Every third weekend in April, personnel from each NFL team make their most educated guess on which college players have what it takes to eventually be successful on the next level.It is known as the NFL Draft and throughout the year teams have talent scouts carefully examining collegiate players from across the country to see if they have what it takes to make plays on Sundays.The simple logic behind drafting college kids is that the veteran players, along with the coaching staff, will take the rookies under their wings to teach and mold them into impact players for the future.I don’t think the rookie class of 2006 got that memo because it has been a spectacular year for many of these first-year players.The following is my list of the top ten rookies that made an impact this year in what was arguably the best draft class in over a decade.
1.Vince Young(QB)Tennessee Titans After the Titans hired former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, it looked like Matt Leinart would be the third player to be called up to the podium this past April, but to everyone’s shock it was not.Tennessee ended up drafting the phenom quarterback from the University of Texas, Vince Young.Although many NFL analysts blasted the Titans’ organization for selecting Young over Leinart, they would soon be silenced.After an abysmal 0-3 start behind veteran Kerry Collins, head coach Jeff Fisher decided to let Vince Young take the reins as the starter.All Vince managed to do was finish the remainder of the season 8-5 including a six-game win streak that nearly managed to get the Titans into the playoffs.Throughout the season, the Titans’ rookie quarterback quieted his critics with circus like scrambles and game winning runs.When it was all said and done, Vince would amass 2,200 yards passing, 553 yards rushing, and a total of 19 touchdowns.
2.Maurice Jones-Drew(RB, KR, PR)Jacksonville Jaguars Not even selected in the first round, Maurice Jones-Drew makes #2 on my list of the year’s most impacting rookies.Once the Jaguars’ veteran running back Fred Taylor went down to yet another injury, the talented speedster from UCLA got his chance to showcase his abilities and he did not disappoint.Jones-Drew would eventually rush for 941 yards and catch 46 passes for an additional 436 yards.Maurice also earned the role of kick returner and punt returner where he was among the league’s best in yards per-punt return and where he also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.In total, Jones-Drew racked up 15 touchdowns and is now considered by many as one of the league’s most dangerous and elusive backs after just one year.
3.Reggie Bush(RB, PR)New Orleans Saints Coming into this past April’s draft, Reggie Bush was the most talked about player and justifiably so.Throughout his career at USC, Bush proved that he was the most electrifying player in college football as he was a big time play threat every time he touched the ball.His resume at Southern Cal included PAC-10 titles, National Championships, and a Heisman Trophy his senior year.Bush was ready to take his talent to the next level but the Houston Texans were not willing to use their number one pick on him.With many NFL analysts saying that Bush couldn’t be an every-down back and that he wasn’t durable enough for the league, Reggie’s stock dropped, but only to the number two overall pick which was occupied by the ravaged organization that was the New Orleans Saints.Along with his 565 yards on the ground, Bush would also add an astounding 88 receptions for 742 yards as a running back for the Saints.Although Bush only averaged 3.6 yards per carry this year, the Saints spread him all over the field and forced defenses to change their game plan.Along with running and catching the ball, he also took over punt return duties and scored on a 65 yard return this year for a grand total of 10 touchdowns during his rookie campaign with the Saints.I wonder how Mario Williams is panning out in Houston.
4.Demeco Ryans(ILB, MLB)Houston Texans Quite possibly the least heard about story in football this year comes from a defensive player in Houston.No I am not speaking of the number one overall draft pick Mario Williams, but rather the Texans’ second round pick, DeMeco Ryans.Trailing only Zach Thomas and Brian Urlacher in tackles with 156, Demeco Ryans was snubbed out of this year’s Pro Bowl due to the general public’s lack of knowledge on this young man, but was announced the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year.Clocking in a 4.77 forty-yard dash, Ryans has tracked down ball carriers like a heat seeking missile and has 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception on the year.Look for DeMeco to be a Pro Bowler next season if he has another year comparable to this one’s.
5.Joseph Addai(RB)Indianapolis Colts When the Colts failed to re-sign stud running back Edgerin James last off-season, they knew that they had to take a running back with their first round pick in the draft.All signs pointed to the University of Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney, but the Colts were devastated when the Patriots snagged Maroney with their first round pick.After that, all roads lead to the talented young back from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.Joseph filled in nicely this season with 1081 yards on the ground and 325 yards receiving with a total of 8 touchdowns this season for Indianapolis.
6.Marques Colston(WR)New Orleans Saints A real feel-good story from this year was the emergence of Marques Colston.When a friend of mine by the name of Wade Peery kept raving about some kid named Colston from HofstraUniversity I just ignored him.Marques was the 252nd pick in the last round from a little school called Hofstra.Was I seriously supposed to believe my buddy that this kid who was listed as a tight end was going to be a star in his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints?Well Wade, you were right.Colston has great size and speed and was moved to wide receiver at the beginning of camp where he immediately excelled under Sean Payton.Although Marques only started twelve games this season due to an ankle injury, he still racked up over 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns in his rookie season with the Saints.Drew Brees loves throwing the deep ball to Colston because he has the ability to go up and snag jump balls over undersized secondaries.Needless to say, the future is bright for the young man out of Hofstra.
7.Devin Hester(KR, PR, DB)Chicago Bears Devin Hester was one of the real raw talents in last year’s draft.Although this year he is only seeing play in the secondary due to the extensive injuries to the Bears’ defense, Lovie Smith recognizes the speed and pure athleticism in Hester and has found a permanent spot for Devin in the return game.Making this year’s Pro Bowl as a rookie, Hester already has 5 touchdown returns under his belt, a new NFL record.Devin helped out a lot during the regular season with points.When a struggling Rex Grossman couldn’t do anything right, Hester was often there to put some much needed points up on the board as a returner.Devin realizes that his secondary play is a work in progress, but there is no question that this kid from Miami, Florida is the best returner in the game.Move over Dante Hall, there is a new X factor in the NFL.
8.Marcus McNeill(OT)San Diego Chargers Another good story out of the second round is Marcus McNeill who has been a big reason for the Chargers’ success this year.With Phillip Rivers finally getting his shot, McNeill was their to calm Rivers’ nerves by letting him know that he has a 6-7, 340lb. mauler protecting his backside.Marcus’ pure size and strength resembles that of a Kodiak bear and he showed it this year as he threw undersized defensive ends and blitzing linebackers to the ground with ease.Arguably the best rookie offensive lineman in last year’s draft, this kid from Auburn was an absolute steal at the 50th overall pick.
9.D’Brickashaw Ferguson(OT)New York Jets Last year’s New York offensive line was just plain bad.The Jets’ personnel knew that they needed a few offensive linemen out of the draft and that’s what they got as they snatched up the big offensive tackle from the University of Virginia with the 4th overall pick in the draft.With Chad Pennington coming off yet another surgery to his arm, it was a smart choice going with Ferguson as he has been nothing short of reliable this season.
10.Jonathan Joseph(DB)Cincinnati Bengals This young man from the University of South Carolina stepped up big for the Bengals when cornerback Deltha O’Neal was having on and off the field problems.Joseph worked his way up the depth chart during the year due to his strong dime formation secondary play and his sure tackling which had been a problem for the Bengals this year.Joseph has great closing speed as reflected by his 20 passes defended this season; furthermore, defensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski calls Joseph one of the best tacklers on the team.Jonathon credits his fast growth as a pro cornerback to Bengals’ receivers Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmanzadeh, and Chris Henry as he faces the talented trio everyday in practice.Joseph finished the season with 57 tackles on the season and is likely to be a great cover corner for years to come.
AJ Hawk (LB)Green Bay Packers Tamba Hali (DE) Kansas City Chiefs Kamerion Wimbley (DE) Cleveland Browns Greg Jennings (WR) Green Bay Packers Ernie Sims(LB) Detroit Lions Laurence Maroney (RB) New England Patriots Jerious Norwood (RB) Atlanta
Joshua Silcox is a freelance writer and can be contacted at JS202403@ohio.edu