As suggested in the comments, I’ll try to keep an up to date list of offensive rookies that combines production, short term upside and long term upside. I’ll highlight the movers and shakers while going for broke with my predictions. You should be able to find plenty of conservative lists on the internet, so I’ll try to make bold and aggressive picks without leaving anyone too important off the list. Early in the season, I’m liable to be very, very stubborn as the NFL Lockout and the lack of OTAs negatively affected the quarterbacks and wide receivers infinitely more than the running backs. Due to this, the QBs and WRs will get a much longer rope than the running backs. Based on potential, this is a pretty good draft class, but don’t be surprised if many of the big-name skill position players struggle in their rookie season.
The Top 20 to 30ish NFL Offensive Rookies
30. DeMarco Murray (RB-DAL) – Murray looks to bulk up in Dallas and hopefully get a full season under his belt. Injuries, not talent, have Murray this low.
29. Titus Young (WR-DET) – If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, Titus Young gets a nice little bump. However, much of Young’s value comes from the long term rather than this year.
28. Cecil Shorts (WR – JAX) – Quality receiver in Jacksonville with the potential to climb the depth chart quickly. Has the skills to contribute early and more importantly, pick up the playbook early.
27. Jamie Harper (RB – TEN) – Harper’s impressed during Johnson-Gate; mind you, everyone has. What Harper brings to the table is size, something that no one else at RB does.
26. Dwayne Harris (WR – DAL) – Harris slipped to the sixth round but he’s got a chance to do something special in a Cowboys offense that could be very good in 2011. He’s small and elusive and could easily become a sneaky option with Austin and Bryant on the outside.
25. Leonard Hankerson (WR – WAS) – Big target in Washington with all sorts of skills. I’ve got a sneaky feeling that one of the Washington quarterbacks might surprise us (and I do mean surprise.) He’s really the only sizeable target in Washington, but he’s pretty rough around the edges.
24. Kyle Rudolph (TE – MIN) – Already looks pretty comfortable, but he’s got some climbing to do in that depth chart.
23. Jonathan Baldwin (WR – KC) – A huge talent, probably a huge overdraft, and most definitely a huge head case. Could definitely be one of the top-3 WR, but could also flop.
22. Randall Cobb (WR – GB) – Talent-wise, he’s probably just a smidgen behind Baldwin, but he’ll have issues getting targets and touches. Green Bay is a championship club with veteran wide receivers that are already comfortable with the scheme. Has good break-out potential if Donald Driver goes down, though. Could also be forced to pay his dues a la Jordy Nelson, though.
21. Julius Thomas (TE – DEN) – Thomas is your typical athletic tight end that focused mainly on basketball not football. Thomas has looked absolutely amazing in the pre-season and could provide a huge spark. This is a gamble, but it’s hard to ignore his skill set.
20. Delone Carter (RB – IND) – Joseph Addai is always injured. Donald Brown has failed to impress. Delone Carter has massive lower body strength and can run between the tackles. More importantly in that Colts offence, Carter seems very comfortable in pass-pro for a rookie. Great upside here.
19. Vincent Brown (WR – SD) – The Chargers came into the pre-season really wanting to get Brown into the passing game. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as planned, but Brown’s got a great mix of talent and opportunity.
18. Kendall Hunter (RB – SF) — Frank Gore’s got contract issues and injury issues. Hunter’s been spectacular in the pre-season and should see decent opportunities even if Gore stays healthy. From all accounts, Dixon will be sniping the touchdowns.
17. Shane Vereen (RB – NE) – Good upside on an already stacked Patriots squad. Great mobility and top-speed. Pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Patriots team that likes to throw to the running back.
16. Jake Locker (QB – TEN) – I have very little faith in Matt Hasselbeck, but Locker is still overthrowing plenty of routes. He’s got talent, but his accuracy really worries me.
15. Jacquizz Rodgers (RB – ATL) – I absolutely love Jacquizz Rodgers. Snelling and the oft-injured Turner are both bigger guys and the Falcons look to be a potential Super Bowl contender. Rodgers ran slow at the combine, but he’s got all sorts of make-yah-miss.
14. Lance Kendricks (TE – STL) – Bradford already seems keyed in on Kendricks and boy does Kendricks look comfortable. He could be a massive safety valve in a Josh McDaniels passing game.
13. Colin Kaepernick (QB – SF) — Despite having faith in Alex Smith this year, I’m sure Colin Kaepernick will get at least a shot in 2011. Kaepernick has all the skills in the world, but he didn’t play at a big-name system at a big-name school. The Pistol (half-shotgun) at Nevada doesn’t inspire confidence, but his arm and legs do.
12. Roy Helu (RB – WAS) – Tim Hightower looks to be the featured back, but Roy Helu should eventually get a shot in Shanny’s offense. Helu’s got good size and good speed and could be a good one-cut runner in this offense.
11. Denarius Moore (WR – OAK) – Denarius Moore has been one of the most impressive wideouts so far in 2011. Huge gamble, but injuries and ineffectiveness in the Raiders WR-corp could give Moore a huge boost.
10. Andy Dalton (QB – CIN) – Dalton is slowly starting to impress me, but I’m worried about his situation in Cincinnati. He’s got a few tools around him in Benson, Green, Gresham, but the routes will have to be crisp and well-timed. Dalton probably suffered the most of any Quarterback not having the playbook early. Dalton is starting, but Bruce Gradkowski has always been undervalued in my opinion and he might be the right choice to lead this offence. Dalton’s still rated high for a reason, but I do have concerns.
9. Blaine Gabbert (QB – JAX) – Big and prototypical quarterback who appears to lost an imaginary quarterback competition. Jacksonville still has hopes of making the playoffs and David Gerrard was the safe bet. However, I think Gabbert sees some decent playing time this year…
8. Alex Green (RB – GB) – Ryan Grant is still a huge injury risk and I love Green’s skill set in the Green Bay offense. He’s dynamic and explosive, but he’s very thickly built. Even if James Starks and Ryan Grant both stay healthy, I can see plenty of situations where Alex Green gets the rock. Unfortunately, holding onto that rock is Green’s biggest flaw and on a playoff team that’s paramount. Green’s such a threat between the tackles and in the passing game that it’ll be tough for Green Bay to keep him on the bench.
7. Daniel Thomas (RB – MIA) – Thomas’ stock is trending down, but he’s still got plenty of potential. Reggie Bush already has a defined role, and it’s pretty clear that Thomas will get his fair share of carries.
6. Stevan Ridley (RB – NE) – Ridley has dominated the pre-season and should continue to get his fair share of carries in the regular season. He’s shown impressive pass-pro and pass-catching ability and should do pretty well early in the season. The Patriots backfield is a mess though, so predicting greatness is tough.
5. Greg Little (WR – CLE) – One of the most dynamic receivers in this year’s draft, Little already looks to have placed himself pretty well on the depth chart. Little gives the Browns a legitimate athlete on offense and McCoy should make getting him the ball a top priority.
4. A. J. Green (WR – CIN) – The combination of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton probably won’t develop straight away, but the Bengals seem absolutely set on getting him the ball whether through the air or on the ground. Probably the best all-around receiver in the 2011 Draft, Green will be the featured target in Cincinnati with the departure of Chad Johnson.
3. Cam Newton (QB – CAR) – He’s starting and he’s the number one overall pick. I’m not huge on Cam Newton, but he’ll be given every opportunity to prove himself. He’s got a very good running game which should open up holes, but I’m still not quite sure how the Panthers use him.
2. Julio Jones (WR – ATL) — Huge talent. Huge Frame. Huge Speed. Huge Playoff Contender. Atlanta loves this guy and they’ll get him the rock.
1. Mark Ingram (RB – NO) – He’s going to a playoff contender and he’s not a QB or a WR. The touchdowns should come in 2011, but the big-time yardage will probably have to wait.
Who did I miss?
Fire over your opinion and let me know. Is Terrelle Pryor worth an inclusion? Am I over-penalizing Torrey Smith for Lee Evans’ arrival? Can Dane Sanzenbacher catch on in Chicago?