Silverman: Roquan Smith, Josh Rosen, Minkah Fitzpatrick Could Join Saquon Barkley As Breakout Rookies

Steve Silverman
May 24, 2018 - 2:34 pm
From left, Roquan Smith, Josh Rosen and Minkah Fitzpatrick

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It’s not about where a player was picked.

It may be about selection position in late April, but once the draft is over, it’s about learning the team’s expectations, understanding the playbook and showing a good working relationship with teammates and coaches.

The real work has already begun with rookie minicamps, and it will get a lot more intense in training camp this summer.

Baker Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick, but he may not play until well into the second half of the season for the Cleveland Browns. Sam Darnold may have an opportunity to prove himself somewhat earlier with the Jets.

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Saquon Barkley may have the early edge on the race for the most explosive and dangerous rookie. If the Giant is not a top-five running back in the league this year, it will be a major disappointment.

Mayfield, Darnold and Barkley were draft-night superstars, and there may be no stopping Barkley in his rookie season. But here’s a look at five other rookies I expect to have a major impact in 2018.

Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears (1st Round, 7th Overall)

Smith’s career at Georgia was all about productivity and taking care of his responsibilities. He has the attitude of a five-year NFL veteran because if he makes a big play, he is all about returning to the field and making the next play as well.

The celebration is over at the echo of the whistle, and by the time he returns to the huddle, Smith is thinking about what he has to do on the next snap of the ball.

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Here’s how Chicago head coach Matt Nagy assessed Smith after his first minicamp: "The first day he comes out here and there’s — I’m not going to say hesitance, but it’s new. The words are different. They mean different things to him. So once that calculates in his brain ... then he'll be able to play faster. You could see that the last couple of days that he did that.”

Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals (1st Round, 10th Overall)

After some early nerves on his first day at minicamp, Rosen started to show what he could do for the Cardinals.

The former UCLA star missed some throws in the early going, and both his timing and awareness seemed to be off-kilter. But as he spent more time on the practice field and the butterflies went away, the Cardinals started to see the player they drafted. Quick release, big arm, accuracy and athleticism.

Head coach Steve Wilks liked what he saw. 

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“You could tell he probably had some little jitters early on,” he said. “You could see that. He’s so confident. You could see that as he went on with practice. He settled in. The throws were on time. The accuracy was there. Everything that we know about him, you saw later on in practice.”

Wilks added that Rosen could quickly turn out to be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback this season. If his execution is sharp this summer, he will start in Week 1.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Miami Dolphins (1st Round, 11th Overall)

Fitzpatrick was both a cornerback and safety during his college career at Alabama, but he appears to be a starting free safety for the Dolphins.

Fitzpatrick brings a playmaker’s attitude and outlook as well as the intelligence to avoid key mistakes that allow opponents to make big plays.

When was the last time the Dolphins could talk about smart play in their secondary? It’s been years, and it feels like decades. Fitzpatrick will change that, and he will surely improve a secondary that had just nine interceptions a year ago.

Fitzpatrick welcomes the chance to show off his toughness and physical skills.

“I’ll come down in the box and cover those bigger tight ends,” he said. “I’m physical with those guys, and I know they can’t run by me.”

Fitzpatrick had 171 tackles, two forced fumbles and nine interceptions in three seasons at Bama. He returned four of those picks for touchdowns.

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Washington Redskins (1st Round, 13th Overall)

The Redskins were among the most disappointing teams in the league last year, finishing 7-9. But at the start of the 2017 season, Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles looked like near equals.

The Eagles, of course, soared to a Super Bowl title, but the Redskins made mistake after mistake. Head coach Jay Gruden had plenty of problem areas, and the Redskins were about as bad as could be against the run. They ranked 31st in yards allowed and couldn’t stop anyone when the game was on the line.

That should change dramatically with Payne playing in the middle of the defensive line. He is beast of a man who has speed – 4.95 in the 40 -- massive strength, long arms and powerful hands. He will be able to pick up blockers, toss them and make the play in the backfield.

If Payne can get off to a good start, the Redskins will be able to crush opponents’ interior running game, and that will be a huge improvement over last year.

Harold Landry, OLB, Tennessee Titans (2nd Round, 41st Overall)

The idea is to hit a home run in the first round and find functional players in the second and third rounds. The Titans may have hit a grand slam with their second-round pick in Landry.

He has tremendous speed coming off the edge and knows how to get to the quarterback when it matters most. An ankle injury hindered him 2017, but when he was healthy, he was nearly impossible to stop. He had three sacks against Virginia Tech as well as seven tackles in that game.

However, when he was healthy in 2016, he had 16 1/2 sacks and 22 tackles for losses. That’s the player the Titans are getting, and they need him. This was a team that was 31st against the pass. It needs to put real pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

That’s just what Landry can do.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy