2012 NFL Draft: Players Who Can Make an Immediate Impact
The days where NFL teams select somebody in the draft and provide them time to develop are over. Rookies are expected to make an immediate impact and help their team win games. This fact is especially true for those prospects selected in the first round.
Surprisingly, even rookie quarterbacks are expected to quickly adjust to the NFL game. Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert and T.J. Yates all saw significant playing time. This next draft class has a ton of players with the ability to step in and make an immediate contribution.
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
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Each year more and more rookie quarterbacks earn early playing time. This past year Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates ended up starting a playoff game. Stanford's Andrew Luck is not only considered NFL-ready but expected to find early success.
Only Peyton Manning and his health status stand in the way of Luck making an immediate impact. The Indianapolis Colts are expected to select Luck No. 1 overall, but his playing time depends on if Manning returns or is let go.
Possible Destinations: Indianapolis Colts
Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor
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Thanks to the success of Cam Newton, NFL teams are less worried about selecting a quarterback with limited experience in a pro-style offense. Baylor's Robert Griffin III comes from a spread attack but possesses the skills needed to succeed at the next level.
Griffin's arm strength, accuracy and work ethic make him a candidate to make an early impact in the NFL. He possesses too much talent and explosiveness to stand on the sideline, and there is no coach who won't want to work him into the game plan.
I would rather go through some growing pains with Griffin than lose with a less talented option.
Possible Destinations: Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins
Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama
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Running backs have the easiest transition into the NFL and typically make an instant impact. Alabama's Trent Richardson will force whoever drafts him to feed the football his way. Richardson's combination of size and speed makes him an every-down back.
He fits the mold of someone like Adrian Peterson who makes it nearly impossible to take him off the field. Actually, he is already a much better blocker and receiver out of the backfield than Peterson. Running back-needy teams shouldn't hesitate to add Richardson early in the first round.
Possible Destinations: Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State
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Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon utilizes a combination of size, quickness and toughness to attack the defense. He is a well-rounded target who can work the underneath routes and make plays down the field. His wide array of skills makes him a perfect candidate to team with a young developing quarterback.
Some question his top-end speed, but Blackmon has the quick twitch needed to create separation and that's what is truly important. Any team drafting Blackmon can expect to get great production and a lot of explosive plays.
Possible Destinations: St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
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At 6'4" 230 pounds, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery fits the growing NFL preference for bigger receivers. His size allows him to box out and attack the ball at its highest point. Most opposing defensive backs can't match his combination of size and leaping ability.
Jeffery also makes a great red-zone target, which could help him lead the rookie wide receivers in touchdown receptions. Questions surround his ability to separate, but he can overcome those concerns by being aggressive and physical.
Possible Destinations: Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
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Notre Dame's Michael Floyd boasts equally impressive measurements as the other top receiving prospects. At 6'3" 224 pounds, he uses his size to gain position and box out the defender. NFL quarterbacks like receivers who can make plays on poorly thrown balls, especially ones that sail high. Because of his leaping ability, he will help prevent a few overthrows and interceptions.
Floyd's experience at Notre Dame offered him good experience in more than a few offensive systems. Under Charlie Weiss he learned pro-style concepts and Brian Kelly stressed a more wide-open approach. These experiences will help Floyd transition into his new offensive system.
Possible Destinations: San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns
Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Baylor
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Baylor's Kendall Wright brings a different set of skills to the table than the other first-round wide receiver prospects. His strengths are quickness, route running and the ability to create separation. Wright is a quick-twitch athlete who smoothly gets in and out of his breaks, making him a tough cover.
He also brings a little more versatility than the other prospects, as he can work from either the slot or on the outside. His explosiveness may also put him in the mix to get some time as either a punt or kick returner. Overall, NFL coaches look to find ways to utilize their most explosive playmakers.
Possible Destinations: Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
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Any team selecting an offensive lineman early in the draft expects him to push for immediate playing time. Stanford's Jonathan Martin should come off the board somewhere in the top 10 and become an instant starter at left tackle. Protecting the quarterback's blind side is one of the most important jobs in the entire NFL.
Martin's balance and quick feet are what will allow him to immediately crack the starting lineup. He will go through some growing pains, but should provide excellent protection. His ability to open running lanes also increases his ability to see the field early.
Possible Destinations: St. Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC
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USC's Matt Kalil is another offensive tackle prospect expected to come off the board early in the first round. He boasts a combination of impressive size and strength which will help him make quick contributions. The expectation is that Kalil will immediately be inserted into the starting lineup at left tackle.
Depending on where he lands, Kalil could potentially start a chain reaction that strengthens several positions along the offensive line. There are multiple teams that have a decent player at left tackle but would be much better at either guard or right tackle. Adding Kalil allows those players to shift to a more favorable situation.
Possible Destinations: St. Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
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Iowa's Riley Reiff figures to be either the second or third offensive tackle to come off the board. He's equally as talented as both Matt Kalil and Jonathan Martin, and could eventually end up surpassing both prospects.
Reiff's quickness and balance allow him to protect the edge from both speed- and power-rushers. His pass-protection skills make him and ideal fit at the left tackle position in the NFL. There's a very realistic chance that all three top left tackles come off the board prior to pick No. 10.
Possible Destinations: Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals
David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford
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Stanford's David DeCastro possesses the power and natural bend needed to be a successful guard at the next level. His experience at Stanford provided him with the knowledge and experience required to immediately crack the starting lineup. DeCastro's drafting team can feel comfortable plugging him in from day one and knowing they will get strong effort and excellent play.
Offensive guards typically have a pretty smooth transition to the NFL. The biggest adjustment is dealing with the massive size and strength of the opposing defensive linemen. However, most of these issues can be worked out through training camp.
Possible Destinations: Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin
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NFL teams typically prefer to start veteran centers. However, if a rookie can show the ability to handle the adjustment calls he can crack the starting lineup early in his career. Wisconsin's Peter Konz possesses the football IQ needed to identify defensive alignments and make adjustments.
Konz combines his smarts with excellent physical abilities. He plays with great leverage, technique and strength which allows him to both protect the passer and open running lanes. His experience at Wisconsin featured head-to-head matchups with top-level competition and opportunity to learn proper technique.
Possible Destinations: Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants
Melvin Ingram, Linebacker, South Carolina
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Outside linebackers and defensive ends who possess the ability to rush the passer often make an immediate impact. These type players don't even have to be starters to rack up impressive stat totals. South Carolina's Melvin Ingram boasts the quickness off the edge needed to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Ingram is a versatile player, who could line up at either linebacker or defensive end. While at South Carolina, Ingram even saw time at defensive tackle and on special teams. Players with this type of versatility always find a way to make an immediate impact.
Possible Destinations: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and San Diego Chargers
Whitney Mercilus, Defensive End, Illinois
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Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is another one of those hybrid defenders capable of lining up at either defensive end or outside linebacker. His excellent initial burst allows him to attack the edge and create pressure on the quarterback. However, it's his ability to use his hands that makes him a feared pass-rusher and strong overall player.
Even if Mercilus doesn't quickly adjust to the NFL game he still will be utilized in passing situations. No team will keep a player of his abilities off the field, especially when it's someone I could potentially make a game-changing play.
Possible Destinations: San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots
Devon Still, Defensive Tackle, Penn State
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Penn State's Devin Still is one of the most disruptive players and 2012 NFL draft class. His ability to get up the field and disrupt the timing of the offense will make him a highly sought-after prospect. That ability to get into the opposing backfield is what will allow him to see the field early in his career. Still is guaranteed to earn himself an early spot in the rotation.
Ideally, he'll find his way onto a team that runs a 4-3 and can plug him in at the 3-technique position. The way NFL teams prefer to rotate in fresh defensive linemen means Still will have no worries about getting early playing time.
Possible Destinations: Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos
Zach Brown, Linebacker, North Carolina
North Carolina's Zach Brown possesses the athletic ability to be a four-down player. This means that he will remain on the field in passing situations and contribute on special teams. Brown's quickness and sideline-to-sideline ability is what makes him such a dangerous player.
That range will make it impossible for any defensive coordinator to keep him on the sideline. Brown is only scratching the surface of his talents, with his best football ahead of him. His athleticism makes him a versatile player with endless possibilities. Brown might best fit in a 4-3 alignment, but he could also develop into an edge-rusher out of a 3-4 system.
Possible Destinations: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns
Courtney Upshaw, Linebacker, Alabama
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Alabama's Courtney Upshaw is one of my higher-rated prospects in the entire 2012 NFL draft class. His skill set makes him an ideal candidate to lineup at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Upshaw's ability to play the run and rush the passer will help him make instant contributions. He's an all-around good player, which is what will allow him to see the field early in his career.
There's no reason to think that Upshaw can't post double-digit sack numbers while also setting the edge against the run. He's got a come off the board early in the first round and may even crack the top 10.
Possible Destinations: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers
Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU
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The play of defenders like Darrelle Revis elevated the media coverage received by shutdown cornerbacks. Typically, these shutdown defenders receive little acknowledgment because they're so dominating that the ball rarely gets thrown their way. LSU's Morris Claiborne boasts the fluidity and quickness needed to lock down an opposing team's top target.
His experience against top-level SEC competition will help make for smoother transition into the NFL. Claiborne has a chance to crack the top five and become an instant starter in the NFL. He may not enter the league as a shutdown corner but he certainly will end his career as one.
Possible Destinations: Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama
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More and more NFL teams are looking for physical cornerbacks who can play bump-and-run coverage. These type of players allow the defensive coordinator to develop creative blitzes. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick doesn't shy away from contact and loves to be physical. His long arms help him shoot into the body of the receiver and disrupt the timing of the route.
Kirkpatrick is another player who faced top-level SEC competition week in and week out. His matchups against NFL-caliber athletes will help him quickly adjust to the next level.
Possible Destinations: Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, South Carolina
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South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore is one of my favorite players in this entire draft class. His toughness, quickness and experience will allow him to make early contributions. Gilmore's versatility makes him a fit for multiple schemes and positions. Some feel that he could even start his career at the safety position.
He's an ideal fit for a Cover 2 scheme where can support the run, read the quarterback and create turnovers. Gilmore has also shown that he can handle both kick and punt return duties. Expect to see him on the field in all defensive situations and kick coverage teams.
Possible Destinations: Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions