Falcons' Julio Jones
It can be difficult for rookie receivers to make impacts quickly, but Julio Jones isn't the typical rookie receiver. He stepped in the Falcons' starting lineup on the first snap of camp and has looked comfortable and at ease ever since.
Part of it is Jones' unusual physical skills. Part of it is Jones' blue-collar approach. Part of it is the Falcons' coaching and how they are using him. Part of it is Jones has an elite quarterback throwing to him in Matt Ryan. Part of it is the Falcons have effective weapons around Jones who will help free him.
When you add everything together, Jones is positioned to add a dimension to what already was one of the NFL's finest offenses.
Bills' Marcell Dareus
Von Miller will play a role in Denver's revamped defense. Julio Jones gives Matt Ryan another weapon in Atlanta. And Anthony Castonzo will likely protect Peyton Manning's blind side in Indianapolis, an extra critical task considering the 35-year-old quarterback's health status.
But if the first half of the preseason is any indication, Buffalo's Marcell Dareus is a front-runner for defensive rookie of the year honors. He has racked up two sacks in two exhibition games, and he has already drawn comparisons to Bills' great Bruce Smith. Smith had 6.5 sacks in 1985, his rookie season. Dareus should be in that neighborhood in his first NFL season.
Cards' Patrick Peterson
Cam Newton might have a great future in the NFL, but having watched the No. 1 overall draft pick in person over the weekend, I assure you that future is not now.
Julio Jones (Falcons), Mike Pouncey (Dolphins), Nick Fairley (Lions) and Tyron Smith (Cowboys) should all make an instant splash.
However, if it's high-end rookie impact you're looking for, fix your gaze on the desert, where the revamped Cardinals have handed a starting job to former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
If not for the odd draft bias against corners, Peterson might have gone first overall instead of fifth. He's that freakishly talented as an athlete, and he'll get a chance to return punts as well.
Saints' Mark Ingram
Los Angeles Times
Much as I like Atlanta's Julio Jones, I think another rookie from the NFC South will make a bigger impact.
New Orleans running back Mark Ingram gives the Saints everything Reggie Bush didn't — an underrated workhorse back who can run with power, blast through holes instead of dancing behind them, and do it all with more force than flash.
Ingram, who will probably split carries with Pierre Thomas, has already been impressive. He had a smooth 14-yard touchdown run against San Francisco, and scored on the goal line against Houston on consecutive plays. Ingram was the only running back taken in the first round. This season we'll find out why.