Many teams benefitted from the loaded 2017 NFL draft class as they were able to fill holes and voids at virtually any positional needed. Nearly every player drafted in the top 10 will immediately start this season. Let’s take a look at three rookie candidates (drafted outside the top 10) that are most likely to have a breakout season.
Deshaun Watson (QB)–Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson has a chance to lead this team immediately. The success most NFL teams have is captured (or lost) by the arm and mind of their quarterback; in the Texans case, Deshaun Watson. By drafting Watson 12th overall, Rick Smith (Texans GM) made it very clear that Tom Savage is not the answer for this team.
This Texan team is built to win now, even with a rookie quarterback. They had the number one defensive unit in the NFL a season ago, and they get J.J. Watt back this season. Additionally, Watson has former Clemson Tiger DeAndre Hopkins as a number one receiver. Watson may target Hopkins similarly to Mike Williams at Clemson – early and often.
Deshaun Watson has an opportunity to lead this team into a deep playoff run. The AFC South improved tremendously in the offseason but is ripe for the taking. If the defense plays up to its potential and Bill O’Brien utilizes Deshaun Watson’s strengths, this team could make a deep playoff run next January.
Derek Barnett (DE)–Philadelphia Eagles
When Derek Barnett’s name was called on draft night, one all-time great name came to mind for Philadelphia Eagles fans: Reggie White. Both White and Barnett played defensive end at the University of Tennessee, both led the SEC in sacks in a single season, both set records for “most sacks in SEC history”, and both were drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
You get the picture; Eagles fans have high hopes for this young pass rusher.
Barnett will attack opposing offensive tackles in a variety of ways. Because he is an incredibly gifted hand fighter at the line of scrimmage, it allows him to change up his pass rushing methodology. He can bull rush, sidestep, use an occasional spin move, but where he flourishes is his insanely quick first step.
Barnett adds a level of speed and motor to this defense that will not go unnoticed. The Eagles landed a prospect that will terrorize the NFC East for years to come. My prediction for this upcoming season: 7 sacks.
Jarrad Davis (ILB)–Detroit Lions
This was one of the most underrated selections in the entire 2017 NFL draft. Jarrad Davis becomes the voice and leader of this defensive unit. Last season, the Lions were middle of the pack giving up 356.6 yards per game. By adding Jarrad Davis, this team becomes more versatile. Davis can stick his nose between the tackles on a blitz and stop the run. He is also capable of dropping back in coverage and running toe-to-toe with a scat back or tight end.
Davis’ explosive athletic ability is off the chart. At his pro day, he posted a 38.5 inch vertical, 10’9″ broad jump, and a 4.56 forty yard dash time. However, this is not what separates him from the pack as there are an exorbitant amount of athletic players in the NFL.
Jarrad Davis has the leadership skills, work ethic, and character that teams love to build around. I said it earlier in a post about him, “He has the physical ability to be a good player and the intangibles to become a great one“. Jarrad Davis has a chance to re-shape this entire defensive unit, which is why I think he will be a contender for defensive rookie of the year.
The 2017 NFL season cannot get here quick enough. Until it does, we will continue to salivate over player’s potential.