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TWENTYMAN: Top rookies Lions will face in 2018

New Orleans teammates running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore made their presence felt immediately as rookies last season, and ended up winning the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year Awards.

The Lions got a close-up look at both rookies in their 52-38 Week 6 loss in New Orleans. In that contest, Kamara rushed for 75 yards on just 10 carries and caught three passes, though the Lions were able to keep him out of the end zone. Lattimore had an interception, defended two passes, recorded five tackles and recovered a fumble.

Who will emerge as the top rookies in the NFL this year?

Here’s a look at some of the top rookies the Lions will face in 2018:

1. Sam Darnold, QB (New York Jets)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall

Darnold profile: He was voted first-team All-Pac-12 by the league’s coaches last season after completing 63.1 percent of his passes (303-of-480) for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Most analysts considered Darnold to be the most complete quarterback in the class.

How it affects Lions: It will be interesting how things develop in New York over the next two months with their quarterback competition. Will the Lions see Darnold at all in 2018? Darnold will likely enter training camp third on the Jets depth chart at quarterback behind veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, but the starting job is there for the taking. Starting the season on the road on Monday Night Football could be a tough task for a rookie quarterback facing a Lions team with new defensive schemes.

When Lions face him: Week 1 in Detroit (Monday Night Football)

2. Josh Allen, QB (Buffalo)

Drafted: First round, No. 7 overall

Allen profile: Allen has one of the strongest arms of any rookie signal caller coming into the league over the last decade. Allen completed just 56.3 percent of his passes (152-of-270) for 1,812 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions. He missed the last two regular season games with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He returned for the bowl win over Central Michigan (11-of-19, 154 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions).

How it affects Lions: Again, the Lions will have to wait and see if Allen wins the starting job in Buffalo, but this is different than the Darnold situation in New York, because the Lions don’t play Buffalo until Week 15. If Allen wins the job, he should be pretty acclimated to the NFL by then.

When Lions face him: Week 15 in Buffalo

3. Roquan Smith, LB (Chicago)

Drafted: First round, No. 8 overall

Smith profile: A fast and rangy linebacker that started 15 games for the Bulldogs last year and led them with 137 tackles and 14 tackles for loss. He also chipped in 6.5 sacks.

How it affects Lions: While the Bears have a young quarterback and a lot of new faces on offense learning a new scheme under head coach Matt Nagy, it’s a rather veteran group on defense that ranked in the Top 10 in just about every statistical category. Adding a player of Smith’s caliber just bolsters that defense.

When Lions face him: Week 10 (Chicago) & Week 12 (Detroit)

4. Mike McGlinchey, OT (San Francisco)

Drafted: First round, No. 9 overall

McGlinchey profile: The best offensive tackle available in this draft was a two-year captain at Notre Dame playing both right and left tackle. He was part of an offensive line that paved the way for 417.6 total yards of offense per game for the Irish last season.

How it affects Lions: The 49ers allowed 43 sacks last year, the 10th most in the league. McGlinchey fits into the mix at right tackle to replace Trent Brown (now with Patriots), and could be an upgrade for the 49ers there.

When Lions face him: Week 2 in San Francisco

5. Josh Rosen, QB (Arizona)

Drafted: First round, No. 10 overall

Rosen profile: Completed 62.6 percent of his passes (283-of-452) for 3,756 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He ranked second in the country averaging 341.5 passing yards per game.

How it affects Lions: The Lions could get another look at a rookie quarterback in Rosen. Counting the preseason game vs. Cleveland (Baker Mayfield), the Lions could potentially face all four of the top rookie quarterbacks in this draft class. It will be interesting to see if it’s Rosen or veteran Sam Bradford facing the Lions Dec. 9.

When Lions face him: Week 14 in Arizona

6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S (Miami)

Drafted: First round, No. 11 overall

Fitzpatrick profile: An instinctive safety at Alabama with terrific ball skills. He recorded 60 tackles last year, and led Alabama with six interceptions in 2016. He ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds at 6-foot, 204 pounds at the Combine.

How it affects Lions: He has the size and speed NFL defenses now covet because of his ability to play multiple roles and cover multiple positions. In today’s hybrid and sub-package dominated defenses, Fitzpatrick is a do-it-all kind of player that can match up with both tight ends and receivers.

When Lions face him: Week 7 in Miami

7. Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo)

Drafted: First round, No. 16 overall

Edmunds profile: A first-team All-ACC selection in 2017, Edmunds recorded a team-high 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. His size (6-5, 253) and speed (4.54) made him one of the more versatile players in the draft.

How it affects Lions: Edmunds replaces the veteran Preston Brown in the middle of the Bills' defense, but can Edmunds be as productive right away as Brown was last season (144 tackles)? Edmunds certainly has the size and speed to make plays other linebackers can’t.

When Lions face him: Week 15 in Buffalo

8. Jaire Alexander, CB (Green Bay)

Drafted: First round, No. 18 overall

Alexander profile: An athletic and tough cornerback, Alexander ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds at the Combine. He led the country last season with an opponent passer rating of 19.9.

How it affects Lions: He’ll likely be the team’s starting nickel cornerback Week 1, which means he’ll draw a lot of reps against crafty veteran receiver Golden Tate.

When Lions face him: Week 5 (Detroit) & Week 17 (Green Bay)

9. Leighton Vander Esch, LB (Dallas)

Drafted: First round, No. 19 overall

Vander Esch profile: Only a one-year starter at Boise State, but it was a good year. The first-team all-conference pick totaled 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles as a junior in 2017. He’s big, long and athletic, and has drawn some comparisons to Brian Urlacher.

How it affects Lions: Vander Esch is going to get the opportunity to win the starting MIKE linebacker spot in Dallas. With Vander Esch, Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys could potentially have three very athletic and rangy linebackers in their defense.

When Lions face him: Week 4 in Dallas

10. Isaiah Wynn, OL (New England)

Drafted: First round, No. 23 overall

Wynn profile: A versatile offensive lineman who played both tackle and guard in college at Georgia. He’s technically sound and athletic for a big man.

How it affects Lions: Wynn didn’t participate in OTAs as he's recovering from a shoulder injury, but when he comes back, he’s expected to compete for the starting left tackle spot. Wynn and veteran Trent Brown will likely battle it out in training camp for the role. There’s always a learning curve for rookie left tackles, and if Wynn wins the job, the Lions face him early on.

When Lions face him: Week 3 in Detroit (Sunday Night Football)

11. D.J. Moore, WR (Carolina)

Drafted: First round, No. 24 overall

Moore profile: The 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year and first-team all-conference selection started 12 games and caught 80 passes (school record) for 1,033 yards and eight scores. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds, and ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

How it affects Lions: There’s a chance Moore sees a lot of playing time in Carolina. The Panthers ranked 28th passing the football last season and had just one receiver (Devin Funchess, 63) catch more than 17 passes. Moore’s speed and athleticism give Carolina a legitimate deep threat that was missing from their passing game prior to his arrival.

When Lions face him: Week 11 in Detroit

12. Rashaad Penny, RB (Seattle)

Drafted: First round, No. 27 overall

Penny profile: He led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards and scored 23 touchdowns on 289 carries this past season, finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. He has a compact and strong build with good speed (4.46).

How it affects Lions: Seattle had been built for years as a team that was very balanced on offense, having the ability to beat teams with both the pass and the run. Seattle's running game consistently ranked near the top of the league during quarterback Russell Wilson's first four seasons, but they have ranked in the bottom 10 in each of the last two seasons. Seattle is hoping Penny is the cure, and their offense can get back to being balanced and difficult to defend.

When Lions face him: Week 8 in Detroit

13. Mike Hughes, CB (Minnesota)

Drafted: First round, No. 30 overall

Hughes profile: Started 12 games and earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors as a defensive back with 49 tackles, four interceptions and a team-high 11 pass breakups. He was second-team all-conference as a returner (20 kick returns, 635 yards, two touchdowns; 14 punt returns, 233 yards, one touchdown).

How it affects Lions: Adding Hughes gives the Vikings good depth at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are on the outside with Mackensie Alexander and Hughes fighting for time in the slot. Hughes either wins the nickel spot or provides depth, and could be an impactful return man.

When Lions face him: Week 9 (Minnesota) & Week 16 (Detroit)

14. Sony Michel, RB (New England)

Drafted: First round, No. 31 overall

Michel profile: Michel entered 2017 as one half of Georgia’s dynamic backfield duo alongside Nick Chubb. He carried the ball 156 times for 1,227 yards and a career-best average of 7.9 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns.

How it affects Lions: The Patriots use a running back by committee approach, and Michel will be part of the group that also includes Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill. Michel is a big-play threat both as a runner and pass catcher, and should fit in just fine in the Patriots' offense.

When Lions face him: Week 3 in Detroit (Sunday Night Football)

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