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2020 NFL season: 1 pivotal rookie for each of the 32 teams


Buffalo Bills
Zack Moss, RB

College: Utah

Drafted: Round 3, No. 86 overall

Moss is pivotal in a couple of ways this season. Not only does he give Buffalo some "thunder" to Devin Singletary's "lightning," but his running style might also help the Bills close out games in the fourth quarter and take some of the heavy lifting off of Josh Allen's shoulders as it pertains to goal-line carries.

Miami Dolphins
Raekwon Davis, DT

College: Alabama

Drafted: Round 2, No. 56 overall

Tua Tagovailoa would be the obvious choice here, but I look at it a little differently. Tua is in the early stages of a process in Miami, while Davis has the traits and talent to make his mark from Day 1 on this Dolphins defense. Davis needs to prove he can be the guy we saw during his sophomore year at Alabama, when he recorded 8.5 sacks.

New England Patriots
Devin Asiasi, TE

College: UCLA

Drafted: Round 3, No. 91 overall

Asiasi just looked like a Patriots tight end when I was getting through his tape prior to this year's draft. Now the talented rookie will need to stand out as a big target who can attack the seams for either Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham ... or the Patriots could be in for a long season.

New York Jets
Mekhi Becton, OT

College: Louisville

Drafted: Round 1, No. 11 overall

The Jets have struggled to protect Sam Darnold at a level that would promote growth at his position since the QB entered the league in 2018. Mekhi "The Big Ticket" Becton is a nimble mammoth (6-foot-7, 364 pounds) with the talent to immediately improve the protection and run game.


Baltimore Ravens
Patrick Queen, LB

College: LSU

Drafted: Round 1, No. 28 overall

Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed established a Ravens identity that is alive and well today. Queen should fit right in. The speed, aggression and playmaking ability the LSU product brings to this unit could help drive the Ravens to the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow, QB

College: LSU

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall

Bengals fans have been all in on Burrow since before the end of the college season, but it's important he gains the respect and trust of his teammates and coaches as quickly as possible. A good rookie season could jump-start Cincy faster than expected.

Cleveland Browns
Jedrick Wills, OT

College: Alabama

Drafted: Round 1, No. 10 overall

If Wills can make a smooth adjustment from right to left tackle, the Browns could finally have their answer on the blind side. If Wills can help Baker Mayfield trust his protection more, a jump in production (and wins) should be in order.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Chase Claypool, WR

College: Notre Dame

Drafted: Round 2, No. 49 overall

Claypool might end up as WR4 on the depth chart, but don't let that fool you. He's a rare height/weight/speed product with plus ability as a run blocker and on special teams. His potential to create mismatches in the red zone could make him a favorite target for Ben Roethlisberger.


Houston Texans
Ross Blacklock, DT

College: TCU

Drafted: Round 2, No. 40 overall

With the departure of D.J. Reader from the interior defensive line, Blacklock will be counted on to help create disruptions in new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver's scheme. Blacklock made plays on the move at TCU, but he must learn to hold firm at the point of attack and play the man in front of him to succeed early on in the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Taylor, RB

College: Wisconsin

Drafted: Round 2, No. 41 overall

Michael Pittman Jr. was drafted seven picks before Taylor, but the former Wisconsin Badger is already creating a stir in camp with his electric speed and home-run ability. Taylor not only bolsters the Colts' bully-ball rushing attack but also gives Frank Reich a potential RB1 to lean on this season if Marlon Mack can't stay healthy.

Jacksonville Jaguars
CJ Henderson, CB

College: Florida

Drafted: Round 1, No. 9 overall

Jalen Ramsey is gone. As is A.J. Bouye, who failed to live up to his contract after a splashy Jags debut in 2017. Enter Henderson, whose size, speed and elite athletic traits are similar to Ramsey's when he entered the league. Henderson needs to play like a veteran early on to give the back end of Jacksonville's defense a chance.

Tennessee Titans
Darrynton Evans, RB

College: Appalachian State

Drafted: Round 3, No. 93 overall

I fully expect the Titans to get their money's worth from Derrick Henry this season, but Evans has a chance to handle some heavy lifting out of the backfield as a change-of-pace slasher. The Titans' depth chart at running back is fairly sparse as it pertains to NFL talent, so Evans better quickly get ready.


Denver Broncos
Lloyd Cushenberry III, C

College: LSU

Drafted: Round 3, No. 83 overall

While Jerry Jeudy or KJ Hamler would be the selection for some, getting the O-line fixed is extremely important for the overall success of the offense. Cushenberry has elite football intelligence and is a plus leader. He should make an immediate impact on the Broncos offense from Day 1.

Kansas City Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB

College: LSU

Drafted: Round 1, No. 32 overall

This one feels like a layup in the wake of Damien Williams' decision to opt out of the season. Kansas City's passing game is obviously lethal, but having a credible rushing attack helps keep a defense on its toes, and Edwards-Helaire is the perfect fit of form and function for what the Chiefs want from that position.

Las Vegas Raiders
Henry Ruggs III, WR

College: Alabama

Drafted: Round 1, No. 12 overall

One look at the season stats from 2019 shows that Derek Carr relied heavily on slot targets, tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Ruggs, with his next-level explosiveness and speed, can take the Raiders' offense to the next level if they find ways to redistribute the football.

Los Angeles Chargers
Kenneth Murray, LB

College: Oklahoma

Drafted: Round 1, No. 23 overall

The defense has talent on the edges and a high-impact safety in Derwin James, but Murray possesses the pure speed and cover talent that has been missing from the middle of the unit. He needs to get better at taking on blocks, but clearly adds a playmaking element from the second level.


Dallas Cowboys
Trevon Diggs, CB

College: Alabama

Drafted: Round 2, No. 51 overall

First-round pick CeeDee Lamb can step right in and help the Cowboys' offense, but Dallas already had more than enough firepower to be just fine on that side of the ball. With the departure of Byron Jones, though, the Cowboys have a glaring hole at cornerback. They need Diggs to step into an early starter's role so he's clicking by the second half of the season.

New York Giants
Matt Peart, OT

College: UConn

Drafted: Round 3, No. 99 overall

No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas is a steady talent who should do fine at left tackle, but with Nate Solder opting out, it looks like Peart will have to prove he can withstand the heat as a starting right tackle. The third-rounder is long and athletic with plenty of upside, but getting him ready against NFL rushers could be a challenge in his rookie year.

Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Reagor, WR

College: TCU

Drafted: Round 1, No. 21 overall

It feels like we are about to see a big year from Carson Wentz -- and if that ends up being the case, Reagor will have had a big hand in it. Sources in Philadelphia say the TCU burner has looked terrific and that Wentz sees him as a potential WR1 with time. His ability to attack on all three levels meshes perfectly with what the Eagles need.

Washington Football Team
Chase Young, DE

College: Ohio State

Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall

There is no reason to get cute with this one. Young has rare size and explosiveness and took a massive step forward from his sophomore to junior season at Ohio State. New head coach Ron Rivera will be expecting Young to plant his flag as a dominant force early on; if the rook does that, the defense will rally around him.


Chicago Bears
Cole Kmet, TE

College: Notre Dame

Drafted: Round 2, No. 43 overall

The Bears' offense was obviously stagnant as a whole in 2019, but the tight end spot was particularly unproductive. Kmet may not set the world on fire as a rookie, but if he can solidify his standing as the TE1 and provide a big, athletic target for whoever wins the quarterback job, it should help bolster the offense.

Detroit Lions
Jeff Okudah, CB

College: Ohio State

Drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall

The Lions had to take a cornerback, but they certainly didn't "settle" with the selection of Okudah. There are times where it looks like he doesn't fully trust his eyes or instincts, but the physical talent is abundant. He needs to catch on quickly, as Detroit will face star receivers Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas in the first four weeks of the season.

Green Bay Packers
AJ Dillon, RB

College: Boston College

Drafted: Round 2, No. 62 overall

Dillon is built like a Greek God and has the Green Bay media buzzing. While Aaron Jones put together a strong 2019, the Pack obviously hope Dillon can contribute in Year 1. The 247-pounder is actually more of a zone runner than a banger, but a diverse 1-2 rushing punch could really help take a load off Aaron Rodger's shoulders.

Minnesota Vikings
Cameron Dantzler, CB

College: Mississippi State

Drafted: Round 3, No. 89 overall

Sure, Justin Jefferson or Jeff Gladney are the easy picks, but the right one might be Dantzler. The Vikings' defense will be relying on a young group of cornerbacks, but I really liked what I observed from Dantzler on tape. If he can play at the level we saw against LSU and Alabama, Minnesota's secondary may surprise some people.


Atlanta Falcons
A.J. Terrell, CB

College: Clemson

Drafted: Round 1, No. 16 overall

The Falcons were in the bottom third of most pass-defense categories, so they have to be hoping that Terrell can make an early difference. With New Orleans and Tampa in the same division, a bumpy rookie season for the corner could mean more of the same for Atlanta, while a solid year gives the Falcons a fighting playoff shot.

Carolina Panthers
Derrick Brown, DT

College: Auburn

Drafted: Round 1, No. 7 overall

Carolina allowed 31 rushing touchdowns and 5.2 ypc last season (both NFL worsts), so the talented defensive tackle from Auburn is an obvious call here. Brown is big, but also performs to his size with above-average play strength and a willingness to chase the ball outside his gap responsibilities.

New Orleans Saints
Zack Baun, LB

College: Wisconsin

Drafted: Round 3, No. 74 overall

The Saints have a talented defensive front, but Baun is the type of player who can help whether he's a first-year starter or a chess piece off the bench. He's fluid with the ability to drop and cover or he can attack the pockets as an edge rusher/blitzer. Baun provides much-needed diversity and depth in NOLA.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Antoine Winfield Jr., S

College: Minnesota

Drafted: Round 2, No. 45 overall

Tristan Wirfs will get the attention as the first-round selection, but Tom Brady does an outstanding job of protecting his tackles by getting rid of the football. Winfield Jr. has already been making plays in camp. I'm betting on the instinctive, ball-hawking safety to win a starting spot and contribute early on.


Arizona Cardinals
Isaiah Simmons, LB

College: Clemson

Drafted: Round 1, No. 8 overall

I understand the concern with overstating Simmons' versatility. He does indeed need to learn the linebacker position and establish himself in the NFL -- that's a sentiment I co-signed pre-draft. However, that doesn't change the fact that Simmons is a freaky athlete who should get better very quickly as he adapts to the Cardinals' scheme.

Los Angeles Rams
Cam Akers, RB

College: Florida State

Drafted: Round 2, No. 52 overall

Akers has good size and is the most talented rusher on the roster, boasting the ability to create for himself when the running lanes bog down. The Rams averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last year (ranking 27th), but Akers can push that number north of 4.0 once again. Re-establishing the run would help Jared Goff immensely.

San Francisco 49ers
Brandon Aiyuk, WR

College: Arizona State

Drafted: Round 1, No. 25 overall

Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have a chance to be one of the best yards-after-catch duos we've seen in a long time. With George Kittle catching additional focus this season and Jalen Hurd out for the year, Aiyuk will be expected to step in and step up very quickly. The only thing that could prevent Kyle Shanahan from designing a major role for Aiyuk starting in Week 1? If Sunday's hamstring injury lingers.

Seattle Seahawks
Jordyn Brooks, LB

College: Texas Tech

Drafted: Round 1, No. 27 overall

While the defensive line and secondary have changed over the years, Seattle's linebacking corps has continued to shine. Brooks was drafted specifically for his athleticism and ability to play multiple linebacker spots. If the rookie keeps his ears and eyes open around K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, he should make an immediate impact.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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