By Rodney Stokes for TonySoftli.com
Finally. As excited as everyone was for the start to the preseason, most of us trailed off after week two and were more than ready for September 10th (and 7th). What happens in the preseason doesn’t always correlate to what happens in the regular season. The Browns went 4-0 in their preseason but aside from the irrational fans, nobody’s expecting a perfect regular season. What teams can look forward to is the continued development of their rookies from the preseason to the regular season. Some may surprise, some may fail and others will look as they did before the season started. We’ll take a look at five rookies expected to have a heavy impact coming into the first week of the season.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
We’ve all known just how talented McCaffrey was after his sophomore campaign at Stanford. In his final two years of college alone he tallied over 4500 rushing and receiving yards and the Panthers seem to set to continue utilize to his diverse skill set. McCaffrey may not lead the team in any one category, but he will get his fair share of touches. If he has any impact like he did in preseason, we can expect one or two plays to go for over twenty yards with a missed tackle or two to add. Although McCaffrey has the talent to be a three down, bell cow back, his abilities in other areas are almost more beneficial than handing the ball to him 20 or more times a game. The Panthers are said to have a full section of their playbook dedicated to McCaffrey, expect to see those plays this upcoming Sunday.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Detroit Lions
A superstar in the middle of the field has been missing for the Lions for quite some time. DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch have been the best linebackers to date but there hasn’t been a true staple player. Jarrad Davis is already looking like he can be the long term answer at the second level. Davis didn’t receive the same hype as some of the other linebackers in last years draft but he quietly put himself into the first round ahead of the likes of Reuben Foster. It turns out the Lions didn’t make a mistake in drafting him so high. Davis has looked every part of a first round pick through training camp and during the preseason. In a division that see’s both run and pass heavy teams, the Lions will have the ultimate test of versatility for the young linebacker. A match-up against David Johnson and the Cardinals week one should be a fun but challenging start for the Lions.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have been successful with a running back rotation through the struggling days of Jamaal Charles. With Charles gone it was expected that the Chiefs would continue with their rotation between Ware and West. What they weren’t expecting was the emergence of Kareem Hunt and his all around ability. Hunt has shown the ability to be more than just a runner. His ability to catch was put to the test and he’s excelled, his setups in the blocking game have shown that he can hold his own and his ability as a runner looks to be as good as it was at Toledo. The injury to Ware was unfortunate but it was only a matter of time before Hunt took the reigns and ran off with the job. Ware is expected back at some point but it won’t be before this weeks game which means we’ll get a heavy dose of the rookie against the Patriots.
Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers
The human missile. There hasn’t been a college player in years that attacks the ball carriers as ferociously as Foster did at Alabama. Character concerns caused him to slide in the draft and the 49ers couldn’t be happier. Between Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, the 49ers are once again building that top of the line defense they had for so many years. Foster looked like the second coming of Patrick Willis during the preseason and he’ll likely keep improving as the season continues. He’s improved in a number of areas already including pass coverage, a concern coming into the draft, and it only makes him more dangerous as a defender. A game against the Panthers this Sunday should set him up nicely against another rookie who made this list, Christian McCaffrey.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco
Who was expecting to see the name George Kittle on this list? Nobody. Kittle is an athletic, high upside tight end that’s now starting for the 49ers. The team made their feelings known when they decided to trade Vance McDonald in light of Kittle’s presence. At 6’4 and 247 pounds, Kittle ran a 4.52 forty yard dash and now has the opportunity to put that talent on display. With the lack of receiving options outside of Pierre Garcon, the 49ers offense will be on the lookout for the rookie more often than not. Kyle Shanahan’s love for the play action should help get him open against an aggressive Panthers defense.
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