By Chris Lehman
Just a few years back was a time in sports when rookies had limited roles. They were brought in to learn from the veterans and would eventually become the marquee players. Of course there were some exceptions where a guy was brought in to be the guy, e.g., Peyton Manning or Shaq.
Now, however, it has become much more likely for a team to go out and draft a player to instantly be the face of the franchise. Some critics of this ideology say that a quarterback or point guard shouldn’t start as a rookie because they won’t be ready. A lot of the time that is the case, but we’ve seen players make an impact in their first year, or in Matt Ryan’s case, on their first professional play.
Previous rookies from recent years who fit this category include Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Here are some current rookies who were brought in to make an instant impact on their franchises and will be centerpieces for years to come.
1. Cam Newton – What more can you say about this guy? For every good player, there’s always some kind of flaw. Peyton Manning can’t run. Michael Vick is inconsistent with his accuracy. Some will criticize Drew Brees for being too short (as if he had some kind of choice in that). Yet, even with their so-called flaws, they all have found great success. So what happens when you take a 6’6″ quarterback who has a rocket for an arm and has the speed of a scrambling QB? Well, you get the #1 overall pick, JaMarcus Russell. Mix in some accuracy, more speed, and decision making skills and you have the more recent #1 overall pick, Cam Newton. The NFL’s Superman is the only rookie to throw for more than 400 yards in their debut. He continued his hot start by setting the all-time record for passing yards in the first two games of a season. By the end of the season, Newton threw for a total of 4,051 yards which broke the rookie record. He also broke the record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback with 14. Needless to say, Cam had a great statistical year. The fact that he did this as a rookie makes it even more special. So what’s his flaw? The Panthers only won 6 games last year, but is that his fault? I have a hard time seeing Cam on a team like the Texans, who had the year they did with a 3rd string QB, and them NOT winning the Super Bowl. While the Panthers need to improve their team, they definitely don’t need to look for a new QB.
2. Mike Trout – Now I can’t claim to know too much about baseball, but I know the point of the game – to score runs. Seeing as the 20-year-old center fielder is 5th in the league in runs scored, he seems to have that part figured out. So what’s the first step? Get on base. Sure enough, my man is leading the American League in batting average at .349. On top of that, he leads the league in stolen bases. In other words, once he gets on base, he knows how to get closer to scoring. Based off his 60 runs in his 272 at-bats, he scores 22% of the time that he steps up to bat. Now if you add in his 41 RBIs minus his 12 home runs (which have already been accounted for), he one way or another scores a run for his team every third at-bat! I call that efficiency at its finest. Now I know Trout isn’t a rookie, but he’s only 20 so in my opinion, that still counts. With a couple more years of experience under his belt, Trout will end up being something special.
3. Kyrie Irving – Has there ever been a bigger question mark coming out of college? Uncle Drew played in 11 games during his freshman year at Duke. In those games, he averaged 17 points a game on 46% shooting from downtown. Many people thought his sample size of games was too small to warrant the #1 overall pick, but since the draft class was not very deep, Cleveland took a chance, and so far it paid off. The rookie of the year dropped 34 points in the Rising Stars Challenge showing that he is the best that the NBA youth has to offer. He was a remarkable 8-8 from the 3-point line. Irving displays an uncommonly polished all-around game for an NBA player, let alone one that is 20! It’s become public that Kobe Bryant feels that he could beat Kyrie one-on-one, but can anyone else? These guys can’t.
It’s no secret that Cleveland sports teams have terrible luck. They finally had their franchise player that the city could rally around, until he walked out on them. For the sake of Cleveland, I hope Irving doesn’t do the same, because he has the ability to turn a team around.