Rookies aren't expected to play big roles on most playoff teams, but we've seen a number of first-year players emerge as key contributors on Super Bowl contenders this season. With the postseason set to begin this weekend, I thought it was a great time to pick out five rookies poised to make a big impact in the playoffs. Here are five guys to watch, ranked by how much of an impact I expect them to make in the postseason (in descending order starting with the biggest).
1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys, QB: Despite posting the best rookie quarterback season in NFL history, Prescott faces immense pressure heading into the playoffs as the leader of "America's Team". Skeptics might question whether Prescott can make enough deep throws to complement one of the NFL's most explosive rushing attacks, but the rookie's efficiency, accuracy and ball placement should alleviate concerns about his ability to rise up in the postseason. With a talented supporting cast around him and an exceptional front line protecting him, Prescott could deliver big games.
2. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs, WR/KR: Points are hard to come by in the playoffs, so playmakers with the potential to generate points on offense or in the kicking game are coveted at a premium. Hill lights up scoreboards like a pinball machine as an explosive runner, receiver and returner for the Chiefs. Given Andy Reid's creativity and aggressive approach, Hill could be a touchdown machine in the postseason.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, RB: The NFL's rushing leader could easily sit atop this list based on his explosive potential as the Cowboys' RB1. Elliott can take over the game as a "grinder" between the tackles or deliver splash plays on the perimeter via the run or pass. Considering how the Cowboys want to control the game with an old-school offense that revolves around a dynamic running back and their massive offensive line, the rookie standout could take the team to the winner's circle with a string of impressive 100-yard rushing games.
4. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants, WR: The Giants' offense has essentially been a "one-man show" with Odell Beckham, Jr., occupying the lead role in the passing game. However, the unit must find another weapon to lean on to make a run at the title. Shepard has flashed playmaking ability in the red zone (see eight touchdowns), but the team needs him to be a factor between the 20s, particularly on third down. If Eli Manning can rediscover his magic touch as a passer and playmaker, Shepard could be the X-factor that propels the Giants beyond the Wild Card Round.
5. Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons, LB: The NFL's rookie leader in tackles could be the spark plug the Falcons' defense needs to make a deep postseason run. Jones is a disruptive playmaker with speed and explosiveness to make plays against the run as a sideline-to-sideline chaser. Not to mention, he displays impressive instincts, awareness and ball skills in coverage, as evidenced by his pair of pick-sixes. With Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense lighting up scoreboards, Jones could emerge as the difference maker on a defense set up to preserve a lead.