With training camp’s across the league opening next week, it’s time–oh yes, it’s time!–to get ready for the upcoming NFL season. Check Down will provide you with continuous preseason coverage from now until the start of the regular season, with everything ranging from offseason recaps, top training camp storylines, betting primers, and, of course, predictions for the 2017 campaign.
To start, let’s take a look at this season’s fresh faces. Here are the fifteen most compelling rookies of 2017.
1 Christian McCaffrey, RB Carolina
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 8 College: Stanford
The dynamic McCaffrey is this season’s most intriguing rookie because he has the ability to significantly impact three areas of the game for a Panthers team that lacks offensive firepower. The former Stanford star amassed over 6,000 all-purpose yards–roughly 255 per game–in his last two years as a Cardinal. He should immediately be called upon by Carolina to handle a sizable workload as a runner (Jonathan Stewart, their projected starter, averaged just 3.8 YPC last season) and Cam Newton should also rely on him frequently as both a quick outlet and check down option. Plus, there’s always the threat he takes a punt to the house.
McCaffrey’s versatility and potential to burst onto the scene immediately makes him a must-watch talent.
2 Deshaun Watson, QB Houston
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 12 College: Clemson
The Texans could be a dark-horse in the AFC, provided they find a capable signal-caller. Is the former Clemson star the answer? Even if Tom Savage starts Week One, you have to imagine that Bill O’Brien will give Watson a look at some point, especially if Houston’s playoff chances start slipping.
3 Myles Garrett, DE Cleveland
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 1 College: Texas A&M
Edge rushers recently selected near the top of recent draft’s, like Khalil Mack and Von Miller, have proven to be capable of single-handily taking over games. The Browns hope the same will be said about Garrett. However, there are some who have questioned whether Garrett has the tools to become an elite all-around defender worthy of the top overall pick.
There may not be much worth paying attention to this season when it comes to Cleveland Browns football, but Garrett is certainly one to keep a close eye on.
4 DeShone Kizer, QB Cleveland
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 52 College: Notre Dame
Actually, I’ll amend what I just about the Browns. There is another player to take note of, and it’s because he’s likely to be the first rookie QB to see meaningful action. Word out of Cleveland’s mini-camp last spring was that the oft-erratic Kizer actually looked good. He has a chance to emerge as the Browns’ starter this August, which means we could find out sooner rather than later whether he’ll be another name to add to that infamous list of ill-fated Cleveland quarterbacks.
5 Leonard Fournette, RB Jacksonville
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 5 College: LSU
Fournette was a beast at LSU, but he finds himself in a rather unfavorable situation in Jacksonville. He’s projected to get plenty of carries, though, so his aggregate totals alone should have him in Offensive Rookie of the Year contention.
6 Dalvin Cook, RB Minnesota
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 41 College: Florida State
Like Fournette, Cook could find himself with a significant role on a Minnesota offense that no longer can rely on Adrian Peterson. However, the former Seminole star will have his work cut out for him running behind one of last season’s poorest offensive lines.
7 O.J. Howard, TE Tampa Bay
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 19 College: Alabama
Jameis Winston has loved his tight ends ever since his freshman season at FSU. With extra attention sure to be paid to Mike Evans and the newly acquired DeSean Jackson, Howard–the star of Alabama’s 2015 national title win over Clemson–could be on the receiving end of many touchdown passes.
8 Reuben Foster, LB San Francisco
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 31 College: Alabama
General manager John Lynch rated Foster as one of the top three players on the 49ers’ pre-draft big board. Obviously other franchises didn’t think as highly as Foster, who surprisingly slid in round one. Nonetheless, he’s regarded as the best of the rookie linebackers, and he’s an early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. It will be curious to see if the hype is real.
9 Jonathan Allen, DT Washington
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 17 College: Alabama
Allen’s another former Alabama star–coincidentally the third in a row on this list–that I can’t wait to see evolve as a pro. Last season’s Bronko Nagurski winner for best defensive player in college football dropped further in the draft than expected; but he should still be a key cog for a Washington team with playoff aspirations.
10 Mitchell Trubisky, QB Chicago
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 2 College: North Carolina
It seems like Trubisky’s already been labeled as a bust before even playing a down. I say give it time to see whether the Bears made a mistake. If he ultimately receives meaningful reps this year, which is not expected considering that Mike Glennon will enter camp as the presumed starter, Trubisky will certainly have a lot of eyeballs on him.
11 John Ross, WR Cincinnati
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 9 College: Washington
Now we’re onto some of the more “under the radar” guys on this list. However, under the radar is a relative term when it comes to Ross, who set a combine record with a 4.22 40-yard dash at the combine. He could see time opposite A.J. Green and be in line for big numbers.
12 Samaje Perine, RB Washington
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 114 College: Oklahoma
Running backs drafted in later rounds often surprise. Take Chicago’s Jordan Howard, who last year finished second in rushing yards behind Ezekiel Elliott despite being drafted in the fifth round. And a few years ago, former Redskin Alfred Morris had a similar rookie season: the unheralded sixth-rounder out of Florida Atlantic exploded for over 1,600 yards.
Perine, who was a standout at Oklahoma, looks poised to overtake Robert Kelley as Washington’s lead back and could be the next rookie to surprise with a huge debut season.
13 Joe Williams, RB San Francisco
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 121 College: Utah
Similar to Perine, Williams could surprise if he takes advantage of a sizable workload. The 5’11” back burst onto the scene late last year for Utah, rushing for over 1,400 yards in only nine games. He’s expected to at least share time with Carlos Hyde, San Francisco’s injury-prone starter, meaning Williams could be a fantasy sleeper.
14 Corey Davis, WR Tennessee
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 5 College: Western Michigan
The number five pick should become a favorite target for Marcus Mariota. It will be interesting to see how he fits in exactly on a Titans team that likes to run the ball.
15 Derek Barnett, DE Philadelphia
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 14 College: Tennessee
And lastly, there’s my sleeper pick for DROY. Barnett joins a Philadelphia defense that was quietly one of the league’s best last season. With plenty of resources devoted to blocking Pro Bowl-level defensive lineman like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, Barnett, who had over 10 sacks in each of this three seasons at Tennessee, should produce big numbers.