With the news that the Jets have signed first-round pick Mark Sanchez to a five-year contract, we thought it would be interesting to compare which rookies most need to get their deals signed, sealed, and delivered so that they can report to training camp on time.
In this relativity poll, we’ll compare this year’s first-rounders (along with a key second-rounder) in terms of who most needs to sign in time for camp, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Of course, all rookies need practice time, so this is an exercise of degrees. But it’s still interesting.
10 – QB Matthew Stafford, Lions; QB Mark Sanchez, Jets – It’s obvious that, if rookie quarterbacks want to play in their inaugural seasons, they need as many practice reps as possible. Thankfully for Detroit and New York, both of the marquee quarterbacks have now signed. Sanchez is probably a little more likely to start right away than Stafford, if for no other reason than that the Lions have a veteran in Daunte Culpepper who could start for a few games as Stafford adjusts to the pros. But props to these players and organizations for getting signed right away.
9 – OT Jason Smith, Rams; WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders – Smith is supposed to be a cornerstone for the Rams, and they need him to be ready to play right away. He should enter training camp as a starter. Heyward-Bey is a bit rawer than other receivers, and so he needs reps too. But if he does, he could be at least an impact deep threat pretty early on.
8 – DE Tyson Jackson, Chiefs; WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers – Jackson is moving from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and the Chiefs will need him right away, so they need to get his deal done on time. Crabtree figures to play pretty soon as well, and receivers in general need all the adjust time they can get.
7 – LB Aaron Curry, Seahawks; OT Eugene Monroe, Jaguars; DB Malcolm Jenkins, Saints; QB Josh Freeman, Buccaneers; WR Percy Harvin, Vikings – Curry is a little more ready made as a player, so he’s below other top 5 picks on this chart. But no matter who it is, teams need to get top-5 guys in ASAP. Monroe should be a starter, so the Jaguars can’t afford the kind of fiasco they had with Derrick Harvey last year. The Saints need to figure out whether to start Jenkins at cornerback or safety, and so they need as many looks at him as possible. Even though Freeman likely isn’t going to play this year, it seems as though quarterbacks who hold out see their long-term development impeded, and so he needs to be ready to go when camp opens. Harvin is fighting the receiver adjustment that is steeper than many other positions, and he’s also going to be Minnesota’s Wildcat option, and so he moves up this list for those reasons.
6 – NT B.J. Raji, Packers; OLB Aaron Maybin, Bills; DE-OLB Brian Orakpo, Redskins – Raji should start right away, and a nose tackle’s role isn’t that tough to pick up, so he falls lower in this comparison than other top-10 picks. Maybin and Orakpo both could play either defensive end or outside linebacker, and both could actually find a role at both spots. With that versatility comes more learning, so the more reps they get, the better.
5 – LB Brian Cushing, Texans; OLB Larry English, Chargers; OLB Robert Ayers, Broncos; WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – Cushing faces the easiest adjustment of this bunch, as linebackers are often able to contribute as tackling machines in their rookie years. English and Ayers both look to be more niche pass rushers to begin, and that’s a role that can be picked up. They may need more technique work to adjust to the pros than actual system work. Maclin faces the receiver uphill battle, but the Eagles’ success with DeSean Jackson last year seems to indicate they’re ready to integrate Maclin this year.
4- TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions; C Alex Mack, Browns; WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants; WR Kenny Britt, Titans; DE Everette Brown, Panthers – Pettigrew needs to play right away, but tight end isn’t as tough an adjustment as receiver. He can contribute at least as a blocker right away. Mack needs to get in camp early if he is to start at center and make all the line calls for Cleveland. Nicks and Britt could contribute right away given the depth charts they’re facing, so they need to take advantage of every rep they can get. Brown is vital because he’s the fallback in case Julius Peppers holds out in Carolina. The Panthers need him to be ready to go right away.
3 – OT Michael Oher, Ravens; DT Peria Jerry, Falcons; CB Vontae Davis, Dolphins – Oher probably should start right away after Willie Anderson’s retirement, but right tackle isn’t as scheme-specific as other line spots. Jerry has been banged up in minicamps, but his positional adjustment shouldn’t be too rough. Davis will have a bit of an adjustment to the Dolphins’ coverage scheme, but the basics of coverage carry over, so he’s not that high on this list.
2 – RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos; OLB Clay Matthews, Packers; RB Donald Brown, Colts – Running backs adapt most easily of all rookies, so they are all near the bottom of this list. Moreno isn’t a 1 just because Josh McDaniels could hold a grudge were he to hold out. Brown isn’t a 1 because the Colts’ offense and audible system is more complex than most because of Peyton Manning’s acumen. Matthews is moving into a system much like his college game plan, so he should have a pretty natural move up to the pros.
1 – OG Eric Wood, Bills; RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals; DE Ziggy Hood, Steelers – Wood is moving up to play guard, which isn’t that stark a transition. Wells has the advantage of being a running back. Hood probably fits in as a backup his first year, so reps aren’t as crucial to him as they are at other positions.