There’s no greater stage in the NFL than the postseason, where the lights shine bright and every play can be the difference between advancing and going home.
Here are eight rookies with an opportunity to solidify themselves as emerging stars in the playoffs:
WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Lockett finished third in the NFL in both kickoff and punt return yards, and he was one of only two players to score touchdowns on both a kickoff and punt return. The rookie also caught 51 passes for 664 yards and six more scores, including five over the final seven games. Expect Lockett to make a handful of big plays for the Seahawks, who look primed to make a deep playoff run.
CB Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs
Peters’ eight interceptions in 2015 led the NFL, while also representing the most from a rookie since 2009. Kansas City’s first-round pick will be in the spotlight from the very start of the postseason, as Peters is likely to be shadowing Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round.
RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson did it all for the Cardinals as rookie. He ran for eight touchdowns and caught four, while also returning a kickoff 108 yards for a score. His 13 total touchdowns ranked first among rookies and fifth in the NFL overall. Over his last six games in 2015, Johnson produced 687 total yards and six touchdowns in a featured role. He’s ready to bust out on the playoff stage.
WR Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
How scary would the Panthers become with a legitimate outside threat at receiver? Funchess might be that player. He caught five touchdown passes over the final nine games, which includes last Sunday’s 120-yard explosion against the Buccaneers. Carolina’s second-round pick is starting to gain Cam Newton’s trust.
LB Preston Smith, Washington Redskins
Smith lead all rookies in sacks with eight. The majority of his production came over the last three weeks, when he tallied five of his eight sacks. Washington’s rookie edge-rusher could put his name on the map with a few sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the first round.
OLB Shane Ray, Denver Broncos
Denver’s defense is built around pressure on the quarterback (NFL high 52.0 sacks). While Ray finished sixth on the Broncos with four sacks, his ability to create consistent disruption as a rotational player is a big plus for Wade Phillips’ unit. Expect Phillips to use Ray to attack the quarterbacks in Denver’s way to the Super Bowl.
LB Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
It’s going to be bitterly cold at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Expect the Seahawks to be running the football plenty in the subzero temperatures, which will put Kendricks and his fellow Vikings linebackers in the spotlight. The former UCLA star finished second among rookies in tackles in 2015. He needs to play big, especially if Marshawn Lynch is back.
CB Damarious Randall, Green Bay Packers
With Sam Shields still going through concussion protocol, Randall is the Packers’ best remaining perimeter cornerback. He’s played well in his first season, but he’ll now see plenty of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in the first round. How Randall handles his first postseason game could go along ways in determining whether or not the Packers advance.