At the very top of the draft, teams are looking to find difference makers who can contribute immediately and help turn a losing team into a winning one. In 2010, many were successful, as the first handful of picks produced several impact players. The first two selections in the draft, Rams QB Sam Bradford and Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, both were dominant at times for their teams, a reason they were named Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. But other top picks excelled, as well. In all, six of the top 10 picks made the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America 2010 All-Rookie team, along with some surprises picked later in the draft and a few undrafted players.
Lots of questions surrounded Sam Bradford after a shoulder injury ended his college career prematurely. The Rams QB provided all the answers with a terrific rookie season, leading St. Louis to seven wins and nearly a berth in the playoffs. The future appears bright for the team and the QB, something that couldn't be said a year ago.
While Bradford started as the No. 1 pick in the draft, the All-Rookie backs took the long road to the league. Neither LeGarrette Blount nor Chris Ivory heard his name called on draft weekend, but both persevered to have outstanding first seasons. Blount became Tampa's primary ballcarrier in Week Seven and nearly led the Bucs to the postseason, while Ivory stepped up for the Saints after injuries ravaged the New Orleans backfield.
Helping Blount in the Bucs' offense was WR Mike Williams, who led all rookies in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He's joined on the team by Dez Bryant of the Cowboys, who was putting together a great season before an ankle injury placed him on I.R.
Tight end was a position of strength for the Class of 2010, with Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots taking the place as valedictorian. The second-round pick scored 10 TDs and was a key to the Pats' league-leading scoring offense.
C Maurkice Pouncey anchors the All-Rookie offensive line, just as he did for the Steelers. Fellow lineman Mike Iupati of the 49ers and the Dolphins' John Jerry were all exceptional run blockers during their debut seasons.
Rodger Saffold of the Rams and Bryan Bulaga from Green Bay man the outside of the line. Saffold has the looks of a bookend left tackle for St. Louis, while Bulaga excelled at right tackle for the Pack after starting the year at left guard.
One of the most scrutinized picks in the draft was the Jaguars' selection of DT Tyson Alualu at 10th overall. The player proved his worth, however, as his pass-rush skills were better than expected for an up-and-coming Jacksonville team.
Nobody questioned the Lions' selection of Ndamukong Suh, and with good reason. The No. 2 pick toyed with opponents, blowing up running plays while leading all rookies with 10 sacks.
DEs Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals and Lamarr Houston of the Raiders also made their impact felt. Dunlap emerged as Cincinnati's most exciting defensive prospect in years, while Houston proved to have a nose for the ball with two fumble recoveries.
The linebacking class didn't prove to be as strong as the group of linemen. Still, three players emerged as bright spots for their teams. Rolando McClain was a key run stuffer for Oakland, finishing with 85 tackles. Koa Misi fit right into Miami's 3-4 scheme, registering 4½ sacks. And Pat Angerer played multiple positions for the Colts, showing off his speed and athleticism in their cover-2 defense.
On the outside, no rookie performed better than Devin McCourty of the Patriots. Chosen for the Pro Bowl, McCourty locked down opposing top receivers, picking off seven passes while also playing the run well. The Browns' Joe Haden was second in rookie interceptions with six, and he showed steady improvement as the year progressed.
T.J. Ward joined Haden in the Cleveland defensive backfield and also proved to have a bright future. Ward was outstanding vs. the run, leading rookies with 123 tackles. Eric Berry of the Chiefs, the fifth pick in the draft, showed he was equally capable of making plays in the passing game and slowing down opposing runners.
Raiders owner Al Davis loves speed and players who use it, so it's safe to say he's pleased with rookie Jacoby Ford. The fourth-round pick looked more like a Ferrari than the car that shares his name, taking back three kickoffs for touchdowns. He should be providing highlights to Oakland fans for many years to come.
On punt returns, few in the league were better than Marc Mariani of the Titans. A friend of Jeff Fisher's son at the University of Montana, Mariani wasn't expected to make the team out of training camp, much less make a huge impact. But the rookie found a role as a return specialist, averaging more than 12 yards per punt return with one TD.
Clint Stitser of the Bengals was the only regular rookie placekicker. He proved to have some skill, making 7-of-8 field goals. Extra points were another story, as the rookie missed on two of his 10 attempts.
The Patriots didn't punt often thanks to their dominant offense. Yet when they did, Zoltan Mesko showed off the leg that made him a fifth-round pick. The Patriots finished last in the NFL in net punting in 2009 but improved to 10th thanks in large part to Mesko.
Cleveland's T.J. Ward made his impact not only on defense but special teams as well. Ward played on both punt and kickoff teams, leading the Browns in special-teams tackles.
Pro Football Weekly's annual awards issue (dated Jan. 23) is on sale now, featuring All-NFL, All-Conference and All-Rookie teams, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Executive of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year — all selected by PFW editors and contributors along with members of the Professional Football Writers of America — as well as a Golden Toe Award selected by PFW editors only. The print edition also contains a preview of the draft outlook for the first four teams to make selections in April, as well as previews of the two conference championship games. The print edition is available at retail outlets around the country and also online at PFWstore.com , where you can purchase a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.