Early Predictions for the 2012 NFL All-Rookie Team
Rookie minicamps, OTAs and full-team minicamps are over. Football fans have seen nearly 20 days worth of practices and reports about their teams' rookies.
It's always interesting to look at which rookies—being the youngest, most potent players on any team—have the ability to make an impact right away. Usually a team drafts for future value, but in some cases playoff contenders have decided to go after NFL-ready talent.
This year's draft was probably the best in decades for many teams, because they were able to select the exact players they wanted, and this draft was deep in several key positions such as defensive line, linebacker and others.
From first overall selection Andrew Luck to the 253rd overall selection, Chandler Harnish, each rookie brings something to his team.
Here are some who will stand out at their positions!
Quarterback: Andrew Luck (IND)
This may seem like an obvious selection to many, but it's just hard to go against the top quarterback prospect of the last decade.
Andrew Luck has all the qualities of an NFL quarterback: He can read defenses well, he has fantastic footwork, his accuracy and arm strength are second to none and he releases the ball quickly.
Given weapons like Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Coby Fleener, Luck will be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the AFC in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Robert Griffin III (WAS)
Griffin has the most talent of any quarterback in this draft class, and while he needs some work on the fundamentals, his arm strength and mobility will mean that he'll be very good in his rookie season as well.
Running Back: Trent Richardson (CLE)
The Cleveland Browns trading up to grab Alabama running back Trent Richardson may have been one of the best moves of the entire draft.
Richardson brings a rare blend of speed, elusiveness and power which helped set Alabama school records in yards (1,679) and touchdowns (21). He is a power back with a skill set similar to Maurice Jones-Drew who can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
Richardson will most likely be one of the top running backs in the NFL, rookie or not. He's just that good.
Honorable Mention: Doug Martin (TB)
Even with LeGarrette Blount still on the roster, Doug Martin will translate a terrific college career into a superb rookie campaign. Look for him to be one of the NFC South's most feared rushers.
Fullback: Rhett Ellison (MIN)
Since Ellison played two positions—tight end and fullback—at USC, it's tough to determine which one he is. He played fullback, however, in 2011 so that's what he's listed at on official draft boards.
Ellison will make a huge impact straight from the get-go. Now that Visanthe Shiancoe's future with the team is cloudy, Ellison will get more opportunities in the passing game behind starter Kyle Rudolph. He'll also make a large impact on special teams in 2012. No matter how you look at it, Rhett Ellison is poised for a productive 2012.
Honorable Mention: Bradie Ewing (ATL)
Ewing won't get as many opportunities as Ellison, but as the more traditional fullback, he'll definitely make an impact blocking in front of Michael Turner and catching the ball out of the backfield once in a while.
Tight End: Coby Fleener (IND)
Reunited with college quarterback Andrew Luck, from whom he caught 34 balls for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011, Coby Fleener has the most promise of any tight end prospect in 2012.
He's a big target with surprising speed who will make plays all over the field. He's replacing longtime great Dallas Clark and can play the tight end position at a similar level.
Honorable Mention: Michael Egnew (MIA)
Even though he'll be splitting time with veteran Anthony Fasano, Egnew will be a reliable target for either Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore throughout the season.
If he just worked on his speed, he could be the league's most promising young tight end.
Wide Receiver No. 1: Mohamed Sanu (CIN)
Since the first time I saw Mohamed Sanu catch a football at Rutgers, I've been in love with the 6'1" wideout. In his junior season at college, Sanu caught a CFB-leading 115 balls for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.
He's an extraordinary possession receiver who will provide Andy Dalton with a reliable threat opposite big-play star A.J. Green. He won't make many big plays, but his ability to catch balls in traffic and move the chains is more important than any.
Honorable Mention: Kendall Wright (TEN)
Wright, a vertical threat, will be paired up with the uber-talented Kenny Britt in Tennessee. He'll make noise around the league with big plays and timely catches.
Wide Receiver No. 2: Michael Floyd (ARI)
Michael Floyd, one of Notre Dame's all-time great receivers, is one of the luckiest men in the world. Not only does he get to play in a pass-happy offense, but also he'll be paired up with arguably the league's most consistent receiver, Larry Fitzgerald.
Floyd will benefit from double-teams on Fitzgerald as he uses his size and hands to take on corners one-on-one. It doesn't matter who is throwing the football to him—whether it's Kolb or Skelton—because he has the talent to make things happen in any situation.
Honorable Mention: Justin Blackmon (JAC)
If you had asked me on draft day whether Blackmon or Floyd would have a better rookie season, I would've said Blackmon easily.
Now it seems that a bad quarterback and off-the-field issues might hamper Blackmon's development, but I still see him being one of the league's top rookie receivers.
Offensive Tackle No. 1: Jonathan Martin (MIA)
The Miami Dolphins already had one All-Pro offensive tackle in Jake Long, and they completed the set by getting the steal of the second in my opinion.
Jonathan Martin was supposed to go early in the first round, but concerns about his footwork set him back nearly 30 picks. While his ability to get around on speedy edge rushers is a concern, he'll immediately be one of the best run blockers in the AFC. This guy is the real deal.
Honorable Mention: Riley Reiff (DET)
Reiff is the nearly the opposite of Martin: excelling the pass game but struggling to move guys in the run game. Even with his shortcomings, he'll be an excellent addition to the Lions' offensive line in 2012.
Offensive Tackle No. 2: Matt Kalil (MIN)
Kalil was a beast at USC and was the most highly-touted prospect at the offensive tackle position for good reason.
He's nearly untouchable in the pass-blocking game and will help the Vikings as they go up against guys like Jason Pierre-Paul, Clay Matthews, Jason Babin and DeMarcus Ware week in and week out.
Kalil can shut down elite rushers for four quarters and has shown improvement in the rushing game, his biggest weakness coming into the offseason.
Honorable Mention: Mitchell Schwartz (CLE)
Similar to Martin, Schwartz will come in and be partnered with five-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas. Expect Schwartz to help out rookie running back Trent Richardson in the run game from the get-go.
Offensive Guard No. 1: David DeCastro (PIT)
When you think of David DeCastro, you think of guys like Steve Hutchinson, Carl Nick, and Ben Grubbs. In short, you think of world-class interior linemen.
DeCastro combines excellent size and strength with sound technique; he has NFL-level athleticism and skills which makes him capable of starting right away for the Steelers.
How crazy should you be for DeCastro? His ceiling could be as high as any guard in the history of the NFL. In the worst-case scenario for Pittsburgh, the kid only makes two or three Pro Bowls instead of seven.
Honorable Mention: Cordy Glenn (BUF)
Glenn might not find a home right away in Buffalo's offense—he played left tackle and both guard positions in college—but you can be sure that he'll get some snaps at guard and make the most of them in 2012.
Offensive Guard No. 2: Kevin Zeitler (CIN)
Coming out of a Wisconsin program that is known as the offensive line version of "Linebacker U," Kevin Zeitler will significantly bolster the Bengals' interior line in 2012.
Zeitler helped lead the way for one of Division I's most feared running backs, Montee Ball. He is extremely technically sound and will be able to translate almost effortlessly from the college game to the pro level. His only weakness is his body control which will be fixed in NFL weight rooms and training facilities.
Zeitler will be a punisher for years to come, but it will start off nicely for the rookie this season.
Honorable Mention: Amini Silatolu (CAR)
Silatolu, a Division II product, showed enough dominance in college to earn a second-round pick. He may not start right away, but he'll earn more and more snaps throughout the season and possibly start by the end of it. He'll make an impact either way.
Center: Peter Konz (ATL)
According to NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas of ESPN, Peter Konz is "very much in the mix" to be the starter at center for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012. He's battling 14-year veteran Todd McLure.
Just the fact that head coach Mike Smith has given Konz so big of an opportunity is telling: He expects that Konz will use his great run-blocking technique and football IQ well to make a huge impact for a team that struggled to give its quarterback and running back room to operate in 2011.
And that doesn't even take into account that Konz played for Wisconsin, one of the league's best offensive line colleges, where he paved the way for star running back Montee Ball.
Honorable Mention: Ben Jones (HOU)
Jones has been projected to be much more talented than his fourth-round selection suggests, but nevertheless he will likely start from day one and be an important factor in leading the way for Matt Schaub and Arian Foster.
Defensive End No. 1: Bruce Irvin (SEA)
The Seahawks may have reached for pass-rushing specialist Bruce Irvin, but when you are in the bottom half when it comes to rushing the passer it makes sense to grab someone as talented as him.
Irvin will be rotated out in the majority of obvious rushing situations because he needs to polish up in that regard, but when he's in the game to rush the passer he'll be a force. He isn't exactly DeMarcus Ware or Jason Pierre-Paul yet in the pass game, but he'll certainly make noise and rack up the sacks right away in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Chandler Jones (NE)
Due to his small size and pass-rushing skill set, Jones will most likely split time between an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense or defensive end. No matter where he plays, he'll use his speed on the outside to disrupt offensive flow and rush the passer.
He just needs to add more bulk to take the next step in his career.
Defensive End No. 2: Quinton Coples (NYJ)
Coples is a prolific pass-rusher when he's in the right mindset. If he gets off the ball quickly and is the first to engage, he's nearly unstoppable. When his motor isn't where it should be, he takes plays off and is definitely blockable.
Unfortunately for the rest of the AFC East, I think Ryan is the perfect coach to get Coples going and maximize his skill as a pass-rusher and run defender.
Honorable Mention: Shea McClellin (CHI)
Similarly to Bruce Irvin, McClellin doesn't have the bulk to be a force in the run game yet, but he has the speed and agility to get to the quarterback in a hurry.
Defensive Tackle No. 1: Michael Brockers (STL)
Playing in Les Miles' sophisticated defense at LSU, Michael Brockers was a centerpiece of the defense. While he was mainly used on first and second down in obvious rushing downs, he can still rush the passer better than most defensive tackles.
Brockers has the physicality and skill set to be one of the best players at his position in a couple of years. Since he'll be starting from the get-go alongside Pro Bowler Chris Long, expect the rookie to replicate the rookie season of Lions' star Ndamukong Suh.
Honorable Mention: Jerel Worthy (GB)
While Worthy will struggle somewhat against elite NFL blockers, he still has the athleticism to shoot gaps quickly and will definitely help out the Packers as he learns from Pro Bowler B.J. Raji.
Defensive Tackle No. 2: Fletcher Cox (PHI)
Fletcher Cox may not be the sexiest pick for any awards, even though he's a high first-round selection, but any doubts I had about Cox's ability to make an impact in 2012 have been erased by his offseason performances.
Cox has taken his talents—explosiveness and an ability to pursue ball-carriers horizontally—and built on them with the help of Eagles' defensive line coach Jim Washburn. He's worked on shedding blocks, his hand- and footwork and his game awareness. Playing nearly 50 percent of the snaps at under tackle, expect Cox to be one of the league's most exciting defensive rookies.
Honorable Mention: Derek Wolfe (DEN)
Because of his weaknesses when it comes to speed and explosiveness, Wolfe won't be an every-down lineman for Denver in 2012, but he'll certainly be a decent option in both run and pass defense.
Inside Linebacker: Bobby Wagner (SEA)
When the Seattle Seahawks lost starting middle linebacker David Hawthorne, they were smart to sign veteran Barrett Ruud to help fill the void. They were even smarter to draft Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Wagner may not be the biggest middle linebacker, but his natural instincts and superb tackling ability will make him a rock at the position in 2012. He'll lead the Seattle defense as they try to improve on last year's success.
Honorable Mention: Zach Brown (TEN)
Called a "workout warrior" by many, Brown probably won't supplant Colin McCarthy at the starting spot in 2012, but his upside is incredible and he'll play well regardless of where he's playing—he's played middle linebacker, strong-side linebacker and weak-side linebacker before.
3-4 Outside Linebacker: Melvin Ingram (SD)
When a team ranks 23rd in sacks, they usually go after a proven pass-rusher the following offseason. That's exactly what the San Diego Chargers did by drafted South Carolina product Melvin Ingram.
Ingram will most likely get the starting nod in Week 1 at right outside linebacker—the Chargers play the 3-4 scheme—and be an impact player when it comes to rushing the passer and stopping the outside runs. He's a versatile player who will help San Diego in many different ways in his rookie season.
Honorable Mention: Nick Perry (GB)
The Packers already have one excellent, USC-schooled pass-rusher in Clay Matthews at OLB, and they'll add another in Perry. He'll have to make an adjustment in coverage and stopping the run from college but he'll thrive in Dom Capers' scheme.
4-3 Outside Linebacker: Mychal Kendricks (PHI)
Mychal Kendricks had the talent to go in the mid-to-late first round, but the Philadelphia Eagles were lucky enough to have the athletic outside linebacker fall to them in the second round.
Kendricks has always been known as an explosive run stopper and a prolific edge rusher, but his biggest weakness coming into the draft was his ability to cover tight ends. Now, it seems, he's fixed that issue and earned himself an every-down spot in the Eagles' starting lineup.
It's rare for rookies to earn starting spots so early in camp, which just shows that football fans can expect big things from Kendricks in his rookie season.
Honorable Mention: Luke Kuechly (CAR)
Kuechly, drafted ninth overall, is a rock-solid tackler and an intelligent linebacker. While he doesn't possess top-notch athleticism, he'll definitely be one of the league's most consistent rookies.
Cornerback No. 1: Janoris Jenkins (STL)
The Saint Louis Rams had a need at cornerback coming into the offseason, and they fixed it by signing Pro Bowler Cortland Finnegan and drafting shutdown prospect Janoris Jenkins.
Many teams were unwilling to take a chance on Jenkins because of his past behavioral issues, but the Rams made the right choice. He has above-average intellect, ball skills and quickness which has been likened to Pro Bowler Asante Samuel.
Jenkins will really help a Saint Louis defense that really struggled in 2011.
Honorable Mention: Stephon Gilmore (BUF)
Gilmore will have to battle with Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee early in the season, but his athleticism and natural talent will lead him to do big things for Buffalo in 2012.
Cornerback No. 2: Morris Claiborne (DAL)
The Cowboys drafted Morris Claiborne and signed Brandon Carr for one reason and one reason only: They need corners who can keep up with NFC East foes Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Carr has proven that he can, but the question mark was the second cornerback position. The Cowboys drafting Claiborne has given them an elite cover man who is extremely athletic as well; he can plaster guys like Nicks and Maclin while also keeping up with Jackson and Cruz on the outside. He's a rare talent who will be excellent as soon as he sees the field.
Honorable Mention: Dre Kirkpatrick (CIN)
Kirkpatrick needs to work on his speed and big-play misses, but until then he'll still be a key part of Cincinnati's defense whether it is as a slot/nickel corner or playing 30 percent of the snaps on the outside.
Strong Safety: Mark Barron (TB)
Aside from future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made a concerted effort to get younger in the secondary. That effort continued when they selected strong safety Mark Barron in the first round of last April's draft.
While he doesn't possess elite speed or agility, Barron was the captain of the nation's best defense—Nick Saban's D at Alabama, to be specific—and was by far the best run-stopping safety in Division I. He could use some work in coverage especially in the zone scheme, but he'll be an instant difference-maker and starter for Tampa Bay and become the leader of the defense by mid-season.
He's another player who will make noise in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race.
Honorable Mention: Harrison Smith (MIN)
The Vikings may have reached slightly for Smith in the first round, but his speed, awareness and run defense will definitely help one of the league's worst secondaries in 2012.
Free Safety: Brandon Taylor (SD)
Similarly to Barron, Brandon Taylor was a product of one of the nation's top defenses in LSU. That had both its advantages and disadvantages.
Taylor was a run-stopping machine throughout his three years as the starting free safety, constantly playing up in the box and blowing up run plays left and right. He'll be asked to do the same in San Diego in his rookie season.
Unfortunately, as many experts agree, Taylor wasn't tested much in the pass game due to the presence of high-caliber corners like Morris Claiborne. I don't think it will be that big of a deal because he has the athleticism to cover NFL wide receivers in the zone. He also has one of the best pass coverage safeties in the league—Eric Weddle—standing next to him in San Diego's backfield.
Honorable Mention: Markelle Martin (TEN)
Tennessee got one of the draft's best defensive backs in Martin and he'll make a difference right away in both the run game and pass game as he plays next to starter Michael Griffin.
His over-aggressiveness is one of the big reasons he didn't get the nod over Taylor.
Kicker: Randy Bullock (HOU)
The only thing standing in Randy Bullock's way is veteran kicker Shayne Graham, but all reports from OTAs are that Bullock is in line to become Houston's starting kicker and Graham is only there to groom the rookie.
Bullock has the skill set and the intangibles to be one of the league's better kickers, and the only thing he doesn't possess is a Sebastian Janikowski-type distance leg. But who can blame him? As he works with coaches he'll develop a stronger leg for the 50-plus kicks and he'll certainly be consistent enough to help Houston win its second straight division title.
Honorable Mention: Blair Walsh (MIN)
This recognition is more out of lack of quantity than of quality in Walsh—he was only 21-of-35 (60 percent) in his last year of college—but he'll still be a decent kicker. He won't live up to the legacy left by Ryan Longwell, but he'll be good nonetheless.
Punter: Bryan Anger (JAC)
The fact that Jacksonville used a third-round pick on a punter should tell you something: Bryan Anger is the real deal.
The California product followed up three straight first-team All-Pac 10 seasons with an incredible performance in the East-West Shrine Game. He has all the skills of an NFL punter including impeccable accuracy, above-average leg strength and good athleticism.
Not only will Anger be very good as a rookie, but he has the possibility of following in the footsteps of future Hall of Famer Shane Lechler as the best punter of the next decade.
Honorable Mention: Brad Nortman (CAR)
This is another one that is given more because of a lack of rookie players, but sixth-round pick Brad Nortman definitely has the capability to be a serviceable rookie starter for Carolina in 2012.
Kick/Punt Returner: Brandon Boykin (PHI)
Brandon Boykin may have been drafted to be the Eagles' next slot corner, but there is no doubt that the NFL's worst return team was looking at Boykin in the return game as well.
The only SEC player ever to return two 100-plus-yard kicks for touchdowns in the same season, Boykin returned a total of five kicks and punts for touchdowns in three years as a full-time returner. He averaged over 24 yards per kick return and 12 yards per punt return over his career.
Boykin will easily win the returning job over Dion Lewis in training camp and could be one of the league's most exciting special teams players in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Joe Adams (CAR)
Using his insane speed and agility, Adams will be playmaker in the return game for Carolina early and often in his rookie season.
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano (IND)
There are several rookie head coaches this year—all of whom I like—but the one who's poised for the best season in 2012 is Indianapolis' head man Chuck Pagano.
Pagano spent nine years as a secondary coach for a couple teams before being named the defensive coordinator in Baltimore for the 2011 season. While the Ravens run defense was as good as ever, he was able to improve the pass defense drastically, taking it from 21st to fourth in the NFL.
The Colts are on the upswing thanks to draft picks Coby Fleener and Andrew Luck, and while the offense will be revitalized by the rookie additions, the defensively-minded Pagano will help them improve in every aspect of football. Look for the 2012 Colts to be better than their 2011 counterparts.
Honorable Mention: Greg Schiano (TB)
No matter what Kellen Winslow says, the Buccaneers made the right move by replacing Raheem Morris—who went 17-31 in three seasons—with former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano.
In the seven seasons since 2005, Schiano turned an uncompetitive college team into one of the nation's better squads. He went 56-33 with a 5-1 record in bowl games between '05 and 2011, and his no-nonsense approach will help rectify a Tampa Bay team that took a huge step backwards in 2011.