Every NFL team heads into the offseason with a plan to secure at least one or two game changers on draft day. While most observers expect the difference makers to come off the board in the first round, we've seen mid- and late-round selections burst onto the scene with spectacular rookie campaigns. This season, we watched Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, earn Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Not to be outdone, Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa played at a Pro Bowl level as rookies, which is expected from top-5 picks.
With those players setting the standard for rookie performance, I thought it was the perfect time to look ahead to the 2017 draft to see which five prospects are capable of making the biggest impact on the league in Year One. Here's my list of players, ranked 1-5, starting with the prospect I expect to make the greatest impact next season.
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DE: The NFL's gradual transition to a pass-centric emphasis has made pass rushers valuable commodities in today's game. Garrett is one of the best pure pass rushers to enter the league in the past decade. Measuring 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, the Aggies' star is an exceptional pass rusher with explosive quickness, balance and body control. He can win off the edge using finesse or power to overwhelm blockers using his superior hand skills and combative tactics to win one-on-one battles. Although Garrett also displays rock-solid skills as a run stopper, he's destined to make an immediate impact as a pass-rush specialist for a team that allows him to hunt the quarterback off the edges.
2. Jamal Adams, LSU, S: The latest "DB U" product is the most instinctive defender in the draft, and he might be the most versatile prospect between the hashes, too. From stopping runners in the hole as a box-area defender to blanketing tight ends or slot receivers in space to roaming the deep middle as a centerfielder, Adams has a knack for being around the action in critical moments. Most importantly, he has a keen sense of timing and anticipation that will serve him well as a designated playmaker in a creative scheme. If Adams lands on a team with a coach who understands how to tap into his skills as a Swiss Army knife, he could deliver enough splash plays to walk away with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season.
3. Mike Williams, Clemson, WR: The big-bodied pass-catcher has all of the tools needed to dominate as an NFL WR1 from Day 1. Williams plays a very physical game on the perimeter, yet displays ballerina-like body control in making acrobatic snags along the boundary. As a master of the push-off and the alley-oop catch, Williams is a dangerous red-zone weapon who's capable of transforming into a scoring machine as the focal point of a passing game. We've seen the impact ultra-physical pass-catchers like Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Mike Evans and others have made on the game as young players. There's no reason why Williams can't be the next "bully" to dominate on the perimeter.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford, RB: The running back position is supposedly devalued in the NFL, but I continue to argue that it is certainly not diminished in importance, particularly when a RB has the ability to affect the game as a runner, receiver and returner. As the ultimate triple threat, McCaffrey could set the league on fire like a poor-man's version of Tyreek Hill on the perimeter. He can not only take it the distance from anywhere on the field, but he is able to do so from any spot in a formation. Whether it's in the backfield as a traditional dot back, in the slot or out wide as a receiver, McCaffrey's versatility could make him an unstoppable force on the field. That doesn't even include the magic that he produces in the return game as a Houdini in a phone booth. Considering the way coaches covet playmakers, I expect McCaffrey to quickly emerge as a difference maker at the next level.
5. Reuben Foster, Alabama, LB: If you ask any NFL defensive coordinator about the key building blocks on a championship-caliber defense, they will quickly cite the importance of having an enforcer in the middle. Foster is the kind of menacing defender who will quickly pique the interests of scouts due to his superb instincts and gladiator-like playing style. Considering his strong nose for the ball and his exceptional awareness, the Alabama standout could be a tackling machine as the centerpiece of a defense.