By Andrew Kahn
You can be excused if you were unfamiliar with many of the names called by Roger Goodell in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. Dominated by linemen and defensive players, the draft lacked the name recognition and flair that skill position players bring. That doesn’t mean this year’s rookie quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and tight ends won’t make an impact. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing of the bunch.
1. E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
Manuel, who was chosen 16th, was the only quarterback taken in the first round. This was the first draft since 2001 that didn’t include multiple quarterbacks in the first round. Buffalo’s choice was a surprising one, but they clearly think the Florida State grad can be a franchise quarterback. Among the rookie QBs, as of now, he’s most likely to start Week 1. He’s competing with Kevin Kolb, who hasn’t proven he’s more than a solid back-up.
2. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
His training camp performance, as measured against Mark Sanchez, is already generating headlines—though who knows what the Jets’ plan is. Smith operated like a machine at times in college, throwing darts all over the field. But he looked shaky late last season. Like any quarterback, his adjustment to the speed of the NFL will be critical.
3. Denard Robinson, OW, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson’s positional abbreviation is not a typo. The Jaguars have officially listed the former Michigan quarterback as an “offensive weapon.” Whether he delivers will be equally dependent on Robinson and his coaches. His shift to running back in the second half of last season (because of an injury to his throwing elbow) went pretty well.
4. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Austin went eighth in the draft; the next receiver wasn’t chosen until 27th. The Rams couldn’t pass on the tiny speedster from West Virginia. He has everything you want in a wide receiver except the size (he’s 5’8, 174 pounds). St. Louis grabbed Austin because open-field threats—guys who can score on any given play—are not easy to find.
5. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Among the players listed here, he’d be voted Most Likely to Succeed. Tight end isn’t always considered a skill position, but it is the way Eifert plays. The Notre Dame product gives Andy Dalton another weapon in the passing game. He often comes down with balls that could have fallen incomplete or been intercepted.
6. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Patterson resembles many NBA lottery picks, chosen for potential instead of past production. With only one season of major college football under his belt, Patterson is a wild card. Minnesota took him because he showed big-play ability in his year at Tennessee. If he can improve on the finer points of the position, he could be a steal of the draft.
7. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Like Notre Dame, Stanford has become something of a Tight End U, and Ertz is the latest product. The Eagles snatched several Pac-12 players, possibly because of new head coach Chip Kelly’s familiarity with the conference. Ertz led Stanford in most receiving categories last year.
8. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard flew under the radar in his two years at North Carolina; the Heels’ bowl ban last season didn’t help. That didn’t prevent him from being the first running back chosen in the draft, albeit with the 37th pick (it was the first time since 1963 that none were taken in the first round). He is a back who can make something out of nothing and, along with the aforementioned Eifert, gives the Bengals more offensive punch.
9. Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills
Not many rookies, especially second-round picks, are looking to have a bounce-back season. But Woods was overshadowed last year at Southern Cal by teammate Marqis Lee. He’s not a burner, but he runs good routes and should be ready to play meaningful snaps right away.
10. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Jackson, Ryan Grant. Those are the players that have led the Packers in rushing the last four years. Lacy could immediately provide a boost at the position and perhaps hold down the spot for several years. And as the next to last pick in the second round, the Alabama product was a nice value pick.
Other notables: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers; Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos; Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys.
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Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.