NFL rookie projections: Vic Beasley among intriguing defenders


Coaches and scouts rarely discuss the expectations of prominent rookies with the outside world, but every front office looks for timely playmaking and significant production from key first-year pros, particularly Day 1 and Day 2 selections. With offseason activities in full swing, it's a great time to take a closer look at several high-profile rookies and examine how Year 1 could play out. Below are the best- and worst-case scenarios for 10 defensive newbies of note.

Leonard Williams, DT, New York Jets

No. 6 overall pick, Round 1, USC

Best-case scenario: It might take awhile for Williams to crack the Jets' star-studded defensive line rotation, but once he does, he makes an immediate impact as an interior hybrid defender, augmenting New York's stellar run defense and giving Todd Bowles a dynamic rusher to incorporate into sub-package situations.

Worst-case scenario: Williams is a spectacular talent with immense potential, but he ends up needing a little work to become a disruptive force as a pro. That lack of polish prevents Williams from truly standing out as a rookie.

My projection: 45 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.

Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta Falcons

No. 8 overall pick, Round 1, Clemson

Best-case scenario: Beasley thrives as the Falcons' designated pass rusher -- the role for which he was handpicked by new coach Dan Quinn, due to his explosive combination of speed, quickness and burst off the edge. With his electric rush skills, Beasley notches 10-plus sacks as a rookie despite his inexperience and slender frame.

Worst-case scenario: Beasley's build and questionable run-stopping skills make him a liability on the edge. Opponents elect to run the ball extensively at Beasley, forcing Quinn to choose between defending the run or having Beasley's pass-rush skills on the field in key moments.

My projection: 35 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles.

Trae Waynes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

No. 11 overall pick, Round 1, Michigan State

Best-case scenario: Waynes emerges as a standout CB2, helping the Vikings field one of the NFL's top defenses in 2015. He teams with Xavier Rhodes to give Minnesota a formidable 1-2 punch on the perimeter capable of combatting the dangerous aerial attacks that reside in the NFC North.

Worst-case scenario: Waynes takes more than a year to develop into an impact defender on the perimeter, slowed by his transition to the Vikings' scheme, which could ask him to play off coverage and utilize his backpedal to cover receivers downfield. Players often need time to adjust to using traditional techniques in space after playing receivers nose-to-nose at the line of scrimmage, and Waynes, who has extensive experience in bump-and-run coverage, proves to be no exception.

My projection: 65 tackles, two interceptions, 12 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Arik Armstead, DE, San Francisco 49ers

No. 17 overall pick, Round 1, Oregon

Best-case scenario: Armstead uses his exceptional length, athleticism and range to create havoc against the run from his five-technique position, giving the Niners ample opportunity to unleash Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch off the edges on passing downs. His ability to play a key role as a rookie helps counter the offseason loss of several key players along the defensive front.

Worst-case scenario: Armstead, who was viewed as a better athlete than player by some scouts leading up to the draft, proves to be a developmental prospect who is not quite ready to contribute as a starter, despite his talent. Of course, while most such youngsters end up needing time, the Niners can't really afford to have this scenario unfold, given the holes they must fill along the front line.

My projection: 35 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

No. 18 overall pick, Round 1, Washington

Best-case scenario: The tenacious bump-and-run defender shows the football world he's also a polished technician capable of snuffing out WR1s on the perimeter via a variety of coverage skills -- and the Chiefs quickly discover they've added the most talented cover corner in the draft in the 6-foot, 197-pounder.

Worst-case scenario: The Chiefs' coaching staff can't handle Peters, whose prickly personality likely prevented some teams from embracing him as a top pick, as well as the team had hoped. Peters fails to heed the instructions of Andy Reid and others behind closed doors, and Kansas City regrets taking a chance on a talented prospect with some character concerns -- he was dismissed by the Huskies last November after reportedly clashing with the coaching staff -- in his background.

My projection: 55 tackles, three interceptions, 10 passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

Bud Dupree, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 22 overall pick, Round 1, Kentucky

Best-case scenario: Dupree contributes immediately as a pass rusher, successfully filling the critical void created by Jason Worilds' exit (and surprising retirement) in the offseason. The 6-4, 269-pounder makes good use of the tools he has (speed, quickness and explosiveness) to provide a consistent rush -- and he also is able to complement James Harrison as a rough-and-rugged force off the edge.

Worst-case scenario: The collegian "jack of all trades" proves to lack a dominant skill as a pass rusher, and the Steelers do not get the sack production or disruption required to create the kind of chaos that is necessary to slow down some of the high-powered offenses that dominate the AFC.

My projection: 25 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Shane Ray, OLB, Denver Broncos

No. 23 overall pick, Round 1, Missouri

Best-case scenario: The presence of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware allows Ray to work his way into the lineup as a situational pass rusher. With his energetic rush style and explosive first-step quickness, Ray grows into a double-digit sack producer early in his career, despite playing extensively as a sub-package defender as a rookie.

Worst-case scenario: Ray is unable to flash as a pass rusher early in the season, failing to develop into a DPR (designated pass rusher) capable of complementing Miller off the edges and alleviating some of the burden on Ware. The 33-year-old Ware is thus forced to play extended minutes, leading the veteran to wear down prior to the postseason.

My projection: 25 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Carolina Panthers

No. 25 overall pick, Round 1, Washington

Best-case scenario: Thompson silences the critics questioning his ability to play linebacker as a pro, flashing exceptional instincts, awareness and playmaking skills as a rookie. With Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis demanding opponents' attention, Thompson makes key contributions as a relatively anonymous playmaker on the second level.

Worst-case scenario: Despite his versatility, athleticism and penchant for playmaking, Thompson needs some time to develop the instincts to man the position as a pro. Thompson -- whose college tape occasionally featured late reactions -- looks out of place in a lineup dominated by two of the top linebackers in the game.

My projection: 45 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

No. 33 overall pick, Round 2, Alabama

Best-case scenario: The Giants discover that the ex-Alabama star is a complete safety, capable of thumping in the box or floating between the numbers without issue and serving as the "MOF" (middle of the field) playmaker their secondary desperately needed. Collins validates the team's decision to make a move up the board to grab him, while discrediting the concerns about his coverage skills that led to his surprising slide out of the first round.

Worst-case scenario: Collins' coverage limitations show up and prevent defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo from utilizing the entire playbook, leading the Giants' defense to struggle against the premier tight ends that dominate the NFC. Collins fails to become the hybrid safety Big Blue needed, someone capable of walking down into the box to nail runners in the hole or shadowing tight ends all over the field.

My projection: 75 tackles, two sacks, one interception and seven passes defensed.

Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas Cowboys

No. 60 overall pick, Round 2, Nebraska

Best-case scenario: Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli transforms the draft's biggest wild card -- a natural athlete with the explosiveness to create chaos off the edge -- into a disruptive force, getting him to buy into the blue-collar approach (relying on hard work, effort and hustle) that has become the hallmark of the Cowboys' defense.

Worst-case scenario: Gregory's slender frame and inconsistent motor prevent the rookie from upgrading Dallas' pass rush with his explosive athleticism and rush skills. Despite Marinelli's urging to play with better effort and tempo, Gregory struggles living up to the hustle standard, and his suspect run defense keeps him from carving out a significant role as a rookie.

My projection: 30 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.


Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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