Every year, the NFL draft funnels in a new class of young rookies ready to set the spotlight on themselves as they begin their journey as a professional football player.
In the NFC East, many of the superstars today burst onto the scene with fantastic, unforgettable rookie campaigns. This season, the NFC East boasts a surplus of promising talent with high hopes to contribute from day one.
While the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles all made some big splashes—especially in the first round—the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants kept a low profile—as usual—in their selections, quietly building what could potentially be another victorious draft class due to the genius of general manager Jerry Reese.
With the season now less than week away, let’s take a look at seven rookies to watch this year!
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
We may as well get the obvious one out of the way now. All eyes will be on the No.2 overall pick this season and rightfully so. He is college football’s Heisman winner and the first franchise quarterback in some time for the Washington Redskins.
Griffin will undoubtedly see hard times this season, but as his preseason performance has shown, he has the ability to handle anything thrown his way. In time, the rookie will improve upon his pitfalls and he should have no trouble evolving into the elite quarterback many believe he can be.
As he was in college, Griffin will surely be must-watch football this season. His athletically-gifted skillset will make him difficult for opposing defenses to lockdown and could give the Redskins a much-needed boost as they vie for some form of competitiveness within the feisty NFC East.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles did not necessarily need defensive line help this season, but they saw Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox as a vital upgrade worth trading up for in the first round. As a result, Cox should give them a very pleasant return on their investment.
Cox is a versatile, athletically-gifted big man that will prove to be trouble for any offensive line trying to slow him down for many years to come. Though still a bit raw, according to National Football Post’s draft guru Wes Bunting, he is a dominant pass-rusher and exceptional run stopper in the middle.
His presence in the backfield during his collegiate career is unquestionable, tallying 24.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and an unprecedented five blocked kicks.
Cox is expected to play a significant role in the defensive line rotation from the get-go. If he can replicate his collegiate success, may the football gods have mercy on those in his path.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants
The New York Giants finished dead-last in rushing in the 2011 season. For a team that loves to run a well-balanced offensive attack, that is unacceptable and it would be foolish to expect the same from Big Blue again this season.
To make sure of that, the Giants used their first round draft pick on speedster David Wilson out of Virginia Tech. Wilson, a fleet-footed back ball carrier with very underrated break tackle skills, was faced with much hesitation from the Giants coaching staff to shift right into the backup role behind Ahmad Bradshaw, but his outstanding preseason performance has thrust him into a spot likely to see plenty of snaps this season.
Wilson was a productive back for the Hokies last season, rushing for 1,709 yards and earning ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The Giants still have a lot of questions concerning their offensive line, but a back of Wilson’s caliber—combined with Bradshaw—should alleviate some of those worries.
Tyrone Crawford, DE, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys’ third-rounder Tyrone Crawford has shown some bright spots this summer and should see some valuable playing time at defensive end.
Crawford showcased impressive technique, bowling through the stout Cowboys offensive line in training camp. The former Boise State Bronco has caught the attention of his coaches, and ultimately, that’s the first step towards becoming a household name in the locker room and on the field on gameday.
While some folks have gone as far as comparing the rookie to Giants superstar Jason Pierre-Paul–a comparison that may be a little far out there–the rookie defensive end does boast some intriguing measurables and potential that could help him blossom into a quality player in Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme
Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants
The rookie pass-catcher from LSU may not have beaten out Domenik Hixon for the Giants’ No. 3 spot, but don’t be surprised if he has usurped the role by midseason. Randle has shown great promise this summer and has made strides to improve every day he has been on the field.
ESPN’s Christopher Harris called Randle “a Hakeem Nicks clone,” which should unquestionably be taken as a compliment. Nicks is a big, physical receiver who has accumulated at least 70 receptions and over 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last two seasons. With Victor Cruz also on the roster, it is unlikely to see Randle tallying quite those numbers, but he should prove to be a key factor in the Giants passing game.
Playing alongside a quarterback as talented as the elite Eli Manning should only better Randle in the long run, enabling the Giants to develop a vicious three-headed monster at the receiving position that could prove to be even more dangerous than the group they boasted last season.
Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys made a big move for Randle’s former teammate and fellow LSU Tiger Morris Claiborne in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Though he has underperformed to date, the rookie is bursting with potential that could very well come to fruition at some point this season.
Claiborne is touted for his outstanding coverage skills. Such talent will be very valuable for a Cowboys team that has spent the last few seasons getting burned by their divisional foes in pivotal moments of must-win games (see: Week 17 vs. Eli Manning and the Giants).
Tasked with stopping the high-powered offenses that make up the NFC East, Claiborne will be a player to keep your eye on starting with the Cowboys’ Week 1 matchup with the Giants on September 5th.
Damaris Johnson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the most surprising players this summer for the Eagles has been undrafted wide receiver Damaris Johnson.
The former Tulsa Golden Hurricane standout has earned a penchant for making the big play in Philadelphia, becoming a popular target for both Michael Vick and backup rookie Nick Foles at practice and in each of the Eagles’ preseason campaigns.
At 5’8”, Johnson has outperformed all expectations placed upon him in spite of all those who chose to overlook him because of his small stature. With history as a successful returner—holding the NCAA record for kick return yards in a career—Johnson should see time in that role for the Eagles while also stepping up as a fifth receiver.
The Eagles are stacked full of players they can call upon for the much-needed big play, but the franchise never shies away from adding another homerun hitter into the mix. He’ll have his opportunities to make you love him this season.