The Bucs have gotten early returns from unexpected rookies over the past two years.Who thought Josh Freeman would get to start in his rookie season after being named the third-string quarterback? Who expected third-rounder Roy Miller to have a big impact in 2009? Who thought seventh-rounder Cody Grimm could start nine games at season? Who thought the fourth-round receiver would do better than the second-round receiver - wait, actually, a lot of people thought that. But who will make the biggest impact this season?
The top draft pick, Adrian Clayborn, will obviously get a chance to make an early impact. It'd be a major surprise if he wasn't the starter at right defensive end on opening day. That doesn't guarantee good play, though, and Clayborn could struggle as a rookie as so many have before him.
Second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers may be more talented than Clayborn and could get on the field early and often because of that. At the same time he's still rehabbing from an injured knee and he may not even be ready to start the season.
Third-rounder Mason Foster has the ability to come in and start immediately at any of the three linebacker spots, though I expect him to start out as a middle linebacker. He certainly has the instincts to make an early impact, but does he have the skills? Linebacker is a position at which it's relatively easy to come in and play well as a rookie: of the past 10 Defensive Rookie Of the Year awards, 8 have gone to linebackers.
Fourth-rounder Luke Stocker may be a backup to Kellen Winslow, but I expect that to be the case in name only. He'll get on the field in two-tight end sets and maybe even one-tight end sets on early downs, and has a chance to make a big impact because of that.
Now we're getting into the players that will struggle to get on the field early. Ahmad Black certainly has the instincts and football skills to be a standout, but he doesn't have the physical attributes needed to play in the NFL. Too small and too slow, but he could surprise us all and rise above his talent level as he did at Florida. The fact that he can come in and play as a slot corner will help him get on the field at least.
In the sixth round the Bucs drafted RB Allen Bradford. Running backs, like linebackers, often make early impact, but Bradford will have to beat out Legarrette Blount to get a significant amount of carries. I don't see that happening.
And finally: the seventh rounders. CB Anthony Gaitor will struggle to get on the field, as he'll be the fourth or fifth cornerback on the roster and may even find Ahmad Black ahead of him as a slot corner. TE Daniel Hardy will have to fight to even make the roster and the only way he gets on the field often is if Kellen Winslow suffers an injury that keeps him out for an extended period of time.
So who do you think will make the biggest impact as a rookie?