It’s always an uphill climb for late-round NFL Draft picks to make an instant impact as rookies. In 2020, it might be even harder. There was no offseason outside of Zoom classes. Training camp will be completely different this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a weird time.
That being said, there will still be opportunities for late-round rookies to make their marks. These five young players have a chance to impress and make significant contributions for their respective teams in 2020.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
One of the most touted high school receivers in the nation coming out of Cass Technical High School, Peoples-Jones never lived up to the hype at Michigan. There were certainly flashes of his potential, though, as you can clearly see here.
However, due to poor quarterback play and an antiquated offensive philosophy from Jim Harbaugh, Peoples-Jones flew way under the radar. That’s a big reason why he was a sixth-round pick this past April despite showing out at the combine. Now in Cleveland, he has a chance to be a key complementary playmaker as the third receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
Kenny Willekes, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings
It’s pretty wild that Willekes didn’t get picked up until the seventh round during the 2020 NFL Draft. This guy is an absolute monster on the gridiron and has a motor that won’t quit. Some of the buzz coming out of pre-draft discussions was centered around Willekes’ apparent lack of athleticism. But this kid showed he has more juice than people gave him credit for.
During his tenure at Michigan State, Willekes improved every single year. He finished his collegiate career with 49 tackles for a loss and 23.5 sacks, including 10 last season. Now in Minnesota, which needs another pass rusher to step up with Everson Griffen seemingly out for good, this rookie has a chance to make an immediate impact.
Tyler Johnson, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you didn’t get a chance to watch Johnson play at the University of Minnesota, you missed out. One of the best receivers in the nation from 2018-19, he racked up 164 receptions for 2,487 yards and 25 touchdowns during his final two college seasons. Johnson also wowed on a regular basis with stunning receptions that featured an exceptional level of difficulty (like this).
The Buccaneers landed an absolute steal selecting Johnson in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Granted, this is a team that isn’t lacking offensive weapons. Johnson will have to impress in a big way early to get onto the field much as a rookie. But he has the skills to pay the bills and could become a reliable third receiver for Tom Brady early on in 2020.
Leki Fotu, defensive tackle, Arizona Cardinals
The modern NFL has devalued run-stuffing defensive tackles quite a bit, which is why Fotu was a Day 3 pick (fourth round). If you watched this young man play the past few years at Utah, then you know he’s an absolutely dominant figure inside.
Playing in the NFC West now, which features offenses that love to pound the rock, Fotu will play a ton for the Cardinals in 2020. He has a chance to become a Pro Bowl-type player for Arizona and should be an anchor on the defensive line for years to come.
Jauan Jennings, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is perhaps the best in the NFL at drawing up plays to spring receivers after the catch. Jennings was the best in the nation last year at making plays after the catch.
The 49ers had to be giddy at the prospect of landing this kid in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft, because he’s about to become a star. Jennings may have a chance to contribute plenty early on. Teammate Deebo Samuel has a broken foot and may miss a couple weeks to open the season, opening the door even more for this former Volunteer star to shine for the 49ers in 2020.