The AFC West is always an interesting division, and with this potentially being Peyton Manning’s last ride, this top heavy division will definitely be an interesting follow throughout this upcoming season, which is only 8 days away from starting, so rejoice! Here’s my thoughts on the rookies in the Division that should make differences right away, might take longer than the teams would like, and some long shots who could make an impact:
Impact Rookie: Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Maybe the easiest choice in this entire series of articles, Cooper was widely regarded as the safest Wide Receiver prospect in this draft, a can’t miss type. He’ll instantly start in the Bay Area, and can play both outside, as well as be lethal in the slot. Cooper has very good hands, but his acumen for the position and his ability to create yards after the catch are the traits that will help him succeed immediately at the next level. Oakland came into the draft looking to help their potential Franchise signal caller Derek Carr, and selecting Cooper was probably the best thing the Raiders could have done. When was the last time we said that?!
Delayed Impact: Mario Edwards Jr, DL Florida State
In new Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton’s scheme, Edwards will play the LEO role, as Norton will bring Seattle’s scheme with him, as the former Seahawks Linebacker Coach had massive success in his previous position. Edwards is a truly intriguing prospect, as he was a disruptive force for the Seminoles during their run to the Natty in 2013. A 305 lb Defensive End with surprising athleticism to watch his overwhelming size on the outside. His play regressed a bit in 2014, but still put forth a decent campaign. However, in a surprising change, Edwards weighed in at the Combine at 279 lbs. The former #1 National HS recruit will have to show a bit more speed off of the edge to play in this LEO role, and his work ethic concerns could be an issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays well, but I wouldn’t hold my breath initially.
Diamond in the Rough: Max Valles, LB Virginia
During the season, I had seen Valles and was impressed with his athleticism for his size. At 6’5″ and 245, he showed the versatility to play both with his hand in the ground, as well as be able to play as an Under Linebacker. However, I was surprised when he declared as a Redshirt Sophomore; upon looking at his supporting cast that would be returning, I was a little less surprised. Ultimately, he fell to the 6th round, and not much is usually expected from these picks. Given his athleticism, maybe Norton can bring out the best in Valles, and he can contribute both on Special Teams and maybe as a sub package pass rusher.
San Diego Chargers
Impact Rookie: Melvin Gordon III, RB Wisconsin
I was a bit surprised that San Diego traded up from 17 to 15 to get Gordon, but for them to get their guy is huge. The Ryan Matthews experiment was a failure, and the Chargers haven’t won consistently in the post season since LaDainian Tomlinson left. Gordon has a chance to be the franchise back that the Chargers have needed since then. His gamebreaking ability is uncanny, and after running for 2,587 yards this past season, the Chargers will have high expectations for this season.
Delayed Impact: Denzel Perryman, ILB Miami (FL)
I’ve said this a few times, but just because a star Linebacker from the U wears #52 doesn’t mean that he’s an automatic star in the NFL. Granted, Perryman didn’t ask for this comparison, but there are a few things that concerned me with Perryman. Much like his future running mate at Inside Linebacker for the Chargers Manti Te’o, Perryman made tons of splash plays in college, but had a few glaring weaknesses. Perryman is not a very sudden, explosive player. He also has struggled in coverage, and in this NFL, that’s not a good sign. That’s not to say that he can’t improve, but I wouldn’t put too much for expectations in his rookie season.
Diamond in the Rough: Kyle Emanuel, OLB North Dakota State
A very lesser known pass rusher from the Great White North, Emanuel has led the FCS the past two seasons in sacks, and he shows an impressive repertoire of pass rushing moves. He hustles on every play, and as scary as that is to hang your hat on for a pass rusher, Emanuel is the type of guy that will work his way on to the roster through Special Teams, and his tenaciousness will bode well for him to eventually get on the field as a sub package rusher.
Kansas City Chiefs
Impact Rookie: Marcus Peters, CB Washington
Marcus Peters was probably the best Corner in this year’s class, but as I just read on Twitter about an hour ago, writing this at midnight, the NFL was stupid and Trae Waynes was drafted first. Peters was an absolute steal for the Chiefs at #18, and could be an elite Corner in a year. He’s an immediate starter, with Sean Smith returning to play on the other side, and Phillip Gaines in the slot. Eric Berry and Ron Parker at Safety, and the Chiefs have bolstered a strength on their team. Peters is in an ideal situation, and could be a Pro Bowler this season.
Delayed Impact: Chris Conley, WR Georgia
In Conley’s defense, an injured Aaron Murray leading to extended exposure to Hutson Mason’s water gun arm did hamper Conley’s deep ability. However, Conley was limited to a lot of bubble screens and slants to get him in space and hasn’t shown an extensive route tree. He tested extremely impressively, and I understand how that could propel him into Day 2. However, I just don’t think that he’ll have a quick transition, especially as a deep threat with Alex Smith at Quarterback.
Diamond in the Rough: Ramik Wilson, ILB Georgia
John Dorsey stuck with the Georgia connection in this class, selecting head knocker Inside Linebacker Ramik Wilson. Aside from a separate office running the show at the time, Wilson reminds me a lot of Corey Mays, who was a starting ILB for the Chiefs when they completely blew up their team and signed like Zach Thomas and Amani Toomer. Mays struggled a bit in coverage, but excels in physicality and blitzing. He should be a special teamer and will learn from Derrick Johnson. He could be a starter in a few years with Johnson aging.
Impact Rookie: Ty Sambrailo, OG Colorado State
Sambrailo was a highly regarded prospect coming into the 2014 season, but some pass protection deficiencies and an odd hitch in his pass set pushed him down the boards, falling to the end of the 2nd round. You’re probably asking how this means he’ll be an impact rookie, but his struggles at Left Tackle will push him to Left Guard. And with Orlando Franklin departed to the rival San Diego Chargers, Sambrailo will fit right in and his flaws will be protected inside. I think he could be a Day 1 starter for Denver.
Delayed Impact: Shane Ray, DE Missouri
Shane Ray was at one point thought to be a Top 3 or 5 pick, but a marijuana arrest and a chronic, no pun intended, foot injury kept Ray from testing as well as he thought that he could, although he was lackluster in that department anyways. Ray will be behind Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and DeMarcus Ware at End both in base and rush situations, so Ray will have time to develop, but won’t provide the boost to a pass rush that you’d expect from a 1st rounder, especially one that was traded up for.
Diamond in the Rough: Darius Kilgo, DL Maryland
Mired in mediocrity, Kilgo seemed to play more to the play of his teammates rather than to his athletic abilities. However, if he can use his physical traits to the fullest, he could be a nice attempt at replacing Terrence Knighton along the interior. Kilgo is a menacing presence at around 6’5″ and 320 pounds. He should be a nice rotational piece in Denver immediately.