For the next week, we will pick the rookie most likely to make the biggest splash on their new team. That impact could entail instigating a turn-around a la Baker Mayfield or Darius Leonard, or simply fitting into an already-strong system and helping said system take a leap, a la Derwin James or Bradley Chubb.
In many cases, the team’s top pick will earn the spot, by nature of their talent. However, that will not always hold true. Some top picks will have to wait their turn this year, or the players around them do not project to bring out the best in them right now. With that being said, let’s get started with the NFC West.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray
After botching the quarterback room in 2018, Steve Keim has put his job in the hands of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. His career will live and die with their success, and that may come to fruition as early as year one. Kingsbury has coached and produced results with a number of NFL quarterbacks, but Murray is a bit of a different animal. He is smaller, faster and more versatile, who also happens to have a big arm and phenomenal ball placement. While his style is not unprecedented as a number one pick (see Michael Vick in 2001), the fact that Murray will open up his NFL career in an Air Raid offense is.
Perhaps more than any quarterback in NFL history, Murray is going to drive every element of the Cardinals’ offense, presumably. Kingsbury’s schemes have always been about volume, volume, volume, producing some of the most prolific passing numbers and some of the best improvisers in the game today. So Murray is going to have freedom, and he is going to put up numbers. The question is whether those numbers lead to wins. After all, that is the reason Kingsbury lost his job in Lubbock.
As far as ability goes, Murray has everything to handle bulk production. Oklahoma lived and died with his arms and legs, and made a run at the College Football Playoff because of him. Plus, Keim drafted a number of pass catchers to ease the transition and hopefully, give Murray some toys to work and grow alongside. For all the mishandling of the Josh Rosen situation, Keim has put Murray in a good position, at least on paper, to have a prolific rookie season. Where it takes the team, however, could be a different story.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Darrell Henderson
Todd Gurley’s knee trouble could be the singular thing that brings down a potential NFC giant. His declining play late last season put a damper on a once-great Sean McVay offense, and there is some speculation that he is dealing with arthritis. As such, Gurley’s run at the top of running back mountain may be nearing its conclusion just as abruptly as it began.
Given the Rams’ offense–heavy on under center, play action, misdirection and running back targets–the person behind Jared Goff is paramount. Gurley has driven that machine for two years. But if he cannot handle a heavy workload, or perhaps even suit up at all, Los Angeles needs a capable backup. That is why Darrell Henderson will play such a vital role in the Rams’ offensive success this season. Los Angeles may not have invested a third-round pick in Henderson if they had 100 percent confidence in Gurley’s health.
While undersized, Henderson possesses some of the skills Gurley has, namely dual threat and home run-hitting ability. Of course, it is unfair to anticipate Gurley-like production from Henderson in year one. But all Henderson needs to do is take a minute percentage of Gurley’s load off his shoulders. If he can replace a fraction of Gurley’s production, Henderson will be an invaluable asset to the Rams offense.
San Francisco 49ers: DE Nick Bosa
San Francisco has invested top picks to the defensive line several times recently, and with mixed results. DeForest Buckner is rising star, but Solomon Thomas has fallen well shy of the hype that earned him the third-overall selection. Well, San Francisco dipped their toe in the water once again, only this time, they used a pick on arguably the surest thing in the draft, Nick Bosa.
Bosa defies the top defensive end mold in many ways. He does not have elite quickness or flexibility and missed much of 2018 due to injury. What he does have, however, is explosion off the ball, insane play strength and high-motored hands that make it impossible to maintain grip on him. That is what will separate Bosa from top end prospects in his debut season; he has polish in areas that can be difficult to develop. And with Buckner drawing attention inside a lot this year, Bosa is going to see a lot of one-on-one matchups, Generally for him, that means a lot of one-on-one meetings with the quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks: WR D.K. Metcalf
No single player’s draft fall had a higher profile than D.K. Metcalf’s. Following an absurd showing at the combine which saw a 40-yard dash of 4.33 and a vertical of over 40 inches, the assumption was that Metcalf had “athleted” himself into the top half of the first. Instead, his disappointing three-cone drill pointed the scouts back to Metcalf’s tape. What they saw was a big man with straight line speed who mostly succeeded by running in a straight line very quickly. His stiff hips required a lot of gear down, and thus questions about his ability to run routes dropped Metcalf well into the second.
Fortunately, he ended up in Seattle. That was fortuitous for several reasons, not the least of which is the quarterback throwing passes there. Seattle also has a fairly thin receiver group, due to Doug Baldwin’s retirement. So Metcalf is going to get chances early, especially downfield. Russell Wilson raved about Metcalf during minicamp, calling him “special” and heavily emphasizing Metcalf’s hard work this spring. And footage from camp showed a guy who will be a weapon simply by nature of his size and speed. Even if Metcalf only serves as a vertical threat in the first season, he has lethal home run ability that can break games on a moment’s notice. Plus, Wilson is one of the best deep ball throwers on the planet, so the marriage is as good as it gets for Metcalf.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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