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Monday, July 7, 2008
AFC South impact rookies

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

It's no surprise that when my colleague Bill Williamson pieced together a list of the 10 rookies he expects to make the biggest impact in the league this season, he did not include a player from the AFC South.

The division, after all, produced three playoff teams and a last-place team with a .500 record.

The only reason any of the four teams drafted higher than 18th was because Jacksonville traded up to No. 8 to get Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey. Without that move, the division's top pick would have been No. 18 by Houston. But the Texans moved back as Baltimore made its move to get Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, and Houston's first pick wasn't until 26.

Nine of Williamson's top 10 impact rookies were off the board by the time the AFC South made its second pick -- Tennessee took East Carolina running back Chris Johnson at No. 24.

By then even the first of Williamson's three honorable mentions, running back Felix Jones, was also gone.

So who stands to make the biggest impact among AFC South rookies?

In Indianapolis, if Mike Pollak beats out veteran Charlie Johnson in the battle to replace free agent departure Jake Scott, he could be a big contributor. No, right guard isn't left tackle, but remember how nicely the team slid Tony Ugoh into retired Tarik Glenn's spot as a rookie, a year ahead of the plan?

Johnson is going to get the ball in his hands on some crucial downs for Tennessee and add a new dimension of speed, sometimes lined up wide.

Steve Slaton may have a chance to do similar things in Houston.

But my gut feeling says if he's healthy, it'll be Jacksonville's second-round pass rusher, Quentin Groves, not Harvey, who makes the bigger splash and qualifies as the division's top rookie when the season is over.