Trent Richardson and NFL Rookies Under Most Pressure
It's hard enough for rookies to make an impact in the NFL, but that only increases after being a first-round selection in the draft.
Guys like Trent Richardson in Cleveland are expected to turn the team's fortune around. After all, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist and won two national championships with Alabama.
Along with Richardson, there are incoming rookies feeling much pressure as well. So, let's see who else joins Richardson with high expectations in 2012.
Robert Griffin III: QB, Redskins
The amount the Redskins gave up to get Robert Griffin III alone is enough to put him under pressure. Now include an upgraded receiving corps and all the NFC East's pass-rushers and RG3 will literally be facing pressure all season long.
He's the next expected franchise quarterback, as the Redskins haven't had one in quite some time, and according to John Keim of CBS Sports, coach Mike Shanahan named him the starter.
Obviously, this adds more pressure, but also think about fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins. Although Cousins wasn't a day one selection, he proved his consistency at Michigan State. And if Griffin slips up through training camp and early in the regular season, Cousins would be worth a look.
Now include RG3's overall talent of accuracy, mobility, arm strength and mechanics and he's supposed to spread the field, keep defenses off balance and rack up a lot of total yards. His production as a rookie, more than anything, will be vital to winning more in 2013 and beyond.
Trent Richardson: RB, Browns
The Browns haven't had a consistently dominant running back for quite a while and Trent Richardson is being counted on as that guy. He'll definitely make an impact from the get-go, because Richardson is a complete back that can pass-block, get yards after the catch and break away from initial contact.
Cleveland, unfortunately, plays a rough schedule even outside of the AFC North.
The entire NFC East and AFC West is part of the gauntlet, as are the Buffalo Bills. The Bills, Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, Cowboys and Giants will be among the toughest to run the ball against and the Browns can't totally rely on Richardson.
That said, he must be effective enough to make play-action relevant or defenses will simply get constant quarterback pressure.
With a non-threatening receiving corps to consistently beat single-coverage, Richardson has to dominate between the tackles, otherwise Cleveland's offense will remain well below average.
Morris Claiborne: CB, Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have a lot riding on Morris Claiborne, as they moved up eight spots to get him in the 2012 draft.
Last season, the Cowboys ranked No. 23 in pass defense and in seven of their eight losses Dallas allowed 20-plus points. Getting to play opposite of Brandon Carr, Big D has a near-complete secondary to take on their explosive schedule.
The NFC East alone pits high-powered offenses in the Giants and Eagles, while the Redskins do have potential.
Outside the division, Dallas has to shut down the entire NFC South (all four have explosive potential), AFC North (fast top receivers) and the Chicago Bears (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).
Claliborne got selected because he has impressive playmaking skills and can change the field position after a turnover. However, if he fails to step up in 2012, the Cowboys become more vulnerable downfield and the pass rush won't be as effective.
This, then, will cost Big D another shot at the division, like finishing 1-4 after a 7-4 start did in 2011.
Quinton Coples: DE, Jets
Inconsistency while in college is what's concerning about Quinton Coples, which then raises the bust potential despite his raw and supremely athletic talent.
Well, the New York Jets are providing Coples with an opportunity as they need to improve the pass rush and run defense. Coples comes to a defense that allowed an average of 22.7 points per game last season (ranked No. 20) and recorded just 35 sacks.
Coples will likely contribute at defensive end instead of outside linebacker in Rex Ryan's 3-4 front, as he doesn't have much experience sinking into coverage. The Jets also play an abundance of solid running teams in Jacksonville, Houston, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego outside the AFC East.
So, Coples must improve at reacting quicker to the run and use his explosiveness to control gaps. We know he's going to have success as a pass-rusher since that's his specialty, but the pressure of contributing every down on a consistent basis is where Gang Green needs him the most.
And if Coples fails to develop against the run, then his pass-rushing skill set will gradually diminish.
John Rozum on Twitter.
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