The expectation for first year NFL players isn't to come in and instantly play on the same level as veterans. Rather, a player who can flash their strengths and progress throughout the year would be said to have a successful rookie season. But sometimes you have players break into the league and play like they've been there for years.
Hitting on a player like this does wonders for a team. It often results in a team's weakness becoming a strength seemingly overnight. Some of these players are more of a surprise than others. Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper, and Marcus Peters were impact players right from the start. But they were also first round picks; they were the best of the best. These aren't the only players that have instant impacts. From 2015, second round pick Ronald Darby had a very good year, some thought he out performed Peters. In addition, third round pick Jordan Hicks was a defensive rookie of the year candidate midway through the season. Fifth round pick Adrian Amos was an immediate starter, playing over 99% of the snaps at free safety for the bears. Impact players can come from all over a draft class.
Here are the top 15 players most likely to have an instant impact in the NFL.
15 Carson Wentz - Quarterback
It isn’t a secret that this year’s quarterback class is far from some we’ve seen the past few years. But that doesn't mean there isn't any talent at the position. While for a bit Goff was the top prospect, it appears Wentz is taking that tag from him.
Wentz doesn't have a ton of downsides. Most notably he didn't face great competition in college, and he needs to work on refining his mental game. His arm isn't elite but it certainly isn't a negative. If he's able to make proper progress in training camp, he'll break out with a very impressive rookie season.
Wentz is in prime position to make the critics of this year's class look a little silly as everyone evaluates the draft class throughout next season and beyond.
14 Joe Haeg - Offensive Tackle
Many casual fans view offensive linemen as out-of-shape big guys who are just there to get in the way of the defenders. People who dig into what it takes to be linemen of course know this isn't quite true. In fact, athletic ability is insanely valued by many scouts. Looking back on the disappointing 2013 class, Lane Johnson was praised for his impressive athletic ability. He's been far and away the most impressive of the linemen taken at the top of that draft.
Joe Haeg is one of these athletic tackles. Coming into the draft out of North Dakota, he has the physical tools and the brains needed to have success in his rookie year. Like every player in the draft, he'll need to work hard on his game in training camp to have a successful year, but everything feels primed for a team to get a steal in Haeg.
13 Jarran Reed - Defensive Tackle
Jarran Reed is a large and athletic defensive tackle capable of playing both a 4-3 and 3-4. He'll have some work to do in training camp, refining his technique and improving his conditioning. But he has the movement and the size to fight through blockers, as well as the awareness to stay on point amidst the chaos. This will make him a very coveted prospect.
He’ll likely start off as a rotational player for his rookie year, but he has the natural abilities needed to dominate whenever he’s on the field.
12 Victor Ochi - Edge Rusher
A small guy from a small school. Victor Oshi possesses a crazy first step. Edge rushers that get significantly higher than most expect almost always have this trait. He'll be highly coveted and will likely be taken a bit higher than what most fans are thinking, but fans of the team who pick him will have a lot of fun watching him throughout the 2016 season. He played defensive end in college, but will likely project a bit better at 3-4 outside linebacker.
11 Vernon Hargreaves - Cornerback
Teams that become dynasties in sports find ways to exploit market inefficiencies in player acquisitions. The Seahawks did that when it came to size in cornerback prospects. The market has caught up now, and larger, physical corners are valued much more highly. This is the biggest concern about Hargreaves; he’s small.
But everything about Hargreaves feels like he’ll be an exception to this new rule. He possesses all the talent needed to have a dominating first year. His talents are off the charts. His man coverage skills are top notch. He's able to play the ball with the best of them. Hargreaves will make an excellent corner in the NFL. If he slides down the draft boards because of his size (which he likely will), it’s a good bet that a team is going to get a steal with an immediate impact player in their secondary.
10 Emmanuel Ogbah - Edge Rusher
Ogbah is a player who needs to work to become more consistent but he's shown that the ability is there. He has the athleticism needed to excel as an edge rusher. If he can make the proper progression during training camp, he'll be in prime position to have an impact rookie season. With his position being the most valuable one on defense, it's likely that fans will see his stock rise leading up to the draft, providing he keeps showing off his impressive attributes.
9 Kevin Dodd - Edge Rusher
Dodd was over shadowed in previous years by Vic Beasley at Clemson. He entered the year largely under the radar. In his first year as the team's premier pass rusher, Dodd show cased incredible pass rushing ability that would make him a highly regard prospect alone. But in addition, he has equally impressive run stopping skills. This edge rusher class is one that's full of guys that excel in both areas of defense, rather than being full of "pass rush specialists" like it seems every year.
Dodd has everything he needs to bust into the NFL and have a crazy first year.
8 Sterling Shepard - Slot Receiver
At 5-10/ 193, Sterling Shepard projects best at slot reciever. Being a position that is often seen as less valuable than others, it's very likely Shepard will fall to the mid-rounds.
However, Shepard is one of the most NFL ready prospects in the draft. He has the route running ability to be a reliable option for his quarterback, as well as the playmaking ability that will get fans excited. He looks like he'll be a low risk, high reward player in the middle of the draft.
7 Jonathan Bullard - Defensive End
Bullard is a crazy athlete who powers through the line with his overwhelming strength and quick first step, something NFL scouts have consistently shown to put a lot of stock into. He played all over the defensive line at Florida. He’s a player who can either beat you up or just run right past you depending on what he feels like doing.
6 Laquon Treadwell - Wide Receiver
The NFL's best receivers are the ones who are physically dominating. Treadwell fits this mold. He has the size and hands to made plays that are impossible to defend. Everything about this guy seems like he'll be another player that's always open, someone who always has a chance to make a catch.
For the teams that missed out on the elite wide receiver prospects in the last two drafts, they'll have an opportunity to make up for it with Laquon Treadwell.
5 Ronnie Stanley - Left Tackle
Ronnie Stanley is a player who is both very polished but still has plenty of room to grow; an uncommon combination. It feels like he has every quality anyone could want in an offensive tackle. Size, quickness, technique, and while some of his game he needs to work on, that is more because he has such a high talent ceiling rather than his stock being entirely untapped potential.
The team that picks up Stanley is going to have their rock at LT for the next decade.
4 Laremy Tunsil - Left Tackle
With all the offensive line busts over the past few years, fans are likely going to be a bit skeptical with all the top prospects at offensive tackle. This class looks different though (of course). Instead of the class being devoid of talent and teams defaulting to O-line, this class is actually deep and skilled at the position. Any team that's in need of line help (which is every team) should feel good about this draft.
None more than Tennessee though. Laremy Tunsil is considered a much more polished tackle than one who still needs lots of development time. He'll provide Mariota with the proper protection a franchise quarterback needs, providing the Titans do decide to go with Tunsil; something that feels very likely at this point, but things always change leading up to the draft.
3 Ezekiel Elliott - Running Back
With first round running back prospects continually disappointing over the past few years, it's far from game-breaking analysis to say that's takes a very special running back to be consistently projected as a first round pick. Ezekiel Elliot is the type of back that's deserving of a top 15 pick.
When it comes to running the ball, there's nothing to criticize Elliot over. He checks every box. He has impressive open field speed and elusiveness in addition to the tackle breaking ability that are so often mutually exclusive when it comes to running back prospects.
His endurance, ball control, and unrelenting effort to get as many yards as possible make him more than just a player who's full of untapped potential. He has both the traits and raw skills needed to dominate right from the start of his career.
2 Myles Jack - Linebacker
Myles Jack is a pure athlete. He was able to dominate multiple positions in college. He has not only the speed, quickness, and ball skills needed to excel at the NFL level, but also the awareness to top everything off. While he’s a little undersized for the linebacker position, he makes up for it 10x over with his coverage ability. With the rise of tight ends as receiving weapons in recent years, the ability for linebackers to be able to cover is more valuable than ever.
Jack has everything needed to break into the NFL and become a force in the middle of the field.
1 Joey Bosa - Edge Rusher
Joey Bosa is one of the most NFL ready prospects in the draft calss. He’ll be able to do most anything asked of him from day one. He’s a quick player who has a good ability to get to the quarterback with a variety of pass rushing moves.
Every year it seems all the top edge rushers are “pass rush specialists”. While Bosa is talented in this area, his ability to stuff the run and play all around sound defense is more impressive. He has the speed to chase down running backs, the strength to get off blocks, and the football IQ to stay on top of his assignments.
He’ll be a player ready to go from day one. He's the most talented edge rusher in a class that's very deep at the position.