Now that the 2017 NFL Draft has concluded, the analysis continues in projecting these prospects to the next level, especially during their rookie years. I’m beginning a series looking at the five biggest early impact contributors at each position group, beginning with the easiest group to assess in this capacity among the entire draft, the quarterbacks.
A couple things to keep in mind as we go through this exercise: Early impact doesn’t necessarily mean a good impact (although it often will at non-quarterback positions).
Think of Darron Lee last season with the Jets. Obvious opportunity to contribute and make a mark right away when you looked at New York’s linebacker situation, but the results were pretty ugly during his rookie season.
The players in these groups will get playing time, starting roles and opportunity, what they do with it remains to be seen. Also, these players are listed in order from the most to least impactful rookies among each position group.
It’s splitting hairs in some cases, but I figured it will give us another fun element to look back on when the season ends.
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Don’t buy into those telling you Mahomes is going to sit and learn for a year or two after what we watched the Chiefs endure last season in the postseason, AGAIN. Alex Smith is a solid NFL starting quarterback, but there are limitations to his game that will make it nearly impossible for Kansas City to overcome superior signal callers like Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.
Do you think that fact is lost on Andy Reid? He didn’t trade up 17 spots and forfeit next year’s first round pick for a quarterback prospect with salivating upside only to watch Smith miss Tyreek Hill wide open down the seam in the playoffs again. Or refuse to test defenses vertically with an arm he doesn’t trust and velocity he doesn’t have.
Mahomes is the polar opposite of Smith stylistically, making some of the most high-degree of difficulty throws that we’ve seen in some time.
He’ll test windows other quarterbacks can’t (and sometimes windows he shouldn’t), and has the pocket movement, arm strength and football IQ to master any throw on the field.
Will Mahomes be more high variance? Absolutely, but Reid is done being limited by his team’s quarterback play. The Chiefs are loaded with offensive weapons, the offensive line is a strength and the defense is stacked with pass rushers and turnover-creating defensive backs.
All the elements are there for a Super Bowl run, and even if Mahomes isn’t ready for that type of success right away, he gives them the best chance to win it all and will immediately step into one of the more ideal situations in the NFL. Smith may start the season, but Mahomes will be the guy sooner than most think.
2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Please stop telling me that Tom Savage is going to lock down this job for eight weeks. The AFC South is better than it was a year ago, and the Texans aren’t gonna have all season to screw around with the quarterback position.
Like Kansas City, Houston has many of the pieces in place to challenge New England and Pittsburgh for AFC supremacy, with the #1 defense in the NFL and a talented receiving corps already in place. Is Savage going to maximize all that?
Excuse me if I haven’t been overwhelmed by his two full games as a starter last season in which he failed to throw a touchdown pass and consistently froze up under pressure.
Watson represents the next step for Houston, and Bill O’Brien knows he needs a strong season to hold onto his job. Even the hope of Watson’s development and future in Houston might extend the front office’s trust in O’Brien, so the head coach won’t wait too long to play his ace in the hole.
Two national championship runs and consistently stellar fourth quarter/crunch time play has prepared Watson for the big stage, where he won’t be overwhelmed emotionally or mentally. He’s the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class, and he’ll take the reins in Houston by mid-season at the latest.