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Seven rookies to watch in Friday's preseason games

A laundry list of rookies got their initial taste of the NFL on Thursday night. With eight games on tap for Friday, it's rinse-and-repeat time.

After giving you five first-year players to watch Thursday, we're busting out seven for tonight's games. (Football is back. Just indulge us, won't you?)

Here we go:

1. Geno Smith, Jets quarterback

Smith is one of the most overanalyzed quarterback prospects in years, mainly because he's a Jet. His successes and failures over the next four games (and how he handles them) will be shoved under the microscope.

If Smith escapes in one piece, Mark Sanchez is out of a job. Everybody's watching to see how Geno deals with the pressure (most of it coming, Friday, from the Lions' defense).

2. Ziggy Ansah, Lions defensive end

The Lions have pieced together a nasty front four. Ansah immediately will benefit from playing alongside Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. With plans to unleash Ansah on passing downs, he's a threat to pile up sacks as a rookie. Ansah arrives as a super-raw mystery man, but defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is among the NFL's better teachers. This could be fun.

3. Denard Robinson, Jaguars "Offensive Weapon"

The Jaguars turned heads when they listed Robinson as an "OW" on their depth chart, but dropped passes, fumbled snaps and botched punts have quelled the hype.

"I've just got to work on it," Robinson told The Associated Press. "I'm not going to run away from no problem." The Dolphins' defense should provide a good test.

4. Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals defensive back

It will be fascinating to watch how Mathieu is plugged into the secondary. After a scout told that the rookie has been "pound-for-pound, the best player on the field," expectations got dialed way up.

Look for Mathieu to see time all over the place -- cornerback, safety, nickel back and maybe on returns -- against the Packers.

5. Patriots rookie receivers

Plenty have called for less -- not more -- preseason football, but Patriots fans should feel differently this summer. Tom Brady needs all the work he can get with his trio of rookie receivers.

Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins have made strides in offseason workouts, and Brady was seen "ripping the Eagles' defense apart" in scrimmages this week. Now it's time to see what these newbies can bring to a game situation.

6. Eddie Lacy, Packers running back

Forget the unflattering photo. Lacy quieted critics with 65 yards on eight carries in last Saturday's in-house scrimmage. Packers general manager Ted Thompson gushed, calling Lacy a "very decisive runner."

"He's strong, he's powerful, he's big," Thompson said. "He puts a lot of pressure on a defense because if he gets on the edge he's pretty difficult to handle."

Lacy's a question mark against the Cardinals because of a nagging hamstring injury, but we're crossing our fingers he'll play.

7. Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings wide receiver

While Greg Jennings has morphed into a brat, we haven't heard much from Patterson. He has spent most of camp with the second-team offense behind Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. Starting Friday, Patterson will be given every opportunity to win the job.

He's a physical freak, and coach Leslie Frazier is enamored: "If you were going to put together a receiver, he would look like Cordarrelle. ... That's going to give us a dimension we didn't have a year ago."

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