NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

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