OU Football: Which Former Player Will Have the Best Rookie NFL Season in 2012?

Alex Joseph@alex_brosephAnalyst IMay 16, 2012

Seven Oklahoma Sooners were selected in April's NFL draft; that wasn't surprising. What was surprising, however, was the order in which their names were announced.

For those of you who weren't able to watch the draft, read about the draft, or even know the draft already took place, here's a recap of when each Sooner was selected and what their new team is:

  • Ryan Broyles, 2nd Round, Pick No. 54 (Detroit Lions)
  • Donald Stephenson, 3rd Round, Pick No. 74 (Kansas City Chiefs)
  • Jamell Fleming, 3rd Round, Pick No. 80 (Arizona Cardinals)
  • Frank Alexander, 4th Round, Pick No. 103 (Carolina Panthers)
  • Ronnell Lewis, 4th Round, Pick No. 125 (Detroit Lions)
  • James Hanna, 6th Round, Pick No. 186 (Dallas Cowboys)
  • Travis Lewis, 7th Round, Pick No. 223 (Detroit Lions) 

Yes, you read that correctly: The Detroit Lions nabbed not one, not two, but three Sooners in last month's draft. Needless to say, if you are a fan of the Sooners, you are now almost obligated to be a fan of the Lions.

Before I get into the analysis of which former Sooner will have the best rookie season in 2012, I think it's important to analyze the question itself.

"Which former player will have the best rookie NFL season in 2012?" That's a complicated question.

First, we have to decipher what exactly "best" means. Normally, in an instance like this, "best" would be in regards of statistics. It's easy to look at a box score and say, "That guy had a really solid game/season based on what I'm seeing on paper."

If that's the case, then there's only one right answer: Ryan Broyles. Broyles is the easy selection for two reasons.

First, he's the only player listed that is going to produce offensive stats, which in all circumstances are more identifiable than defensive.

For example, if Broyles has four catches for 50 yards in a game as opposed to Ronnell Lewis having four tackles in a game, odds are that you're going to look at the box score and see Broyles' stats first. You're also likely to identify Broyles as "having a better game" completely based on those stats.

Secondly, I truly believe Broyles will have the most statistically productive season of anybody listed. Had he never suffered his ACL injury, there's a chance he could have been a late-first-round draft pick.

Alas, after successful rehab and a promising pro day, Broyles still made it clear to the Lions that he warranted a second-round selection. By continuing his rehab through the summer, Broyles hopes to be 100 percent by the team the season rolls around.

In Detroit, Broyles will be a perfect complement to Calvin Johnson. Although his frame says "slot receiver" (and I'm sure he'll be a great one), Broyles' strength and sure hands will also make him an effective target on the outside.

I expect big things out of Broyles in Detroit, so, clearly, he's going to be at the top of the list for "best" rookie season based on statistics.

However, should other things be factored into our predetermined opinion for what qualifies as a "best" season? What about development? What about challenging yourself and your teammates to earn a spot in the starting lineup?

Let's face the facts: After Broyles, the rest of the list doesn't exactly qualify as "guys who will no doubt come in and be starters." However, that doesn't limit the potential the rest of these guys have.

There are only two other guys on this list that I think could qualify as having the best rookie season, but let's address the other four guys first.

James Hanna, Travis Lewis, Ronnell Lewis and Jamell Fleming are all guys who I believe will either pan out to be starters or at least rotational players. However, I don't believe any of them will amass enough playing time to be considered for "best rookie season."

Hanna could fight for the No. 2 tight end spot on the depth chart in Dallas, but with Jason Witten still around and productive, odds are Hanna will be seeing quite a bit of special teams play.

Both Travis Lewis and Ronnell Lewis are destined to be special teams stars, as well. Travis will bring his work ethic, toughness and leadership skills to Detroit, and that will give him more opportunities to earn a spot in the linebacker rotation.

Ronnell's athleticism and body scream first-round talent, but who knows what position he's going to play in the NFL. At Oklahoma, he was a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, and while I think he's best suited to play outside linebacker in Detroit, it may take a year of trying stuff out before he steps into a starting role or into the rotation.

While Fleming is likely going to be a special teams guy as well during his rookie campaign, he has the best chance of competing for a starting position out of the aforementioned names. The Cardinals already have one star at cornerback in Patrick Peterson, but Fleming could develop into his opposite field counterpart.

The key word there, though, is "develop."

That only leaves two Sooners that have gone unmentioned: defensive end Frank Alexander and offensive tackle Donald Stephenson. These guys are the winners of the "best" rookie season if we're going to talk about terms of development and growth.

That's not to say that Broyles won't be challenged or won't do  his own developing, but he's going to get a chance to start from day one if he's healthy. Alexander and Stephenson are really going to have to earn it.

The Carolina Panthers are in desperate need of finding more pass-rushers to help out Greg Hardy, and Alexander could bring his much-improved work ethic to the team and challenge for a starting position.

Alexander is coming off a career season at Oklahoma, and competing against other young guys on the Panthers defensive line is going to drastically  help in his development and growth as a player. He may not win a starting position, but he will be going to be in the rotation.

In terms of statistics, Alexander is going to have the second most productive season behind Broyles, but he's going to have a better season (maybe the best) in terms of challenging himself in order to become a better player.

As for Stephenson, there's a chance that he could see a position change in Kansas City, but my assumption is that he'll remain a left tackle. He has the size (6'6", 312 pounds) and speed (4.94 40-yard dash) to block NFL-caliber defensive ends.

Stephenson also has a chance to compete for a starting spot, but with Branden Albert and David Mims still around, he may have to wait a year.

This actually works out quite nicely for Stephenson, who is going to be the "winner" in terms of development during his rookie season.

Stephenson is in line to be the Chiefs' long-term left tackle, but first he needs to learn the system and add strength in the weight room. He could see some playing time this season in case Albert struggles or because of injury, but this is likely a learning year for Stephenson.

So, which former Sooner is going to have the best rookie season in 2012? I guess that depends on how you want to decipher the question.


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