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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Updated: October 3, 11:15 AM ET
Don't have to be drafted high to make an impact

By Keith Kidd
Scouts Inc.

Playing a rookie is never a sure thing. Sometimes they respond; sometimes they struggle. These rookies responded -- and more. Much more. These are the 20 rookies who have made the biggest impact so far this season.

Top Impact Rookies

No. Rookie
1. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
Forte has been a versatile three-down player who has natural vision and instincts. He has the speed to press downhill holes with good lateral quickness, balance and control. He has been a key player for the Bears' offense and taken a lot of pressure off QB Kyle Orton.
2. DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Jackson is an explosive player who finally gives the Eagles' perimeter a third-level dimension. He plays bigger than his listed size (5-foot-10) with functional play strength to gain separation off his release. Has the play speed to attack all levels and can be a game-changer in the Eagles' West Coast passing attack.
3. Eddie Royal, WR, Denver Broncos
Royal has done a great job of giving the Broncos a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Brandon Marshall. He is a smart, instinctive player who understands route concepts and has very good functional play speed. He knows how to get open when creating separation downfield with natural hands and run-after-catch ability.
4. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
Johnson has been very impressive as a change-of-pace back opposite LenDale White. He is a versatile player who contributes both in sub and regular packages. He is a powerful inside runner but also has the speed and the quickness to get on the edge of the defense as an outside runner. Explosive playmaker who has been one of the keys to the Titans' 4-0 start.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan has shown strong flashes of becoming the franchise quarterback the Falcons organization so desperately needs. Ryan is a smart player who has done a nice job in his decision-making when attacking the opposing team's backend. He has shown great maturity and flashes of a big-time arm, but he needs to play with more consistency on the road.
6. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins
Long has been very impressive playing the most critical position on the offensive line, especially considering he's a rookie. He has been very effective as a run blocker and has done a great job of protecting the QB in pass situations. He is a tough, smart, competitive football player.
7. Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos
Clady has been a very consistent player with the Broncos' zone-blocking schemes. He is athletic with long arms that allow him to get into defenders quickly. He is a very sound technician with excellent foot quickness, balance and control.
8. Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots
Mayo has been a highly productive three-down player in the Patriots' system. He has natural athletic skills, range and a knack for being around the football both in the box and out in space.
9. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
McFadden is an explosive athlete with a lot of versatility within the structure of any offense. He has the functional play speed to strike from anywhere on the field. He has been limited somewhat with a toe injury and needs to do a better job with his ball security.
10. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco is an intriguing young player who is the future franchise quarterback in Baltimore. He has a very strong arm that can attack all three levels in the passing game. He is mobile in the pocket and has come a long way with his timing and rhythm in the passing game.
11. Keith Rivers, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
Rivers has been very active as a three-down player in the Bengals' defensive schemes. He is a big, athletic player who runs very well for his size (6-2, 241). He has good versatility with the ability to make impact plays within the design of this defense.
12. Jeff Otah, OT, Carolina Panthers
Otah is a big, powerful tackle who has improved the right side of the Panthers' offensive line. At 6-6, 330, he can be hard to get around in pass protection schemes. He can shock defenders with his strong hands and long arms. He's been very effective as a run blocker and created movement and space in the running game.
13. Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Jones has explosive, game-changing speed and can be a threat to score any time he touches the rock. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett must find a way to get him more involved in the offense. He has a bell-cow mentality and is a very good change-of-pace back opposite Marion Barber.
14. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
Stewart has been a solid addition in the Panthers' power running game. He's 5-10, 235 with a great combination of quickness, speed and power. He is an explosive player who has the functional strength to wear defenses down. However, he is a two-down back who must continue to improve as a receiver out of the backfield and understanding protection schemes.
15. Chris Long, DE, St. Louis Rams
Long has been somewhat unnoticed playing on a really bad team. However, he is a relentless player with an outstanding motor. He has strong, active hands to get separation from blockers with finishing speed. He is still somewhat raw in his pass rush counters, but he is showing steady improvement. Has all the intangibles you look for when building the core of your defensive team.
16. Steve Slaton, RB, Houston Texans
Slaton has been impressive over the past few weeks in the Texans' running game, which has taken the pressure off QB Matt Schaub. He is a versatile back with three-down value. He has played bigger than his listed size (5-9, 203) with explosive speed and natural jump-cut ability
17. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints
Ellis is a disruptive young player who can contribute in both regular and sub packages. He made a great impact in the Week 4 game against the 49ers with his interior push, which made it easier on both Charles Grant and Will Smith. That's what the Saints envisioned when they drafted him, and Ellis, who will miss the next four weeks with a knee injury, has all the intangibles to develop into a frontline starter for years to come.
18. Dwight Lowery, CB, New York Jets
Lowery is an instinctive young player who has exceeded expectations playing opposite Darrelle Revis early in the season. He is a solid fit in the Jets' defensive system with his ability to understand route concepts off pattern recognition. He has good size and can be physical from press alignment.
19. Lawrence Jackson, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Jackson has been a consistent pass rush threat playing opposite Patrick Kerney. He is a good athlete with the quickness and speed to bend the edge and close on the quarterback.
20. Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Albert is another rookie starting at the most critical position on the offensive line. He is a very athletic player with good size (6-5, 316), foot quickness and long arms. He can bend and play with leverage as a run blocker. However, he dislocated his elbow Sunday and could miss some extended time.