Every NFL Team’s Top Impact Rookie Candidate: AFC West

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Jun 11, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) during minicamp at University of Kansas Health System Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 11, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) during minicamp at University of Kansas Health System Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We are at our final installment of our series on rookies expected to make the biggest impact 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 finish with the AFC West.

Denver Broncos: DT Dre’Mont Jones

Dre’Mont Jones is an interior pass rusher, through and through. With his lightning fast get-off and his excellent hand work, he has all the tools to find the quarterback. By landing in Denver, Jones found the perfect situation to both work his strengths and develop his weaknesses. The Broncos’ pass rush is among the best in the game, which will take pressure off Jones. But they also run a 3-4 that thrives on big, quick ends to both draw attention from the edges and take advantage when the edges draw attention from the inside. Again, that matches perfectly with Jones’ pass rush specialties. 

Denver has maintained a top quality defense post-Super Bowl largely due to their pass rush. With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb doing their thing on the edges and Derek Wolfe doing his inside, a lot of the offensive line’s focus will be steered away from Jones, once he gets consistent pass rush reps. Granted, it may be some time before Jones takes on a starting role, since his modest run support inhibits his initial three-down ability. But Jones is going to get his shots as a pass rusher. And when he does, his quick hands and quicker burst are going to result in pressure early and often.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Mecole Hardman

The obvious connection to Mecole Hardman is Tyreek Hill. They are both undersized speed demons who have value as return men, as well as on offense. Plus, with Hill’s 2019 status still a bit murky (though clearing a bit), Hardman’s fit in Kansas City seems obvious. 

Like Hill was coming out, Hardman is fairly raw as a receiver, relying more on his blazing speed and YAC ability than anything else. His routes and ball skills need seasoning. But with his speed, and seeing what Andy Reid and the Chiefs were able to do with Hill early in his career, one has to assume Hardman is going to have a significant role in his rookie season. Patrick Mahomes benefited greatly from having Hill as a speed freak on underneath routes, as well as over the top. That is a role Hardman can take on right out of the gate, and make game-breaking plays in said role. 

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That is where Hardman will have an impact advantage over other Chiefs rookies. Kansas City is constructed offense up with a brilliant offensive mind and one of the top passers in the game today. Mahomes knows how to spread the ball and Reid takes full advantage of the weapons at his disposal. Chances are good that Hardman makes a plethora of significant plays in his rookie season.

Los Angeles Chargers: DT Jerry Tillery

For all the buzz the Chargers’ defensive ends get, they have been working alongside a substantial weakness on the interior. They have yet to find a truly difference-making tackle in the Joey BosaMelvin Ingram era. Jerry Tillery could very well be that guy.

Above all, Tillery’s athletic profile suggests elite interior pass rusher. Tillery is 6-foot-6 and posted some of the best combine numbers among interior defenders at the combine. And according to Pro Football Focus, he had the best pass rush win rate of any interior prospect this year. Tillery’s long arms, heavy hands and power resulted in eight sacks as a senior, and points to plenty of success at the next level. At the very least, his gravity could open up some windows for the Chargers’ elite edge defenders.

Oakland Raiders: DE Clelin Ferrell

For all the criticism Clelin Ferrell’s selection received (including from me), there is no denying his ability. Criticism was more a matter of ceiling than anything else. As far as 2019 goes, Ferrell is ready-made to play and contribute from the outset. He is likely to start as a rookie, he has a good combination of youth and veteran presence around him on defense and he has the right profile of size and athleticism to find early success. Most of all, Ferrell’s use of his long arms is going to take him places.

Oakland’s coaching staff is of utmost importance. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and defensive line coach Brentson Buckner have developed some of the premier defensive linemen in all of football during their coaching careers. And that is not to mention Jon Gruden, who knows more than most what an elite defensive line can do for a team. Look no further than his 2002 Super Bowl team. With those men guiding Ferrell, and with his pedigree of production and championships, all signs point to Ferrell having a strong rookie campaign.

–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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