2012 NFL Rookie Predictions: 10 Rookies Fans Should Be Patient with
Not every NFL rookie is able to step onto a depth chart and compete for Pro Bowls from day one.
In fact, that is the rare exception to a rather harsh reality: It takes time for prospects to develop into quality starters at the next level.
Sure, top-five picks like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be asked to turn around the fortunes of their respective franchises right away, but most players have a more gradual transition.
Being buried on the depth chart and fighting for playing time is a common occurrence, even for first-round picks.
With that in mind, let's look at 10 rookies who fans should approach with patience as the 2012 season nears.
10. Riley Reiff
The Detroit Lions drafted Riley Reiff to be their left tackle for the next decade, but that era will likely not start right away.
Jeff Backus has a solid hold on the position in the short term, and it will be much easier for Reiff to beat out mediocre Gosder Cherilus at right tackle.
Cherilus has never had a firm hold on the position, and while Reiff's skills may already warrant a starting spot on quarterback Matthew Stafford's blind side, it makes more sense to have his career begin at right.
Backus is old and his years are numbered.
Reiff's time at left tackle will come soon, but not immediately.
9. Dont'a Hightower
The New England Patriots have a slew of linebackers ready to go for 2012, and Dont'a Hightower is just another versatile weapon to add to the mix.
Whether the Patriots will go with a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme is still up in the air, but what is known is that Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes are all quality 'backers.
Whatever happens, this is clearly going to be a unit with a lot of fluctuation and rotation.
Hightower could play on the outside with Ninkovich or contend for minutes on the inside.
Either way, Hightower will not be shouldering much of a defensive burden in the upcoming season.
8. Shea McClellin
The first of many pass-rushers on the list, Shea McClellin may actually be the most well-rounded of all of them, even if he seems like an odd choice for the Chicago Bears.
The Bears drafted a player who seemed perfectly suited for a 3-4 defensive scheme and thrust him into a 4-3 instead.
The reason he would likely be better off in a 3-4 is that McClellin is undersized to be a base 4-3 end and will likely struggle against the run.
The Bears already have Julius Peppers on one side and Israel Idonije on the other, manning the edges.
McClellin could push Idonije for playing time, but for now the best bet is to bring him in on passing downs and utilize his strengths.
7. Michael Brockers
Michael Brockers is an interesting case in the sense that he is raw, young and exceptionally talented.
The St. Louis Rams made him pick No. 14 in the draft, but only after trading down twice and not seeming to know what exactly they were looking for.
Brockers comes in after only being a redshirt sophomore and taking a relatively low number of snaps at LSU.
This is the kind of player with bust potential written all over him, and it is important that the Rams do not put too much on his plate too quickly as he adjusts to the NFL game.
They have two viable options at defensive tackle in Trevor Law and Kendall Langford. While neither is as talented as Brockers, both have real experience and can start while Brockers gets his rotational snaps and firm grasp on the playbook.
6. Dre Kirkpatrick
Dre Kirkpatrick is joining a Cincinnati Bengals secondary that may have more talent at the cornerback position than any other unit in the league.
Kirkpatrick is certainly going to see his fair share of minutes in 2012, but most of them will likely come in nickel-and-dime situations.
Nate Clements and Leon Hall (assuming he is ready to go by Week 1) are both Pro Bowl corners and will have the top two spots on the depth chart locked in.
Kirkpatrick will also have to battle with the likes of Terence Newman and Jason Allen, both of whom were added in the offseason.
Fans must be patient with the former 'Bama star with a sketchy off-field record. Someday he will be a No. 1 corner but, for now, Kirkpatrick will have to work his way up a crowded depth chart.
5. Bruce Irvin
Bruce Irvin is currently a one-trick pony. He can pass rush and little else.
The bright side is that his pass-rushing skills are exceptional.
Irvin is an absolute monster off the edge, and that's why the Seattle Seahawks felt the need to reach for him at pick No. 15 of the draft.
Yet, pass-rush specialists do not play every down.
Seattle has Red Bryant and Chris Clemons locked in at the starting defensive end positions, and therefore Irvin will come in on passing downs and wreak havoc.
Over time he will hopefully develop a more well-rounded game that can play every snap.
Seahawks fans will have to be patient in waiting for that transition.
4. Whitney Mercilus
Whitney Mercilus is a talented one-year college wonder out of the University of Illinois.
Like Irvin, he has tremendous pass-rush skills and, also like Irvin, he is not yet a complete football player.
The Houston Texans already have two solid defensive ends in Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. Neither of these players are quite Mario Williams, but they did combine for 17.5 sacks last season.
Mercilus is a depth piece with a niche.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will know how to use Mercilus and get the most out of his pass-rush ability.
3. A.J. Jenkins
Back-to-back members of the Fighting Illini on the countdown.
This time we look at receiver A.J. Jenkins, who is simply a victim of a loaded depth chart.
The San Francisco 49ers already have a run-based offense, and there will simply not be many chances for Jenkins to stand out in 2012.
Jenkins is a raw prospect and needs to develop.
With all the talent in front of him, it seems the 49ers will give him plenty of time to do just that.
2. Melvin Ingram
Melvin Ingram is being asked to make the difficult transition from collegiate defensive end to NFL outside linebacker.
He has the skills and versatility to pull it off, but that is not a change that happens easily.
We must also consider the fact that Ingram is joining a San Diego Chargers depth chart with two quality pieces in front of him at OLB.
Shaun Phillips is one of the best sack machines in the NFL and won't be giving up his spot to a rookie.
Jarrett Johnson is currently in the midst of a four-year contract worth almost $20 million—not the kind of money usually reserved for a backup.
The bright spot for Ingram is that Phillips is in the last year of his current deal and is already 31 years old.
Ingram can get spot minutes this season and be ready to assume a starting role next year if he shows the Chargers he is a viable option.
1. Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill is the least developed and most unprepared for the NFL game of the top three QBs in the 2012 NFL draft.
Everyone knows this, including the Miami Dolphins.
He is clearly the QB of the future, but he made only 19 starts at Texas A&M.
The Dolphins have a competent player in Matt Moore who can lead the team for at least the upcoming season while Tannehill develops.
Is the situation ideal?
Probably not, but throwing Tannehill into the fire quickly seems like a serious gamble. Moore went 6-of-6 as the starter last season and had a 16-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Give him another chance in 2012 and allow the franchise QB to adjust to and learn the NFL game.
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