Every year the National Football League provides surprise intrigue and drama in the form of upstart rookie performance. This eventuality is simply the byproduct of high-level competition, the variance in health and productivity of veteran players, as well as the chaotic nature of prospect projection.
On the side of the individual rookie players, there is certainly credit due also. I do not intend to make it sound like all rookie overachievement is a happy coincidence guaranteed by the cosmos or universal law. In many cases, these men are more physically gifted, headier to their new team's playbook or overall scheme, or were simply underestimated by the industry in terms of their readiness.
The 2012 draft and rookie class will be no different, in that we should expect to see a similar phenomenon of rookie contributors around the league. And it begins in Week 1. This has been a well-covered theme this offseason and I encourage you to check out my earlier work about rookies already moving up depth charts, future record-breaking rookies from 2012, and a group of undrafted free agents likely to make an impact.
Baldwin was arguably the most productive undrafted free agent rookie a year ago in his slot role for the 'Hawks. And while Patrick Peterson was garnering much of the headlines for his electrifying punt returns and improving play throughout the year, Sherman was the most consistently well-performing rookie corner in 2011.
This slideshow takes a look at each of the eight NFL divisions and identifies one 2012 first-year player from each club that will surprise most of us with his production. I go into further detail on one guy in each division.