2012 NFL Draft Predictions: Predicting the Top 8 Rookie of the Year Candidates
The NFL free-agency period started Tuesday and the draft is still a month away, and while all the prognostications are about who will end up where, it's still fun to think about actual football on the field.
Every August, the NFL sees over 300 new players in training camps, hoping to make an impression with their new team.
High draft picks know they are under the microscope and will most likely be counted on to make a large contribution immediately. Other late draft picks or free agents are hoping just to make some kind of impact that causes their name to stick with coaches.
Once camp breaks and all the preseason games are mercifully over, only a handful of rookies have a huge impact on the NFL landscape.
Predicting how a rookie will perform is one of the hardest things to project before the season. So many times players who were "sure things" become total flame outs and every so often the 199th pick in the draft becomes Tom Brady.
Now that the combines are over and pro days wrapping up, certain players on both sides of the ball are starting to separate themselves from the class. Whether that will translate to success on the field remains to be seen.
As it stands now, it is anybody's guess who will make the biggest impact on offense and defense as a rookie. But let's have some fun and debate the leading candidates for NFL Rookie of the Year on both sides of the ball.
Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates
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In order to be a top Rookie of the Year candidate, a player needs two things: talent and opportunity.
It seems the one thing that matters the least in identifying Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates is draft position.
The past two Rookies of the Year were selected No. 1 overall (Cam Newton and Sam Bradford), but before that, the top selection in the NFL draft hadn't won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award since George Rogers did so in 1981.
In between Rogers and Bradford's wins, players drafted as low as No. 189 (Mike Anderson, 2000 Broncos) and No. 99 (Troy Stradford 1987 Dolphins) took home the hardware.
However, the trend may be changing. In four of the past six years, players drafted in the top three have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In the 16 years prior to Vince Young's 2006 win, only Marshall Faulk (No. 2 overall, 1994) was a top-three pick.
This year with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III slated to be the first and second picks, respectively, you would think that odds are that it will become five out of seven years when a top-three pick wins the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But don't make your decision so fast...
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Andrew Luck may be the surefire No. 1 pick in the draft, but he is far from the top early choice for Rookie of the Year.
If you check in with this draft in 2017, Luck might be considered the top player of the draft class. But the situation he is walking into will keep him from making a difference immediately.
In addition to the purge of aging veterans, the Colts have also reshaped their front office and given Chuck Pagano the first head coaching job of his life.
All of this smacks of a steep learning curve for everyone involved, including Luck.
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Of the top candidates, Justin Blackmon is the longest shot to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Despite his sublime talent and impressive pro day workout, Blalckmon could be at a disadvantage right from the start.
First, wide receiver is the one of the toughest position to adapt to in the NFL, second only to quarterback.
As a barometer, Calvin Johnson was drafted second overall in 2007 and while he dominated the league last year, he had just 48 catches for 756 yards during his rookie year.
While Blackmon is certainly a top prospect, he isn't on the level that Johnson was in 2007.
Also hindering Blackmon's chances at a Rookie of the Year award is his possible landing spot in Jacksonville, which is being predicted by Bleacher Report's Matt MIller.
The one thing working in Blackmon's favor is that the Rams may also consider drafting him. If that's the case, Blackmon will be the top receiving option on a team with a legitimate quarterback.
But if he has Blaine Gabbert throwing to him in Jacksonville, expect Blackmon to take a few years before he puts up the type of numbers he is capable of.
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Trent Richardson's Rookie of the Year candidacy is the most difficult to project out of the major candidates.
While his talent is unquestioned, the impact he has on the NFL depends greatly on where he ends up.
If Tampa passes on Richardson, not many of the next eight teams have a burning need at running back.
At 5'11", 225 pounds, Richardson is a load at running back and after rushing for 1,679 yards at Alabama last year, Richardson is eager to take on the NFL.
If he does land in Tampa Bay as projected, Richardson could have a real impact immediately.
Add Richardson into the mix and he has the opportunity to succeed in a suddenly dangerous offense.
However, if the Bucs decide to address a more pressing need in the draft (they do still have LeGarrette Blount at RB) Richardson could fall to anyone.
If he does fall, the quality of the offense and the work load he will carry will determine if he will remain a top Rookie of the Year candidate.
Robert Griffin III
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To nobody's surprise, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen have embarked on an over-the-top revamp of their offense after another disappointing season.
The Redskins traded a bounty for the right to draft Robert Griffin III and signed Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan on the first day of free agency.
Although the Redskins were just saddled with an $18 million cap space penalty for each of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, it may work in Griffin's favor as far as his Rookie of the Year case.
After the Garcon and Morgan signings and with London Fletcher still seeking to re-sign, the Redskins may not be able to afford many more weapons on offense, forcing Griffin to take on an even bigger role.
With the Redskins banking so much on Griffin's future, the Heisman trophy winner will be handed the reigns immediately.
That bodes well for his Rookie of the Year chances.
What makes Griffin the leading candidate, though, is that his style of play should allow him to put up the best all-around numbers in the rookie class.
Griffin's mark in games will not just be seen in passing statistics, but also in the Redskins rushing attack.
After the impression Cam Newton made last year, if Griffin is able to approach the same type of season Newton had, he should walk away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates
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While Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates seem to come from any spot in the draft, the Defensive Rookie of the Year has historically been one of the top 20 draft picks.
In fact, over the past 15 years, only two winners were picked lower than 16th overall.
Taking it even further, since Lawrence Taylor won the award in 1981, only Erik McMillan (Jets, 1988), Hugh Douglass (Jets, 1995), Kendrell Bell (Steelers, 2001) and DeMeco Ryans (Texans, 2006) won the award after being picked outside the first round.
High draft picks on defense are usually the best athletes in the draft. Having dominant athletic skills allows players to still produce whether they know defensive schemes or not.
As physically gifted as a player is, the impact he has on a team also weighs heavily in the race for the Rookie of the Year.
Last year's winner, Von Miller, was utterly dominant during his freshman campaign recording 11.5 sacks and helped the Broncos jump from dead last in the league in total defense in 2010 to 20th in 2011.
This year's class has a number of candidates who could make a significant impact for whoever drafts them.
Here are the top four candidates:
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Over the past 25 years, Charles Woodson (Raiders, 1998) and Dale Carter (Chiefs, 1992) have been the only cornerbacks to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Morris Claiborne has a real chance to join that club in 2012.
Claiborne is an elite athlete who is a true game-changer at cornerback. Claiborne was a teammate of the insanely gifted Patrick Peterson and some feel that Claiborne played as well, or better than Peterson did at LSU.
His ball-hawking skills will give him plenty of opportunities to make game-changing plays and land himself on SportsCenter and have Twitter trends buzzing on a weekly basis.
Claiborne could be the first defensive player taken in the draft and will have all eyes on him immediately. If he pays dividends right away, the NFL world (and AP voters) will be watching right from the start.
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Nick Perry is the best defensive end in the draft and that immediately makes him a top Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
The likely top-10 pick is a beast at 6'3", 271 pounds and ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Perry is far from a complete player and he may struggle against the run early on, but he should have no problem getting to the quarterback.
If Perry goes to a struggling defense and is able to turn them around with double-digit sacks the way Von Miller did for the Broncos in 2011, Perry will stand out among the defensive elite in 2012.
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Luke Kuechly's Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy is based on the fact that he is an outright tackling machine.
Kuechly isn't going to be a top-10 draft choice and popular opinion has him going to Philadelphia with the 15th overall pick. If Kuechly does end up in Philadelphia he will have the perfect opportunity to make a huge impact and establish himself as a Rookie of the Year favorite.
In 2011, the Eagles allowed 112 yards rushing a game and the obvious weak spot of their defense was right down the middle. Things got so bad that the much-maligned Casey Matthews, who was completely overwhelmed early in 2011, was forced into a starting role late in the season.
If Kuechly steps into that middle linebacker spot and makes people forget about Matthews, he will be hailed as a hero in Philadelphia.
While Kuechly won't have major sack numbers, he could have similar production to Jerod Mayo and Brian Cushing, the 2008 and 2009 Defensive Rookies of the Year. If he is able to top the 100-tackle plateau in his first year, his name will certainly be in the mix.
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Courtney Upshaw's Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign is not based on the fact that he will be a high draft pick or have huge numbers. If he is picked in the top 10 with the idea that he will come in and turn a terrible defense into a respectable unit, that team is likely to be disappointed.
Upshaw's candidacy is predicated on the idea that he will land somewhere in the middle of the first round and solidify a team who has many pieces in place already.
Picture the following scenario:
Upshaw lands on "Team X," an underachieving unit in 2011 that had fans calling for wide-scale changes across the board. He does yeoman's work in 2012 at outside linebacker, playing strong against the run, contributing key sacks and holding his own in pass coverage. "Team X" sees a huge upgrade in play on their overall defense in 2012 and Upshaw gets all the credit.