NFL Rookie Predictions: 10 High Picks That Won't Start Until 2013 or Beyond
Aldon Smith is the best-case example of a rookie not starting while making an impact. Playing mainly on passing downs, Smith finished 2011 with 14 sacks, half a sack behind Jevon Kearse's 1999 record of 14.5. He also ended the season behind only Von Miller in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
Players taken early in the draft are expected to contribute immediately. Note how Cam Newton and Von Miller were the first two picks of the 2011 draft and won the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. Not all players can instantly contribute to their teams.
It's not always for the worst when a player doesn't start right away. 2003 No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer didn't get on the field for a regular season as a rookie. Palmer made the Pro Bowl in his second year as a starter.
Some players won't make the starting roster in 2012 due to competition and others aren't ready for prime time yet. The following is a list of those projected players taken in the first two rounds of this year's NFL draft.
The Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill eighth overall because he's their quarterback of the future. It does not mean that he's the QB of the present.
Matt Moore came into the game in Week 4 against the Chargers when starter Chad Henne left with a shoulder injury. Moore was coming off a terrible 2010 season when he got a shot to start for the Panthers. Moore surprised most by going 6-6 in the games he started, completing better than 60 percent of his throws and posting a 16/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Tannehill doesn't have to start this year. Even though his former coach, Mike Sherman, is the new offensive coordinator, the pro game will be a big leap for the Texas A&M product with 19 college starts. The best move would be for Moore to start all 16 games this year and the team to get Tannehill a quality wideout in the 2013 draft.
On draft weekend, the St. Louis Rams seemed allergic to making picks, trading down as often as they could. They traded down twice to end up at the 14 slot in the first round and selected Michael Brockers out of LSU.
Brockers is a raw prospect who entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore with limited starting experience in college. It makes sense for the Rams to play him as a rotational guy and not overwhelm him early in his career. The Rams signed free agents Kendall Langford and Trevor Law (nice name), who can both start while Brockers learns the playbook.
Specialized roles are the new normal in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks surprised many by taking West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin in the middle of the first round. They didn't bring in the best pass-rusher in the draft to play a full-time role.
The Seahawks looked to their division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, when drafting Irvin. It's true that the defensive schemes are different (4-3 versus 3-4), but the concept remains the same. The 49ers used Aldon Smith almost exclusively as a pass-rusher, and it worked to the tune of 14 sacks. To counteract the passing offenses, defenses need to hit the quarterback.
Red Bryant and Chris Clemons are going to be the starters at defensive end. Irvin will play on passing downs and therefore will not start a game in 2012.
The later you get in the first round, the less likely it is that a player needs to start immediately. The San Diego Chargers saw Ingram fall to pick No. 18 and selected the eventual replacement for Shaun Phillips. Emphasis on eventual.
Shaun Phillips is in the last year of his contract. He's been a sack machine, averaging eight a year for the past six seasons. He missed four games with a foot injury last year and could be slowing down, as he'll be 31 entering the season.
Ingram's changing positions, which is tough to do. He was a defensive end in college and will play outside linebacker in the NFL. It makes sense—since the Chargers have a very good player in front of him—to let Ingram sit, play some snaps and be ready to start next season.
When the Chicago Bears took McClellin with the 19th overall pick in the first round, there were some raised eyebrows. McClellin played outside linebacker at Boise State and seemed poised to go to a team that plays a 3-4 defensive system. The Bears saw an all-around playmaker who could line up opposite of Julius Peppers.
The current starter opposite of Peppers is Israel Idonije. Idonije had eight sacks two seasons ago but only five last season. He plays the run well and that's why he will continue to start over the rookie, who's a little undersized to play every down right away.
The Bears want a lethal pass rush. McClellin can help them with that by rotating in on passing downs. He won't start right away.
The Houston Texans made amazing strides on defense last year. They weren't finished adding players, especially after Mario Williams left in free agency and team captain DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Eagles.
Mercilus was a one-year wonder in college, leading the country in sacks as a defensive end for the University of Illinois. The Texans are going to harness that speed by giving him plenty of snaps on passing downs. Wade Phillips will use Mercilus as an end to take advantage of his skills. The starters will remain Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. Those players combined for 17.5 sacks last year, so they're not going to be easily replaced.
The San Francisco 49ers showed their hand by their actions in free agency and the draft. Picking up Brandon Jacobs and drafting LaMichael James means that the team that ranked third in the NFL in rushing attempts last year will continue to be run-heavy. In a pass-happy league, the 49ers were 31st in passing attempts.
Jenkins could be the first piece in changing that philosophy. He caught 90 passes last year for a pretty poor Illinois offensive squad. He wasn't considered a first-round-worthy pick, but the 49ers brought back all 11 starters on defense, so they could afford to take a luxury pick. Michael Crabtree's starting and Mario Manningham was signed in free agency to start as well. Randy Moss is the wild card who could be the team's leading receiver or not make it out of training camp. Ted Ginn's a return guy.
Receivers need time to develop, especially in an offense that doesn't give a lot of opportunities. If Crabtree can't become the WR1 the team wants him to be, Jenkins could take that role in time.
The New York Giants "lost" Brandon Jacobs in free agency. They were ready to move on from the quite large but one-dimensional Jacobs. David Wilson was drafted to back-fill the position but is a very different kind of tailback.
In their first Super Bowl run, the Giants were a run-first team. Last year was a different approach, as the team finished 32nd in rushing yards and yards per carry. They became a passing team by necessity.
Wilson brings the team speed. Starter Ahmad Bradshaw injured his foot last season and has not started a full season yet. He's still the likely starter with Wilson coming in to spell him. That's how the Giants want 2012 to go.
The St. Louis Rams had two priorities for their offense. One was to get Sam Bradford some offensive line protection so he's not getting beat up all the time. The other was to get him some weapons at receiver.
Brian Quick was the first such player selected. The question is, can the small-school star become an instant starter? He has the size and skills that the Rams covet and hope to pair with Bradford on a long-term basis.
Can he be an instant starter? I compare him to Jerome Simpson, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 2008 draft. Simpson wasn't a regular contributor until the end of the 2010 season. Fellow 2008 draftee Andre Caldwell played more as a rookie and eventually Simpson made it to the starting lineup.
The Rams have veterans like Steve Smith, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, all of whom have starting experience. Fourth-round pick Chris Givens could contribute quicker than Quick. Quick's going to be eased into the offense.
Much has been made of the Andrew Luck/Coby Fleener connection. They both started at Stanford. They're going to be rookies together. Naturally, both are going to start from Week 1.
I'm on a comparison roll, so here's another one. Fleener is the Jared Cook of the new Indianapolis Colts offense. Jared Cook does not start for the Titans because he does not block for the Titans. The Titans start Craig Stevens, who can block. The Colts drafted a tight end who can block named Dwayne Allen, and I believe that he's going to be the first-down tight end. Fleener's going to line up wide or in the slot. He was drafted to catch passes.