Maybe you are last year’s Falcons, who felt they were one playmaker away from the Super Bowl and traded up to select wide receiver Julio Jones. Or last year’s 49ers, who wanted to make a good defense great by adding Aldon Smith to the pass rush. Or you are this year’s Dolphins, who could leave a box of season tickets lying on the street, come back in an hour, and find that none were taken: You need a rookie that will generate excitement.
There are great prospects at every position. But which position will give you immediate results? Rookie running backs often have 1,000-yard seasons. Or do they? Jones had a great year for the Falcons, but how often does that happen? Smith recorded 14 sacks, but can a team expect that from Courtney Upshaw or some other pass rusher?
Let’s look at the past 10 drafts on a position-by-position basis. We will focus on the first round, because when you are looking for immediate help, you don’t wait until later rounds to find it. We will also define an “impact rookie” as precisely as possible to eliminate judgment calls. At what positions do rookies produce the most immediate results?
The answers buck conventional wisdom. Let’s start at the top.
Impact rookies: Start at least 10 games and produce a quarterback rating over 75.0.
Impact rate: 16%
As you might expect, rookie quarterbacks rarely have outstanding seasons. Only Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger met our not-too-stringent standards among first-round picks. Lots of rookies fell below the 75.0 rating threshold, including Vince Young, Mark Sanchez and a few others who garnered a lot of attention in their first seasons. Remember, we are looking for “impact” players, not guys who can hold down the job and get by because they make a few plays.
The low impact rate is sobering news for those who hold up Cam Newton as an example of what Robert Griffin III or some other quarterback can do right away. The reason the four players above are mentioned so often is that they are the only good examples from the past decade. Drafting a quarterback is not a quick fix.
Impact rookies: Gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Impact rate: 39%
Surprised? When we think of rookie running backs, we think of Adrian Peterson–types: Point them at the hole, give them the ball, and watch them thunder for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. But most of our impact first-rounders are more like Reggie Bush, Jahvid Best or Knowshon Moreno, barely qualifying after their rushing and receiving yards are mixed together.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The message is clear: The first round of the draft is not teeming with 1,000-yard rushers, though the probability of a quick upgrade is higher here than at many other positions.
Impact rookies: Gain at least 800 receiving yards and score a minimum of four touchdowns.
Impact rate: 22%
Lower the threshold to 700 receiving yards, and the impact rate is much higher. Receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Jeremy Maclin all gained between 700-800 yards as rookies. But we are looking for major upgrades here, not guys who come in and show flashes. Eight hundred yards works out to just 50 yards per game. The only rookie first-rounders from the past decade to reach that total were Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Dwayne Bowe, Roy Williams, Michael Clayton, Lee Evans and Andre Johnson.
Just as Newton set a misleading standard for quarterbacks, Jones and Green might set the bar too high for wide receivers. If Fitzgerald and Megatron could only catch 48-58 passes as rookies, it is not fair to pencil 75 in for Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd. Production like that is rare.
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Next step towards total dominance for NFL
ProFootballTalk: The NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly close to finalizing a new offseason schedule that would move the scouting combine, draft and OTAs up a month. Mike Florio thinks this will help further the NFL’s dominance over the other sports in the American landscape.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.