It's no secret that expectations are being turned down for rookies across the league. The 2020 camp and preseason will undoubtedly be stunted, if not eliminated entirely, as the league explores contingency plans to hold the 2020 season in a safe manner. As such, 2020 rookies that need to be developed won't have as much time to grow before the season starts.
As such, teams may not get as much of an immediate boost from their young players -- unless, of course, 2020's rookie were on the rosters all along. With the 2020 class potentially on the back burner for Year 1 impact, I started looking for 2019 rookies who were unable to contribute due to injury. There are five particularly that I'm looking at as quasi-rookies, who can step into immediate starting roles and make a positive difference given their familiarity with the team from last year's offseason.
1) Jonah Williams, OT, Cincinnati
This list has to begin with Williams, who is miles away the most important sophomore player who will be making his debut as a result of injury. The Bengals surprised many draft analysts when they largely passed over offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft, only selecting Kansas OL Hakeem Adeniji in the sixth round. Now, I like Adeniji -- but the Bengals had holes almost everywhere, and he can't fill each one.
The Bengals offensive line was bad last year, preventing Zac Taylor from running zone concepts with much success while limiting the Bengals' ability to generate a deep passing game. Their biggest opportunity for immediate Year 1 improvement rests in the hands of Williams, who was desirable as a prospect because of his high-floor and pro readiness. Williams was completely lost for the season with a torn labrum, but was slated to start at left tackle and is so again. If he can translate to the NFL right away, it will pay huge dividends to the Bengals' pass-protection in 2020 and beyond.
2) Nasir Adderley, S, Los Angeles
If I say "Highly-drafted 2019 safety that got injured to the great detriment of his defense," you probably immediately think Jon Abram -- you're right, and I'll get to him. But man, I was thrilled to see what Nasir Adderley was going to look like for Gus Bradley and the Chargers before he lost the season on IR> The biggest concern with Adderley's long-term outlook is how long that hamstring injury nagged him, but if he's fully-healthy, he's the ideal running mate for Derwin James.
Adderley is a rangy free safety prospect with corner-like cover ability, which allows him to rotate from the roof to either slot with success. That versatility pairs nicely with Derwin, who is capable of rotating over potential receivers as well, but is at his best in the box. That's not to take anything away from Rayshawn Jenkins, a strong player in his own right -- Adderley is just an ideal blend with Derwin and fit in Bradley's defense. If he's returned to health, he'll improve the Chargers' coverage flexibility and create more impact plays, and if he hits his ceiling, he and Derwin will be the best safety duo in the league.
3) Jalen Hurd, WR, San Francisco
You heard of this kid Deebo Samuel? Rookie receiver for the Niners? He had himself a doggone good season for Kyle Shanahan as an intermediate route runner who could take quick, play-action passes the distance. Frame of a running back, physicality of a running back, great field vision to boot. He was great at a lot of stuff for the Niners, but YAC was what made him special.
Now, imagine if Kyle Shanahan had himself a wide receiver who was actually a running back: that'd be Jalen Hurd. An ex-Tenneessee running back who became a WR at Baylor, Hurd has enough flashes as a route runner to get you excited for what he could become for San Francisco when he gets back on the field. Hurd likely won't have the same impact that Samueld id because he's still so unmeasured in his capacity as a three-level WR, but nobody gets the ball to his threats as well as Shanahan does, and Hurd is a nightmare with the rock. The fit is still good, even if Hurd took a medical redshirt
4) Jon Abram, S, Las Vegas
Everyone loved this draft pick for the Raiders' culture fit as a tonesetter for the physical Vegas defense -- but it was Abram's reckless and physical play style that actually led to his season-ending injury. Now, that's okay -- Abram doesn't have durability concerns; he just has to stay on an NFL field long enough to adjust to the new speed of the game.
Abram was needed in Year 1 for the Raiders, and their pass defense suffered without his presence in the intermediate hole. The Raiders' defense has undergone a facelift since Abram was first drafted, but they still need an impact starter with Damarious Randall to complete a secondary with all new starters from last year's opening game.
5) Kahale Warring, TE, Houston
This is about as deep of a cut as it gets, but if we're talking about injured 2019 draft picks with ability to make impact splashes in 2020, Warring is a strong candidate. Despite laboring for production in the 2019 season from their tight end room, the Texans did nothing significant across the 2020 offseason to improve the position. Meanwhile, their 2018 draft picks -- Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas -- have failed to make lasting impacts. There's so much room for Warring to make waves.
The concern is that Warring lost the 2019 season due to concussions starting in the preseason, so he didn't get much practice time at all, and likely doesn't figure to get much more this year, either. Warring was a raw player coming out of San Diego State, so it may take time, but his natural ability should get him on the field, and if he makes enough impact plays early, he'll stick and develop.
- Jun 24, 2022
- Jun 22, 2022