Published On: Mon, May 14th, 2018

Predicting rookie Pro Bowlers for the 2018 season

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The move from the college ranks to the NFL is a leap most rookies aren’t remotely prepared for.

The game is too fast, the playbooks too dense, and the veterans too experienced and athletically superior to their amateur counterparts for the vast majority of first-year players to make a significant impact.

However, each season a select few rookies quickly prove themselves worthy of being mentioned alongside the league’s best.

Here are five rookies who could follow in the footsteps of 2017 standouts Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore and make the Pro Bowl in their debut seasons.

RB Saquon Barkley, Giants

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Let’s get the most obvious candidate out of the way. Not only is Barkley by far the most talented running back entering the NFL in September, he landed in New York, an ideal spot for gaining national recognition.

Big Apple media coverage can be brutal – Barkley just has to ask Giants teammate Odell Beckham Jr. to learn how quickly the tide can turn – but it will build the former Penn State standout up to a towering height before deciding whether to bring him back down.

Throw in an assured featured role on Day 1, the notoriety of going second overall, and his penchant for mind-boggling, highlight-worthy plays, and Barkley is the biggest rookie lock to make the all-star showcase in recent memory.

G Quenton Nelson, Colts

Nelson was hyped as a potential rookie All-Pro throughout the draft process, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the mauling guard is the next-best bet after Barkley.

The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder has the inhuman strength and advanced technique to embarrass opponents as soon as he steps onto an NFL field, and already has some name recognition.

Being selected by Indianapolis has benefits and drawbacks. The rest of the Colts‘ offensive line lacks top talent and Indy might not be the flashiest destination for any rookie, especially a guard. But if Andrew Luck is healthy and firing on all cylinders, Nelson will be lauded for his part in finally protecting the star quarterback. Plus, the Colts have already begun selling Nelson to their fans:

S Ronnie Harrison, Jaguars

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

When it comes to making a big splash as a rookie, it’s as much about opportunity and support as it is individual talent.

Among defensive backs, Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick are probably the favorites to make Pro Bowl-level contributions in 2018 due to their playmaking abilities and outstanding athletic traits, but Harrison landed in a better spot.

Though Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are a solid tandem for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Harrison is a disciple of Alabama‘s Nick Saban, who famously produces some of the most NFL-ready defensive backs. It shouldn’t be long before Harrison is pushing Church and Gipson for starting time.

He’s a fluid, physical athlete who should excel as an enforcer behind Jacksonville’s hellish defensive line and alongside the shutdown duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and he has an opportunity to ride his dominant teammates’ coattails to a Pro Bowl nod.

CB Jaire Alexander, Packers

If any rookie cornerback this year has a shot at replicating Lattimore’s success, it’s Alexander of Green Bay.

The former Louisville playmaker is tasked with helping to fix a Packers secondary that’s been the team’s Achilles heel for far too long – much like the situation Lattimore entered in New Orleans. Alexander also has the speed, press-coverage skills, and consistent eye for the football to make offenses pay for challenging him.

While Tramon Williams and Davon House stand in the way of a starting job, Alexander is more than talented enough to force his way up the depth chart. And with Aaron Rodgers drawing the spotlight and ensuring Green Bay’s contender status, Alexander is in a prime spot to get noticed as a rookie.

RB Sony Michel, Patriots

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Predicting the New England Patriots‘ backfield is frequently a fool’s game, and tossing a surprise first-round rookie into the equation only makes things more uncertain.

Most teams that spend a premium pick on a running back can be expected to heavily feature said player early on, but Bill Belichick and Co. think differently than the rest of the league. Though it’s easy to imagine Michel spending most of the season fighting for touches with James White, Rex Burkhead, and Jeremy Hill, we’ll bet Belichick has bigger things in mind for such an explosive playmaker.

The Georgia product has the potential to make a Kamara-like impact for New England. Michel will need to steal red-zone touches from Burkhead and earn Tom Brady‘s trust as a receiver, but he has the same kind of game-breaking abilities as the Saints runner, plus the benefit of playing in one of the game’s highest-scoring and most creative offenses.

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