The start of the 2014 NFL regular season is three weeks away, and while the usual cast of characters get ready to shine, everyone is curious about how this year’s rookie class will fare in the pros. Here are five bold predictions for rookies that we think will have big inaugural seasons, while quickly becoming fan favorites and household names in the NFL.
1. Brandin Cooks Becomes the Saints’ No. 1 Receiver (FanDuel Price: $5,700)
Brandin Cooks has been nothing short of a beast thus far for the New Orleans Saints. Cooks, who was drafted 20th overall in this year’s draft could push an already impressive Saints offense over the top with his mixture of elusiveness and breakaway speed.
Cooks got off to a hot start in the Saints’ first preseason game, compiling 55 yards and scoring a touchdown. Technically, he sits behind the likes of Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Kenny Stills on the New Orleans depth chart, but that may not be the case for very long. While all of the aforementioned receivers are undoubtedly talented, Cooks’ speed may already make him the team’s most dangerous weapon. He can burn secondaries and stretch the field, while also possessing the ability to catch short passes and rack up big yards after the catch.
Another stat that may work in the rookie receiver’s favor this year? The Saints have the easiest schedule in the league regarding the potency of their opponents’ pass defense. Watch out for Brandin Cooks.
2. Johnny Manziel Starts From Day One (FanDuel Price: $7,200)
For months now, Browns coach Mike Pettine has insisted that Brian Hoyer will start for the Cleveland Browns. And for months, many have called his bluff. I am willing to call it once more, especially because of Johnny Football’s solid preseason play. He hasn’t played well to the point where he makes the Browns’ decision a no brainer, but he has certainly held his own. The Browns first preseason game saw Manziel throw for 67 yards, and add another 27 on the ground, good enough to keep talk of a quarterback competition alive.
Even if Brian Hoyer should play in week one, people are intrigued by Johnny Football. They hang on his every move, waiting to see if the cocky quarterback out of Texas A+M is going to sink or swim in the NFL.
The world’s curiousity, combined with flashes of promise that the Browns and their fans desperately crave, may allow for Manziel to embark upon his NFL journey as the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
3. Blake Bortles Starts by Week 4 (FanDuel Price: $5,400)
Everyone assumed that Blake Bortles would spend the entire season on the bench, including Blake Bortles. After watching Blaine Gabbert crash and burn during his baptism by fire, the Jaguars, understandably, wanted to be cautious with Bortles. Jacksonville is currently keeping the starting quarterback seat warm with Chad Henne, hoping that he can be serviceable until their rookie stud is ready. Well, as it turns out, Bortles may be ready right now.
While Chad Henne has had a nice preseason, Bortles has kept up, going 18-28 with 277 passing yards in two preseason games. And maybe the most impressive part of his performance so far is that he hasn’t turned the ball over once.
The Jaguars coaching staff has since softened their stance on having Bortles start, with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch noting “We’re giving Blake every chance to make the decision super-hard for us.”
After matchups against Philadelphia, Washington, and Indianapolis in the first three weeks of the season, look for Bortles to start in week four, when the Jags head west to play the Chargers. A road game is ideal for Bortles’ debut, as it will take a lot of the pressure off of him that would come with playing at home.
4. Andre Williams Has a Big Year for the Giants (FanDuel Price: $5000)
Andre Williams, last year’s NCAA leader in rushing yards, has backed into a prominent role with the New York Giants. With Peyton Hillis injured, and David Wilson being forced to retire, he now sits behind Rashad Jennings on the team’s depth chart.
Williams is a power runner, and proved that during the Giants’ first preseason game, while rushing for New York’s first touchdown The powerful back needs to work on his pass catching and protection, but if he can improve in those areas, he could wind up becoming the team’s most relied on running threat.
Williams is relishing the opportunity to contribute, noting “I feel like I’m supposed to be here. I’m part of a team now.”
5. Eric Ebron Becomes a Top Ten Tight End (FanDuel Price: $5,400)
Eric Ebron has had a relatively uneventful preseason thus far, but the future should be very bright for the Lions’ rookie tight end. Ebron has great pass catching ability, and big play potential, which he showcased with a 23 yard gain in Detroit’s last game against the Raiders.
Ebron has the luxury of playing with arguably the best receiver in the game in Calvin Johnson, and Golden Tate, who is also a legitimate threat. This should give Matt Stafford plenty of opportunities to look for Ebron, and make him an integral part of the Lions’ offense.
If Brandon Pettigrew is used mostly for his blocking, and the offense opens up enough to get Ebron a good amount of looks, expect him to put up stats worthy of a top 10 ranking among tight ends this season.