TWENTYMAN: Top rookies Lions will face in 2019

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard were impact players from the get-go as rookies, and won the league’s Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season, respectively.

The Lions didn’t see either player as rookies, unlike the previous year, when they faced both Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore of the Saints.

Who will emerge as the top rookies in the NFL this year? Could the Lions square off against them at some point in 2019?

Here’s a look at some of the top rookies the Lions will face in 2019:

1. Quarterback Kyler Murray (Arizona)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall

Murray profile: The Heisman Trophy winner and AP Player of the Year ranked in the top five nationally in passing efficiency (199.2), passing yardage (4,361), passing touchdowns (42), and rushing yardage by a quarterback (1,001 & 12 TDs). He became the second quarterback in FBS history (Deshaun Watson, 2015) to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

How it affects Lions: The Cardinals have already said Murray will be the Week 1 starter against the Lions. Rookie quarterbacks are hard to scheme against because there’s no professional tape on them and the college game is so different. Detroit saw that first-hand last year with the Jets and Sam Darnold. Also factor in that it’s a new scheme in Arizona under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and it will be an interesting matchup for Matt Patricia and Co.

When Lions face him: Week 1 in Arizona

2. Linebacker Devin White (Tampa Bay)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 5 overall

White profile: Led the SEC with 133 tackles and led the Tigers with 14 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks) in 13 starts in 2017. Followed that up by winning the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the country this past season with 123 tackles, 12 for loss, including three sacks, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

How it affects Lions: We could see a terrific matchup between top 10 picks in White and Lions No. 8 overall pick tight end T.J. Hockenson. White touted his ability to cover tight ends at the Combine. The best tight end and top linebacker in this class could be seeing a lot of each other in this one.

When Lions face him: Week 15 in Detroit

3. Quarterback Daniel Jones (New York Giants)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 6 overall

Jones profile: Jones started 11 games in 2018, missing two with a broken clavicle. He completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,674 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while rushing for 319 yards and three scores.

How it affects Lions: Giants veteran Eli Manning returns and the plan is for Jones to be groomed under the two-time Super Bowl winner before taking over. What happens if the Giants get off to a poor start? Could the Lions face their second rookie quarterback in Week 8? We'll see how things go in New York early on.

When Lions face him: Week 8 in Detroit

4. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins (Washington)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 15 overall

Haskins profile: The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year led Ohio State to the Big Ten title. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, leading the nation with 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes, ranking in the top five in the FBS with a 70 percent completion rate.

How it affects Lions: Like Jones, Maybe Haskins’ presence will affect the Lions, and maybe it won’t. Veteran Case Keenum and Haskins are expected to compete for the starting spot in camp. Keenum has been in the situation before and won the job. He’s said all the right things since the draft about Haskins’ arrival. My gut tells me it will be Haskins’ job by Week 12, and the Lions could potentially be facing their third rookie quarterback of the season.

When Lions face him: Week 12 in Washington

5. Defensive end Rashan Gary (Green Bay)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 12 overall

Gary profile: The top recruit of the 2016 class, Gary played for Michigan as a true freshman. He compiled 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this past season in 12 games.

How it affects Lions: Hopefully the shoulder issue Gary is dealing with doesn’t prevent him playing a full season. Green Bay spent money on Preston Smith and Zadarius Smith to be edge rushers in their defense. Kyler Fackrell had a double-digit sack year in 2018. That’s not mentioning Kenny Clark (six sacks) or Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. Gary looks to be a moveable pass rusher for them, one who can play with his hand in the dirt or off the edge in a two point.

When Lions face him: Week 6 in Green Bay and Week 17 in Detroit

6. Tight end Noah Fant (Denver)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 20 overall

Fant profile: Fant caught 30 passes for 494 yards (16.5 average) and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2017. He increased his production as a junior last year (39-519-13.3, seven TDs) to garner All-Big Ten honors.

How it affects Lions: Fant and Detroit’s Hockenson became the first two tight ends from the same school to both be drafted in the first round in the same year. The two will no-doubt become a storyline the week leading up to the game. Fant can stretch the field and will be seasoned into his rookie year by the time the Lions head out to Denver in December.

When Lions face him: Week 16 in Denver

7. Running back Josh Jacobs (Oakland)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 24 overall

Jacobs profile: Scored 11 touchdowns in 15 games (one start) as a focal point in the Alabama offense this past season. He also caught 20 passes for 247 yards (12.4 average) and three scores, and was a weapon as a kick returner (14-428-30.6, one TD).

How it affects Lions: Jacobs could be the centerpiece to Jon Gruden’s offense in Oakland, depending on how the competition in their backfield goes. Jacobs moved to the top of the depth chart after veteran Isaiah Crowell tore his ACL in the offseason training program. The team brought in Doug Martin, but Oakland drafted Jacobs in the first round for a reason. There's a good chance the Lions will see a lot of him.

When Lions face him: Week 9 in Oakland

8. Defensive end Montez Sweat (Washington)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 26 overall

Sweat profile: Sweat was a beast the last two seasons in the SEC, recording 22 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He set the modern record in the 40-yard dash at the Combine for defensive lineman with a 4.41. A heart condition first spotted at the Combine likely hurt his draft stock a bit.

How it affects Lions: The fact that the Redskins traded back into the first round for Sweat means they have little concern about his heart condition and have big plans for him. Sweat has a great opportunity to make an immediate impact with former Redskins linebacker Preston Smith leaving in free agency to join Green Bay. That leaves a hole at edge rusher for Sweat to immediately fill.

When Lions face him: Week 12 in Washington

9. Quarterback Drew Lock

Drafted: Round 2, No. 42 overall

Lock profile: Led FBS football with 44 passing touchdowns in 2017. His touchdowns dipped down to 28 this past season, but his completion percentage was the best of his career at 62.9 percent and he also threw a career-low eight interceptions

How it affects Lions: Could the Lions face their fourth rookie quarterback of the season Week 16 in Denver? That really depends on how the Broncos season is going and how veteran Joe Flacco is playing. There’s no need to rush Lock along if Flacco is playing well. If Lock is the starter late in the year, it could be an interesting matchup with the rookie taking on a predominantly veteran Lions defense.

When Lions face him: Week 16 in Denver

10. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. (Minnesota)

Drafted: Round 2, No. 50 overall

Smith profile: Smith earned Second-Team All-SEC honors for his play this past season, catching 44 passes for 710 yards (16.1 average) and seven touchdowns for the national runner-up Tide.

How it affects Lions: Minnesota seems to be an ideal landing spot for Smith. It’s an offense that wants to be balanced, is run by a veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins, and features arguably the top receiving duo in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. It could lead to a lot of single coverage and open room to run in the middle for Smith.

When Lions face him: Week 7 in Detroit and Week 14 in Minnesota

11. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell (Oakland)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 4 overall

Ferrell profile: Winner of the Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive end in college football last year, Ferrell racked up 53 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 15 starts.

How it affects Lions: Some thought Ferrell could be in the mix of players the Lions would have considered at No. 8. He’s a three-down player who can play both the run and the pass.

When Lions face him: Week 9 in Oakland

12. Tackle Andre Dillard (Philadelphia)

Drafted: Round 1, No. 22 overall

Dillard profile: Four-year starter at left tackle with athleticism and power. He’s got some technique stuff to work out at the NFL level, but he’s an instant athleticism upgrade for the Eagles along their front. Allowed just one sack all of last season.

How it affects Lions: Veteran Jason Peters is returning for a 15th season in 2019, so Dillard likely starts the year second on the depth chart. Peters has missed time and been forced to play through injuries the last two seasons, so that could also affect Dillard's playing time. Only six times in 14 seasons has Peters played in all 16 games, so the odds are good Dillard will see some action in 2019.

When Lions face him: Week 3 in Philadelphia

Advertising