The goal of every General Manager is simply to build the best team possible. To accomplish that, they have to put certain players ahead of others. They have to construct the team around their stars. Football is a team sport, but it still requires a few key players to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Properly scouting talent and acquiring it is a required ability for GMs, but it isn't the only one. They have to ensure those players have everything they need so they can make the most effective use of their talents.
Naturally, when the team is centered on a small group of players, it means someone else is getting the short end of the stick. In a perfect world you would be able to have each and every one of your players in the ideal situation, but reality doesn't work like that. For NFL teams to succeed, it's demanded that some unlucky players take a hit.
These players aren't just late round picks or low level free agents. Sometimes teams throw their talented young stars into scenarios where there's little chance to succeed. There are a variety of reasons, but a common one is that the team's Super Bowl window is closing. If a general manager's star players are all on the tail end of their prime years and he needs a quarterback, he's going to get the best one available and throw him in. He can't afford to wait to build up the offensive line or get quality receiving targets. He has to just hope the young guy can make do with what they have.
From the team's perspective, it's a necessary risk. It has a low chance to work out but there's no reason not to do it. After all, winning a Super Bowl is all that matters in the end. For the player, his whole career could be on the line. It would have been far better if he went to a team that had a long term plan for him.
Situations like this are complicated. More often than not, young players are put into favorable situations. Some start their careers in such an ideal position that it appears to be the result of divine intervention. Others seemed poised for success only to draw the short stick at the draft.
Here are the top 10 rookies who are in the best situations heading in to their first year, as well as the 5 who wish they could be somewhere else.
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15 Good Situation: Paul Perkins
Despite being a 5th round pick, Paul Perkins is in a surprisingly good situation. New York appears to be committing heavily to the "running back by committee" approach that has been gaining popularity in recent years. On the roster they have Andre Williams, Bobby Rainey, Shane Vereen, Rashard Jennings, and Orleans Darkwa.
All of those players are fairly familiar to most fans. They are all players with big strengths and big weaknesses. The issue with that is that consistency and reliability are highly valued traits in running backs. As a result, those players have largely been used in the No. two or third down role throughout their careers, rather than as the feature back.
Their clear weaknesses leave a window of opportunity for Perkins. It's highly unlikely that he's going to become the clear-cut starter this season, but he should get a fair degree of playing time. For a 5th round pick, that's about as much as you can ask for. If he plays well, he's going to have a bright future with the Giants.
14 Good Situation: Hunter Henry
Hunter Henry is a highly impressive tight end prospect. He's a big target at 6'5" and has great hands. In his final season at Arkansas, he didn't drop a single pass. But perhaps the most important quality to have in a tight end is that he played basketball in high school (Little known fact: Jimmy Graham played basketball as well). It isn't hard to see why San Diego made him the 35th overall pick.
The Chargers are a team that has relied upon the tight end position greatly over the past decade. Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers have been one of the most deadly combinations since they began playing together in 2004. Unfortunately, at 36 years old, Gates is nearing the end of his career. They brought in Hunter Henry to be his long term replacement.
He's a talented player going to a team that has every intention of handing him the job. It doesn't get much better than for a tight end.
13 Good Situation: James Bradberry
The Panthers shocked many fans when rescinded the franchise tag on Josh Norman, instantly making him a free agent. He had been a highly talented corner over the last couple years. He didn't get recognized as such until this past season when he took his game to the next level, becoming arguably the NFL's top corner of 2016.
Deciding to move on from him was telling everyone that their defensive backs aren't the core of their defense. They made it clear that they have absolute faith in their front seven and the superstar play of Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis. They believe that their defensive line and their linebackers make their secondary better, not the other way around.
James Bradberry was the team's second round pick. He is coming to a team that will not demand much of him and give him all the help in the world. He'll likely have an easier transition than many.
12 Good Situation: Sterling Shepard
Victor Cruz was one of the most talented slot receivers in the NFL. He quickly earned the trust of Eli Manning after breaking into the NFL in 2011. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to stay healthy. While he still has a chance to come back and be effective, the odds are slim, especially now that the Giants have drafted his replacement. Sterling Shepard will offer the Giants exactly what Cruz did. He promises to be a reliable receiver who can be effective in the slot.
He has a top rated quarterback throwing to him and an elite receiver to take the pressure off him. With little competition for his role, he has every chance to excel with this team. It typically takes rookie receivers far longer to begin producing than rookies at other positions, but Shepard has a chance light it up right from day one.
11 Good Situation: Michael Thomas
The reports out of camp in New Orleans have been very positive. Drew Brees has gotten very comfortable with his new wide out, Michael Thomas. Brees' former favorite target was Marques Colston. But his release earlier in the year leaves that role free for the taking. At this point, Thomas appears to be on the fast track to earning it.
For Thomas to earn the trust of Drew Brees, he is going to have to perform when the pressure is on. It won't be a cake walk. But he has a chance to get on good terms with an All-Pro quarterback; an opportunity few young receivers get. It would be a solid first step to having a notable career.
It also helps that there isn't much competition. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead are talented players, but they're both under 6 feet tall. Thomas is a big target at 6'3" and 212 pounds. No one else on the team can offer his combination of size and skill.
10 Good Situation: Laremy Tunsil
Laremy Tunsil's draft slide was one of the most shocking storylines we've seen in quite a while. Of course, with the relatively new wage scale, the higher players get drafted, the more they get paid. So while I'm sure Laremy Tunsil is wishing that never happened, both because of the embarrassment and the money, the silver lining is that he got to go to a more talented team.
Miami has a lot of pieces to work with across their team. Their biggest issue was the offensive line. It has been seriously bottlenecking their offense for a while now. Ryan Tannehill hasn't been progressing as planned, but that's partially because he never has time to throw the ball. They've had talented running backs on the roster, but few holes for them to work with. The addition of Tunsil could take the team to the next level. If that happens, he is going to be a hero in Miami.
9 Good Situation: Carson Wentz
The Eagles have been getting a lot of heat from their fans for their intentions of sitting Carson Wentz for the season. It's honestly very strange to see. It was only a few years ago that fans were criticizing teams for throwing their rookie quarterbacks into the starting role immediately, instead of giving them time to properly transition.
The Eagles are taking somewhat of an "old school" approach with the development of their new quarterback. They've brought back Sam Bradford to be the stopgap for a year or two. In the event that he fails, they have bought one of the most expensive backups in the NFL. They seem truly committed to giving Wentz the time he needs to get familiar with the NFL.
In addition to simply giving Wentz time, they're giving Doug Pederson an opportunity to gain experience and progress as a head coach. They have patched up the offensive line and are now allowing them time to gel. They not only want Wentz to be ready, but they want him coming into an offense that is functioning efficiently; instead of throwing him into the broken mess we saw last year.
8 Good Situation: Robert Nkemdiche
Robert Nkemdiche was among the most controversial players in the draft. He has all the raw talent in the world, but failed to produce up to par in college. As a result, he quickly fell on big boards leading up to draft day.
While it cost him quite a lot of money, going to Arizona put him in a far better situation. The crown jewel of Arizona's dominant defense is their secondary. Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson are both All-Pro defensive backs. For Nkemdiche, that means more time to get to the quarterback. Sack totals matter more than anything when it comes to negotiating contracts.
In addition, their defensive line is good enough to take up blockers and allow Nkemdiche room to work, but not so good that he'll have an overly difficult time breaking into the starting lineup. As long as he works hard and stay focused, there won't be a limit to his potential success.
7 Good Situation: Paxton Lynch
The vast majority of first round quarterbacks today are thrown into the starting job whether they're ready or not. They're provided minimal surrounding talent and are expected to carry the team out of the basement. It's far from ideal.
Fortunately for Lynch, he is in the exact opposite situation in Denver. With their Super Bowl win last season the defense proved that it is good enough to guarantee success. That burden will not be placed the young quarterback. Furthermore, he'll be leading an offense that has a quality supporting cast. Demaryius Thomas had a down year in 2015, but he still makes up one of the most attractive wide receiver pairings in the NFL along with Emmanuel Sanders.
Their offensive line situation could be better, but it is still very promising. They have invested a fair amount into it over the past several years, between Ty Sambrailo in the second round, and Michael Schofield and Donald Stephenson in the third. Denver also has Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung on one of the most team friendly contracts in the NFL.
Denver is definitely giving Paxton Lynch the best chance to succeed.
6 Good Situation: Ezekiel Elliott
The 2016 draft left Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliot in the perfect situation. The Dallas Cowboys' offense could not be constructed in a better way to guarantee the success of a young running back.
The obvious reason for this is the famed Cowboys' offensive line. They drew a lot of criticism over the past few years with the selections of Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. Selecting interior linemen in the first round is uncommon, but doing so in back-to-back years is nearly unheard of. But those two have already established themselves as elite players and perfect compliments to All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.
We saw in 2014 what can happen when you put a quality running back behind this historic offensive line. Their rushing attack carried the team to the playoffs, despite many preseason predictions that the team wouldn't be competitive.
Of course, it isn't just the offensive line that makes this offense perfect for Elliot. The combination of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant prevents defenses from selling out on the run. At the same time, Tony Romo's health prevents the team from committing heavily to the passing game.
Dallas is going to give Elliot the ball often and defenses will never be in a comfortable position to stop him.
5 Bad Situation: Roberto Aguayo
Nearly every NFL fan is familiar with the concept of "icing the kicker," mostly because of how annoying it is. Coaches use one of their timeouts before the opposing kicker attempts an important field goal. The point of it is to make him think about the kick. They want him to get nervous and panic. It's always harder to perform under pressure, especially for kickers.
Roberto Aguayo was selected by the Buccaneers in the second round of the draft. That is far higher than where most kickers get taken. Most often they go in the 6th or 7th rounds, if they get drafted at all. Tampa Bay has received a lot of criticism over this.
If Agauyo starts to struggle this season, you can bet that the fans and the local media aren't going to be overly forgiving. He's going to be under a tremendous amount of stress as it is and additional pressure would not be good at all.
4 Bad Situation: Cody Kessler
Cody Kessler's situation with the Browns does not appear to be headed in a great direction. The ideal situation is for him to sit on the bench for a couple years and get familiar with the league. Furthermore, the Browns are rebuilding their offense. Whoever starts this season is not going to be given a lot to work with.
Right now, he figures to be the third string quarterback, which is a good thing for him. Unfortunately, the two quarterbacks ahead of him are Robert Griffin and Josh McCown. One of those has struggled with injuries and failed to impress when on the field. The other is 37 years old and the new management won't be as tied to him since they didn't bring him in. Kessler may be starting before he's ready. That doesn't sound like a bad thing to many, but mid-round quarterbacks will only get one shot. He may end up taking that shot while still learning the ropes and with little help from his teammates.
3 Bad Situation: Artie Burns
In 2015, the Steelers defense gave up the 12th most yards per game. The largest reason for that was their poor cornerback play. To remedy their issues, they selected Artie Burns with the 25th overall pick.
Burns is a controversial player to begin with. He has exceptional physically abilities, but lacks the fundamentals. He is a project. The problem with that is Pittsburgh needs a starting corner now. The coaching staff is going to want him in as soon as possible. They won't be thinking about what is best for his long term future when they're half way through the season and in a heated battle for the division.
Some NFLers just need some time. Artie Burns appears to be one of those players, but the Steelers aren't a team in position to give that to him.
2 Bad Situation: Connor Cook
Connor Cook was expected to go in the second round on the draft, with some speculation that he might rise to the first. Instead, he slid to the 4th round. The issue with that is that no coach or general manager is going to feel pressured to give time to a mid round quarterback. A first rounder is going to get starting time at some point because the general manager needs to justify using such a valuable asset. No one truly cares about a 4th round pick.
What's worse is that he was taken by the Raiders. Derek Carr has established himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Connor Cook is not going to be given a realistic shot to beat him out for the starting job. With Carr being only 25 years old, there also isn't any hope of him retiring any time soon.
Cook's only realistic path to success at this point is to play well enough to get traded. He won't get much time, likely only getting garbage time and filling in due to injury, so he has to make the very most of the minutes he gets. Then he has to learn an entire new system and succeed there.
It isn't impossible, but the list of recent quarterbacks who have gone down that path and found any degree of success is very short.
1 Bad Situation: Jared Goff
Coming into the draft, everyone was talking about how mediocre and disappointing the quarterback class was. Because of that, many fans don't understand the Rams decision to trade up to the first overall pick, but it makes sense. If they don't take a risk to acquire a top level quarterback, they're risking wasting the prime years of the stars that make their defense special. They're taking a chance to send their team to the next level instead of sitting back and accepting mediocrity.
From Goff's standpoint, things are a little different. He is going to be under immense pressure to lead the team to the playoffs immediately. They paid a king's ransom and are in a new city with a large market. The fans and the media won't accept giving him two or three years to get comfortable.
If a team trades up from 15th overall to select a quarterback, you would assume that they already have some offensive building blocks in place that would allow for an easier transition. But that isn't the case with the Rams. Statistically, they were the NFL's worst offense in 2015. They have Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin but little else.
Goff has to do a lot. He has to do it quickly and he has to do it with very little help.
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