Giants, Buccaneers, Bills poised to get most out of rookie class

General managers, coaches and scouts will tell observers that it takes two to three years to judge a draft class, but that doesn't stop them from counting on their young players to make immediate contributions. In fact, coaches and scouts will meet once a week in training camp -- camps begin this week across the NFL -- to evaluate the progress of their top rookies and decipher if they are on track to make an immediate impact this season. Now, that impact could come in the form of special teams contributions or as a rotational player, but of course, every coach would love for one or two of their rookies to get in the Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion over the course of the season.

Given some time to survey each and every roster in the NFL, I've decided that these are the five teams poised to get the biggest contributions from their respective rookie classes:

5) Cleveland Browns

If the Browns are going to emerge as the contenders Hue Jackson envisions, the 2016 class certainly will play a pivotal role in the team's revival under the ultra-confident coach. Cleveland added receiver Corey Coleman to provide some juice and playmaking ability in the passing game. He was a touchdown machine at Baylor and could reprise that role with the Browns. Josh Gordon was reinstated by the NFL on Monday, but he'll still be suspended for the first four games of 2016. Thus, Coleman could post big numbers as the team's designated playmaker during the first quarter of the season. He could be joined by Jordan Payton, Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins in the rotation, as the team leans on the rookie quartet to anchor the passing game. Now, I've already penciled Robert Griffin III in as the starting quarterback, but don't dismiss Cody Kessler's chances of cracking the lineup before season's end. The Browns shocked the football world when they selected the USC product in the third round, but he is a savvy signal caller who has all of the intangibles to direct an offense that is predicated on getting the ball out quickly to the playmakers on the perimeter. If RGIII falters early in the season, Jackson could hand the ball to the rookie to see if he can stop the revolving door from spinning at the quarterback position.

On defense, the Browns should get immediate contributions from OLB Emmanuel Ogbah and DE Carl Nassib. The loss of Desmond Bryant to injury really hurts the team's pass rush. This could force defensive coordinator Ray Horton to lean on his rookie tandem to harass quarterbacks in the pocket. Linebacker Joe Schobert isn't flashy, but his workmanlike game could help him earn playing time in Year 1.

4) Tennessee Titans

GM Jon Robinson cleverly parlayed the top overall pick into a bevy of selections that should pay immediate dividends for the Titans. Jack Conklin solidifies the edge on Marcus Mariota's front side in pass protection as a "plug and play" starter at right tackle. The 6-foot-6, 308-pounder will neutralize some of the power rushers within the division -- namely J.J. Watt -- while teaming with Chance Warmack to give the Titans an impressive set of people-movers on the right side.

Derrick Henry is expected to share the workload with DeMarco Murray in the Titans' backfield, but the big-bodied runner's combination of size, physicality and toughness could make him the team's RB1 down the stretch. (That's the time of year when the weather turns cold and defenders routinely make "business decisions" when faced with the prospect of hitting a 6-3, 242-pounder on the perimeter.) If the Titans stick to the "exotic smashmouth" philosophy Mike Mularkey has been touting throughout the offseason, Henry could play a vital role in the team's run-centric offense. Tajae Sharpe has been one of the "hype bunnies" of the offseason after impressing team officials with his slick route-running ability and strong hands. He is already penciled in as a WR2, but he could become Mariota's top target in key situations as a "chain mover" between the hashes.

Kevin Dodd sat out most of the offseason recovering from foot surgery, but that shouldn't prevent him from making his mark as a situational pass rusher in Year 1. He should split time with Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo to give the Titans an effective three-man rotation on the outside. Keep an eye on Kevin Byard as a potential game changer in the secondary. The wily ballhawk had a knack for snagging interceptions as a collegian (19 career picks), and his playmaking skills will be accentuated in a defense that forces quarterbacks into hurried throws from the pocket.

3) Buffalo Bills

For the Bills' defense to get back on track, Rex Ryan will need to get major contributions from his rookie class -- particularly Shaq Lawson, Adolphus Washington and Reggie Ragland. Although Lawson is currently on the mend nursing a shoulder, the first-round pick is hoping to rejoin the team by the middle of the season. If he makes a speedy recovery and returns to form, the rookie could give the Bills a power rusher to feature off the edge on passing downs. Most importantly, though, Lawson will serve as a stout run defender on the edge who can prevent opponents from turning the corner on outside runs.

Washington will crack the starting lineup as a 3-technique to provide Ryan with an athletic presence opposite Marcell Dareus. With the Pro Bowl NT commanding double-team attention on nearly every snap, Washington should have plenty of opportunities to make splash plays (tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles) on the inside, particularly with the Bills poised to blitz like crazy this season.

Ragland gets the last mention here, but he could be the most important rookie contributor for the Bills as the traffic cop in the middle. The defense struggled with communication and execution throughout the 2015 season, which prompted Ryan and his staff to look for a leader on the second level. Ragland has experience controlling the defense from his time at 'Bama, and his unique skills as a big-bodied run thumper will add some toughness to the group. Not to mention, his tackling prowess and production could make him a legitimate contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, if he totals 100-plus tackles as the hunter in the middle of the Bills' defense.

Oh, and keep an eye on Kevon Seymour as a late-round pick who could make a big impact. The 5-11, 184-pound cover corner was outstanding during the spring and could carve out a role as the team's nickel corner during the regular season. I spoke with some of the Bills' front-office members and coaches, and they believe Seymour could be a Ronald Darby-like presence on the perimeter as a rookie.

2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Buccaneers are going to win big in Dirk Koetter's debut season as head coach, the 2016 rookie class must hit the ground running from Day 1. The team is counting on several first-year players to make immediate contributions as starters or situational playmakers, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Vernon Hargreaves steps in as the team's CB2 opposite Brent Grimes, but he could be the Buccaneers' top cover corner by the end of the season. The spunky playmaker has a rare combination of athleticism, instincts and awareness that allows him to shine on the outside or in the slot against dynamic pass catchers. In a division that features a handful of explosive playmakers -- New Orleans' Brandin Cooks, Atlanta's Julio Jones and Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. -- Hargreaves' cover skills will play a pivotal role for the Bucs' D.

Noah Spence also will play a key role in the Buccaneers' potential rise as the team's designated pass rusher off the edge. The 6-2, 254-pounder has remarkable first-step quickness and snap-count anticipation, but his natural hand skills and body control are what make him a nightmare to block on passing downs. Despite concerns about his strength and motor, Spence's explosive pass-rush skills remind me a little of Von Miller, which makes him a threat to register 10-plus sacks when he settles into his role off the edge. Yes, I know that's high praise for a player who hasn't played a down in the NFL, but Spence has the tools to be an impact player as a rookie and I expect him to flourish in Mike Smith's scheme.

The second-round selection of Roberto Aguayo was met with eye rolls and snickers on draft day, but the kicker could determine the team's playoff fate with his leg. He was nearly automatic whenever he stepped onto the field as a collegian (converted 96.7 percent of his kicks at Florida State) and his perfect mark from short range (made 100 percent of his kick attempts within 40 yards, including extra points) eliminates concerns about PATs for the Buccaneers. In addition, Aguayo is a spot-on kickoff specialist, adept at dropping the ball into the corners on sky kicks. Considering the new touchback rules and the impact of field position on scoring opportunities, Aguayo's value as a directional kicker could make him the Buccaneers' most important rookie "defender."

1) New York Giants

The Giants are definitely in win-now mode, with the team desperately seeking to end a four-season playoff drought. GM Jerry Reese not only passed big checks to a number of marquee free agents (Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins), but he plucked a handful of immediate contributors in the draft who are expected to make their marks as rookies. Eli Apple and Darian Thompson will step into the starting lineup as the team's nickel corner and free safety, respectively. Apple can play on the outside or inside in sub-packages, giving Steve Spagnuolo tremendous flexibility with his lineups. In addition, Apple's technique versatility (off backpedal and press) should allow him to shine in man or zone coverage on the perimeter. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jenkins also capable of using a variety of tools on the outside, the G-Men suddenly have a promising set of CBs.

Thompson is slated to step in as the free safety opposite Landon Collins. The ex-Boise State standout is an excellent communicator with a high football IQ, which makes him a natural traffic cop in the secondary. He is also a rangy center fielder with the ball skills to become an immediate difference maker between the hashes. If he masters the scheme quickly, Thompson should fill a huge void for the Giants.

On offense, there's no question WR Sterling Shepard has been the star of the offseason. He has impressed coaches and team officials with his mastery of the position (route running, releases and position flexibility), while also displaying big-play potential on the perimeter. Shepard is a clone of Victor Cruz, capable of doing damage from the slot or on the outside. Thus, the Giants could trot out an interchangeable trio (Odell Beckham Jr., Cruz and Shepard) that could pose problems for opponents attempting to double-team or bracket OBJ in critical moments. Considering how many teams lack three top cover corners, Shepard could thrive as the Giants' WR2 or WR3 in Year 1.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content