The draft is over. The optimism and the hype has only begun. And with so little movement in free agency, teams are relying on rookies more than ever before. Adam Schein examines, Schein 9 style, the neophytes who must perform like veterans, not youngsters.
Trent Williams - Redskins OT
Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan passed on Russell Okung for the "Ryan Clady clone" Williams. I predicted it and really like the pick, and it fills a major area of need with the Chris Samuels retirement. But Williams' work ethic was knocked and he will always be linked to Okung. With Donovan McNabb and Shanahan in town, the stakes are raised in D.C. Williams must perform more like Clady did in Denver than Jason Smith did with the Rams last season. I think he will.
Vladimir Ducasse - Jets G
The Jets, a team with Super Bowl aspirations, cut Pro Bowler and team leader Alan Faneca. New York spent a second-round draft pick on Ducasse, the former UMass tackle, with the hopes he could start at guard right away. For a line with amazing chemistry and for a team with the best running attack a year ago, Ducasse has big shoes to fill. This acquisition will be scrutinized throughout the season.
Arrelious Benn - Bucs WR
I like Benn a lot, even with his injury history at Illinois. I would've liked it better if he wasn't thrust into the limelight right away. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik told us that he feels confident in his receiver core and Benn could be a starter in Week 1. I am not sure he is ready for that.
Demaryius Thomas - Broncos WR
Perhaps lost in the Josh McDaniels/Tim Tebow post-draft conversation, the Broncos picked Thomas over Dez Bryant. For the record, I agree with it. Thomas enjoys those comparison to fellow Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson. And at 6'3, 224, he can produce. But with Brandon Marshall no longer on the ball club, Thomas must step in and play like Johnson sooner rather than later.
Ben Tate - Texans RB
Steve Slaton had offseason surgery. Ryan Moats is not the answer. QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson need major balance. And the Texans, in questionable fashion, passed up on Toby Gerhart for the Auburn back. Tate needs to justify the pick from Day One.
Sean Weatherspoon - Falcons LB
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told us that he fell in love with this playmaking and charismatic 'backer, who will slide into a starting spot on the Atlanta defense. I wrote in February that the Falcons were three defensive ball players away from being a playoff team. With last year's first-round pick Peria Jerry coming back from inury, the Dunta Robinson signing, and Weatherspoon, you have the players at every level. No pressure, kid.
Brandon Graham - Eagles DE
I thought Graham was one of the best defensive players in the draft. And like most, I thought his future was to be the next LaMarr Woodley - a Michigan defensive end destined for stardom at outside linebacker in the 3-4. But Philly traded up and plucked Graham to bolster its pass rush at defensive end in the 4-3. In chatting with Eagles GM Howie Roseman, he compares his skillsets to Pro Bowler Trent Cole. I buy in. And in a year where the Eagles are trying to debunk the notion that they are rebuilding, they need Graham to perform like Cole. I think his upside is even better.
Eric Berry - Chiefs S
Is it too early to pick Berry for defensive rookie of the year? Scott Pioli and the Chiefs eschewed picking a tackle in the top five to secure a special defensive player. Berry is worth the Ed Reed comparisons with his playmaking ability, leadership and film study. The KC defense broke down in big spots last year. Kansas City badly needs this infusion of a mega talent. Berry can't take time to develop - and he won't.
Ryan Mathews - Chargers RB
Before the draft, I wrote on FOX that Mathews would be the perfect Charger and San Diego would target him. What I didn't know is AJ Smith would trade up to the No. 12 pick to make sure that Mathews was the next Charger running back. Mathews inherits the burden of replacing LaDainian Tomlinson. I think Mathews is up for it. He is the perfect blend of power, speed, and smarts. Norv Turner is already day dreaming out loud about his role on first and second down. And for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, he must produce right away. And I think Mathews, trained brilliantly by Pat Hill at Fresno State, will deliver the goods. -- Adam Schein