2012 NFL Draft: Predicting Which Rookies Will Have the Biggest Impact

Danny PaskasSenior Analyst IApril 29, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Predicting Which Rookies Will Have the Biggest Impact

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    You don't have to look too far to see which rookies are going to have the biggest impacts on their teams next season.

    The top three picks—Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson—are all expected to start from day one. All three automatically became the faces of their franchises when they were drafted. And all three will have the ball in their hands the majority of the time, playing positions that are easily measured by statistics.

    Because it's harder to measure a lineman's impact, quarterbacks and running backs get most of the glory or the blame. This can also be said about wide receivers and tight ends, but these positions hardly command the ball as much.

    Since the impact of offensive linemen are more difficult to determine, none appear on this list.

    Here are 10 rookies who will have the biggest impact next season. 

Robert Griffin III

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    While it will take a while to judge who turns out to be the better quarterback between Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, RG3 will have the quickest impact.

    Griffin is going to an offensive system that showcases his strengths. He will be featured in an offense that relies on a strong zone-blocking running game and a passing game that asks the QB to roll out, run bootlegs and motions.

    Last year at Baylor, while throwing for 4,293 yards and rushing for 699, Griffin showed that he is more than capable of doing just what Mike Shanahan's offense requires.

    Last season, the Washington Redskins were not a terrible team—well, at least not as terrible as the Indianapolis Colts. The Redskins defense ranked 13th in the league. They beat the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants twice and lost four games by a touchdown or less.

    If RG3 stays healthy all season, dare I say playoffs?   

Andrew Luck

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    Andrew Luck is supposed to be the most complete QB prospect since Peyton Manning. CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang called him the best he's ever scouted.

    While all that is real nice, Luck is going to an Indianapolis Colts team that finished with just two wins last season while ranking 30th in the league in total offense and 25th in total defense.

    Luck will improve the offense. The Colts drafted the best two tight ends available: Coby Fleener, who played with Luck at Stanford, and Dwayne Allen. Many say tight ends are a rookie quarterback's best friend.

    The Colts also drafted speedy slot receiver T.Y. Hilton to pair with the incumbent Reggie Wayne.

    Luck will put up some decent offensive numbers, just like Peyton Manning did in his rookie season with Indianapolis. Manning had 3,739 passing yards with 26 TDs and 28 interceptions, numbers that will be comparable to what Luck does this season.

    However, just as Peyton had to wait for the wins to come, so will Luck.

Trent Richardson

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    If he stays healthy, Trent Richardson should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    He is a complete back who can power his way through tackles or use his quickness to get to the outside. Richardson is also a good receiver out of the backfield.

    He's coming to a Cleveland Browns rushing attack that ranked 28th in the league last season. A major turnaround will happen, especially with new offensive coordinator Brad Childress. He will transform the offense into a West Coast style that will focus more on the run and short passes.

    After his five-year stint with the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson, Childress knows how to use a running back of Richardson's caliber.

Morris Claiborne

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    Two seasons ago, the Arizona Cardinals defense ranked 29th in the league. After last season, it ranked 18th. One major reason for the improvement was drafting another LSU cornerback, Patrick Peterson.

    Last season, Peterson had 64 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and 13 passes defended. He also was a huge presence in the return game, accounting for 699 return yards with four TDs.

    While Morris Claiborne is a little smaller than Peterson, he is every bit the prospect. As a former wide receiver, Claiborne is better than Peterson when the ball is in the air. Last year at LSU, Claiborne had six interceptions.

    Since he is going to start for a Dallas secondary that was one of the league's worst a season ago, Claiborne should have a similar impact to Peterson's in Arizona.

    The Defensive Rookie of the Year should come down to Claiborne and Tampa Bay's Mark Barron. 

Mark Barron

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    The last time a safety was drafted in the top 10 was in 2010 when the Kansas City Chiefs took Eric Berry of Tennessee with the fifth overall pick.

    In his rookie season, Berry had 92 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and nine passes defended to help a Kansas City defense improve from 29th in points allowed to 11th. He also was named to the Pro Bowl.

    Mark Barron was the top-rated safety in this year's draft, and was drafted seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has the same measurables as Berry.

    Berry, though, was more productive in college and appears to be a notch above Barron.

    While Barron has had some injury history, battling through a sports hernia and torn pectoral muscle, he should be healthy going into next season.

    He is going to a Tampa Bay team whose secondary last season allowed the second-most yards per passing play. Barron should be a major help in that regard.

    Barron is also strong in run support and is a complete safety. 

Brandon Weeden

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    Assuming Brandon Weeden wins the starting quarterback job from Colt McCoy, he should thrive with a running back like Trent Richardson in the same backfield.

    There is no precedent for drafting a 28-year-old QB in the first round, but the Cleveland Browns front office overlooked Weeden's age and chose him as their short-term solution at their most important position.

    Last year at Oklahoma State, Weeden accounted for 4,727 passing yards, 37 TDs and 13 interceptions, while completing 72.3 percent of his passes. He has the size, arm strength and maturity to succeed in the NFL.

    Plus, he will be leading a more run-oriented, West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Brad Childress that will emphasize the short passing game, thereby eliminating a lot of risk.

    If Weeden is the starter and remains healthy, he will have a season similar to Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton had last year when he passed for 3,398 yards, 20 TDs and 13 interceptions.

Dont'a Hightower

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    In a rare move, the New England Patriots did not trade out of the first round. By not doing so, they  greatly improved their defense—which ranked next to the league's worst—by drafting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower.

    Hightower is a 265-pound linebacker who is very versatile and will fit perfectly in the Pats' 3-4 defensive scheme.

    He can play on the inside or the outside, and can both stop the run and rush the passer.

    Hightower is also a leader. He was a two-time team captain at Alabama.

    According to ESPN, he was rated as the second-best inside linebacker in this year's draft.

Nick Perry

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    The Green Bay Packers have been searching for a pass-rusher to complement Clay Matthews. They finally found one this year in fellow USC product Nick Perry.

    Last season, the Packers had the league's worst total defense while also ranking among the league's worst in sacks with 29. The pass rush was an area of concern that needed to be addressed.

    Perry had 8.5 sacks last year at USC. What he lacks in size—he's only 6'3''—he makes up for with speed. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, which put him among the draft's fastest pass-rushers.

    With Green Bay's lack of depth, he should start right away.  

Brian Quick

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    Brian Quick of Appalachian State was selected by the St. Louis Rams with the first pick of the second round. He was the fifth receiver taken in this year's draft.

    The Rams liked him so much they ignored his small-school tag and took him over the likes of Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.

    While St. Louis' receiving depth chart features the oft-injured Steve Smith and not much else, the 6'3", 220-pound Quick is going to be one of QB Sam Bradford's top weapons sooner rather than later.

    Last year at Appalachian State, he had 71 receptions for 1,096 yards and 11 TDs, averaging 15.4 yards per catch.

    Quick will quickly become the Rams' deep threat and red-zone weapon.

    If Bradford can make WR Danny Amendola into an 85-reception receiver, as he did in 2010, he should be able to get Quick at least 60 receptions.

Coby Fleener

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    The Indianapolis Colts did Andrew Luck a huge favor when they drafted fellow Stanford Cardinal Coby Fleener with the second pick of the second round.

    Andrew Luck and Fleener spent three seasons together at Stanford. Each year their production together rose, as Fleener came down with 21 receptions his first season, 28 his second and 32 his third.

    Also, while Luck and Fleener only connected for one TD their first year together, they connected for 10 their third year.

    Their familiarity with each other should pay off at the next level, especially with Bruce Arians as the Colts' new offensive coordinator. Arians likes to use tight ends, including two-tight end sets.

    Also, as Luck adjusts to the speed of the game, Fleener should be the recipient of all the dump-downs.