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2017 NFL Rookies to Watch: A dozen players who could make immediate impact

September 5 2017 4:40 PM

As the 2017 NFL season begins, so does the race for Rookie of the Year

Top pick Myles Garrett is among the favorites to be the top defensive rookie, but he is far from a lock to win the award.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has generated a lot of buzz in Charlotte, but he is not the only player who could have an immediate impact on his team's offense.

Here are a dozen rookies to keep an eye on this season.

Jonathan Allen, DE, Redskins: The 17th overall pick from Alabama has had an impressive preseason. He has been coachable and has meshed well with veterans along Washington's improved defensive front. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and should be a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year this season.

Gareon Conley, CB, Raiders: There will be a lot of eyes on the former Ohio State defensive back, especially because the Oakland Raiders selected him 24th overall while he was under investigation for sexual assault. Conley was cleared of any wrongdoing, but a June shin injury prevented him from participating in training camp. If he is healthy for the regular season, Conley can be a difference maker.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings: Cook was already drawing comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell before the Minnesota Vikings selected him in the second round of April's draft. While injured free-agent acquisition Latavius Murray sat out training camp with an ankle injury, Cook impressed and will look to make a similar impact to the one he did at Florida State.

Reuben Foster, LB, 49ers: Following a season-ending shoulder injury to Malcolm Smith, Foster was thrust into a starting role with San Francisco and made the most of it during the preseason. Foster was viewed as one of the most complete defensive players in the 2017 draft class after recording 115 tackles, with 13 for loss and five sacks, last season for Alabama. The 49ers' offense should struggle this year, meaning Foster will likely have plenty of time to rack up the numbers that could earn him Defensive Rookie of the Year honours. 

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: Fournette has been slowed in camp by a nagging foot injury. The Jaguars are relying on him to be their workhorse back to take some pressure off beleaguered Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. Fournette should get plenty of carries, assuming his foot injury does not linger.

Myles Garrett, DE, Browns: As the top pick in the draft, Garrett will be in the spotlight all season long. He has been impressive in his preseason preparations and will look to continue that during the regular season as the Browns try to climb out of the cellar in the AFC North. 

O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers: Howard is the best tight end of a deep class that included Cleveland's David Njoku, the New York Giants' Evan Engram and Gerald Everett of the Los Angeles Rams. Howard and four-year veteran Cameron Brate give the Bucs a solid tandem at the position. Quarterback Jameis Winston will benefit and the Bucs should contend for the NFC South title.

Zay Jones, WR, Bills: With arguably the best hands in the 2017 draft class, the second-round pick from East Carolina should help Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor increase his completion percentage. After injuries to first-round picks Mike Williams and Corey Davis, Jones could emerge as the top rookie receiver and contend for Offensive Rookie of the Year honours. 

DeShone Kizer, QB, Browns: Kizer beat out veteran Brock Osweiler to be be the Browns starting quarterback in Week 1. Cleveland will be patient with Kizer, but the hope is that he progresses and can end the team's well-documented turnstile at quarterback. 

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: The Panthers plan to use McCaffrey, the eighth overall pick in the draft, and second-round pick Curtis Samuel all over the field. While Samuel has been slowed by a hamstring injury, McCaffrey had an excellent camp and has the running and receiving ability to ease the burden on Cam Newton.

Haason Reddick, OLB, Cardinals: Arizona's pass rush could be downright scary with the addition of Reddick to a defensive front that already includes Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. Reddick is an athletic freak and has so far has lived up to the hype after the Cardinals drafted him 13th overall.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: Like Mitchell Trubisky with the Chicago Bears, Watson will be closely watched playing behind a veteran quarterback not viewed as the long-term solution. Tom Savage will be the Week 1 starter for the Texans, but if the offense sputters like it did last year, coach Bill O'Brien might turn the keys over to the rookie from Clemson.

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