I love this time of year! A couple of NFL teams have already reported for training camp, while the rest of the clubs will report over the next few days. We will finally get a chance to see these full squads together, and it's a great opportunity to check out this year's rookie class. I can't wait to watch the top quarterbacks; Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson will have every throw intensely scrutinized. Defensive stars like Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James will be fun to follow, as well. It's safe to say expectations are sky high for this rookie class.
For the rookies on a team like the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, it will be tough to land a starting job or even a significant role in Year 1, with so many talented veterans already in place. However, some teams will rely heavily on their rookies. After taking a look across the league, I've identified five teams that will be most impacted by their rookie group in 2018.
Note: Click on team names to see 2018 draft classes.
The Ravens were very active and aggressive in the 2018 NFL Draft. They moved up and down the board, selecting 12 players (tied for the biggest class in franchise history). They should see an immediate return with their No. 1 pick, TE Hayden Hurst. The Ravens were desperate to upgrade the weapons in their passing attack, and Hurst was the top tight end in the class. They landed two former Oklahoma Sooners in the third round (OT Orlando Brown and TE Mark Andrews). I expect Brown to win the starting job at right tackle, while Andrews should find significant snaps as an athletic H-back/tight end.
The key to the Ravens' whole draft will be QB Lamar Jackson. He's the reason why they appear on this list. He brought excitement during the offseason that was tough to ignore. Veteran players raved about his play. And while Joe Flacco will begin the season as the starter, I'll be very surprised if Jackson doesn't emerge as the starter around midseason. He's not going to be a 70 percent passer, but he'll make up for it with some highlight-reel runs and well-placed deep balls. One other rookie to keep an eye on during the fall: LB Kenny Young, a fourth-round pick. He is excellent in coverage and should contribute in sub packages as well as on special teams.
The Chargers lucked out when former Florida State safety Derwin James fell into their lap on draft night. He was easily one of the top 10 players in the class, and the Bolts landed him with the 17th overall selection. He's a perfect fit in Gus Bradley's defense, and I expect him to quickly emerge as one of the premier safeties in the NFL. In the second round, the Chargers selected former USC LB Uchenna Nwosu. He provides positional versatility and should excel as a blitzer, complementing Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
Third-round DT Justin Jones should contribute as a rotational player. Kyzir White, a fourth-rounder, is a hybrid safety/linebacker and should excel in sub packages early on. I also expect seventh-round pick Justin Jackson to play meaningful snaps at running back. Overall, this group will be counted on to get the Chargers over the hump and into the postseason.
In my opinion, the Bears have the most improved roster in the NFL. The free-agent additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel will ignite a stagnant offense. Even after those signings, they still had plenty of holes to fill in the draft. Mission accomplished. I loved their first three picks, and they should each be major contributors as rookies.
Roquan Smith will be the next great Bears linebacker and should contend for Pro Bowl status in Year 1. He possesses elite instincts, range and playmaking ability. He has not yet reported to Bears camp as he remains unsigned, but I can't imagine this dragging on much longer. Second-rounder James Daniels was one of the top interior offensive linemen in the draft, and I expect him to be a starter come Week 1. WR Anthony Miller is an excellent route runner, and he's drawn rave reviews through the start of training camp.
Andrew Luck's health has been the top offseason storyline for the Colts. Thankfully, it sounds like he is a full go for the start of training camp. That's tremendous news for the organization, but there are some other reasons for optimism. The rookie class features several players who should contribute right away. Quenton Nelson should be a Day 1 starter at guard, while Braden Smith should push for playing time at guard, as well. Nelson is the most talented run blocker I've ever evaluated, and I'll be surprised if he's not in the Pro Bowl following his rookie season.
Indianapolis added two explosive front-seven defenders in the second round in Darius Leonard and Kemoko Turay. This defense needed an infusion of athleticism, and that's exactly what they accomplished. One other player I'd keep an eye on: Nyheim Hines. He's an extremely versatile running back who's capable of taking reps in the slot and returning kicks.
The Giants scored the best player in the draft, and I expect him to have the biggest impact -- of all rookies -- in Year 1. Saquon Barkley has a rare blend of size, speed and versatility. He's going to create space for the rest of the offense, and he'll provide plenty of explosive plays. If needed, he could also contribute on special teams, although I wouldn't advise it, due to workload/injury-risk concerns. Second-round OG Will Hernandez is a mauling run blocker, and he'll fill a void on the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lorenzo Carter is an ideal edge defender in today's NFL. He can rush the passer, set the edge in the run game and match up in coverage with tight ends and running backs. DT B.J. Hill is a developmental player, but he has tremendous upside and should get into the mix by the middle of the season.