50 NFL Rookies Who Will Battle for Serious Playing Time in 2012-13
Now that the 2012 NFL draft is over, we can begin speculating upon which rookies will be battling for serious playing time in the upcoming season.
Some prospects (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) won't have much of a battle at all to get into the starting lineup. However, prospects drafted in the later rounds, or prospects who are viewed more as developmental, will have quite the battle on their hands in the offseason.
Here is a look at 50 rookies who will battle for serious playing time in 2012-13.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Arizona Cardinals
With one cornerback position already locked up in Patrick Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals went out and drafted Jamell Fleming in the third round of the draft.
Fleming is one of the more complete cornerbacks entering the draft. He excels in zone coverage but is also physical enough to play some man-to-man. His ability to contribute on special teams should also help him see plenty of playing time.
While A.J. Jefferson and William Gay may currently be higher on the depth chart than Fleming, once they get into training camp, don't be surprised to see Fleming lock down a starting cornerback position.
The tandem of Peterson and Fleming will be one of the better young tandems in the league.
Bobby Massie, OT, Arizona Cardinals
Just one round after getting Jamell Fleming, the Arizona Cardinals got another steal of a pick in offensive tackle Bobby Massie.
This was an incredible value pick for the Cardinals, as Massie is an enormous tackle with great strength and quickness. There is a great possibility that Massie will start the 2012 season as the starting right tackle.
With left tackle Levi Brown on such thin ice, we could even see Massie make the switch to left tackle if he proves capable enough. Either way, Massie is going to be seeing plenty of playing time in the upcoming season.
Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Without many draft picks to work with, the only rookie likely to start for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012 is offensive lineman Peter Konz.
However, one name to keep an eye on is Jonathan Massaquoi. This is a high-motor player who knows how to get after the quarterback. In a pass-happy NFC South, the Falcons will take any type of pressure they can get on the quarterback.
Massaquoi will definitely see the field in pass-rushing situations, and if Ray Edwards struggles again, we could definitely see the rookie's role increase as the year goes on.
Tommy Streeter, WR, Baltimore Ravens
While Tommy Streeter isn't quite as quick as Torrey Smith coming into the league, he does have great speed and athleticism.
He still needs to improve his hands and route-running ability before he is ready to make a huge impact, but with the Baltimore Ravens looking to improve their pass game, Streeter is an intriguing prospect. He is a definite mismatch, and as a third weapon, he could really thrive.
As long as Streeter shows improvement, he should fight for some serious playing time.
Zebrie Sanders, OT, Buffalo Bills
Zebrie Sanders was just one of many offensive linemen that fell throughout the draft. Even new teammate Cordy Glenn wasn't taken until the second round.
Due to the experience that Sanders brings to the field, he could work his way up the depth chart and get some playing time at right tackle. He isn't athletic enough to play left tackle, but he has the physicality to become quite the right tackle.
With Glenn likely to start at left tackle or guard, Sanders could easily join him in the starting lineup week after week.
Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have some talent at cornerback, but Josh Norman has the potential to become the best cornerback on the entire roster.
He's a small-school prospect, so he'll need time to get used to the competition. However, he has all the skills and abilities you could want as a shutdown cornerback.
If Norman can show a knack for creating turnovers, which he can certainly do, the Panthers would be foolish to keep him off the field.
Joe Adams, WR, Carolina Panthers
It's likely that Joe Adams will begin the season as the No. 3 receiver for the Carolina Panthers. While he'll see some playing time in that position, I believe it won't be too long before he becomes an every-down starter for Carolina.
Adams is a little undersized, much like Steve Smith, but he was considered one of the most explosive players in the entire 2012 NFL draft. He's dynamic with the ball in his hands, and he should bring some excitement to the offense in Carolina.
Look for Adams to have a superb rookie season and become one of Cam Newton's favorite targets early on.
Evan Rodriguez, TE/FB, Chicago Bears
As a pure tight end, Evan Rodriguez isn't likely to see much playing time. However, thanks to his athleticism and versatility, Rodriguez will be able to contribute in a number of ways for the Chicago Bears.
He might be best utilized as an H-back, much like the New England Patriots use Aaron Hernandez. While Rodriguez isn't quite as dynamic as Hernandez, if used in a similar manner, he could become quite the weapon for Chicago.
It will be interesting to see how fast Rodriguez acclimates to the pro game. If he does it quickly, he should help to make the Bears offense one of the best in the league.
Brandon Thompson, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
With one of the best young defenses in the league, it won't be easy for Brandon Thompson to get consistent playing time for the Cincinnati Bengals. This seems even more true when you consider Geno Atkins and fellow rookie Devon Still are on the roster.
However, what Thompson brings to the table is an elite ability to rush the quarterback as a defensive tackle. Thompson has a great deal of potential and appears to truly love the game of football.
He'll start the preseason low on the depth chart, but as long as he shows the ability to get into the backfield, the Bengals won't be able to keep him off the field for too long.
George Iloka, FS, Cincinnati Bengals
There was a time when people were talking about George Iloka (pictured, in blue) as a potential first-round prospect. However, he fell to the third day, and the Cincinnati Bengals got quite the steal of a player in the fifth round.
The biggest issue surrounding Iloka concerns the mental part of his game. He has all the physical tools you want in a free safety, but he appears to struggle with the intricacies of the game.
While the Bengals have a solid starter at free safety in Reggie Nelson, if Iloka can figure out the game quickly, he could become quite the safety. He could make the Bengals figure out how to put him on the field somewhere with some solid play.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns
There are people out there that hate that the Cleveland Browns drafted Brandon Weeden in the first round. I'm not one of those people.
Despite his age, Weeden looks like a fantastic quarterback who should be ready to contribute early in his career. He'll definitely be in a battle for starting quarterback with Colt McCoy, and I fully believe that Weeden wins that battle.
The Browns need to revamp their entire offense, and Weeden will be a good start to that task.
James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Cleveland Browns
Even though the Cleveland Browns already have a talented middle linebacker in D'Qwell Jackson, I like the potential that James-Michael Johnson brings to the field.
Johnson is one of the best pure tacklers that was drafted, and he excels at playing in tight spaces. He displayed great instincts and reaction during his college career, and if he can translate those skills to the NFL, he could become quite the player.
With Jackson's history of injuries, Johnson could see the field early in his career, and with his overall ability, I don't expect him to get off the field once he is on.
Tyrone Crawford, DE, Dallas Cowboys
As a third-round pick, Tyrone Crawford will likely begin the 2012 season as a rotational player for the Dallas Cowboys.
However, Crawford is an ideal player for the 3-4 defense the Cowboys run thanks to his ability to make an impact against both the run and the pass. He isn't athletic enough to play opposite linebacker, but as a 5-technique defensive lineman, Crawford has the potential to succeed greatly.
He'll be another dynamic weapon for the Cowboys as they look to continue to improve their defense.
Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions drafting Ronnell Lewis in the fourth round was one of the best steals in the entire draft.
Lewis is a little undersized but has a unique ability to get after the quarterback in a number of ways. Playing in the same division as Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, the Lions could use all the pass-rushers they can get.
It's likely that Lewis will start as a situational player, but if he shows potential to consistently get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he'll see his role increase greatly.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions
Had Ryan Broyles not suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the 2011 season, this pick in the second round by the Detroit Lions wouldn't seem like much of a reach at all.
During his career at Oklahoma, Broyles set numerous records and was one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country. The big issue with Broyles is how healthy he'll be as a rookie.
If Broyles is healthy enough to get into training camp, we could definitely see him become Matthew Stafford's second option behind Calvin Johnson due to his hands and ability to make plays after the catch.
Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers had one of the worst pass defenses in he entire NFL last season. With players like Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett, it was rather surprising.
That poor play in the secondary caused the Packers to trade up in the second round to grab Casey Hayward out of Vanderbilt. While Hayward certainly won't start at cornerback over Williams or Woodson, there is one scenario where he could have the opportunity to fight for playing time.
With the Packers releasing Nick Collins, they need to find a replacement at free safety. One option would be to move Woodson to safety, which would open the door for Hayward to get a chance for quality playing time.
While this scenario isn't extremely likely, it is definitely a possibility.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers had needs across their entire defense, including their defensive line. While Jerel Worthy won't likely replace B.J. Raji at defensive tackle, he should get a chance to play at defensive end opposite Ryan Pickett.
Worthy is a talented player who has the ability to rush the quarterback. That is exactly what Green Bay needs, and as long as Worthy can provide that, he should see plenty of playing time.
Look for the Packers defense to be much improved after spending their first six picks in the draft on the defensive side of the ball.
Jared Crick, DT/DE, Houston Texans
It was rather shocking to see Jared Crick fall all the way to the fourth round, but the Houston Texans were certainly thankful that he did.
Crick doesn't have an extremely high ceiling, but he is a player that can come in and produce instantly for Houston. While he won't replace the production that Mario Williams had given them since 2006, he should become a solid contributor during his rookie season.
Josh Chapman, DT, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts needed help at nearly every position on their roster, and to be honest, they did a pretty good job at filling some major needs.
One of my favorite picks in the entire draft was the Colts taking Josh Chapman in the fifth round. He's an ideal nose tackle in a 3-4 defense (which the Colts are transitioning to this season), and his massive body will instantly improve their run defense.
Expect Chapman to thrive in the Colts' defensive front and get a chance to get on the field early and often as a rookie.
Mike Harris, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Much like the Indianapolis Colts, the Jacksonville Jaguars needed help at numerous positions on their roster. Cornerback was one of those positions, even after signing Aaron Ross in the offseason.
While Mike Harris is definitely a raw prospect, his athleticism and potential talent are absolutely mouthwatering. He has the ability to become an elite playmaker at cornerback, and if he reaches that potential quicker than some think he will, he will be too good to not start at cornerback.
Even if Harris takes some time to develop, he should fight for playing time simply because of his ball skills.
Devon Wylie, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs are loaded with talent at wide receiver, but Devon Wylie brings a different game than guys like Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin.
Wylie is an ideal slot receiver and reminds many of a young Wes Welker. If Wylie lives up to even half of that comparison, it will be hard to keep him off the field.
Even if Wylie struggles to find the field as a receiver as a rookie, he will definitely get a chance to return some kicks and punts.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
There is a lot to like about Ryan Tannehill's potential as a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
He's widely regarded as a project player who will take a year or two before he's ready to play, but he could definitely find his way onto the field much sooner than that.
If Tannehill can have a productive training camp and preseason, he'll force his coaches to take a hard look at starting him from the first game of the regular season. If that doesn't happen, look for Tannehill to definitely get a shot further down the road, especially if the Miami Dolphins are having a poor season.
Michael Egnew, TE, Miami Dolphins
Before the 2011 college season, Michael Egnew was regarded as one of the top tight ends in all of college football. However, a difficult campaign saw his stock drop to where the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the third round.
Egnew struggles to block, but he has the athleticism and hands to create constant matchup problems with linebackers and safeties. He does a great job at adjusting to the ball and could really become a top target in the red zone for the Dolphins.
His athleticism alone will force the Dolphins to get him on the field in a number of ways, and if he can get back to his 2010 form, he could steal the starting job from Anthony Fasano.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
Getting Lamar Miller in the fourth round was one of the greatest value picks in the entire draft. This is a kid who has all the ability to become a franchise running back in the NFL.
There are questions about his experience as a starter, but based on talent alone, Miller should definitely see plenty of the field as a rookie. With Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas prone to injuries, Miller could see even more time if one or both of those players goes down in 2012.
It won't be long before Miller makes a name for himself in the NFL, and it could certainly be as soon as this year.
B.J. Cunningham, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins did a great job at loading up with talent that can contribute right away for them. Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham is another one of those players.
With the loss of Brandon Marshall, Cunningham enters an ideal situation in Miami. He has sound hands and is quick and physical enough to make plays after the catch.
Without a true No. 1 receiver on the roster, Cunningham should have a chance to get on the field pretty quickly as a rookie.
Josh Robinson, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Playing against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler twice a year forces you to have a talented secondary. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case for the Minnesota Vikings in recent years.
Josh Robinson is an overly talented player who needs to improve his footwork and technique to truly make an impact in the league. However, he's shown to be coachable, and if he learns quickly, he could end up starting the regular season at cornerback.
Even if he isn't starting, Robinson should get some playing time as a nickel cornerback.
Greg Childs, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Another position of need during the NFL draft for the Minnesota Vikings was wide receiver. While they didn't address that need early in the draft, they found quite the steal with Greg Childs late in the fourth round.
Childs is a big, athletic receiver who has displayed reliable hands. His route-running ability needs to be developed, but he could become Christian Ponder's favorite target in the red zone.
His biggest issue is a knee injury suffered his junior season, but if he gets healthy from that, he has the potential to become the No. 1 receiver in Minnesota.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, New England Patriots
Alfonzo Dennard was once considered an early-round draft pick thanks to his size and instincts. However, some poor performances before the draft dropped him way down teams' boards to where the New England Patriots scooped him up in the seventh round.
The one thing that the Patriots will love about Dennard is that he goes 110 percent on every single play. Even if he gets beat on the previous play, it never makes him play any worse on the following play.
The Patriots should be able to keep Dennard out of trouble off the field, and he could end up seeing quite a bit of playing time as a rookie.
Nick Toon, WR, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints lost Robert Meachem during free agency, but Nick Toon could replace his production as a rookie.
Few receivers coming into the draft were as productive as Toon when he was on the field. The big problem was keeping Toon on the field; he struggled with injuries at Wisconsin.
If Toon is truly healthy and can stay that way, his size and precise route-running ability should make him a favorite target for Drew Brees.
Jayron Hosley, CB, New York Giants
Even though Jayron Hosley may be a little undersized, he plays much bigger than he actually is.
He's physical and is one of the better cornerbacks at making plays on the ball. While the New York Giants have a deep secondary, Hosley is talented enough to make a big impact as a rookie.
Look for him to establish himself as a legitimate Week 1 starter for New York.
Demario Davis, ILB, New York Jets
The New York Jets will likely move Demario Davis to inside linebacker. Even though he isn't used to that position, he has the skills to produce at there.
Davis has great instincts and can make plays all over the field. He has elite sideline-to-sideline speed and can play against both the run and pass.
He enters a difficult situation behind two quality starters in David Harris and Bart Scott, but the potential is definitely there for Davis to make an impact as a rookie.
Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets
When describing Stephen Hill, "raw" and "athletic" are two very good words to use.
Hill is one of the most athletic prospects drafted, as he has incredible speed and leaping ability. He definitely needs to improve as a route-runner but should establish himself as an elite vertical threat as a rookie.
Considering the issues that Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes have had in the past, Hill could quickly become Sanchez's favorite target and have a fantastic rookie season.
Juron Criner, WR, Oakland Raiders
There wasn't much opportunity for the Oakland Raiders to find starting-caliber rookies in this draft, but they may have found a gem in Juron Criner from Arizona.
Criner enters the league as a polished prospect with the ideal size and hands to make an instant impact on offense. He'll fight for the No. 3 receiver position for Oakland with a great chance to quickly move up the depth chart.
Look for Criner to become one of Carson Palmer's favorite receivers thanks to his reliability.
Brandon Boykin, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
I know that the Philadelphia Eagles already have Nnamdi Asomugha and and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie starting at cornerback—and yes, I don't expect Brandon Boykin to take either of their starting spots.
However, with the NFC East one of the top passing divisions in the NFL, the Eagles will likely use many three-cornerback defensive sets. That is exactly where Boykin comes in. He plays much bigger and stronger than his frame might suggest, and his athleticism makes him a weapon with the ball in his hands.
The Eagles lost Asante Samuel but picked up a capable replacement in Boykin.
Marvin McNutt, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
When you think of the Philadelphia Eagles receivers, you think of speed because of players like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
With Marvin McNutt, the Eagles are getting a huge target with reliable hands and the ability to make plays after the catch. There is a lot to like about McNutt's game, and getting him in the sixth round was an absolute steal for Philadelphia.
While McNutt certainly won't be a starter in Philadelphia's offense, he has a great shot to start the year as a No. 3 receiver and a major threat in the red zone.
Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
I'm sure the plan for Alameda Ta'amu is to have him learn behind Casey Hampton until Hampton is ready to retire.
However, Ta'amu already has the talent to fight Hampton for playing time. He has a massive body and excels at plugging up running lanes.
With Hampton entering his 12th season in the NFL, Ta'amu should get plenty of opportunities to show just how talented he really is.
Chris Rainey, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
This was one of my favorite late-round picks in the entire draft.
While Chris Rainey is small (like, really small), there is no doubting his incredible ability to make plays once the ball is in his hands. He will enter the league as one of its fastest players, and the Pittsburgh Steelers would be wise to figure out how to get the ball in his hands on a regular basis.
Don't be surprised if Rainey shocks some people by putting together a solid overall season as a rookie contributor.
Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates has been one of the NFL's most productive tight ends over the years, but injuries in the past two seasons have really started to drop his production.
There are a lot of similarities between Gates and Ladarius Green, including their size and athleticism. With the loss of Vincent Jackson in the offseason, the San Diego Chargers are going to need more weapons on offense.
Green has the ability to create mismatches in the secondary, and a combination of him and Gates could become rather deadly for opposing defenses.
Cam Johnson, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Cam Johnson is oozing with athleticism and potential. To see him available to the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round was quite the surprise.
While it will be difficult for Johnson to crack the starting lineup for a talented 49ers defense, he could definitely find himself being a solid backup contributor.
There is a lot to like about Johnson's game. His versatility will likely be loved by San Francisco.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis Rams
Janoris Jenkins has the potential to become the top cornerback in this draft.
As long as he can keep his head on straight, he should make a huge impact as a rookie and give the St. Louis Rams a talented cornerback duo in Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan.
Isaiah Pead, RB, St. Louis Rams
With Steven Jackson's knack for getting sidelined with injuries, Isaiah Pead could end up getting plenty of starting time as a rookie.
Even if he is placed in a backup role, Pead is a dynamic running back who gives the St. Louis Rams another explosive weapon. Few running backs have the ability to make plays in space like Pead does.
Look for the Rams to work Pead into their offense immediately and for Pead to reward them with solid contributions in a number of ways.
Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams
Adding weapons was an absolute must for the St. Louis Rams, and Chris Givens is a late-round prospect who should get some solid playing time.
The one thing that Sam Bradford has lacked these past two seasons is a true vertical threat, and now he has one in Givens. With great speed and hands, Givens could end up becoming one of the premier deep threats in the league.
When Givens was announced as the Rams' pick in the fourth round, I'm sure Bradford was giddy.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As the second-best running back available behind Trent Richardson, Doug Martin has the ability to be an every-down running back early in his career.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers already have LeGarrette Blount on their roster, Martin brings a much more complete game to the field than Blount. Not only is Martin terrific on the ground, but he can also make an impact through the air and is a willing blocker.
If Martin can put together a solid game or two at the start of the 2012 season, Tampa Bay might decide to forget about Blount altogether.
Lavonte David, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is a lot to love about Lavonte David's abilities on the football field.
Despite being an undersized outside linebacker, David is a vicious hitter who can fly around the field. He plays with a nonstop motor and is never afraid of some contact.
He'll push Adam Hayward for a starting outside linebacker position and should be one of the more productive defensive rookies in the league.
Zach Brown, OLB, Tennessee Titans
There is a lot to be excited about for the Tennessee Titans regarding Zach Brown. For starters, few linebackers are as athletic as Brown. He uses that elite athleticism to consistently get pressure on the quarterback.
There is also something that could keep Brown off the field, and that is the fact that he struggles mightily against the run. He constantly gets beat at the point of attack, and that just can't happen for an NFL player.
Brown is likely to get a chance to prove what he can do for Tennessee as a rookie, and if he shows the potential to put forth some type of effort against the run, he could possibly end up starting at outside linebacker.
Markelle Martin, FS, Tennessee Titans
Markelle Martin was the best free safety prospect in this year's draft, and his fall all the way to the sixth round was rather surprising.
Martin is oozing with athleticism and the ability to make plays on the ball. He needs to improve his consistency, but he also has the potential to be a special player.
He isn't likely to replace Michael Griffin as the starting free safety, but his playmaking skills will force Tennessee to figure out how to get him on the field.
Chase Minnifield, CB, Washington Redskins
As an undrafted free agent, Chase Minnifield has quite the work cut out for him to even make the Washington Redskins roster.
However, Minnifield displays quality footwork and technique with the ability to consistently make plays in the secondary. Had he not struggled as a senior, he would have likely been one of the first cornerbacks drafted this year.
The Redskins could absolutely use another playmaker on defense, and Minnifield has the potential to do that.
Aaron Henry, FS, Oakland Raiders
Of all the undrafted free agents, Aaron Henry could become the best NFL player.
There isn't one aspect of his physical game that isn't to like as an NFL player. He has all the physical tools to succeed. However, where he struggles is with the mental part of the game.
As of right now, he makes too many mental errors and seems to struggle with certain concepts of the game. If he can really put his mind into the game, he has the potential to become a starting safety early in his career.
Jeff Fuller, WR, Miami Dolphins
Jeff Fuller not getting drafted was one of the bigger surprises of the NFL draft. He was considered a top prospect as a junior, but his game really fell as a senior, which caused him to slide down draft boards.
However, if Fuller can get refocused on the game of football, he has the abilities to become quite the player. The fact that he'll be reunited with his college quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be a big help to him.
Look for Fuller to use his size, speed and potential to make an early impact and become one of Tannehill's favorite receivers.
Malik Jackson, DT, Denver Broncos
Malik Jackson is likely too raw of a prospect to start at defensive tackle for the Denver Broncos, but he has the potential to become a solid contributor for the team almost instantly.
Jackson has a big frame but is quick enough to consistently beat offensive linemen. The first and most important thing for Jackson to do is improve on his technique and hand placement.
There is a lot to like about Jackson's game, and one interesting scenario would be if the Broncos moved him to defensive end, where he could use his athleticism to create pressure off the edge. If that happens, look for Jackson to get a major boost in playing time as a rookie.