We expect most first- and second-round talent to contribute as rookies on Sundays. But what about the mid-round talent? Here’s a look at five players who should make an impact in the 2010 season.
Chicago: FS Major Wright, Florida
Third round (75th overall)
Wright becomes the instant favorite to start at the free safety position for Lovie Smith’s defense in 2010. The Bears are a Tampa 2 defense, but they play enough forms of Cover 1 and Cover 3 and use zone blitz schemes where it’s essential to have a free safety in the middle of the field to get over the top of vertical routs and come downhill on the football. Wright has enough range to make plays down the field and is talented enough to get off the numbers to cut off the deep 7 route (flag route) and deep post route when the Bears play Cover 2. More than a “need pick,” this was the No. 1 priority for GM Jerry Angelo over the weekend.
Denver: WR Eric Decker, Minnesota
Third round (83rd overall)
Decker has the size (6-2, 215) to align outside the numbers at the NFL level and play with some of the physical cornerbacks in this league and should be able to compete for a No. 2 role in Denver. A foot injury during his senior year, which prevented him from giving scouts a 40 time, caused him to slip over the weekend. But when we look at the combination routes the Broncos run under Josh McDaniels out of the bunch and stack alignments, Decker should be able to produce and contribute as a rookie. Not a vertical threat when we talk about top-tier speed, but enough talent to separate in the intermediate passing game and produce in the red zone.
New England: TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida
Fourth round (113th overall)
Hernandez isn’t the type of TE you want to align in the core of the formation and run behind, but that won’t be his role as a Patriot. The TE from Florida is athletic and can match up against most strong safeties and nickel corners in the NFL from a size/speed impact. And in New England, his talents will be used effectively because of how the Patriots game plan and the fact they’re creative from an offensive perspective when we talk about personnel in certain situations. Expect Hernandez align in a variety of spots on the field (even as a WR) where he can win one-on-one matchups. The Patriots use personnel to their advantage better than any team in the league, and Hernandez will be productive in QB Tom Brady’s offense.
Miami: LB A.J. Edds, Iowa
Fourth round (119th overall)
Edds is a better athlete than he gets credit for — a player who can run to the ball, get off blocks and drop into coverage. Besides the fact he’ll be an immediate contributor to the Dolphins’ special teams units, Edds has the ability to play all four linebacker spots in the 3-4 scheme and has the speed to match up with TEs. Don’t be surprised to see the former Hawkeye push for playing time on defense during camp and play a bigger role for Tony Sparano’ Dolphins down the stretch of the regular season. He’s a guy who plays hard and was drafted by Bill Parcels for a reason.
San Francisco: RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State
Sixth round (173rd overall)
Dixon doesn’t have flashy speed at the running back position, but for a guy his size (6-1, 235) he gets downhill with explosive power and can make people miss. The Niners win football games by running the ball and playing defense, and when you look at a player like Dixon this deep in the draft, it’s hard to ignore the type of value that coach Mike Singletary just picked up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him head into the season as the No. 2 behind Frank Gore and be a key contributor over the course of the season. A favorite of NFP scout Wes Bunting and a player Niners fans will learn to appreciate because of the running style he’ll bring west in 2010.
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