11 NFL Longshots That Could Shock the World in 2012
In 2010, an undrafted rookie out of Massachusetts took an NFL field for the first time in his career during a preseason matchup against the New York Jets.
The young receiver was desperate for a chance to showcase his abilities in an attempt to secure a roster spot with the New York Giants, and luckily, he was blessed with a surplus of play-making opportunities.
He put on a performance that was admirable for any receiver, let alone an undrafted rookie. He caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. And to add to the insult, his dominance was captured by HBO's Hard Knocks, which led to a minor humiliation of Rex Ryan and the Jets on national television.
Unfortunately, he didn't record a single reception during the 2010 regular season and appeared in only three games. So regardless of the obvious potential, he was a major question mark heading into the 2011 season.
The Giants didn't know what they were getting. But fortunately for them, the receiver was Victor Cruz.
Cruz finished the season with the third-most receiving yards in the NFL (1,536) and helped the Giants win their second Super Bowl ring in five years.
Cruz was off everyone's radar and wasn't even guaranteed a roster spot last season. Yet somehow, he was able to transform into a top-tier wideout practically overnight.
These types of stories happen every year in the NFL. A player is a complete unknown on the national level and finds his way into the spotlight.
So with that in mind, which current unknown players have a shot at repeating history?
This slideshow will outline 11 unknown or off-the-radar players who are capable of walking in Cruz's shoes under the right circumstances.
Chris Polk Is a Well-Rounded Option Behind LeSean McCoy in Philadephia
Chris Polk was the cornerstone of Washington's rushing attack during his college years.
After producing three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Polk garnered significant attention from both fans and scouts. Mock drafts had him coming off the board somewhere in the first three rounds, but concerns over a shoulder injury forced him to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie, per Frank Cooney of CBS Sports.
LeSean McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns last season, so the Eagles are not desperate for running back help at the moment.
Polk will likely learn from the sidelines to start his career, but the 208-pound McCoy could easily run into an injury if Philadelphia relies on him too heavily.
If that's the case, the well-rounded Polk has enough raw talent to excel if he's forced into action. The Eagles have a great supporting cast on offense, so Polk will be in a favorable position if he's able to find playing time.
Pittsburgh Steelers Know How to Use Chris Rainey's Speed in Their Offense
We often associate tough and hard-nosed football with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the brutes also know a thing or two about finesse.
Speedsters Willie Parker and Antwaan Randle El were key to their 2005 Super Bowl season, while Mike Wallace is currently one of the most dangerous deep-ball threats in the NFL.
At 5'9" and 180 pounds, receiver and running back hybrid Chris Rainey was viewed as too small to warrant a high pick. Instead, the Steelers waited until the fifth round before taking a gamble on him.
With Rashard Mendenhall possibly missing the entire 2012 season with a knee injury, the Steelers will turn to their depth for help, according to Ryan Van Bibber of SB Nation.
Isaac Redman is the favorite as a full-time replacement, but Rainey will get his chance to shine in a Pittsburgh offense that loves to run the ball.
Sam Bradford Can Utilize Steve Smith in the Slot for the St. Louis Rams
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford certainly had his struggles after taking 36 sacks in 10 games during his sophomore season in 2011.
Although, when Bradford was sufficiently protected during his rookie year in 2010, he was able to turn the athletically challenged Danny Amendola into an 85-catch weapon out of the slot. Bradford finished as Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Amendola led the NFL in all-purpose yard (2,364).
If Bradford was able to transform Amendola into a star slot receiver, what will he be able to accomplish with a far more athletic Steve Smith lining up inside?
Smith isn't an unknown due to his previous success with the New York Giants, but he has been battling a knee injury over the last two seasons and hasn't played a full campaign since his Pro Bowl year in 2009.
If Smith is finally healthy, then he'll quickly become Bradford's best friend.
Will 2011 Absentee Shane Vereen Come out of His Shell in New England?
As a second-round pick from 2011, running back Shane Vereen is hardly a longshot when it comes to earning a spot on the New England Patriots' roster.
But while his job security is intact for the moment, his lofty draft status certainly hasn't guaranteed him playing time in the Patriots' loaded offense.
Vereen carried the ball only 15 times last season and finished with just 51 yards and a touchdown.
However, while nothing is being handed to him, he's been a key part of the offense during team workouts this offseason (according to the Boston Herald).
Bill Belichick loves to utilize multiple running back in his offense, so Vereen's number of carries will certainly increase. And if he's electric on the field, he'll slowly be worked in as a more permanent member of their rushing attack.
Can Tommy Streeter Mine His Potential for the Baltimore Ravens?
At the age of 31, Anquan Boldin is aging and is already less effective than his younger self.
He also has a career-long habit of nursing injuries on the sidelines. This could result in a lucky break for the raw but talented Tommy Streeter.
The Baltimore Ravens need a player capable of lining up on the opposite side of second-year receiver Torrey Smith. If Streeter can be that guy, then the Ravens will have two sizable perimeter targets for Joe Flacco.
At 6'5" and 219 pounds, Streeter has the frame and body of a top-notch NFL receiver. The only question is whether or not he'll be able to learn the finer points of his position in order to excel.
Can Cliff Harris Regain Focus in Philadelphia?
Cliff Harris was an All-American cornerback at Oregon in 2010, but several encounters with law enforcement and multiple citations forced the Ducks to cut ties with him.
The multiple incidents did not sit well with NFL teams, as he went undrafted last April.
The Philadelphia Eagles took a flyer on Harris and signed him to a free-agent contract. It's a low-risk situation for the Eagles, as they'll acquire one of the top corners of this rookie class for next to nothing.
If Harris can buckle down and avoid the cops, he'll have a chance at becoming one of the better under-the-radar talents of this year's crop.
Is Greg Childs Minnesota's Long-Term Answer on the Outside?
At 6'3" and 219 pounds, Greg Childs was always one of the more physically gifted receivers of the SEC conference.
The former Arkansas Razorback missed nine games throughout his last two seasons, but he remained relatively productive during that time with 899 yards and six touchdowns.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Childs in the fourth round last April, which puts him in an ideal situation since the team is starving for talent at wide receiver.
Childs, who has decent size, will look to win a starting job at wideout.
Opposing defenses will constantly stack eight men in the box to stop Adrian Peterson and slot receiver Percy Harvin, which will allow Childs to go unnoticed and excel on the outside.
Chase Minnifield Needs to Beef Up and Move Up Top in Washington
Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield was initially viewed as someone who would come off the board in the first two rounds, but the big signing bonus will have to wait for the undrafted rookie.
It all went downhill at the 2012 NFL Combine, when Minnifield stepped up for the 225-pound bench press and finished with only seven reps.
Also, some questioned certain aspects of Minnifield's coverage technique.
But despite his shortcomings, he was able to reach an agreement with the Washington Redskins.
Minnifield will make his NFL debut with an already solid supporting cast on defense. He won't be forced into a role that immediately demands him to make big plays, and the presence of DeAngelo Hall ensures that he won't have to line up on the opposing team's top receiver.
Minnifield is capable of playing corner, but the Redskins will consider sticking him at safety if they truly want to maximize his potential.
Putting Minnifield at safety requires less pass coverage and will allow him to do what he does best—play physical football.
Vontaze Burfict Is a Steal for the Bengals...If His Brain Starts Working
Vontaze Burfict is talented enough to have been a top-20 draft pick, but possessing the maturity of a four-year-old typically repels NFL scouts.
Whether it's throwing a punch on the field or headbutting a quarterback, Burfict works very hard to ensure that he does the stupidest possible thing in any given situation. As a result, he likely holds some sort of record for personal fouls.
But if Burfict discovers the error in his way, he'll provide the Cincinnati Bengals with a first-round talent for the price of a benchwarmer.
The linebacker will be surrounded by one of the better defenses in football, so some determination on his part could go a long way towards making him an immediate star.
Sammy Brown's Nose for the Quarterback Could Make Him a Hit with the Rams
The St. Louis Rams have been absolutely terrible at the outside linebacker position for over a decade.
In fact, the last time a Rams outside linebacker received praise was when Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson a yard short of the end zone in Super Bowl XXXIV back in 1999.
But since then, it's been all downhill.
In attempt to correct the disturbing trend, newly hired head coach Jeff Fisher brought in a group of talented late-round and undrafted linebackers.
One of the more intriguing talents Fisher brought in is Sammy Brown of the University of Houston.
In Brown's last two seasons, he has recorded 50 tackles for a loss and 21 sacks.
According to an article by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brown went undrafted not because of a lack of talent, but rather an inconsistent display of effort that Fisher was obviously willing to overlook.
The Rams are dying for a linebacker who's capable of pressuring the quarterback. And with Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers on the defensive line, Brown will have a chance to shine as a rookie.
Kellen Moore Can Prevent a Disaster in Detroit If Matthew Stafford Is Sidelined
At 6'0" and 197 pounds, former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore is undersized, to say the least.
But what he lacks in stature, he makes up for in production and personality.
Moore had a dominant four-year career at Boise with 14,667 total passing yards and 142 touchdowns. On top of that, he was the vocal leader of a Broncos team that remained consistently competitive under his watch.
So while he's far from a blue-chip prospect, he has the determination required to become successful at the NFL level if he's able to find playing time.
After a remarkable 2011 campaign by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Detroit is not in need of a starting quarterback. Although, let's not forget the injury concerns Stafford had during his first two seasons.
Lions fans quiver at the thought of Stafford getting injured again, but after missing 19 games in his first two seasons, is it really far-fetched to still be skeptical about his ability to remain healthy for multiple consecutive years?
If Stafford falls into old habits, Moore will have a chance to step up and establish himself. And with Megatron out wide, he's almost guaranteed to post numbers that are at least acceptable.
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