Aug 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler (84) runs with the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) defends during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Likeliest NFL Opening Day Rookie Starters: AFC North

Opening day draws closer.  Around the NFL, rookies are working hard to earn their way into the starting lineup.  Who has the best shot to make it?

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Ryan Shazier – ILB

A new generation seems like it’s taking hold in the stories Pittsburgh Steelers linebacking corps.  That much became evident when Ryan Shazier, their 1st round pick and future inside linebacker made nine tackles and intercepted a pass against Buffalo in week two of the preseason.  His speed and instincts are evident on every play and there is nobody in that locker room who is going to stop him from seeing the field full-time from Day One.

Baltimore Ravens:  C.J. Mosley – ILB

Fittingly, the Steelers’ most bitter rival seems to have something brewing at inside linebacker as well.  Their own 1st round pick C.J. Mosley has looked like he belongs in the NFL.  For the second week in a row he led his team in tackles and shows the kind of command and instincts expected from that position.  He’s not a polished gem quite yet but Mosley is in no danger of losing the job to somebody else.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Russell Bodine – C

Interior blocking is one of the big reasons why the Cincinnati Bengals were humiliated at home in the playoffs last January by San Diego.  Improving was top priority and it seems they may have uncovered an early gem from their stock of rookies.  Russell Bodine came out of North Carolina with a number of scouts liking his overall skill set despite playing for a bad team.  Game action hasn’t showed any inherent flaws aside from the typical rookie mistakes.  Those will iron out with time.

Cleveland Browns:  Joel Bitonio – OG

Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert will certainly receive the bulk of the votes since they are the 1st round picks of the Cleveland Browns, but if NFL fans are looking for a safe bet then they should put in on Joel Bitonio.  The 2nd round pick out of Nevada was one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the 2014 class and he joins a front in Cleveland that badly needs help at a number of positions.  Early signs point to him settling in at left guard, which would work out perfectly as he gets to learn between Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens C.j. Mosley Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns Joel Bitonio NFL Pittsburgh Steelers Russell Bodine Ryan Shazier

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