is another team in desperate need of a go-to wide receiver. The Titans have not had a wideout eclipse 750 yards since Derrick Mason in 2004. In 2008, Justin Gage led the way with 651 yards on just 34 catches. Britt, who has prototypical size and athleticism for the position, should be the long-term answer for the Titans. With an excellent running game and a veteran quarterback, he has a good chance of breaking out this season. In the latter weeks and in the playoffs, look for Britt to become an intimidating weapon for Kerry Collins.
#7: Andre Smith, OL, Cincinnati
Andre Smith is listed here for the same reason he was drafted so early by the Bengals – for what he did on the field. The beauty of this analysis is that it is not bias (and does not know what the guy looks like without his shirt on). If a player has “issues” we work those into his playing time projection, but we don’t let that impact how is projected to play when he does. Smith is dominant run blocker who warranted Heisman conversation last season and is much closer to being number one on this list than he is to being a bust.
#6: Jason Smith, OL, St. Louis
Jason Smith gets the nod over Andre Smith because he is the better pass blocker. And while Andre’s pass blocking ability is closer to Jason’s than Jason’s run blocking is to Andre’s, protecting the quarterback is crucial in the NFL. All signs seem to indicate that Jason Smith is incredibly talented and yet is still improving. That should pay off for the Rams this season and for many years to come.
#5: Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle
Curry is a versatile linebacker who is ready to step in as a starter for the Seahawks in week one. The Wake Forest product has averaged 94 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions per season as a three-year starter in the ACC, making him as ready-made for the NFL as defensive prospects come. Furthermore, while some ultra-productive college defensive players have extreme red flags in their “measureables” that correctly point to deficiencies in their games, Curry possesses great size, speed and strength for the position.
#4: Percy Harvin, WR/RB, Minnesota
Everyone who has seen Harvin run raves about how quickly he can get to full speed and how fast he is with the football. For as impressive as he is to watch, Harvin’s numbers are better. Playing against the country’s best competition in the SEC, he was always the most dynamic player on the field. Per touch, he has more talent and can bring more to an NFL team than any other rookie. Our projection assumes Harvin is used in a way similar to Reggie Bush (or at least how Bush may be used in a backfield with Adrian Peterson), with 76 rushes, 50 receptions and some return duty.
#3: Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez is better than Matthew Stafford. Sanchez projects to complete 60% of his passes and an interception per 36 attempts for a typical NFL team. In the same vacuum, Stafford completes 54% of his passes and throws an interception every 29 passes. Stafford is ranked higher because of two things: 1) the Lions will throw the ball more and 2) Calvin Johnson. Sanchez should be solid this season and for several years. Neither of these quarterbacks appear to be consistent Pro Bowlers (New York bias aside), yet Sanchez’s bust potential is much lower than Stafford’s.
#2: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit
2009 should be significantly better for Detroit with Stafford at the helm than it was in 2008. That being said, there will be a learning curve and Stafford will probably never be great. The rankings of the quarterbacks on this list have more to do with the opportunities to impact the team positively than with talent. We project Sanchez to attempt 97% of the Jets’ passes and Stafford to attempt 91% of the Lions’. On total number of plays and touches alone, they would probably both be at the top of the “greatest overall negative impact” list as well.
#1: Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco
Unlike last season, when three players eclipsed the mark, there are no 1,000-yard rushers or receivers projected from this group of rookies. Crabtree is the closest thing and it really would not be a surprise to see him do it. He gets great marks across the board from college performance, to NFL opportunity, to “measurables” and even a successful player (Issac Bruce) in this role last season. The only concerns with this projection would be inconsistency at quarterback – Shaun Hill, Damon Huard, Alex Smith and Nate Davis are the options – and recent injuries to his feet and ankles.
Without further ado, numbers 100 – 11 are:
100. William Moore, S, Atlanta
99. Andre Brown, RB, New York Giants
98. Jaimie Thomas, OL, Indianapolis
97. Terrance Taylor, DT, Indianapolis
96. Nic Harris, LB/S, Buffalo
95. David Johnson, TE, Pittsburgh
94. D.J. Moore, CB, Chicago
93. Patrick Chung, S, New England
92. David Veikune, DE, Cleveland
91. Sen’Derrick Marks, DT, Tennessee
90. Derrick Williams, WR, Detroit
89. Zack Follett, LB, Detroit
88. Victor Harris, CB, Philadelphia
87. Shawn Nelson, TE, Buffalo
86. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore
85. Chris Owens, CB, Atlanta
84. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee
83. Seth Olsen, OL, Denver
82. Louis Murphy, WR, Oakland
81. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Philadelphia
80. Stanley Arnoux, LB, New Orleans
79. Pat White, WR/QB, Miami
78. Courtney Greene, S, Seattle
77. Travis Beckum, TE, New York Giants
76. Duke Robinson , OL, Carolina
75. Myron Pryor, DT, New England
74. Mike Mickens, CB, Dallas
73. Aaron Maybin, DE, Buffalo
72. Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay
71. Herman Johnson, OL, Arizona
70. Jarett Dillard, WR, Jacksonville
69. Clint Sintim, LB, New York Giants
68. Louis Vasquez, OL, San Diego
67. Andrew Levitre, OL, Buffalo
66. Robert Ayers, DE, Denver
65. Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis
64. Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Chicago
63. Michael Oher, OL, Baltimore
62. Scott McKillop, LB, San Francisco
61. Robert Henson, LB, Washington
60. Stryker Sulak, DE, Oakland
59. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay
58. Vontae Davis, CB, Miami
57. Max Unger, OL, Seattle
56. Paul Kruger, LB, Baltimore
55. Victor Butler, LB, Dallas
54. James Casey, TE, Houston
53. Michael Mitchell, S, Oakland
52. DeAngelo Smith, CB/S, Dallas
51. Ryan Succop, K, Kansas City (Mr. Irrelevant makes the cut!)
50. Darius Butler, CB, New England
49. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati
48. Sherrod Martin, CB, Carolina
47. Kraig Urbik, OL, Pittsburgh
46. Antoine Caldwell, OL, Houston
45. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland
44. Alex Mack, OL, Cleveland
43. Evander Hood, DT, Pittsburgh
42. Lawrence Sidbury, DE, Atlanta
41. Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis
40. Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati
39. DeAndre Levy, LB, Detroit
38. Everette Brown, DE, Carolina
37. Jonathan Luigs, C, Cincinnati
36. Sean Smith, CB, Miami
35. Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo
34. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, New Orleans
33. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit
32. Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City
31. Phil Loadholt, OL, Minnesota
30. Jason Phillips, LB, Baltimore
29. Eben Britton, OL, Jacksonville
28. Rashad Johnson, S, Arizona
27. Eric Wood, OL, Buffalo
26. Eugene Monroe, OL, Jacksonville
25. Larry English, DE/LB, San Diego
24. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia
23. Jarron Gilbert, DT, Chicago
22. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia
21. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland
20. Connor Barwin, DE, Houston
19. Chris Wells, RB, Arizona
18. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston
17. Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati
16. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver
15. James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis
14. B.J. Raji, DT, Green Bay
13. Brian Orakpo, DE, Washington
12. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis
11. Alphonso Smith, CB, Denver