Football Outsiders has developed a few methods over the years that help us to pick out the most promising prospects at a few very important positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver and edge rusher. But these stat projections won't give us a look at the most promising rookie prospects for 2014.
That's because the NFL draft comes with two goals: short term and long term. Teams hope to add players who will help them immediately, sometimes to fill very specific holes on the roster. They also hope to add players with potential who will grow and become stars over time. Sometimes, the players who do the best in our projection systems are definitively in the second category.
Jimmy Garoppolo actually ended up with the top score in our Long-Term Career Forecast for quarterbacks, but the Patriots sure as heck hope they aren't putting him on the field this year unless it's the fourth quarter and they have a lead of four touchdowns. Trent Murphy is a promising pass-rusher, but he won't get many defensive snaps until Brian Orakpo (probably) leaves Washington as a free agent after the season.
To figure out the rookies most likely to make an immediate impact, you have to look not only at stat projections and scouting, but also at opportunity. It's also important to consider history: Rookie cornerbacks and tight ends tend to underwhelm because it takes time for them to adapt to the NFL game, but running backs step in right away.
With that in mind, here are our picks for the 12 rookies who likely will play the biggest roles in the 2014 season, including one hugely important rookie for whom we have no projection.