Every year, there is talk of who the most explosive players in the draft class are. This refers to the players with tremendous athletic ability who are impact players and can instantly change a game with a game-breaking play.
These are the 10 players in the 2012 NFL Draft (or expected to declare for the draft) who are the most explosive, game-changing players.
These players have athletic qualities that give them the ability to impact a game in an instant, and these are players who are expected to earn the X-factor label at the next level.
Note: These are NOT my top 10 prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, simply the most explosive. My actual top 10 overall prospects will be very different than this.
Draft Grade: Round 2
David Wilson only spent one season as the feature back at Virginia Tech, but it was a spectacular season. He finished the season ranked fourth nationally with 1,709 rushing yards.
Wilson spent his first two seasons with the Hokies as an explosive situational back, used mostly on third downs and as a pass receiver.
This year, Wilson took on a heavy workload, ranking ninth nationally with 290 rushing attempts. That did not hurt his explosiveness at all, as he continued to rush for nearly six yards per attempt.
Wilson is one of the fastest running backs in the draft class, but he has great lateral cuts as well as long speed, and he is tough between the tackles. Wilson is effective as a pass protector, a skilled pass receiver out of the backfield, and he can also return kicks.
Wilson is certainly an explosive player who should be a terrific fit in an NFL offense as part of a running back by committee. His speed and physicality make him a game breaker, and his ability to continue to be an X-factor at the next level earns him a spot among the most explosive players in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Draft Grade: Round 2
In a draft class that lacks explosive wideouts, Kendall Wright may be the most dynamic wide receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft.
While Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon is a top-10 prospect and certainly the best wide receiver in the draft class, he is not quite Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, in that he does not have their same level of explosive athleticism.
Kendall Wright is small, but he has great speed, and is a very dangerous player in the open field.
Wright ranked third nationally this season with 1,663 receiving yards. He is a tremendous route-runner with great hands, but where he can really burn defenses is with his speed in the open field.
Wright may not quite be a first-round prospect, but as a second receiver or slot receiver, Wright has the potential to be a real X-factor at the next level.
Draft Grade: Top 10
On the Alabama defense, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and inside linebacker Don’ta Hightower attract most of the spotlight. This is well-deserved on both of their part, as both players are tremendous talents having a tremendous season, and future NFL first-round draft picks.
That said, the player who deserves the most hype of any of them is outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, which he put on display yet again in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
In a year lacking a single star pass rusher, Courtney Upshaw is not only the most explosive defensive front seven player, but the best defensive front seven prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft.
On the most talented defense in all of college football, Upshaw has been the difference-maker. He ranked 15th in the nation with 18 tackles for loss this season.
Upshaw is a tremendous athlete for his size. He has been a tremendous fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Crimson Tide, and projects very well to be a star at that position at the next level. That said, he has also lined up at inside linebacker for Alabama, and has excelled there as well. Upshaw is not only an explosive talent, but he is very versatile as well.
Upshaw has explosive pass-rushing ability, and is terrific at finding his way through and around blockers to make plays in the backfield. The team that drafts Upshaw will be getting a real difference-maker in their linebacking corps.
Draft Grade: Round 3-4
Cliff Harris is one of the most explosive players in the 2012 NFL Draft; unfortunately, Harris may be even more explosive off the field.
Harris has been cited for three traffic violations since June, and was officially dismissed from Oregon’s football team in December, having already been on indefinite suspension since late October.
Chances are good that Harris will drop to Day Three of the Draft due to his off-field troubles, but if it were not for his unpredictable antics, he would be a likely first-round pick.
Harris was the nation’s most explosive non-offensive player in his sophomore season in 2010. That year, Harris led the nation with 23 pass defenses, and was the best punt returner in the nation, with an NCAA-leading four punt-return touchdowns.
Explosive really is the perfect description for Harris. He is a tremendously aggressive cornerback; he has great ball skills, is a big-play cornerback, and when the ball ends up in his hands, he is a big threat to score six points.
Consequently, however, Harris is also known to give up frequent big plays, which will likely limit him to being no more than a nickel cornerback in the National Football League.
That said, for a team looking for a play-making nickel cornerback and punt returner, Harris’s immaturity may be worth taking a chance on.
Harris is certainly an explosive, game-changing defensive back who could do big things at the next level if he can keep himself on the field and off the police log.
Draft Grade: Top 10
Morris Claiborne grades out as the best defensive player in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he is also the most explosive defensive player in the class (in part due to his even more explosive teammate, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, not being eligible for this year’s draft).
Claiborne is a true shutdown cover cornerback; as the season progresses, teams began throwing his way less and less, even with Mathieu on the other side of the field.
Not only does Claiborne rarely leave opposing receivers open, but he also has tremendous ball skills, and he is very dangerous when the ball ends up in his hands.
Claiborne had six interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Claiborne is also a very good kickoff returner, with more than 25 yards per kickoff return this season, and a 99-yard touchdown.
Claiborne has tremendous athleticism, and if the ball ends up in his hands, six points, or at least a big gain, are a possibility.
Expect Claiborne to be a starting cornerback and an impact player in his rookie season and for many years to come.
Draft Grades: Wright, Round 3-4; Adams, Round 4-5
When it came to these two dynamic, game-breaking wide receivers from Arkansas, I could not include without the other. Both Adams and Wright have the potential to be big playmakers at the next level.
Both players are small, but will run among the fastest players at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Of the two, Adams is the more dynamic, because of his ability as a punt returner.
Adams led the nation this season with four punt-return touchdowns, including a remarkable 60-yard score against Tennessee that ranks among the best plays of the year in college football.
Adams’ speed and quickness should make him a good fourth receiver and punt returner in a spread offense, a game-changing player worth keeping on a roster.
That said, Wright is also a tremendous athlete, and a legitimate slot receiver prospect at the next level. Wright has burned defenses for many big plays with his speed this year, and he is the all-time leading receiver in Arkansas history.
Wright should be a very good fit in the NFL as a slot receiver who can make a big play happen quickly by opening up a defense with his speed. Both of these players have the potential to be difference-makers at the next level, which is they earn a combined place on this list.
Draft Grade: Round 2
As a redshirt sophomore, Lamar Miller absolutely burst onto the scene, and made himself into one of the top running back prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, for which he has already declared.
Miller could be the fastest of any of the top running backs in the draft class, but he also has very good size for the running back position, and has the ability to run with power between the tackles, as well as make plays in the open field.
Miller’s productivity waned considerably in the second half of the season, but he still ended up with an impressive total of 1,272 rushing yards.
When Miller gets into the open field, he is a tough man to track down, and as a complementary running back in the NFL, his speed and burst should make him a difference-maker.
Draft Grade: Round 1
Many of the players on this list are on here primarily because of this speed and leaping ability, but while Richardson has terrific burst, he has something the other players on the list do not possess. That trait is raw power and strength, making him the most complete running back in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Richardson may not have game-breaking speed, but he makes tremendous cuts, and what he lacks in speed he makes up for with his ability to break tackles in the open field.
Richardson’s productivity was terrific this season; he ranked sixth nationally with 1,679 rushing yards, ran for nearly six yards per carry, and scored 21 touchdowns.
Richardson’s explosive play in college should be able to translate to the next level. He could be a very high draft pick as the draft’s top running back, and one of its top game-breakers.
Draft Grade: No. 1 Overall Pick
Andrew Luck may not fit the prototype for traits typically thought of when describing an explosive player, but his place on this list is absolutely deserved. There is no greater difference-maker in the draft class than Luck, who is practically guaranteed to be the first overall selection in April.
Luck is actually a very good athlete who has shown his ability to scramble (and even make a one-handed catch) in college football, but these traits are not what project to the next level.
He does, however, have explosive arm strength and pinpoint accuracy, which gives him the ability to make any throw on the field and make a game-changing play any time he passes the ball.
Whether Luck ends up on the Indianapolis Colts or another team, he should be able to make an immediate impact and make the offense he plays on more explosive.
In a National Football League, where the gap between elite quarterbacks and the rest of the NFL’s signal-callers seems to be greater than ever, Luck is going to be a huge difference-maker.
Draft Grade: Top 5 Pick
If you followed college football this season, one name should come to mind before any other when it comes to explosive players. That player would be Baylor’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
Griffin is a rare talent who combines superb athleticism and rushing ability with tremendous passing skill from the pocket. Whether he is throwing a 40-yard laser downfield, or taking off out of the pocket and making defenders miss on the run, Griffin is a true X-factor at the quarterback position, a player who is always coming up with difference-making plays.
As an NFL prospect, Luck is far ahead of Griffin as a quarterback, but Griffin is the most explosive player in the draft class.
As he makes the adjustment from running a shotgun spread offense to a pro-style offense, Griffin will take some time to adjust to being an NFL signal-caller, but his explosive athleticism, strong arm, and ability to throw accurately downfield will enable him to be an immediate impact player, even as he faces a learning curve.
Thanks for reading!
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