When an NFL rookie looks like he's in over his head, takes a big hit, or gets chewed out by his coach, the first thing usually out of the announcer's mouth is "welcome to the NFL."
It's easy to understand the meaning behind it. In college, many of these players are treated like royalty. They rule the school and everybody knows their name. They are the big fish in the small pond. When they get to the NFL, the majority of them go from being among the best players on their team to just being some guy on the field. Welcoming them to the NFL is a reality check that they're not in Kansas anymore.
The Buffalo Bills can't afford for their rookies to be shell shocked, though. They need to contribute in some way, shape, or form right away.
Just last season, the Bills started two rookies on the offensive line and another who had never taken a live NFL snap before. Jairus Byrd started 11 games at free safety, leading the league in interceptions and narrowly missing an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award (twice). Shawn Nelson led all Bills tight ends in receptions and touchdowns. Even rookie Jamon Meredith started four games on the offensive line last year, and has the inside track on the starting left tackle job this year.
If the Bills can get similar production from this year's rookie class, they will have set themselves up to field a solid team in a year or two.
The Bills drafted C.J. Spiller in the first round of the draft to be the home run threat they were sorely lacking in the backfield. Spiller's role is undefined at this point with the presence of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, but one thing is for certain: they didn't draft him ninth overall to get sparse touches. He will be split out wide, lined up in the backfield, and we could see him returning kicks as well. Running backs traditionally make the easiest transition from college to the pros, and Spiller could have a big impact on a lackluster offense immediately.
Brian recently called second-round pick Torell Troup the fifth most important player on the Bills in 2010. That's a lot of pressure to heap on a player making the jump from Conference USA, but Troup will hopefully be the lynch pin in Buffalo's improved rushing defense. Troup should play a high number of snaps as Buffalo's primary run stopping nose tackle. The team and their 30th-ranked run defense can't afford for him not to.
Marcus Easley finds himself in the unique position of potential NFL starter two years after being buried on the depth chart in college. Bills fans seem to be heaping tons of expectations on the one-year wonder from UConn. Arguably more than all other prospects on this list, Easley will have to prove that last year wasn't a fluke and he belongs in the NFL.
With the likely retirement of Aaron Schobel, sixth round pick Danny Batten has a chance to have a significant impact at OLB in his rookie season. He needs to make the transition from DE to OLB quickly, but Batten could be rushing the passer as a reserve early and often in 2010.
Third round pick DE Alex Carrington and and fifth round selection OT Ed Wang will hopefully just be depth options in 2010. Carrington will sit behind Dwan Edwards, Marcus Stroud, and likely Spencer Johnson at DE, learning the position. Wang, while being the poster boy for the NFL in China, will hone his technique behind Demetrius Bell, Meredith, and Cornell Green.
ILB Arthur Moats, QB Levi Brown OG Kyle Calloway are all depth options as well. Moats will likely make his impact on special teams, and Brown will sit and learn, adjusting from Troy's offense to Chan Gailey's in the hopes that he can step up a year from now. Calloway will be a reserve option at both right guard and right tackle, the position he played at Iowa.
While we're on the subject, it would really be nice if we could welcome Aaron Maybin to the NFL. In 16 games in 2009, the eleventh overall pick from a year ago recorded just 18 tackles, with most of them coming on special teams. Without Schobel, Maybin will be called upon often to provide the pass rush from the OLB position. He needs to show he has potential at the position, or Bills fans who haven't yet will turn on him quickly.
If these rookies can prove they belong on this level, the Bills will be a lot closer to the playoffs than many are anticipating.