Rookie class will have small impact on starting lineups in Week 1

  • By Pat Kirwan
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G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
Glenn Dorsey is one of 24 rookies that will make their first NFL start in Week 1.

While the final roster cuts are in, there will be slight changes to rosters over the next few days as teams claim or sign players in order to make their team better.

One thing, however, remains true: As usual, the rookie class will make little impression on Week 1 starting lineups as a whole.

Week 1 rookie starters by position:
Position Player
QB Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco
RB Matt Forte, Kevin Smith
FB Peyton Hillis, Jerome Felton
TE None
WR Eddie Royal
G Donald Thomas
C Mike Pollak
OT Sam Baker, Jeff Otah, Ryan Clady, Duane Brown, Branden Albert, Jake Long
DE Chris Long, Kendall Langford
DT Sedrick Ellis, Glenn Dorsey
LB Jerod Mayo, Curtis Lofton
CB Brandon Flowers
S Tyrell Johnson, Charles Godfrey

There are 704 total starters, excluding punters and kickers, in the NFL. While this year's rookie class is good, it would be impressive if it could secure 25 of those 704 starting jobs. Usually three percent of the opening day starters are rookies. This year 24 rookies, or three percent, will likely be starting this weekend.

Of course a few rookies, like running backs Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh, Darren McFadden in Oakland and outside linebacker Vernon Gholston for the New York Jets, will get significant playing time right out of the gate. But the truth is it's very hard for rookies to pass a veteran on the depth chart in just six weeks of training camp.

Here are some observations about opening day and the rookie class of 2008:

It's no secret that the Falcons, Chiefs and Dolphins are young teams. Consequently all three teams have three rookies in their starting lineup. Each team plans on plugging in a rookie at left tackle, which presents lots of challenges.

Atlanta sends rookie QB Matt Ryan out with rookie OT Sam Baker on his blind side, as well as rookie middle linebacker Curtis Lofton on the other side of the ball. The Dolphins have Jake Long at left tackle, surprise starter Donald Thomas at guard, and Kendall Langford at defensive end. The Chiefs got nothing out of rookie guard Branden Albert all summer due to an injury. But he is scheduled to protect Brodie Croyle's blind side on the road against the Patriots in Week 1. Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall pick in April's draft, will start on the defensive line for the Chiefs and Brandon Flowers, the only starting rookie corner in the league, gets to face Randy Moss and Tom Brady, which is no easy task.

The Broncos are depending on some rookies to step in right away, too. Denver starts a rookie at offensive left tackle in Ryan Clady, at wide receiver in Eddie Royal, who has to play because of Brandon Marshall's suspension, and at fullback in Peyton Hillis, who Denver drafted in the seventh round. The Broncos have been one of the oldest teams in the league for a number of years but it is the right time for them to get younger.

There's no problem when quality teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers don't have any rookies starting because it is difficult to break into the lineup of a good team. When teams like Baltimore (5-11), Cincinnati (7-9), New York Jets (4-12), Oakland (4-12), and San Francisco (5-11) can't get one rookie starter for opening day it can be a problem down the road. One thing I learned the hard way is when a team isn't winning it might be time to bite the bullet and get the young players on the field.

In total, nine offensive linemen are scheduled to start in Week 1. It was a strong draft for that group. The only two offensive tackles of the eight drafted in the first round of last April's draft not to start on opening day will be Gosder Cherilus in Detroit and Chris Williams, who is injured, in Chicago.



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