NFL Rookies Who Will Be Household Names by Season's End

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

NFL Rookies Who Will Be Household Names by Season's End

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 NFL draft just ended. Pop quiz, hotshot—name all of the first-round rookies.

    Of course, if you have been following the draft closely for months, this shouldn't be a problem. But chances are, many of this year's class aren't quite household names just yet.

    What rookies will make a big name for themselves by this time next year? These are guys who are well-known to the draft community but aren't quite as popular as, say, quarterbacks Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater.

    If a player was dissected or discussed ad nauseam through the draft process, he is probably well-known to a certain extent. The same goes for college award winners or big-name players from major conferences. That removes guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Manziel and Bridgewater, among others.

    Also, certain positions were excluded—offensive linemen and punters aren't typically in the limelight, after all. What we need are skill or defensive players who at least have a good chance of starting and helping their teams right away.

    It's tough to delineate which rookies aren't too famous yet, but we'll try here. Which players are stepping into a great situation and have the talent to stand out as rookies? Click through to find out.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans needed a running back in a bad way heading into the draft, one of the few really needy teams at the position.

    Thanks to a stock-market crash at the running back position, the Titans were able to snag their top-rated back in the class late in the second roundBishop Sankey out of Washington.

    Sankey won't be without competition for playing time as a rookie with Shonn Greene in the fold. The veteran recently had his second knee surgery of the past year, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, but he should be back and ready to roll for training camp.

    Of course, who really thinks Greene and his 4.1 yards-per-carry career rushing average—including 3.9 and 3.8 in each of the past two seasons, respectively—are going to be a match for the young, athletic Sankey?

    While the rookie might need to shore up pass protection to gain trust, he will absolutely be Tennessee's best option at running back. He is the only running back with a clear path to serious playing time, making him an early contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    This might be a bit of a stretch given his fourth-round status, but Martavis Bryant could make some serious noise for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.

    The Steelers have lacked a big outside receiver in recent years. Antonio Brown is not your typical No. 1 at 5'10" and 186 pounds, and neither was Mike Wallace before him at 6'0" and 195 pounds. Pittsburgh fared just fine in the passing game without a big X-receiver, but what might they have done with a guy like Bryant all these years? 

    Bryant is 6'4" and 211 pounds.

    Not only that, he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, leap 39 inches vertically with a 124-inch broad jump, and run the 20-yard shuttle in 4.15 seconds. For a guy his size, that's rather impressive.

    The biggest knocks on him coming out of college were a lack of production and experience. He will need to come along quickly to make an impact as a rookie, but the Steelers may not be able to resist his combination of size and speed.

Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    Eric Ebron is going to have to fight for playing time in Detroit. But for how long?

    The talented tight end heads into a muddled situation at the position with Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria already there. Ebron might not be the blocker Pettigrew is or have Fauria's catch radius, but he offers versatility and athleticism like the others cannot.

    That is why he will see the field plenty, perhaps outside of a traditional tight end role. Ebron has the athletic makeup of a possession wide receiver, perhaps hinting that we will see him moved around on that offense.

    Ebron could have a big year if he sees the field often. Opposing defenses will have to worry about Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate at receiver, not to mention a strong running game on the legs of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    You don't move up a spot in the draft to select a cornerback at No. 8 so you can have him third or fourth on the depth chart.

    The Cleveland Browns nabbed Justin Gilbert after moving up from No. 9 to pair him with newly extended Joe Haden in that defensive backfield.

    Gilbert is an athletic cornerback capable of holding his own with No. 2 receivers at the next level. While Haden fell off a bit last season, he should still divert throws toward Gilbert's side. Why wouldn't opposing quarterbacks challenge a rookie starter?

    Hence, Gilbert will have his chance to shine.

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

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    Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints knew they wanted to improve their situation at wide receiver and that Brandin Cooks was their man. So they made sure to get him by moving up in the first round.

    That means Cooks is likely to see plenty of playing time out of the slot.

    With quarterback Drew Brees under center, tight end Jimmy Graham terrorizing defenses, and receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills occupying the attention of secondaries across the league, having Cooks on the field means some big games are in store for the rookie.

Dominique Easley, DT, New England Patriots

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It will be interesting to see if a player who tore his ACL last September will be ready to roll in Week 1 of the 2014 season.

    Dominique Easley was good enough on tape to have the New England Patriots select him in the first round, despite the knee injury, his second in college. The injury means Easley will likely miss most of the offseason and preseason, so he will be behind the eight ball to get on the field early for developmental reasons.

    His talent is undeniable, though, and the Patriots won't be able to keep him off the field for long if he is healthy. When he does get on the field, he will be a disruptive force in the middle, alongside fellow disruptor Vince Wilfork. 

    The middle of the Patriots line got a big boost with Easley, and he should make a household name for himself quickly after he makes his debut.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    Having a second player on this list goes to show how good and important of a draft the Pittsburgh Steelers had.

    Ryan Shazier is an incredibly athletic linebacker coming out of Ohio State. The 6'1", 237-pound linebacker out of Ohio State ran a blazing unofficial 4.36-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he was among the top performers in many of the events at the combine.

    On the field, Shazier is capable of playing inside or out, which is ideal for a Steelers team looking for help all over the linebacker corps. He should make a big impact early for the Steelers, perhaps even vying for Defensive Rookie of the Year if things go well.

Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Few wide receivers fell into a better situation than Davante Adams did when the Green Bay Packers took him in the second round of the draft.

    There were certainly other receivers who are guaranteed a starting gig or significant playing time, but how many can count on a serious shot at playing time with arguably the best quarterback in the league?

    Aaron Rodgers won't miss James Jones much if Adams gets up to speed quickly, and we will be hearing his name a lot in that case. Adams is a bigger, better version of Jones, who was Green Bay's No. 2 receiver last year. Lining up across from Jordy Nelson with Randall Cobb moving all over the place would be a boon for both Adams and Green Bay.

Will Sutton, DT, Chicago Bears

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Had Will Sutton entered the draft after his 2012 season at Arizona State, the big defensive tackle might have been drafted in the top 20 picks. A disappointing 2013 campaign caused him to fall right into Chicago's lap in the third round.

    Sutton has the potential to be great at the next level, if his 2012 campaign is any indication. If he can lose some weight and get back to form, he will be a great replacement for the departed Henry Melton.

    The Bears needed help in the middle, and Sutton should get a chance to start right away. If he does, look for him to become a pass-rushing force in the middle, like his predecessor.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Do you remember Dante Hall? 

    Like a blue hypergiant, the "X Factor" was a shining star for a fleeting time, flaming out after torching the league with his torrid return game. The Kansas City Chiefs harnessed Hall's energy for seven seasons, a time that included 11 combined kick and punt returns for touchdowns.

    De'Anthony Thomas is the second coming of Dante Hall for the Chiefs.

    While some may see Thomas as an undersized scatback out of Oregon, the Chiefs might envision him as their next stud returner.

    Thomas didn't return a ton of kicks last season, and he did not field a punt, probably because he was such a big part of the offense. He had plenty under his belt for his college career, averaging 25.8 yards per kickoff return and 17.1 per punt return, scoring five touchdowns on just 89 total tries.

    Considering special teams coach Dave Toub molded Dexter McCluster—who isn't as speedy as Thomas—into a Pro Bowl return man last season, we might be seeing Thomas on SportsCenter a few times this coming season.