The best 2016 rookie for every NFL team

Is Elliott final piece of Cowboys' offense? (2:01)

Todd Archer breaks down the Cowboys' expectations for rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. (2:01)

NFL Nation reporters choose the rookie who will make the biggest immediate impact for every team:

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


Buffalo Bills: This is a close call between first-round outside linebacker Shaq Lawson and second-round inside linebacker Reggie Ragland. Both will be immediate starters on the defense. I'll go with Ragland because the Bills have few other options at inside linebacker. Ragland figures to get a healthy percentage of snaps as a rookie, and the belief is that there shouldn't be a steep learning curve from Alabama's defense to Rex Ryan's system. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins: Miami's choice is a no-brainer. First-round pick Laremy Tunsil is arguably the best player in the 2016 draft class and an easy pick for top Dolphins rookie. The offensive tackle will immediately upgrade an offensive line that allowed 45 quarterback sacks last season. Tunsil was the No. 2 player on Miami's draft board, and the team felt comfortable with his character red flags. -- James Walker

New England Patriots: Cornerback Cyrus Jones, the Patriots' top pick at No. 60 overall, projects to a No. 3 or No. 4 role on the defense, with the potential to take over punt and kickoff return duties as well. One NFL general manager felt he was the best dual returner in the draft, and the Patriots said they had other players graded at the same level but Jones' return skills tipped the scales in his favor. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets: First-round pick Darron Lee will play immediately as a nickel linebacker, bringing much-needed speed to the Jets' sub packages. Coach Todd Bowles will find creative ways to integrate Lee, a blitz-and-cover linebacker, into the scheme. The winner of the rookie punting competition also could make an impact -- seventh-round pick Lachlan Edwards versus undrafted Tom Hackett. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens: The obvious choice is first-round pick Ronnie Stanley, who will start at either left guard or left tackle as a rookie. But don't overlook third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi, who has a chance to start at defensive end. One of last year's starters, Chris Canty, was cut, and the others vying for his spot are Lawrence Guy, a career backup, and Brent Urban, who has struggled to remain healthy. Kaufusi has the size, athleticism and motor to contribute right away for Baltimore's defense. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals: This might not be the slam dunk that it appears, but we'll still go with the most logical answer here: Tyler Boyd. The Bengals had a big need at receiver after Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left in free agency. With Boyd's selection in the second round, the Bengals ended up with a young wideout who can become a No. 2 (or No. 3; don't forget about free-agency addition Brandon LaFell) receiver rather quickly. That said, depending on how training camp goes for first-round cornerback William Jackson III, he could factor into defensive back rotations too. Fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings also could be a possible two-down addition to a line that already includes the likes of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko on the interior. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns: This one is not difficult. The Browns need touchdowns and big plays from their offense, and first-round pick Corey Coleman was drafted to do just that. Coleman led the nation in receiving touchdowns (20) at Baylor last season; that's what the Browns hope he brings to the NFL. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers: Second-round pick Sean Davis projects as a strong safety, where competition is wide-open. Davis can take that job in training camp if he's ready. The Steelers feel the No. 58 overall pick can be their long-term answer at the position alongside veteran free safety Mike Mitchell. Davis is 6-foot-1, 203 pounds with elite athleticism and registered 300-plus tackles at Maryland as a combo corner/safety. First-round corner Artie Burns can make a similar impact, but he's considered raw for the nuances of the Steelers' zone-based pass defense. Burns can grow into that role, of course, and he has serious talent, but Davis has the inside track to get early playing time. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans: The Texans made several flashy picks, but their most immediate impact will come from an under-the-radar selection. Center Nick Martin, whom they selected in the second round at No. 50 overall, will be expected to win the job and jump right into the starting lineup on the offensive line. Wide receiver Will Fuller, Houston's first-round pick, should be in the starting lineup quickly, but he won't have his hand on the ball for every single play like Martin will. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were so high on center Ryan Kelly that they took him in the first round. The belief is that he'll end the revolving door at that position. He's about to become the sixth -- and hopefully final -- starting center the Colts have used since drafting quarterback Andrew Luck in 2012. Kelly was named the nation's top center last year at Alabama. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, the No. 5 overall pick, played multiple spots at Florida State but will strictly be a cornerback with the Jaguars. He has the size, length and physicality to play the kind of press-man coverage the Jaguars want out of their corners, and he will immediately step into a starting spot opposite Davon House. Ramsey will have more chances to make plays than he did at FSU because teams won't avoid throwing at him. His presence also will help a still-developing pass rush. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans: After trading from No. 1 to No. 15, the Titans traded back up to No. 8 to take offensive tackle Jack Conklin. He should take over the right tackle spot and bring a mauling style to a position where the Titans are in dire need of top-flight pass protection and run blocking. The Titans expect high-quality performance that is contagious. -- Paul Kuharsky


Denver Broncos: The Broncos have high hopes for the players at the top of their draft class -- quarterback Paxton Lynch and defensive lineman Adam Gotsis -- but the player who could see the field most quickly and, as a result, make the earliest splash is running back Devontae Booker. Booker missed the last part of the 2015 season with a knee injury, but the Broncos expect him to be ready by June, and he is a three-down back in waiting. Booker's ability as a receiver and his awareness, at least at the collegiate level, as a third-down blocker, to go with quality vision as a runner, means he will be difficult to keep off the field no matter how C.J. Anderson is working as the top back. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs: Any of the three cornerbacks drafted by the Chiefs have the best chance to be the team's top rookie because they'll get a shot at significant playing time. Of that group, I'll give the nod to third-round pick KeiVarae Russell because he was picked ahead of Eric Murray (fourth round) and D.J. White (sixth round). The Chiefs' top pick, second-round defensive tackle Chris Jones of Mississippi State, probably won't be an immediate starter. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders: Karl Joseph is a "perfect fit for what we want to accomplish here," Raiders assistant defensive backs coach and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson told me. And as long as the undersized but hard-hitting strong safety with soft hands is fully healed from the knee injury that limited him to four games last season, Oakland's first-round draft pick will be starting and, thus, have the biggest immediate impact among the Raiders rookies. -- Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers: It will be first-round selection Joey Bosa. The Chargers drafted who they believe is the most pro-ready player of the class in the Ohio State defensive end. After finishing 4-12 last season, San Diego needs Bosa to come in and help fix what was one of the worst run defenses in football last season. Bosa also should help energize the team's fan base, with the Chargers looking to build support to finance a new football stadium in town. -- Eric D. Williams


Dallas Cowboys: If the answer isn't Ezekiel Elliott, then the Cowboys are in trouble. With Elliott the Cowboys want to return to the form they had in 2014 when DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards. While it's foolish to expect that kind of a production from Elliott, with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and that offensive line, he could be the favorite to win rookie of the year honors because he could see favorable looks from the defense. Another name to keep an eye on is fourth-rounder Charles Tapper. With the penalties facing defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, Tapper will get a chance for more playing time than a Day 3 pick could expect. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants: Second-round wide receiver Sterling Shepard is in the best position to make a significant impact. The Giants targeted him early in the draft process as a wideout they liked, and coach Ben McAdoo sees him as a player he can use all over the formation in a variety of roles as a complement to star Odell Beckham Jr. With Rueben Randle gone and Victor Cruz still a major question mark as he attempts his comeback from knee and calf injuries, there's an opening for a No. 2 wide receiver in New York. Shepard will get every opportunity to lock down the role for the short and long term, and he has the skill set to do it. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles: In terms of playing this year, the draft pick with the biggest impact is likely to be running back Wendell Smallwood. He's a fifth-round pick, but new coach Doug Pederson likes what Smallwood brings to the offense. No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, however, will have the biggest impact on the Eagles in 2016, even if he never takes the field. The Eagles' season will be all about when Wentz is ready and how Pederson manages the whole quarterback situation. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins: It's tough to ignore second-round pick Su'a Cravens because the hybrid linebacker/safety will have an immediate role in the Redskins' nickel and dime packages. But they absolutely love receiver Josh Doctson, their first-round pick. Even though he'll be a backup to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, the Redskins will use him quite a bit, especially in the red zone. He gives them something they didn't have last season: a receiver with a little height (6-foot-2) and fantastic leaping ability. Plus, his impact will be felt in the long term, allowing either Jackson or Garcon to walk next offseason. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears: It's difficult to choose outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The No. 9 overall pick is a project, and he may take time to develop. On the other hand, third-rounder Jonathan Bullard is positioned to contribute immediately on the defensive line. Next to Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, the Bears' line is wide-open. Bullard, who is supposed to have a terrific first step, recorded 66 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss for Florida in 2015. Of Chicago's top three picks, Bullard probably has the best chance to crack the starting lineup in Week 1. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions: The Lions are expecting Taylor Decker, the team's first-round pick, to make an impact right away on an offensive line that struggled the past two seasons. He could end up as the Week 1 starter at right tackle and might push Riley Reiff to become the team's left tackle. That's where Detroit hopes his future will be -- if not in 2016, then in the long term. The Lions need Decker to be immediately successful for their offense to improve. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy always says third down is the most important down in football. And that's when fourth-round pick Blake Martinez could get the chance to shine. The Packers are looking for an inside linebacker who can run and cover. That's exactly what they hope Martinez will be as a rookie. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings' draft class is such that most of their rookies don't have to contribute this year, but there's one notable exception: The league's 31st-ranked passing offense needs first-round pick Laquon Treadwell to step in and become a go-to receiver target for Teddy Bridgewater. It would be surprising not to see the 23rd overall pick play a major role in the offense this year; the Vikings drafted him in part because he already excels at some of the routes they frequently use. He'll be asked to step in and give the offense an immediate boost. -- Ben Goessling


Atlanta Falcons: Keanu Neal, the 17th overall pick, should make the most immediate impact for the Falcons as the starting strong safety. He's a hard-hitting player who could play that Kam Chancellor-type role in Dan Quinn's defense, stopping opponents in their tracks while not giving up extra yards. The Falcons are confident Neal can cover tight ends, although that might not be his strength. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers: I'm going to hedge and say either second-round pick James Bradberry or third-round pick Daryl Worley. Both are 6-foot-1 cornerbacks and both were selected in hope that one can replace 2015 Pro Bowl selection Josh Norman. Bradberry didn't face much big-time competition at Samford, but the Panthers thought enough of him to take him a round higher than Worley, who played at West Virginia. I'm leaning toward Worley on this one just because he has faced more big-time programs. Then again, Norman came from a small school too. First-round pick Vernon Butler, meanwhile, should help make life easier for the young corners as part of the defensive tackle rotation with Pro Bowler Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints: Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is an easy, obvious choice here. Not only was Rankins the best player the Saints drafted, but their first-round pick also filled the biggest need of anyone they selected. New Orleans' defensive line needs to become much more disruptive after allowing more yards per rush and more yards per pass than any other team in the NFL last season. Rankins (6-foot-1, 299 pounds) has the versatility to help in both areas immediately after racking up 14 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss over the past two years at Louisville. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Outside linebacker Noah Spence was arguably the best pass-rusher in the draft, and he slipped to the second round because of character concerns. The Bucs obviously felt confident enough in him to take him, and the gamble may pay off big time. Spence is a pure edge rusher, which the Bucs don't have. They play six games per season against quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, so getting pressure is vital if the defense is going to improve. If Spence is as good as many think he is, he'll make a major impact. -- Mike DiRocco


Arizona Cardinals: Fourth-round pick Evan Boehm can make a case here, but his impact won't be as immediate as the Cardinals' first-round pick. Robert Nkemdiche will be part of a defensive line rotation that comes at offenses like hockey lines -- often and with fresh legs. After playing as many as 100 snaps in a game at Ole Miss, Nkemdiche will see his role limited closer to 30 snaps per game, which means he'll be fresher and have more energy. But his natural ability, coupled with the refinement of his technique by defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, will make Nkemdiche an immediate-impact player. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams: Not only should No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff be the obvious choice as the Rams' best rookie in 2016 -- as the likely starting quarterback, he'd better be. Sure, the Rams added some intriguing rookies in the later rounds, but Goff is the franchise. Though they have to protect him as much as possible, they're also counting on him to be the piece that helps them get over the hump and into playoff contention. It's unfair to expect big production as Goff transitions to the NFL, but that's the responsibility that comes with being the first pick for a team that gave up six premium picks to acquire his services. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner fell into the Niners' laps at No. 7 overall and, well, the 49ers plan on him being in opposing quarterbacks' faces all season long. He is a physical specimen at 6-foot-7, 291 pounds and a matchup nightmare as an end in a 3-4 defense, as evidenced by his 10.5 sacks last year at Oregon. Chip Kelly was hired to fix the Niners' offense, but Buckner will have the biggest immediate impact of any of their rookies, and not just on defense. -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks: It's rare for general manager John Schneider to trade up. But when Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed started to slip in the second round, Schneider made a move, and the Seahawks were able to get the player they believe is the best run-stuffing defensive lineman in the draft. Reed is the favorite to be the starting nose tackle from day one, taking over for Brandon Mebane. Pete Carroll believes that great defense begins with stopping the run and eliminating big plays. Reed is ready to help with the first part of that immediately. -- Sheil Kapadia