As we head toward the 2018 season, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks examines what could be in store for 11 notable rookies on the offensive side of the ball.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
No. 1 overall pick, Round 1, Oklahoma
Best-case scenario: The Browns would love to effectively redshirt Mayfield, allowing him to acclimate to the pro game as a backup to veteran QB1 Tyrod Taylor. Of course, that blueprint hasn't been successfully executed with a quarterback drafted first overall since Carson Palmer served an apprenticeship under Jon Kitna in Cincinnati during the 2003 season. But the Heisman Trophy winner could benefit from watching the game from the sideline and honing his craft on the practice field before taking the reins in 2019.
Worst-case scenario: Despite his experience as a four-year player, Mayfield isn't quite ready to jump into the huddle as a rookie starter, at least based on one Cleveland.com reporter's view last month. If he is rushed onto the field before he completely understands the Browns' playbook, Mayfield could struggle to get the ball to the playmakers on the perimeter in a timely manner. Considering the importance of timing and rhythm in the passing game, Mayfield's hesitancy could be an issue if the team doesn't put him in his comfort zone by running a variation of the Oklahoma scheme this season.
Projected stats: 60 percent completion rate, 2,200 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
No. 2 overall pick, Round 1, Penn State
Best-case scenario: Barkley is the most dynamic running back in the Giants' backfield since Tiki Barber retired -- a spectacular playmaker with explosive potential as a "hybrid" (runner-receiver) on the perimeter. With defenses intent on slowing down Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard in the passing game, No. 26 carves up opponents and spits out 100-scrimmage-yard games like an ATM machine.
Worst-case scenario: Despite the fanfare preceding his arrival, Barkley could struggle as a runner behind a rebuilt offensive line that takes a while to jell. The big-bodied runner has a tendency to stop his feet in the hole, and his hesitancy could allow tacklers to corral him for minimal gains on inside runs. Such struggles could be masked temporarily by his remarkable talents as a pass catcher, but the bottom line is, Barkley will need to become a force as a ball carrier for the Giants' offense to spark a run to the NFC East title.
Projected stats: 275 carries, 1,200 rushing yards, 55 receptions, 450 receiving yards, 14 total touchdowns.
Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets
No. 3 overall pick, Round 1, USC
Best-case scenario: Conventional wisdom suggests a redshirt season would be ideal for Darnold, based on his limited overall experience playing quarterback (18 high school starts, 24 collegiate starts), but the ultra-competitive playmaker might be better served with some on-the-job training. Darnold seemingly gets better and better with each rep, and the team should take advantage of his quick-study abilities by immediately making him the QB1. Although he will make plenty of mistakes and likely lead all rookie quarterbacks in turnovers, Darnold is going to tease Jets officials with enough flashes to encourage them to build around his game and talents.
Worst-case scenario: The rookie quarterback could be overwhelmed by the speed, pace and complexity of the pro game. A disappointing preseason could delay Darnold's coronation as the QB1, despite his immense talent and potential, with coach Todd Bowles tapping one of his veterans (Teddy Bridgewater or Josh McCown) instead. Sure, Darnold could take over by the middle of the season, but assuming a 16-game slate as a rookie starter would likely accelerate his development for 2019.
Projected stats: 58 percent completion rate, 3,100 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
No. 7 overall pick, Round 1, Wyoming
Best-case scenario: There's no denying Allen's talent as a big, athletic, strong-armed playmaker, but he didn't play like a superstar in games as a collegian. With that in mind, Allen could use a redshirt year to focus on his footwork and fundamentals, and to become a more consistent passer from the pocket. In addition, he could take his time mastering the Bills' offense to better prepare for his role as the team's QB1 in 2019.
Worst-case scenario: It's quite possible that Allen outshines Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron in Buffalo's quarterback competition, due to his superior talent and athleticism. If the rookie wins the job outright, it would force him onto the field before he is ready to play at a high level. His situation would only be exacerbated by the lack of a star-studded supporting cast capable of taking pressure off him. With LeSean McCoy possibly sidelined due to an alleged domestic violence situation, Allen could struggle as a "one-man show" without another blue-chip player in the lineup.
Projected stats: 55 percent completion rate, 2,900 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions.
Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals
No. 10 overall pick, Round 1, UCLA
Best-case scenario:The Cardinals want to start veteran QB Sam Bradford, but Rosen's exceptional talent and high IQ could make it tough to keep the rookie on the bench, particularly if he lights up the preseason. Rosen has the arm talent to make all of the throws to every area of the field, while also displaying the anticipatory skills to throw pass catchers open in traffic. With established playmakers like Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson creating big-play opportunities for newbies like receiver Christian Kirk, Rosen could make a play for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award as a starter.
Worst-case scenario: Rosen isn't able to overtake Bradford immediately, but he gets his shot to run the team when the veteran quarterback succumbs to an injury behind a shaky offensive line. The leaky front five could keep No. 3 on the run, affecting his accuracy, judgment and ball security. Considering the correlation between turnovers and winning football, the Cardinals' suspect offensive line could prevent Rosen from playing like an all-rookie quarterback, despite the presence of a solid supporting cast around him.
Projected stats: 62 percent completion rate, 3,200 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.
D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
No. 24 overall pick, Round 1, Maryland
Best-case scenario: Coordinator Norv Turner's offense creates plenty of chances for big, athletic pass catchers to make plays on the perimeter. Moore certainly adds some juice to the lineup as a catch-and-run playmaker with enough speed, quickness and burst to win against single coverage. Given quarterback Cam Newton's ability to push the ball down the field, particularly on vertical routes outside the numbers, Moore's playmaking could help the offense get back on track in 2018.
Worst-case scenario: The transition to the pro game can be a tricky one for pass catchers coming out of spread systems. That's why Moore might be a non-factor as a first-year player, based on the challenge of learning the route-running tree and reading coverage on the fly. If the former Maryland standout fails to grasp the nuances of the position quickly, Turner could elect to lean on his veteran pass catchers (Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith and Greg Olsen) early in the season.
Projected stats: 45 catches, 650 yards, five touchdowns.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Baltimore Ravens
No. 25 overall pick, Round 1, South Carolina
Best-case scenario: The Ravens added a couple middle-of-the-field weapons to the lineup to help quarterback Joe Flacco (and Lamar Jackson, should he start) become more efficient between the hashes. Hurst will team with fellow rookie Mark Andrews to give the Ravens a promising 1-2 punch at tight end, and Hurst could take the lead role at the position as a big-bodied pass catcher with the size, length and ball skills to dominate over the middle. With those traits also serving Hurst well in the red zone, Hurst could emerge as a prolific scorer.
Worst-case scenario: The uncertainty at quarterback could limit the impact of the tight ends if the Ravens make radical changes to their offensive approach in the middle of the season. Baltimore could move away from a traditional West Coast offense in favor of a collegiate-like spread scheme that puts more skill guys on the field on the perimeter. Although Hurst (and Andrews) played the "Y" and "H" roles as collegians in spread systems, the Ravens' version might not be as friendly to the tight end with Jackson on the field.
Projected stats: 40 catches, 450 yards, six touchdowns.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
No. 26 overall pick, Round 1, Alabama
Best-case scenario: It's hard to find a No. 3 receiver with a game that is as polished as that of a veteran starter, but that's the case with Ridley. The former Alabama standout is both a precise route runner and a crafty release artist, with a bag of tricks at the line of scrimmage that makes him nearly impossible to press. In an offense that has one of the best WR1s in the game (Julio Jones) on one side and a rock-solid WR2 (Mohamed Sanu) on the other, Ridley could make light work of the No. 3 corners assigned to check him on the perimeter.
Worst-case scenario: The Falcons have so many mouths to feed on the perimeter, it's very likely that the ball will not head in Ridley's direction in some games. The talented playmaker could be rendered a decoy on some nights, which will limit his impact and production as a rookie. That said, he will still be a viable candidate to explode at any moment, based on his ability to win against nickel and dime defenders in space.
Projected stats: 55 catches, 900 yards, seven touchdowns.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
No. 27 overall pick, Round 1, San Diego State
Best-case scenario: The Seahawks have been looking for a dominant running back to man the RB1 spot since Marshawn Lynch parted ways with the squad after the 2015 season. Penny isn't "Beast Mode," but he possesses the size, versatility and playmaking ability to produce splash plays as a runner-receiver out of the backfield. The former San Diego State star is a true three-down back with the potential to consistently tally 2,000 scrimmage yards as Seattle's RB1.
Worst-case scenario: Penny's skills are certainly all-star caliber, but the Seahawks' leaky offensive line could prevent him from showcasing his talents as a playmaker. Without enough room to slip through cracks at the line of scrimmage, Penny could be forced to play more like a grinder than the big-bodied jitterbug who put up stellar numbers as an Aztec. The stylistic change might take away some of the sizzle and sauce that made him such a hot commodity as a prospect.
Projected stats: 200 carries, 1,050 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 30 receptions, 275 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns.
Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots
No. 31 overall pick, Round 1, Georgia
Best-case scenario: The Patriots' running-back-by-committee approach makes it tough for opponents to key on a designated player, which could bode well for a versatile playmaker like Michel. The explosive hybrid running back has the size, speed and burst to take it the distance from anywhere on the field as a runner or receiver. In a multi-faceted offense that creates mismatches through exotic personnel deployment in spread formations, Michel's unique talents as an offensive weapon could make him a Kevin Faulk-like playmaker for the Patriots this season.
Worst-case scenario: The game of musical chairs in the Patriots' running back room makes it impossible for a playmaker to get into a rhythm, with touches spread out among three or four players. Michel could see his carries and receptions fluctuate weekly, based on matchups, instead of receiving a consistent workload that allows him to showcase his talents. With the rookie fighting for playing time with established veterans like James White and Rex Burkhead, he could have difficulty putting up big numbers as a first-year player.
Projected stats: 115 rushes, 500 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 35 receptions, 350 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
No. 32 overall pick, Round 1, Louisville
Best-case scenario: If the Ravens are hell-bent on getting the electrifying dual-threat quarterback on the field with Joe Flacco installed as the starter, they'll need to create a few exotic packages to make opportunities for No. 8. The team has discussed using some two-quarterback packages, but the best way to take advantage of Jackson's skills might be to make him a full-time starter by the middle of the season. The rookie's improvisational skills will not only add some explosiveness to an otherwise-bland offense, but he could help the offense score points against some of the formidable defenses within the AFC North.
Worst-case scenario: Despite the team's desire to take advantage of Jackson's skills as a multi-faceted playmaker, the challenge of working a second quarterback into the game plan could be tougher than anticipated when the regular season starts. No. 8's insertion could disrupt the flow and rhythm of the offense, particularly if Flacco is off to a hot start. In addition, the use of a two-quarterback system could make life difficult on pass catchers attempting to adjust to different throws, while also transitioning from a pro-style offense to a scheme that might feature more collegiate-based concepts.
Projected stats: 58 percent completion rate, 1,500 passing yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions, 500 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns.