One of the hardest things that armchair experts have to do entering a season is projecting which rookies are going to make immediate impact and have long careers in the National Football League.
After all, I very much doubt that many had Andy Dalton and Aldon Smith doing what they did as rookies heading into the 2011 season.
This year promises to be a little different.
Each rookie has had an entire offseason to work with their new team, something that couldn't have been said in 2011. This is going to give the '12 rookie class an upper hand.
That being said, there will be some first-round picks that fizzle out as rookies and some mid-rounders that excel beyond any previously set expectations.
So, let's take a look at a boom-or-bust prospect for each NFL team heading into the 2012 season.
There is no doubt in my mind that 2012 fourth-round pick Bobby Massie has all the physical talent to be a dominating offensive tackle in the National Football League.
The Mississippi product stands at 6'6" and weighs 325 pounds. Surprisingly, Massie is fleet of foot for someone his size. He does a solid job side-stepping and getting outside against speed-rushers.
In reality, Massie had first-round talent heading into April.
That being said, there are some issues in regards to the talented tackle. He started a total of 29 games in college, much fewer than what you expect from someone entering the league. He is going to struggle staying low on blocks and tends to give up inside position too much.
At least, that is what I noticed in watching tape of Massie.
This will put Massie into a tricky situation. He could be asked to start out of the gate next to a marginal guard. In essence, there could be major issues with pass protection and confidence in regards to Massie as a rookie.
We all know how that turned out with Levi Brown.
Peter Konz was considered a top 20 pick and the consensus No. 1 center heading into the 2012 NFL draft. However, concerns about injuries caused his stock to fall to the Atlanta Falcons in the second round.
Thomas Dimitroff and Co. couldn't have been more happy.
They have been looking for a long-term replacement for veteran Todd McClure, who seems to only have a season or two left in the tank.
Konz will compete with Garret Reynolds and Mike Johnson for the starting right-guard spot before eventually taking over at center.
If the Wisconsin product holds up in terms of injuries, he is going to be a Pro Bowl performer in the future. It is all about staying healthy and being able to contribute on a consistent basis.
It was extremely surprising to see Courtney Upshaw fall all the way to the second round in April. After all, I had given the former Alabama pass-rusher a top 15 grade leading up to the annual event in New York City.
There were, however, concerns about his ability to get to the outside from the linebacker position and to read coverages from the middle of the field in nickel schemes.
I believe these issues were a little overblown. It might have been the case of having too much tape on Upshaw.
Now that the Baltimore Ravens are going to miss Terrell Suggs for a good part of the 2012 seasons, they're going to need the second-round pick to step up.
The Carroll County Times is reporting that Upshaw will be the starting right outside linebacker opposite Paul Kruger in the front seven.
We will get a good ideas of where this talented pass-rusher stands relatively early in his career.
It is safe to assume that Stephon Gilmore is going to be more boom than bust in the NFL.
I find it interesting that the competition among starting corners in Buffalo doesn't include a rookie. That has to speak volumes in regards to how Gilmore has performed thus far in camp.
Don Banks over at CNNSI went as far to say "Buffalo has its Darrelle Revis."
While I am not ready to make that projection, it is pretty clear that Gilmore has the ability to be a true shutdown corner on the outside.
The Carolina Panthers waited until the fourth round to grab a young receiver. This might have caught some people off guard, but Carolina seems to be high on some of the young receivers they already had on the roster.
Former Arkansas standout Joe Adams fits the bill of someone that is going to help Cam Newton in the slot and down the field. He also has experience and success as a returner on special teams.
Size and bulk could be an issue for Adams in the NFL. He weighs under 180 pounds, which could cause some issues against press coverage in the slot.
If Adams makes it in the NFL, he won't be a marginal player.
I was not a huge fan of the Chicago Bears selecting Shea McClellin to play defensive end in their 4-3 defense. He seems to struggle a great deal against the run and doesn't possess the necessary strength to take on blockers one on one.
In short, the Boise State product would have been better suited going to a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the rookie will start 2012 as the primary backup defensive end behind Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
Let's see if he has what it takes being a primary pass-rush specialist in 2012 for what promises to be a dominant defense in Chicago.
I could have gone with either of the Cincinnati Bengals' two first-round picks, Dre Kirkpatrick or Kevin Zeitler, here. Both seem like they're, at least, going to be solid starters in the National Football League.
Instead, I decided to go with someone that had as much upside as any pass catcher entering the 2012 NFL draft.
Orson Charles was considered an up-and-coming tight end prospect in the months leading up to the draft. A DUI arrest and lackluster performances in postseason events caused his stock to drop a great deal.
Cincinnati was able to pick him up in the fourth round.
The talented tight end seems to possess all the physical tools you look for in a receiving threat down the field and between the hashes. His 6'3" frame might not be too intimidating, but Charles has some serious muscle on that build.
Charles should come in and be the Bengals' No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham.
Orson has exceeded in every way my expectations...I knew he was a big, strong guy. But his ability to run and catch the ball has been impressive.
Much to the surprise of absolutely no one, the Cleveland Browns have named rookie first-round pick Brandon Weeden their starting quarterback.
This is a smart move considering that the end result was pretty much inevitable. Why not give Weeden that boost of conference early in training camp?
That being said, there are so many different issues working against Weeden as he enters his initial NFL season. Cleveland doesn't have the skill-position players to help the Oklahoma State product on the outside. Instead, there is going to a huge learning curve for this young offense.
Moreover, Trent Richardson going to be visiting Dr. James Andrews in order to have surgery on his knee. Cleveland's offense, without the services of the talented young running back, is going to struggle even more.
You really cannot question the talent that Weeden possesses. I just have a hard time believing that the Browns have put him into a situation to succeed early in his career.
Morris Claiborne came into the 2012 NFL draft as the consensus No. 1 defensive player. He played against elite competition in the SEC and seems to have both the physical ability and maturity to be a true shutdown corner in the NFL.
Since the Dallas Cowboys traded up for Claiborne, things really have not gone according to plan.
He was unable to take part in any offseason activities and recently sprained his MCL, which should cost the rookie a few practices.
There is no doubting the talent that Claiborne possesses. He just needs to see the field and get some in game reps prior to the start of the regular season if he is going to be an impact rookie.
Either way, the sky is the limit.
Let me put one thing to rest. Ronnie Hillman will be the Denver Broncos starting running back in 2013, if not before. The San Diego Sate product has everything that teams look for in terms of a true No. 1 back. Therefore, he doesn't belong on this list.
Instead, I am going to go with Brock Osweiler. This young quarterback surprised the football world by declaring for the 2012 NFL draft when most experts believed he was at least a year away from being NFL ready.
The former Arizona State quarterback does have the arm strength and moxie to be a really good quarterback at this level. He will need to hone his skills in regards to accuracy, mechanics and pocket presence in order to be considered starter caliber.
This is where Peyton Manning comes into play. The future Hall of Fame quarterback will take Osweiler under his wings, putting the young quarterback in the perfect situation moving forward. In short, he couldn't have asked for more.
I was one of those people that questioned the Detroit Lions' selection of Temple linebacker Tahir Whitehead in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Most of those questions were based solely off of ignorance. Whitehead flew under the radar in the months leading up to the draft. There wasn't a bunch of game film available for him, and I had him with a free-agent grade.
This is why my colleagues and myself are armchair experts writing on media such as Bleacher Report. Obviously, the Detroit Lions knew a little bit more than we did.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham had the following to say about the rookie linebacker in a conference call with reporters back in June.
....By far the biggest surprise I've had in quite a while as a coach. I think (linebacker coach) Matt Burke and the scouts did a great job with him... He's much better than a fifth-round draft pick. He is something.
Cunningham, someone that doesn't normally pass out PR spin, has a good idea what it takes to be a solid defender in the NFL.
I will cede to him at this point.
If it weren't for consistency concerns, Jerel Worthy would have heard his name called in the first round of April's draft.
The former Michigan State defensive has the strength and size to help out a great deal against the run. He is also strong with the bull rush as a defensive end in nickel situations.
This is what the Green Bay Packers saw in him when the traded up in the second round to acquire his services.
Worthy had the following to say about his possible role as a rookie in the Packers defense.
I was rotating with the ones a lot. The coaches say they have a lot of plans to put me in with the starting defense.
If Worthy can become more motivated and consistent on the football field, he will definitely be a force to be reckon with and should make an immediate impact. If not, he could become a bust in relatively short order.
The Houston Texans have been looking for a complementary receiver to Andre Johnson for quite some time now. Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walker, among others, have failed to play that role in previous seasons.
In an attempt to hit lightning in a bottle, Houston selected two wide receivers in April's draft.
A myriad of different reports indicate that Keshawn Martin has looked better in camp than fellow rookie DeVier Posey, who was selected in the third round.
Houston Texans head man Gary Kubiak seemed to give the Michigan State product glowing reviews thus far.
What he's done is just be very consistent.... He's a talented young man. He's the one guy out of the rookies that has acted like a pro from the get-go, handling himself mentally, physically and can run all day. This thing doesn't look too big for him and that's a great sign for our team.
The one issue that I see in regards to Martin is his lack of production in college. The young receiver compiled just 10 touchdowns and 127 receptions in four collegiate seasons.
Most rookie quarterbacks would find themselves on a list like this. Not Andrew Luck. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft is going to be anything less than spectacular in the National Football League.
Instead, I go with one of the two tight ends that the Indianapolis Colts selected. Despite being a strong contributor at Clemson, Dwayne Allen seemed to fly under the radar of scouts heading into April.
Playing with a marginal quarterback, the talented tight end nearly recorded 600 yards while putting up eight touchdowns in 2011.
In an effort to duplicate what the New England Patriots have down at the tight end position, Indianapolis made the odd decision to go with two tight ends in the early round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Will it pay off? If you ask Paul Kuharsky of ESPN, it most definitely will.
Why not conclude that Justin Blackmon is already going to be a bust in the National Football League? After all, he was highly overrated coming out of college, held out of training camp until the final week leading up the Jacksonville Jaguars preseason game and was arrested on a DUI.
Definitely not indicators of someone that is going to have a successful NFL career.
As hard as I have been on the Oklahoma State product, I think it makes sense to actually watch him play a football game before coming to any conclusions.
One thing is for sure. The Jaguars are going to need Blackmon to be a No. 1 wide receiver early in his career. That is a lot of pressure on a young man who seems to be going through a great deal in terms of the maturation process.
The whole idea that Dontari Poe is nothing more than a "workout warrior" is an absolute joke to me. There is a reason why the NFL holds the collegiate combine. Last time I checked it was to see what certain prospects can do in terms of running and lifting weights.
It is an indicator of how a player is going to translate to the toughest football league in the world. Consequently, it makes no sense to question someone who performed well at that annual event in Indianapolis.
Poe is a massive human being that had to take on two or three blockers at a time in college at Memphis. He can act as that gap filler along the interior of the defensive line, stopping opposing running backs in their tracks.
Moreover, Poe has the ability to get into the offensive backfield when not facing triple teams on a consistent basis.
We will learn relatively quickly whether the skeptics were right.
Again, we might actually want to watch a rookie play an actual football game before drawing conclusions. This is the trap that I fell into last season when I questioned Cam Newton's ability to make an immediate impact in the National Football League.
It is going to be interesting to see how Ryan Tannehill performs, even as the No. 3 quarterback, heading into the Miami Dolphins initial preseason game this week.
He doesn't seem to have learned the nuances of playing the quarterback position. He seems to have a whole lot more to learn before being able to make an impact at this level.
Tannehill has all the things you look for, but cannot teach a quarterback. He possesses a strong arm, can look over the top of defense and has a prototypical build.
Apparently the Texas A&M product has looked pretty good in camp as of late. Let's reserve judgment on the "project" quarterback and see how he does over the course of the 2012 season when called upon.
That being said, it is most definitely boom or bust for this talented young man.
I had the pleasure of watching Harrison Smith play every single Saturday during his college career. The Notre Dame alum acted as the quarterback of a really good secondary and definitely knew what to do and when to do it. Moreover, he wasn't afraid to lay the wood on a consistent basis.
That being said, it still alarmed me a great deal when the Minnesota Vikings selected Smith in the first round of April's draft. While he might have the intelligence and passion, Smith seems to lack the athletic ability to be an impact safety in the NFL.
ESPN is reporting that Smith began to take snaps with the Vikings' first-team defense earlier this week. That is both a good and bad sign for the franchise.
It is good because they need their 2012 first-round pick to make an impact. It's bad because it shows they may be relying too heavily on him to do so.
Time will tell.
I could have gone with either of the New England Patriots' first-round picks here, but that would have been too easy. It also seems that both Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower are going to be absolute studs moving forward.
Alfonzo Dennard was one of my highest rated cornerbacks in the months leading up to the 2012 NFL draft. He is a hard-hitting cover guy that seems to excel a great deal in bump coverage, which is a perfect fit for the slot in New England.
The Nebraska product was arrested just five days before the draft for an alleged assault on a police officer. This was probably the worst timing for an arrest since Marion Barry's crack binge in D.C. It caused Dennard to fall all the way to the seventh round where New England picked him up.
Talent is there. It is now up to Dennard to re-emerge as the talent that scouts saw prior to his arrest in April.
David Wilson has the talent to be a true No. 1 running back in the National Football League. This much is obvious considering that the Virginia Tech product was selected with the final pick in the first round.
There is, however, a difference between being a runner and a running back. Wilson needs to learn the nuances of the NFL before he is going to be able to make a consistent impact.
Where Wilson might be strong in the physical aspects of the game, he tends to struggle following his blockers and remaining patient behind the line of scrimmage. Dancing might work out fine and dandy in the ACC, but it isn't going to help him in the NFL.
The good news is that these downfalls are commonplace as they relate to young running backs. Once Wilson becomes more seasoned and gains some experience, watch out.
It is all about him taking that learning curve and acing it.
Anyone expecting big things from Stephen Hill as a rookie is going to be sorely mistaken. The talented rookie receiver is nowhere near the summit in terms of what he can do on the football field on Sunday's. His upside is nearly unmatched.
The learning curve is also nearly unmatched.
Hill played in a run-heavy offense under Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. This disabled his ability to learn a solid route tree and should be cause for alarm entering his rookie season. Fly patterns on the outside aren't going to be consistently successful in the NFL.
Once Hill is able to learn more routes, become more fluid in his breaks and gain valuable experience, he should be an impact player in the league.
Due to a lack of depth and talent on the New York Jets receiving corps, Hill has been named a starter on their initial depth chart of the preseason. At the very least, this will give him the necessary experience to grow as a receiver.
Boom or bust? This is a question that has taken many different turns as it relates to former Wisconsin standout Nick Toon.
He was considered a first-round pick entering the 2011 season, but he dropped heavily due to a poor performance during the season and in the postseason.
There are issues in regards to his hands and ability to get separation at the line of scrimmage.
That being said, Toon couldn't be in a better situation with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The future Hall of Fame quarterback seems to make every receiver that plays with him better than they actually are. Kinda reminds me a great deal of Peyton Manning during his Indianapolis Colts days.
Toon was off to a slow start in camp prior to injuring his foot and missing the Saints initial preseason game. He is going to have to show something if he expects to be in the rotation at receiver as a rookie.
Juron Criner doesn't fit the mold of the type of receiver the Oakland Raiders usually go for in the draft. I guess his selection in April was somewhat of a changing of the guard in Northern California. The passing of Al Davis, coupled with a new front office, has led to a changing strategy.
While it is too early to know if Reggie McKenzie's way of going about business is going to work, it does seem to fall in line with some of the great organizations in the league.
The selection of Criner is no different.
At 6'4" and 215 pounds, the Arizona product is definitely an intimidating force on the outside. He needs to polish his route-running skills and could use a little help in terms of catching the ball away from his body. These are two things that experience will give a young receiver.
Nick Foles was one of the most polished quarterback prospects in the 2012 NFL draft outside of the three that were selected at the position in the initial round.
As a three-year starter for Arizona in college, Foles compiled over 10,000 passing yards and 67 touchdowns. He has the arm and size to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Issues do remain in regards to accuracy and mechanics, which makes him a project.
Foles will not be asked to start anytime soon with Michael Vick on the roster. That being said, Philadelphia could definitely groom him to be their quarterback of the future.
I would have gone with David DeCastro here, but then I realized just how good the former Stanford guard is. Instead, it made sense to go with another talented offensive lineman, who has serious issues in regards to technique.
Mike Adams definitely has the physical ability to be a dominating offensive tackle in the National Football League. He proved this after a stellar career in Ohio State that saw him start the final 23 collegiate games that he played.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are definitely relying on Adams to make an instant impact at left tackle, where he is currently battling with Trai Essex and Max Starks for the starting job.
Ladarius Green was one of my favorite small-school prospects heading into the 2012 NFL draft. The former Louisiana-Lafayette star can cause tremendous matchup issues against opposing linebackers and safeties between the hashes. He played outside and even some fullback in college.
In terms of physical ability, Green is dynamic. He can catch the ball in traffic, has no issues breaking the line against press and shows some really soft hands.
In short, the San Diego Chargers got an absolute steal in the fourth round here. It might sound a little too optimistic, but I view Green as their tight end of the future after Antonio Gates hangs up the cleats.
You still do have the little issue of him playing against less-than-stellar competition in college. There are some skeptics that will say he dominated because of the defenses he went up against on a consistent basis.
While that might make some sense, it is hard to criticize a player because of who he played in college.
The San Francisco 49ers surprised everyone by selecting LaMichael James in the second round of April's draft. After all, they already had Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon on the roster.
That being said, James isn't going to be asked to be a true No. 1 running back for the 49ers. He was brought in to bring that deep threat, something that the talented player did an abundance of times in Eugene.
He was one of the most dynamic running backs in the modern history of college football at Oregon. Some say that James is too small to be an impact player in that NFL. That is just foolish.
Bleacher Report lead writer Dan Levy had the following to say about James following April's draft.
James is an inch taller than Maurice Jones-Drew, who admittedly was heavier coming out of college (listed near 207 pounds). James is the same height as Ray Rice, who was listed at 199 pounds out of Rutgers. Rice is now listed at 212 pounds.
At the very least, James could be a Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles-type player.
He is, in every possible definition of the term, "boom or bust."
Many people jumped the gun when the Seattle Seahawks selected Bruce Irvin in the first round in April. At that time it appeared the former West Virginia pass rusher was a tremendous reach.
Then it came out that other teams, including the division rival San Francisco 49ers, were looking at Irvin in the initial round.
It didn't seem like a terrible reach after all.
That being said, Irvin still has a lot of growing to do if he is going to be a consistently good force at defensive end in Seattle. He needs to gain leverage and technique on the outside in order to be considered a three-down player.
If this doesn't happen, Irvin will be nothing more than a pass-rush specialist in the Hawks' 4-3 defensive scheme.
Either way, the talent is definitely there.
Michael Brockers was a late entry into the class of 2012. The Louisiana State product doesn't have a ton of experience and is going to need to work on a wide array of issues in order to be considered a difference maker in the NFL.
He tends to struggle shedding blocks at the line and doesn't possess the necessary technique to take on stronger interior linemen.
One thing isn't in question. Brockers has as much upside as any defensive player in this class. He is an absolute beast in terms of size, strength and speed.
Once Brockers is able to hone his skills, the young defensive tackle could become a solid force for the St. Louis Rams. It's all about gaining experience.
Mark Barron and Doug Martin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two first-round picks in April, are going to be absolute studs in the NFL. So, it made little sense to go with them here.
Lavonte David flew under the radar as the 2012 NFL draft neared. Despite a strong playing career in Lincoln, some were scared off because of his size (6'1" and 225). He does excel in coverage and can go sideline-to-sideline in a heartbeat.
The Buccaneers inserted David as their starting weak-side linebacker during organized team activities and he should be a lock for that spot when the season starts in September.
Definitely someone to watch as a rookie.
In terms of freakish athletes, Zach Brown pretty much took the cake on the defensive side of the ball when scouting 2012 NFL draft prospects. The North Carolina prospect has some amazing football speed and flies to the ball with reckless abandon.
That being said, Brown needs to gain seasoning before he can be an impact player. He struggles understanding offensive formations, takes himself out of the play consistently and struggles shedding blocks.
Those are three major indicators that Brown is going to be a project player with the Tennessee Titans.
The Tennessean believes that Brown is going to be more of a situational player as a rookie in 2012. That makes perfect sense to me.
It still makes little sense to me that the Washington Redskins, a team in need of talent across the board, would select Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of April's draft after giving up a bounty to acquire Robert Griffin III.
I can see the reasoning behind it. Cousins was a second-round prospect to most scouts. If Washington is able to showcase the Michigan State product during the preseason over the course of the next few seasons they could get some tremendous value in terms of a trade.
I just hope for Cousins' sake that the Redskins find a way to move on from him and give the quarterback an opportunity to excel for a franchise that will actually give him a chance.