With the NFL regular season quickly approaching, it is about time we take a closer look at the incoming class of NFL rookies. On both sides of the ball, there are several rookies that can immediately step on the field and make plays for their team. This article will take a look at twelve of the best rookies to watch out for in 2018. You may want to keep a close eye on some of the offensive players for your fantasy drafts, since you never know who might become a huge star in their freshman year.
12. Royce Freeman – RB
When the Denver Broncos took Royce Freeman in the third round of the NFL Draft (71st overall), he was brought on to play alongside Devontae Booker in a timeshare. However, after an impressive preseason full of strong running performances, there are many who believe Freeman will eventually be the starter, and become a workhorse back out of the Denver backfield. Even if they do end up sharing the snaps, Freeman will still get a ton of touches and could impress — especially if Case Keenum struggles throwing the ball for his new team.
11. Rashaad Penny – RB
Rashaad Penny had an absolutely amazing collegiate career at San Diego State, where he averaged over seven yards per carry in 51 games. He was taken by Seattle with the 27th pick to help their struggling run game. He is a large runner (at 5’11” and 220 pounds) who still has 4.46 40-yard speed and is capable of running all over the field. He is not alone in that Seahawks backfield with the likes of Chris Carson and fullback Tre Madden, but he should get a lot of touches either way. While the offensive line in Seattle could hinder his success, he is an incredible talent that very well could win the Rookie of the Year.
10. Sam Darnold – QB
While he was not the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, many think that Sam Darnold is one of best and most NFL-ready quarterbacks to enter the league this season. He has shown to be solid under pressure (which is needed in New York) and is talented at various aspects of the quarterback game. And with the recent news of Teddy Bridgewater being traded to the Saints, Darnold has been officially named the starting Jets’ starting QB. He will have all the opportunity in the world to live up to all of his high praise.
9. Minkah Fitzpatrick – FS
Simply put, Minkah Fitzpatrick guy can do it all. He plays cornerback or as a free safety, but is also capable of blitzing, stopping the run, and even covering tight ends. At 6’1″ and 202-pounds, he has incredible speed but needs to work on his overall athleticism. He is in a crowded secondary with the Dolphins, so he might not have the chance to play a ton early in the season. But whether through injuries or forcing his way into the conversation, he will likely impress when he gets the chance. In addition to all of his potential, he has had an incredible pre-season, so things seem to be trending in the right direction.
8. Roquan Smith – LB
While it took him a while to actually sign his contract with the Bears, now that Roquan Smith has put pen to paper, he is ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Smith is a linebacker, but also plays his game a little like a safety at times. He can cover tight ends, has blazing speed, is a great playmaker and also a solid tackler. He is just about everything that you want out of a modern day linebacker, which is why the Bears used the eighth overall pick to select him in the recent draft. With Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (who has worked with the likes of Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis in the past), he could be well on his way to being the Bears’ best defensive player — besides Khalil Mack, who they recently acquired from the Raiders in a massive trade.
7. Tremaine Edmunds – LB
Tremaine Edmunds is quite similar to Roquan Smith, as he is a young linebacker who is the true embodiment of the modern day position. He can play any of the linebacker positions, has incredible speed, and is massive at 6’5″ and 250-pounds. Edmunds also has crazy quickness that allows him to make quick moves on the ball. The Buffalo Bills also added a lot of talent to their defensive line, which will give Edmunds a lot of freedom in the second level of that defense. If the 16th overall pick stays healthy, he could potentially put up a ton of tackles and fill the stat sheet every single game. The Bills don’t look like much on offense this year (Nathan Peterson? Really?), so it will fall on Edmunds and the rest of the Buffalo defense to keep them in games.
6. Lamar Jackson – QB
While there are many great rookie quarterbacks out there that could make a splash (such as Sam Darnold, who we mentioned earlier, or No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield playing for the Browns), Lamar Jackson is the most interesting of the bunch. While he is firmly set as the backup in Baltimore behind Joe Flacco (and possibly could even slot behind RGIII), Jackson has proven that he should be involved in the with his dynamic running and playmaking. Don’t be shocked to see him run, throw, and even catch some balls this year. Who knows — if Flacco struggles or gets hurt, Jackson could even see himself become the starter sooner rather than later.
5. Bradley Chubb – LB
On one side of their pass rush, the Denver Broncos have Von Miller, who is one of the most outstanding defensive players in the NFL. For years, the Broncos have searched for the right player to line up on the other side of the defense, and they might have found him in Bradley Chubb. They used a fifth overall pick on him, and he’s already slotted in to be an everyday starter when the season begins. He is a great mix of speed and power, and will cause headaches for offensive linemen all year. With Miller getting all the attention, Chubb should be able to flex his muscles and dominate in his first NFL season.
4. Derwin James – FS
Somehow slipping to the 17th overall pick, Derwin James should make an immediate impact for the Los Angeles Chargers at the safety position. He has all the size you want in a safety (6’2″, 215-pounds), as well as excellent playmaking and coverage abilities. Many experts feel he plays a similar game to Eric Berry, which is a massive compliment. In addition to that, he can also play as a quasi-linebacker, which will help a lot when it comes to blitzing or stopping the run. With his ability to play all over the field, along with his speed and toughness, James could be one of the more productive rookie safeties we have seen in a long time. Also, with the great pass rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram in front of him, James’s job becomes that much easier — assuming he earns himself regular snaps.
3. Denzel Ward – CB
While he had a small (which could have been large) back injury in the preseason, Denzel Ward is still ready to prove he is one of the best defensive players taken off the board at the last draft. Ward has supreme speed (4.30 at the combine) as well as insane athleticism (a 39-inch vertical jump), and has all the potential in the world. He is outstanding in coverage, and can match up with a wide range of players. While he isn’t the biggest or strongest, he makes it up with his speed and athletic ability. Whether he is inside or outside as a corner, the fourth overall pick should be a starter for the Browns throughout the 2019 season.
2. Calvin Ridley – WR
While he is still behind Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu on the depth chart, Calvin Ridley could be capable of making some amazing plays this season — if he gets the chance. He was taken in the first round (26th overall) and his frame, speed, and outstanding body control had scouts drooling. He is very polished for a player fresh out of college, and has experience running all sorts of routes. So you will likely see him in a lot of different packages in Atlanta. His preseason wasn’t the greatest, but he has so much talent and plays on a team that likes to pass, so anything is possible.
1. Saquon Barkley – RB
Arguably the most impressive prospect to come into the NFL since Adrian Peterson, Saquon Barkley should have an outstanding rookie season. He is about as NFL-ready a back we have ever seen and can run hard, run fast, catch, block, and do just about everything else you want out of a modern running back. And after the New York Giants used the second overall pick on him, you can be sure they will use him immediately. At this point, we would be shocked if Barkley didn’t put up over 1,000 yards his rookie season and show that he is one of the best backs in the league, rookie or not.