Which NFL Rookies Have the Most to Prove in 2012?

Alex DunlapContributor IAugust 1, 2012

Which NFL Rookies Have the Most to Prove in 2012?

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    Some would say that once you get to the NFL, you don't have anything left to prove. You've made it. 

    Those people end up having bad careers in football, and generally, bad careers after football. It's not necessarily an indictment on your character to rest on your laurels once you get that first NFL paycheck, but it is an indicator of your potential for positive future development. Complacency has never created progress.

    These are the NFL rookies who have the most to prove coming into the 2012 season.

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

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    Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson needs to prove that size doesn't always matter.

    I played high school football with Saints QB Drew Brees, and since, have interviewed and corresponded with him numerous times as a member of the NFL media. Let's just say that I am a fan. Maybe, this is the reason why I do not believe a rookie QB's adaptability to the NFL game should be measured with a six-foot stick.

    Russell Wilson surprised us all at the male bikini contest known as the Senior Bowl's National Scouting Weigh-In. 5'10"? Russell Wilson? The same Russell Wilson we have seen on the Wisconsin tapes dropping bombs?

    It became evident to me during Senior Bowl practices as to where this disparity in my mind came from. It was the height of his release that my brain recognized, not his physical stature. It was the spot the ball came from, not the person delivering it.

    Russell Wilson finds himself in an open, three-man race to man the ship in Seattle this season. I know one thing for sure after getting to know Russell this offseason: He will compete. Whatever he has to prove, he will prove it, for better or for worse.  

Quinton Coples, Defensive End, New York Jets

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    Jets rookie DE Quinton Coples needs to prove that he isn't a slacker.

    I don't know what it is about UNC prospects lately, but I don't like it. Dwight Jones, Robert Quinn, Brandon Tate, Cam Thomas and the list goes on and on. They act entitled, and they take plays off. There's an odd, shared aura of "not wanting it."

    Quinton Coples burst onto the scene for his first few snaps of Senior Bowl practices, looking like a slightly shorter-armed version of Julius Peppers in his powder blue helmet. Disruptive. A technician at the point of attack. The kind of defensive end who has the potential to give opposing QBs (and left tackles) nightmares.

    Then, a familiar phenomenon occurred. He disappeared. And wouldn't you know, as soon as you would notice his absence, there he was again, wreaking havoc.

    A solid pass rush is built on individual consistency. It's an act constructed by a defensive end as if he were laying the foundation on which to build a home. It is a process. It is getting to learn the offensive tackle, being consistent in what you give him and learning how he reacts. Only then can he be exploited strategically with the help of your physical gifts. 

    Coples needs to prove he is capable of that consistency. 

Brandon Weeden, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns

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    Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden needs to prove that wisdom comes with age.

    The 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft ushered in the Brandon Weeden era in Cleveland.

    The Browns' incumbent QB, Colt McCoy, was given about two years to learn a West Coast offense that is universally thought of as a system that takes three years for a QB to master. When Kendall Wright fell off the board at pick 20, the Cleveland Browns took a left turn and went with Plan B. They went all-in on a 28-year-old rookie QB.

    I like Weeden. I live in Austin and get to a lot of Big 12 games. Overall, he passes the eyeball test, and the inadequacies that can be pointed out in his game are the same inadequacies that one could point out in numerous other top prospects.

    Vic Carucci told me at the Senior Bowl that drafting a quarterback was not an "if" in Cleveland's 2012 draft plans, but a "when." It was where the QB was taken that would be the determining factor about the franchise's true appraisal of McCoy as a viable long-term option.

    Weeden went really early. The onus now falls squarely on his shoulders to prove that, with a renovated supporting cast on offense, he will be able to steer the ship in a complicated system—and quickly. Seats are getting hot in the front office. 

Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

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    Titans rookie WR Kendall Wright needs to prove he is capable of learning.

    Kendall Wright laid a couple of stinkers when he tested for the 40-yard dash at the combine.

    The very characteristic that had pundits everywhere foaming at the mouth, his otherworldly acceleration, was brought into question. When you run over 4.6 and have a body that some scouts told me they "were scared of," you fall down draft boards.

    He made up for it at Baylor's pro day. I timed him at 4.41 and 4.46. That seemed more like it.

    Wright told RosterWatch after the workout what the difference was. Those fleeting two-tenths of a second seem so marginal in the grand scheme of things but represent a huge difference in a player's projection, especially a wide receiver who reminds you of a mix of Santonio Holmes and Steve Smith. Speed is a necessity.

    Wright said it was the three-second pause that's required before running the 40 in Indy. He wasn't prepared for it. He didn't know about it, and hadn't practiced it. It messed him up. He went on to say it was the slowest 40 time he had run since middle school, and holding onto it for the last few weeks felt awful.

    I remember thinking to myself, "Dude, how could you not know? This is your career." It raised a little red flag in my mind. 

    To be capable of learning, you need to be proactive. You need to seek answers, not merely accept the ones given to you. You can't say after the game that you weren't aware that the defense would be going to a 4-2-5 front, and that's why you missed your assignment. Kendall Wright is an elite talent who needs to prove he is capable in this regard.     

Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver, Chicago Bears

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    Bears rookie WR Alshon Jeffery needs to prove that he loves football. 

    If there was an Alshon Jeffery bandwagon to be ridden on during the 2011-2012 NFL draft season, I am pretty sure that Matt Miller and I were driving the thing. 

    Somewhere along the way, rumors starting cropping up in our path. Little road blocks in our parade's scheduled procession.

    Thankfully, as a reporter, I have the tools to steer past these obstacles. I heard Alshon Jeffery had ballooned to 240 pounds and had let himself go physically after the Capital One Bowl, so I called his trainer. I found that this was untrue. Easy as that.  

    I heard Jeffery was working out in Indy the week before the combine and looking like a slob, so I called his agent and squashed that, too.

    Even though Alshon Jeffery showed up at the NFL combine in the best shape of his life, he still hasn't been able to shake the perception that he's somehow lazy. 

    Now, Jeffery needs to prove to the world what I believe to be true. He's going to be a monster, and he's going to work for it. 

Dontari Poe, Defensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Chiefs rookie DT Dontari Poe needs to prove he isn't just a work-out warrior. 

    I am a huge fan of Dontari Poe. When I interviewed him at the combine before he unleashed his series of monster drills, I honestly thought to myself, "This man could kill me with his bare hands right now if he were so inclined." His upper arms are thicker than my thighs. 

    It was in his workouts in Indy that we saw the lion. It was in his tapes from actual game-play in college where we see the lamb. 

    Poe played against terrible competition in college at Memphis.

    Even worse, he wasn't nearly as disruptive against inferior competition as his heralded D-line counterparts Michael Brockers and Fletcher Cox were against future NFL'ers in the SEC. It should be noted, though, that Poe was Memphis' defense in 2011 and was always double-teamed, often triple-teamed with fullback help.

    Poe enters the 2012 season charged with the duty of disproving a published scientific theory. The theory that NFL production cannot be predicted by combine numbers alone.  

Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, St. Louis Rams

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    Rams rookie CB Janoris Jenkins needs to prove he's a changed man. 

    I believe Janoris Jenkins will be defensive rookie of the year, and I realize that this sentiment is far from unanimous. I choose to rely on what I know, though. What I know is that I have watched more Janoris Jenkins tape than is humanly reasonable.

    I have analyzed his brutally smooth burst and his electric cutting ability in coverage ad nauseum—on film, at the Senior Bowl and at the combine. But what sealed it for me was talking it out with him.

    In about one hour of his time, he broke down for me exactly how he neutralized NFL studs such as A.J. Green and Julio Jones in college.

    Unfortunately, it's Jenkins' off-the-field transgressions which led to his dismissal from the University of Florida that are at the top of most people's minds. It's a great punch line. The Rams are probably the only team ever to draft two cornerbacks in the same year who were both tasered by law enforcement officials in college.

    Janoris Jenkins must now prove that he's more than just an elite talent with a propensity to blow it all with one stupid mistake—the way he did during his college career when he was arrested three times. (Twice by the same officer, but that is another story for another day.) He needs to prove that he's who he is. The best cornerback in the 2012 NFL draft.