15 NFL Rookies Guaranteed to Prove Experts Wrong in 2012-13
More than a handful of rookies from the 2012 NFL draft class will make experts eat their words and backtrack on their criticism. Several will even contend for Rookie of the Year honors.
These players will prove that they deserved better reviews during the evaluation process. This list includes players that were categorized as reaches, a character risk or dropped for no apparent reason.
Two players on this list were selected by the Miami Dolphins and have an opportunity to help turn this team around. (Hint: Ryan Tannehill didn't make the list.) Miami needs these two players to have successful rookie seasons.
Bruce Irvin, Defensive End/Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
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Pick: Round 1, No. 15
As far as overall ability is concerned, Bruce Irvin was over-drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. However, this pick will look a lot better at the end of the season.
It's likely that Irvin registers 10-plus sacks the upcoming season. At 6'3" and 245 lbs, he may not be an every-down player, but he'll provide plenty of pressure on the quarterback.
I'm one of the critics of this pick, but I do see the type of potential this rookie out of West Virginia possesses. The fact is, this league values sacks, and that's exactly what Irvin will provide.
At the end of the year, everyone will look back and give the Seahawks some credit for this selection.
Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, New England Patriots
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Pick: Round 1, No. 25
Dont'a Hightower will emerge as one of the top pass-rushers on the New England Patriots defense. Most see him as a middle linebacker in the mold of Brandon Spikes, but he's much more than a big-bodied run defender. He's one of the more versatile players selected in this year's draft.
During his time at Alabama, Hightower lined up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end. He possesses excellent blitz timing and a wide array of pass-rush moves. This allows him to bring pressure from multiple spots on the field.
Don't be surprised to see him lined up at defensive end in passing situations.
David Wilson, Running Back, New York Giants
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Pick: Round 1, No. 32
David Wilson will be much more than a complementary piece to Ahmad Bradshaw; he'll finish the season as the New York Giants' leading rusher.
Bradshaw will remain the starter, but injuries will continue to force him out of the lineup, and Wilson is talented enough to seize every opportunity and provide excellent production.
There were a lot of experts and fans who wanted to see the Giants address their O-line early in the draft. The offensive line needs more talent, but it wasn't a mistake to add a playmaker like Wilson. He's a tough runner who also brings breakaway speed.
New York will quickly fall in love with their new RB out of Virginia Tech.
Courtney Upshaw, Linebacker/Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens
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Pick: Round 2, No. 3
Courtney Upshaw will be one of the biggest steals of the 2012 draft class. He's a complete player who'll hold up against the run and apply pressure on the quarterback.
Further, the injury to Terrell Suggs means that Upshaw has an opportunity to start right out of college.
Baltimore not only needs a replacement for Suggs but also someone to step in and fill the hole left by Jarret Johnson.
Upshaw will likely be used in multiple roles and play a major part in the success of this defense. Don't be surprised if he tallies eight or more sacks while providing excellent run support.
Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, St. Louis Rams
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Pick: Round 2, No. 7
Janoris Jenkins may come with a lot of baggage, but based on talent alone he could have been a top-15 pick. The St. Louis Rams with Jeff Fisher is a good environment for the cornerback to learn in as he works to get his life on track. Fisher and company will keep a close eye on Jenkins and provide him with stability.
The landing spot, a realization of the mistakes he made and the lessons learned over the past few years could help Jenkins realize his potential. His ability to read the quarterback and close on the ball will allow him to excel in Fisher's zone-style defense.
Look for Jenkins to also have an opportunity to display his game-breaking abilities in the return game. The Rams are getting a talented player who only needs to remain focused to make an impact.
Cordy Glenn, Offensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills
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Pick: Round 2, No. 9
Most evaluated Cordy Glenn as either a guard or right tackle, but he has the potential to line up at left tackle. The Buffalo Bills see that potential, and they appear committed to giving him an opportunity to win the starting role. Landing a potential starting left tackle in the second round is a major steal.
Glenn has surprising athleticism for his size and bulk. He quickly gets out of his stance and into his set, and the balance and quickness in his shuffle allows him to protect the edge. During his final season at Georgia, he showed more than enough ability to make me feel confident in his future as a LT.
This is a versatile football player whose stock might have dropped because some saw him as a guard-only prospect.
Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins
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Pick: Round 2, No. 10
I had Jonathan Martin ranked in my top 15 all season and was surprised to see him fall to the second round. His addition gives the Miami Dolphins one of the best offensive tackle duos in the entire NFL. He and Jake Long will provide excellent protection for Ryan Tannehill, and don't be surprised to see Martin receiving Pro Bowl honors in the near future.
Martin was criticized for his limited strength and perceived struggles in the run game. However, he used positioning and effort to create running lanes. He isn't going to drive defensive linemen off the ball, but he's more than capable of engaging and turning them from the play.
Teams made a mistake to pass on Martin because of his limitations as a run-blocker. While he does need to improve his run-blocking ability, Martin doesn't need much work as a pass-protector. He's a good athlete who possesses excellent balance and good change-of-direction ability. Martin will start his career at right tackle, but he's more than capable of playing at left.
Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears
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Pick: Round 2, No. 13
Alshon Jeffery fell to the second round because of questions about his explosiveness and work ethic. However, he has done nothing but impress since being picked up by the Chicago Bears. Jeffery appears committed to proving his doubters wrong. And a focused Jeffery could easily top the 10-touchdown mark.
Jeffery will be a part of a new-look offense in Chicago. The Bears added Brandon Marshall to the mix, finally giving Jay Cutler a No. 1 target. As such, Jeffery should have plenty of one-on-one opportunities with Marshall in the lineup.
All the pieces are in place for Jeffery to have a spectacular rookie season. Look for the Bears to feature him heavily in the red zone, which is what makes him a threat to reach the 10-touchdown mark.
Kendall Reyes, Defensive Line, San Diego Chargers
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Pick: No. 17 in the Second Round
Kendall Reyes didn't receive much pre-draft hype, but he'll quickly make plenty of teams regret passing on him. Reyes is a versatile player who can rush the pass and hold up against the run.
The San Diego Chargers plan on using him at the five-technique spot, a position that best suits his skill set.
I fully expect to see Reyes crack the starting lineup by Week 1. He'll likely line up at the right defensive end position and team with Jarret Johnson (right outside linebacker) to shut down the opponent's running attack.
His quickness off the ball will allow him to generate some pressure on the quarterback, an area of weakness for Johnson.
Devon Still, Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
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Pick: Round 2, No. 21
Devon Still will quickly make his mark as one of the most disruptive defenders on the Cincinnati Bengals roster. His combination of quickness and power allows him to consistently penetrate the pocket. Last year at Penn State, Still recorded 17 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Questions about his motor were the main reason he fell to the second round. However, Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis will work to keep him motivated and let him start off as part of a rotation. This will help him conserve his energy and make him hungry to earn more playing time.
Disruptive defensive linemen make an obvious impact on the game. It won't take long for everyone to notice the type of impact Still is capable of creating.
Lavonte David, Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Pick: Round 2, No. 26
Lavonte David might not have the ideal size for a starting linebacker, but he more than makes up for it with his explosiveness. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a major steal when they landed David late in Round 2. David should instantly be considered a contender to lead the Bucs in tackles.
Aggressiveness, speed and instincts are what allows David to make plays all over the field. He quickly deciphers information and explodes to the football, allowing him to make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Last season, he tallied 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
David is an elite playmaker, and someone that received a first-round grade from me.
Lamar Miller, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
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Pick: Round 4, No. 2 pick
With Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas locked into the Miami Dolphins backfield, Lamar Miller might find it difficult to get carries. However, the former Hurricane's explosiveness will force the Dolphins to find a role for him.
The Dolphins must find a way to get all their playmakers a chance to touch the football. I picture a few formations with Bush lined up at wide receiver and Miller in the backfield. Bush's injury history also needs to be taken under consideration.
No matter how you look at it, Lamar Miller will find a way to make an impact for the Miami Dolphins.
Bobby Massie, Offensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals
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Pick: Round 4, No. 17
Bobby Massie's slide into the fourth round surprised a lot of draft analysts. Many felt he wouldn't make it out of the second round, with Mel Kiper Jr. even giving him some first-round love. The Arizona Cardinals are very thankful his stock dropped because it allowed them to land their next starting tackle.
Massie should have no problem unseating Jeremy Bridges for the starting right tackle spot, as he's more athletic and stronger in the running game. His addition should allow the Cardinals to feature Beanie Wells more in their offensive attack.
This pick is even more valuable because of Massie's potential to play left tackle. He needs to continue to improve his technique but has a future on the left side.
Malik Jackson, Defensive Line, Denver Broncos
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Pick: Round 5, No. 2
Malik Jackson is an underrated player who possesses the potential to generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
The Denver Broncos found themselves a versatile player that has experience at both DE and DT, and Jackson will have a more productive career than Derek Wolfe, Denver's second-round pick.
His underrated athleticism and high motor are what allow Jackson to work his way into the backfield. He has good length and long arms that help him keep clean. Look for John Fox and company to rotate Jackson in at both tackle and end.
I expect Jackson to make his presence felt as an inside rusher, something the Broncos need on their defensive line.
Billy Winn, Defensive Tackle, Cleveland Browns
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Pick: Round 6, No. 35
The Cleveland Browns' ability to land Billy Winn in the sixth round will end up paying major dividends this season. He's an extremely disruptive player who should have come off the board much earlier. The injury to Philip Taylor will provide Winn with an opportunity to earn some early playing time.
Winn's quick first step and short-area burst allow him to penetrate the pocket. He also uses it to help him make plays away from his frame. Lining Winn next to Ahtyba Rubin will allow him to use his athleticism to get into the backfield, while Rubin stuffs the run.
Look for Winn to also benefit from having less blockers committed to stopping his penetration. While at Boise State, he was the main focus of opposing offenses.