A team’s first pick in the NFL Draft isn’t always its most impactful one right away. Some players take time to develop or are stuck behind a veteran while others are ready to contribute right away. In the 2016 draft, that was the case for several teams. With that being said, let’s take a look at the one rookie who will have the biggest impact for each team this upcoming season.
Arizona Cardinals: DE Robert Nkemdiche, 1st round (29th overall)
Like Tyrann Mathieu, Nkemdiche was troubled coming out of college. But like Mathieu, he landed in a perfect situation with the Cardinals. They have the veteran leadership to keep him focused on and off the field, which will help them get the most out of the rookie defensive lineman. Nkemdiche was dominant at times at Ole Miss when he put in full effort, and if he does the same with the Cardinals, look out. That defense will be scary.
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Atlanta Falcons: S Keanu Neal, 1st round (17th overall)
Neal is a hard-hitting safety/linebacker hybrid who will likely play the former position this season. At Florida, he was a tone-setter with his big hits and plays against the run. What he lacks in coverage skills he makes up for with his ability to stuff running backs. Neal has received rave reviews in camp already and brings a physical presence to Atlanta’s defense that it sorely lacks.
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Baltimore Ravens: OT Ronnie Stanley, 1st round (6th overall)
The Ravens made a surprising selection at No. 6 when they passed on both Taylor Decker and Laremy Tunsil in favor of Stanley. The Notre Dame product projects to be an elite tackle and should have a huge impact on the line, particularly with Eugene Monroe retiring. Whether he plays left tackle or right, Stanley will help shore up an offensive line that struggled last season and became depleted this offseason.
The Bills went all defense to start the draft, in typical Rex Ryan fashion, shoring up the front seven.Ragland will step in right away and man the middle of the field at linebacker. He’s a big hitter with decent range and is just the latest linebacker to jump from Alabama to the NFL. He should be a favorite of Ryan’s this season and see plenty of playing time. It’d be a letdown if he didn't eclipse 100 tackles.
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Carolina Panthers: CB James Bradberry, 2nd round (62nd overall)
The Panthers went into the draft knowing Josh Norman wouldn’t be back after rescinding the franchise tag on him. In turn, they focused on the secondary, taking Bradberry out of Samford with their second pick. He’s a long, rangy cornerback who’s still a bit raw, but he’ll be thrown to the fire in Carolina’s thin secondary. He’ll likely be targeted often as rookies are, but he will get his hand on plenty of footballs and will be a big part of the Panthers’ new-look secondary.
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Chicago Bears: OG Cody Whitehair, 2nd round (56th overall)
The Bears leapfrogged the Giants to take Leonard Floyd at No. 9, which was a smart pick. But rookie pass rushers often can’t be relied upon. Instead, it will be Cody Whitehair making the biggest impact this season. He’ll step in at left guard and help fix an offensive line that was porous in 2015. QB Jay Cutler is the team’s most important player, and keeping him healthy is paramount. Whitehair will do just that.
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Cincinnati Bengals: CB William Jackson III, 1st round (24th overall)
Entering the draft, Jackson was considered to be the best pure cover cornerback in the class. He fell all the way to the cornerback-needy Bengals at No. 24 and found himself a perfect spot. Jackson racked up 23 pass breakups in his final season at Houston, leading the nation in that category. He knows how to get his hands on the football and has elite speed to cover the faster receivers across the league. He’ll be a top rookie corner this season.
The first wide receiver off the board, Coleman is a route-running wizard with outstanding short-area quickness and great hands. He’ll be RG3’s (or whomever starts for the Browns) favorite target this season and can score from anywhere on the field. The Browns’ draft started out great with linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib both expected to have an impact this season, too, but their late-round choices were questionable. There’s no doubting the pick of Coleman, though. He’ll be a stud.
Not only will Elliott be the Cowboys’ most impactful rookie, he very well could be the NFL’s, too. There are some who believe he could receive more than 300 carries as a rookie, which would undoubtedly allow him to surpass 1,000 rushing yards. In fact, he’ll likely come closer to 1,300 than 1,000 and will help shape the Cowboys’ rejuvenated offense. Elliott will take a ton of pressure off of quarterback Tony Romo and the defense with his durability and playmaking ability. Elliott is going to be a centerpiece of Dallas’ offense this season.
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Denver Broncos: S Justin Simmons, 3rd round (98th overall)
The Broncos won’t get a huge impact, if any, from Paxton Lynch in Year 1 given his lack of experience and the depth at quarterback. But Simmons can help out greatly at safety in his rookie season. He’s a smart defensive back with great range, and though he likely won’t be a starter with Darian Stewart firmly entrenched, teams are playing with three safeties on the field more often now.
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Detroit Lions: OT Taylor Decker, 1st round (16th overall)
The Lions had a strong draft overall, but Decker was the highlight. He will likely play right tackle with Riley Reiff in the fold for one more season, at which point Decker will likely slide over to the left side. Regardless of where he starts his career, Decker will have a significant impact on the Lions’ offensive line for many years to come, but particularly as a rookie. The Ohio State product should help in both the run and the passing game.
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Green Bay Packers: DT Kenny Clark, 1st round (27th overall)
The Packers stuck true to their roots in the first round, taking Clark out of UCLA instead of going for a flashy pick. He’ll most likely come in as the second-string nose tackle and a big run stuffer. He also has the ability to pressure quarterbacks in the passing game. Clark will be a welcomed addition, particularly given B.J. Raji's unexpected retirement.
The Texans added a boatload of weapons on offense through the draft and free agency with Miller, a former QB, being one of them. He’s going to be a Percy Harvin-like weapon on offense and should receive plenty of touches – likely more than first-round pick Will Fuller. He can run the ball out of the backfield, catch swing passes and also run deep routes downfield. The Texans will have a good game plan for Miller this season, and it will pay off.
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Indianapolis Colts: C Ryan Kelly, 1st round (18th overall)
The biggest issue with the Colts last season outside of Andrew Luck’s injury was the offensive line. It’s been a problem for years and the Colts finally addressed it in the draft. Their first pick, Ryan Kelly, was the best center in the draft and will prevent Luck from being pressured up the middle, which is where he takes most of his hits from. Kelly will keep Luck upright and healthy and possibly lead the Colts back to an AFC Championship game.
Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack were two of the best picks in the draft, and the Jaguars somehow nabbed both of them. Ramsey will start right away, as will Jack, but it will be the linebacker making a bigger impact this season. He will rack up 100-plus tackles and should pick off a handful of passes, which is an area in which Ramsey struggled in college. So long as he stays healthy -- his knee is the reason he fell to the second round -- Jack has a legitimate chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year and make the Pro Bowl.
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Kansas City Chiefs: DE Chris Jones, 2nd round (37th overall)
The Chiefs needed help up front on their defensive line and they found it with Chris Jones. A defensive tackle in college, he will likely kick outside in their 3-4 scheme, where he fits perfectly. Jones won’t be a sack machine with more than 10 in his rookie season, but he’ll be a strong run stopper and can help take pressure off of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the edge.
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Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff, 1st round (1st overall)
Unlike Eagles No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, Jared Goff will see the field as a rookie. Regardless of whether he's ready, Goff will be out there with the starters at some point. The Rams sacrificed several picks to land him, which left their 2016 class a bit thin, but it’ll be worth it in the long run. Goff can stand to add some bulk to his wiry frame and most likely will, but it’s his accuracy that stands out. He’ll elevate the play of the Rams’ receivers and will help alleviate pressure on running back Todd Gurley.
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Miami Dolphins: OL Laremy Tunsil, 1st round (13th overall)
After all of the off-field issues – the gas mask incident and leaked text messages – the Dolphins and their fans will realize how great of a lineman they got. Tunsil may not play tackle as a rookie, but he will start from Week 1 somewhere on the line – likely at guard. The Dolphins desperately needed help across the front five, and Tunsil brings much-needed relief to that group. Cornerback Xavien Howard should also have a significant impact in a depleted secondary.
Treadwell was once considered a top-10 prospect but concerns about his speed steered some teams away. He’s a Dez Bryant clone, which is telling of just how great he can be. The Vikings have lacked a big possession receiver for some time now, and while Stefon Diggs is a game-changer, Treadwell is the red zone threat the team needed. He will approach 10 touchdowns as a rookie and will help take pressure off of Adrian Peterson and the ground game.
New England Patriots: CB Cyrus Jones, 2nd round (60th overall)
The Patriots didn’t enter the 2016 draft with an overly pressing need at cornerback, but they came away with one in the second round – their first pick. Jones was a standout return man at Alabama and figures to have a huge impact in that department and on defense. He can step in right away and compete for the nickel job as well as return both kicks and punts despite being undersized. Jones is a playmaker when he gets his hands on the ball.
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New Orleans Saints: WR Michael Thomas, 2nd round (47th overall)
No player has stood out at Saints camp more than Thomas. He’s made highlight-reel catches and emerged as a real playmaker. He’s more than just a deep threat, though he does excel in that department. With Marques Colston no longer in the fold, Thomas will be a Day 1 starter alongside Brandin Cooks. He could wind up having the most yards of any Saints receiver this season.
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New York Giants: WR Sterling Shepard, 2nd round (40th overall)
Eli Apple was a bit of a reach at No. 10, butShepard was just the opposite. He was a steal in the second round and is a similar player to both Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz. And he very well could supplant the latter on the depth chart. Shepard is a strong route runner with the best hands in the draft. He’ll man the slot in New York’s offense and should quickly become a favorite target of Eli Manning’s. More than 900 yards isn’t out of the question for him.
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New York Jets: OLB Jordan Jenkins, 3rd round (83rd overall)
The Jets are aging on defense and could use a youth movement, particularly in the pass rush department. Jenkins brings that and could wind up being the edge rusher they glaringly lacked in 2015. He isn’t a polished pass rusher and will certainly need some coaching, but he has great potential. Playing alongside Leonard Floyd at Georgia, Jenkins didn’t receive the brunt of the attention, but he was an impact defender for the Bulldogs. Linebacker Darron Lee should have an impact as a rookie, too, but Floyd fills a bigger need.
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Oakland Raiders: S Karl Joseph, 1st round (14th overall)
Joseph is quite possibly the closest thing to an Earl Thomas-Bob Sanders combo to come into the league in a long time. He’s a ruthless hitter with proven range in the middle of the field. He’s at his best when playing close to the line of scrimmage, though his coverage skills are still great. So long as he recovers from his knee injury from last year in time for the start of the season, Joseph will be a Rookie of the Year candidate.
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Philadelphia Eagles: DB Jalen Mills, 7th round (233rd overall)
The Eagles had only two picks in the first four rounds after trading for quarterback Carson Wentz, who will most likely sit for much of the season, if not all of it. Their mid-round picks were somewhat questionable, but they nailed the selection of Mills in the seventh round. Character concerns caused his stock to fall, but he’s impressed in camp thus far. Mills will most likely play corner after moving around the secondary at LSU, and in the Eagles’ depleted defensive backfield, he’ll get ample opportunities.
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Pittsburgh Steelers: S Sean Davis, 2nd round (58th overall)
Davis played both cornerback and safety at Maryland, and played both extremely well. He has the range and the size to play the latter in the NFL and likely will do so for the Steelers. First-round pick Artie Burns is a speedy cornerback with position flexibility as well, but Davis’ experience and size make him a more impactful rookie in 2016.
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San Diego Chargers: TE Hunter Henry, 2nd round (35th overall)
First-round pick Joey Bosa hasn’t signed his rookie deal yet. Second-rounder Hunter Henry will be a huge part of the Chargers offense this season. He’ll join the aging Antonio Gates at tight end and is an outstanding receiver at the position. Depending on Gates’ health, Henry could haul in 50-plus passes and find the end zone more than five times.
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San Francisco 49ers: DE DeForest Buckner, 1st round (7th overall)
DeForest Buckner could have gone as high as No. 3 to the Chargers, but he slipped to the 49ers and fits perfectly as an end in their 3-4 scheme. Buckner is massive and plays the run and the pass equally well. He has the ability to be the best defensive lineman in this class, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that happen in his rookie season.
Seattle Seahawks: OG Germain Ifedi, 1st round (31st overall)
The Seahawks moved back a bit in the first round after trading with the Broncos, but they still landed a great player. Ifedi will step in and start at one of the guard spots right away, helping to protect Russell Wilson on Seattle’s reworked offensive line. Ifedi is a huge lineman and an imposing presence in the middle and should be very impactful in his first season and beyond.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K Roberto Aguayo, 2nd round (59th overall)
Many will question the selection of -- and the decision to trade up for -- Roberto Aguayo in the second round, but no one will say he won’t have an impact in 2016. He will be the lone kicker on the roster and will be relied upon to make clutch kicks late in games. Given his accuracy and experience at Florida State, he’ll most likely perform well in those situations. Furthermore, he’ll help on kickoffs with his accuracy and ability to pin teams deep with the new touchback rule.
It might be foolish to say the guy behind DeMarco Murray on the depth chart will have a huge impact, but Henry will. The Heisman winner will be a useful weapon on the goal line and should see plenty of carries with Murray being a fragile back and one who almost never plays all 16 games. Additionally, Murray struggled last season and may not be the back he once was. Henry will see plenty of opportunities this season.
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Washington Redskins: WR Josh Doctson, 1st round (22nd overall)
Doctson had the best ball skills of any player in the draft as he consistently rose up and came down with 50-50 balls at TCU. He could wind up being the best rookie receiver in 2016 despite having an injury scare early in camp when he hurt his Achilles'. Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson are both on the tail ends of their careers, and Washington could use a youth movement at receiver.