To nobody’s surprise, many of this year’s top NFL prospects looked stellar in shorts and helmets at their rookie camps.
When fans see their favorite team's youngsters sporting team colors for the first time, they immediately get giddy. Optimism peaks and expectations rise for some of the game’s brightest stars, and for good reason. A new season is on the horizon, teams have made key additions and it’s all about the new guys in town.
Especially the rookies.
It’s never too early to start speculating about Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards, so here are some of the early names picking up steam for these prestigious honors.
Andrew Luck may have been the No. 1 draft pick in 2012, but Robert Griffin III could have a more dynamic statistical rookie season.
Don Banks of SI.com detailed his impressions of Griffin’s first practice, highlighting his accuracy rolling out of the pocket, something head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had him doing throughout the day.
With a dynamic skill set and coaches playing to his strengths, RG3 could have an even more eye-popping first year than anticipated.
Much like with Cam Newton in 2011, teams will have a tough time preparing for Griffin with regards to his blistering speed. If his arm is as good as advertised, they will be in even more trouble.
Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in his rookie year, and chipped in 706 rushing yards. Griffin could do just as well, if not better, if things go as planned.
As the featured back for the Cleveland Browns, Trent Richardson will have plenty of opportunities to tote the rock. And unlike most backs that play in a running back by committee system, he will also receive plenty of goal-line carries.
A high touchdown mark could push him up the Offensive Rookie of the Year list among the flashier names at quarterback and receiver. But that won’t be all that Richardson does in year one.
Rotoworld.com believes that the first-year running back is a “legitimate candidate to lead the NFL in touches as a rookie.”
Richardson has been frequently compared to Adrian Peterson, as many scouts believe the former is the most complete runner to enter the league since the latter was drafted in 2007. That year, Peterson recorded 1,341 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on only 238 carries. That’s good enough for a 5.6 yards-per-carry average.
The Browns will be thrilled to get that kind of production from their stagnant offense. Expect big things from this bell-cow runner, who could push 300 carries and sniff the 1,500-yard mark.
Justin Blackmon is the new No. 1 wide receiver out in Jacksonville. If he can make Blaine Gabbert look good, that alone would make him worthy of Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration.
On a more serious note, Blackmon may be exactly what the Jags, and Gabbert, need to be successful. With his ability to pluck balls out of the air, high-point the pigskin downfield and create extra yardage after the catch, Blackmon is a playmaker. Strong-handed and silky smooth in underneath routes, he should see a ton of targets.
Tania Ganguli of The Florida Times-Union reported that the Jaguars are lining Blackmon up at the Z spot and in the slot in order to take advantage of his playing style. Ganguli also notes in a separate article that Blackmon is impressing thus far in camp.
Jacksonville isn’t going to make the playoffs in 2012, but adding Blackmon will to the equation will go a long way in bringing its offense back to respectability.
A bit of a sleeper pick here, Brian Quick is quickly generating a lot of hype out of Rams' camp.
According to NFL Films’ Greg Cosell via TurfShowTimes.com, Quick “has a chance to be the best wide receiver in this draft class.” Cosell also stated that after “studying both [Blackmon and Quick] extensively on film, you can make the argument that Quick, who is significantly bigger than Blackmon, is more naturally athletic.”
Further, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com suggests the Rams are “insanely excited” about the rookie wide receiver.
All this gushing praise led Rotoworld.com to declare that Quick is “shaping up as one of 2012’s buzz rookies.”
The Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford desperately need a playmaking wide receiver. If Quick is able to live up to all the hype, he will end up being quite the steal as a second-round pick.
He will also put himself into Rookie POY discussion.
It’s safe to say that the Dallas Cowboys were determined to upgrade their secondary this offseason. After signing free agent Brandon Carr, the team moved up in Round 1 to select this year’s top rookie cornerback, Morris Claiborne.
Claiborne has a lot of positives going for him in winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. For one, he plays for "America's Team." In addition, he will line up opposite Carr, who could make a case for his first Pro Bowl selection this year. Finally, he will benefit from a strong overall defensive unit that should enable him to make plays.
Owner Jerry Jones puts a lot of pressure on his team each year. Consistently playing under the shadow of his weighted predictions can be burdensome for players. But as a rookie, Claiborne offers a dedicated approach to the game and a mature attitude that should help him adapt to one of the NFL’s biggest stages.
His terrific man-to-man coverage skills will be tested early, but Claiborne will rise to the occasion. He will also have added value if Dallas decides to use him on kick returns.
Former Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is expected to tally a ton of tackles in his rookie year.
Joe Person, a Panthers beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, indicated via Twitter that the rookie is expected to start on the weak side, which should free him up to make a bunch of plays. His cover skills will be utilized, and he will be able to use his agility to track down ball-carriers.
With his combination of elite coverage skills, instincts, technique and versatility to line up at multiple spots in Carolina’s defensive scheme, Kuechly should have a terrific first season in the NFL.
Carolina should be competitive in 2012, and this hard-nosed linebacker will be one of the reasons why.
To earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Kuechly will need to notch superb stats for his position. Linebacker Brian Cushing won the award in 2009 after recording 133 total tackles, four sacks, four interceptions and 10 passes defended. However, he was later busted for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and was subsequently suspended for four games in 2010.
Expect much of the same production from Kuechly with none of the controversy.
Pass-rusher Chandler Jones flew up draft boards in the week leading up to draft, and it wasn’t just smoke. The New England Patriots traded up to snatch up the long, explosive defensive end out of Syracuse for good reason.
Viewed as a project with immense upside before being drafted, Jones will have an immediate opportunity to start tapping into that potential. Rotoworld.com states that he is currently penciled in as the starter at right defensive end for the Pats.
With Tom Brady and company putting up plenty of points every game, the defense will have the ability to play more aggressively. More pressure off the edge should help the secondary, and a potentially improved secondary should help the pass rush in turn.
Last year, two pass-rushers battled for the honor of being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. In the end, Broncos linebacker Von Miller edged 49ers end Aldon Smith. Miller totaled 64 tackles along with 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, while Smith contributed 37 tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Expect Jones to fall somewhere in between in 2012. If he can take advantage of situational opportunities, he could post double-digit sacks and have people reminiscing about both Miller and Smith.
The Buffalo Bills greatly improved their defense this offseason, signing free agent pass-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson before drafting rookie cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks.
Both sets of additions should complement each other nicely.
Gilmore, whom the Bills selected 10th overall, is expected to start from Week 1. He has an ideal combination of size and speed at the position, which will be especially useful in matching up with bigger targets.
According to the Buffalo News, the Bills have been working on Gilmore’s physicality to make him a more well-rounded corner, and head coach Chan Gailey praised the 21-year-old for his preparation, work ethic and raw talent.
Furthermore, via Rotoworld.com, ESPN’s John Clayton reported on SportsCenter that Gilmore “was one of the most impressive rookies at rookie camps around the league.”
The rookie corner should be the beneficiary of an improved pass rush out in Buffalo, as pressure on the quarterback will provide opportunities for the secondary to make plays. A strong interception total would help his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but helping the Bills reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999 would help even more.