Professional Sports

Which NFL rookies will make an impact this season?

The new football season will showcase some potentially great rookie players.

There are a number of rookies that are expected to make huge impacts on their team. The few that have stood out to me so far are the ones I feel will be something special for their respective teams.

In the NFC South, one of the rookies I predict will become a leader for his team and will make an impact on the entire league is Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey was brought in to help take some pressure off of quarterback Cam Newton and he definitely has all the potential to do so. He can play running back, slot receiver and wide receiver, and he also returns punts. His flexibility will keep him on the field and he can create big-play opportunities on short passes. Those are skills that are much needed for an offense that has ranked 29th in the NFL in yards after the catch over the past two seasons.

Also in the NFC South is the former UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley of the Atlanta Falcons. He’s not the only rookie I like on the team. Linebacker Duke Riley looks to contribute a lot but McKinley being paired with fellow speed rusher and reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. will definitely be exciting to watch.

The Falcons did take a chance on McKinley, who is coming off major shoulder surgery, but the team still thinks he can have an immediate impact. McKinley is relentless and plays angry and the Falcons need to channel that emotion in the correct manner, like toward sacking opposing quarterbacks.

The last NFC South rookie to make a big impact will be Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. Even though recent history does not favor tight ends to have highly productive rookie seasons, they usually make their big jump in their second year, like Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham.

I expect Howard to be an exception. The real difference maker is his ability as a run blocker, which is a skill the Bucs are in dire need of right now.

There are two rookies in the NFC North I want to give attention to. First is the cornerback Kevin King from the Green Bay Packers. He could very well be someone extremely special in the future for Green Bay. The Packers do not have anyone like him. In fact, many teams don’t have anyone like him. That is why King could turn into the shutdown cornerback the Packers’ 31st ranked pass defense lacked last season. King is a rare combination of size and speed, which should translate well in the league and give the second round pick (no. 33 overall) the chance to be their number one corner right away.

Also in the NFC North is running back Dalvin Cook from the Minnesota Vikings. He will get the chance to play a big role right away, as the Vikings try to revamp their backfield after parting ways with their previous star running back, Adrian Peterson.

The Vikings, who had the league’s worst running game last season, are in dire need of a playmaker. In an offense where backs get plenty of passes thrown their way, Cook will get many opportunities to fill that need, both as a running back and as a receiver.

In the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans have rookie wide receiver Corey Davis. Davis was the fifth player and first receiver selected in the 2017 draft and he brings to the Titans a combination of size and explosiveness, something they haven’t had.

Marcus Mariota came into his own last season so Davis should have an immediate impact and impact the way defenses cover the rest of the Titans’ weapons.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette for the Jacksonville Jaguars also should make an impact. The Jaguars want to base their offense off ball-control and play-action. To do that they will need a powerful runner who thrives on contact like Fournette. If he can stay healthy, he should get every opportunity to surpass 1,000 yards as a rookie.

These rookies have the potential to not only make an impact as rookies but also in the future for their teams. Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer will make huge impacts for their teams as well, giving the Cleveland Browns fans a little something to look forward to.

Shaquita Newton is a sports blogger. She can be reached at