NFC North: 5 Rookies Who Will Start Strong in 2012-13
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The NFC North is arguably the strongest division in football. The division boasts three playoff-caliber teams in the Packers, Bears and Lions as well as some of the best players at the their respective positions. The 2012 NFL draft saw NFC North teams take some impact rookies in Rounds 1 and 2 who could have a strong start.
The 2012-13 NFL season figures to be an exciting one. It sounds cliche, but the league finally has true parity. There are more teams than ever who can compete for the Lombardi Trophy, and even the bad teams are good enough to steal a game from any team at any time.
But the NFC North has the potential to stand out among the rest. The Packers are now considered perennial Super Bowl contenders. The Bears made huge moves in the offseason and could give the Pack a run for their money. The Lions have finally found success and will look to build on last season. And even the lowly Vikings really aren't that lowly. I wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota was close to .500 this year.
The rookies that were drafted into the NFC North could be what pushes one team ahead of another, so I am going to take a look at five rookies in the division that could make a difference in the 2012-13 season.
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At USC Kalil was a stud. His junior season saw him not give up a single sack while protecting quarterback Matt Barkley's backside. He is elite in pass protection and has the athleticism to block even the best pass-rushers.
Kalil is already making a difference as he is taking the first-team reps thus far in camp for the Vikings. He figures to be the day one starter at the position.
This also bolsters Minnesota's offensive line at another position, left guard. Last year's LT, Charlie Johnson, was playing out of position and with Kalil now a shoo-in for starter he will be able to slide into LG, his more natural position.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see Kalil make the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Vikings as he has all the tools to be Minnesota's answer at LT for the next decade.
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The Green Bay Packers defense was worse than horrendous last season. If not for the incredible offense the Packers have, it could have been a very ugly season up in Wisconsin. Green Bay knew their weaknesses though, and through free agency and the draft they have improved a sorry defense.
In the first round of the 2012 NFL draft the Packers took USC end Nick Perry. However, he figures to be a stand-up linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 defense.
Perry is showing the Packers exactly what they wanted to see out of their first-round pick. As early as July, Perry was already penciled in as the starting outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews.
Perry was an animal at USC. In the 2011 season Perry amassed 54 tackles and added another 9.5 sacks on his way to be the Packers' first selection.
Nick Perry is an incredible athlete with an outstanding repertoire of pass-rush moves. It was surprising to see the Packers select him to play in the 3-4 because he was a more natural fit in the 4-3. However, he appears to be learning rather quickly and could be a force alongside Clay Matthews for the Pack this year.
Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery
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The first second-round pick on this list, Alshon Jeffery was a player clouded in uncertainty before the draft. From issues with his effort to his fluctuating weight while at South Carolina, Jeffery was far from a sure-thing for a lot of NFL teams going into the draft.
The Bears decided that the receiver's tremendous upside was worth the risk when they selected him with the 45th overall pick.
So far, it appears that risk has paid dividends to the Chicago Bears. In camp Jeffery has demonstrated a better understanding of route running than the Bears expected and has fit right in with the first-team players on offense.
At 6'3" and weighing in right around 215 pounds, Jeffery has the size to be an elite No. 1 receiver in the NFL. The Bears stud at cornerback Charles Tillman has even called Jeffery "a Brandon Marshall in the making."
With his great measurables and his pure ability, Jeffery could be a big-time player for the Bears this season. His biggest impact will most likely be seen in the red zone, where his natural instincts and size advantage over defenders could lead to some easy TDs.
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Leading up the NFL Combine there were some scouts who felt that Iowa's Riley Reiff may have been pushing himself into the lead for best tackle in the draft. However, after an average combine he fell behind USC stud Matt Kalil. The Detroit Lions selected Reiff with the 23rd overall pick at outstanding value for a player that was considered to have top-15 talent.
Reiff compares well to former Boise State player Ryan Clady. He features prototypical size along with good hands and quick feet. One of the biggest knocks on Reiff is his below-average arm length, something that is important to NFL tackles for keeping speedy pass rushers from getting into their bodies. Reiff is a good enough athlete with solid fundamentals to get over this short-coming, however.
In camp Reiff appears to be pushing starting RT Gosder Cherlius for the starting position and is working as a swing-tackle who could fill in at either LT or RT. Lions coach Jim Schwartz was impressed with the rookie's first game saying "he was very consistent," and that he did a "very nice job."
If he continues to perform in both training camp and his preseason games, he could very well end up starting on opening day. He has the talent and ability to do so, and if he does he could end up bolstering an average Lions offensive line.
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Former Boise State Bronco Shea McClellin was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 19th pick of the first round. Many scouts projected McClellin to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. But Bears GM Phil Emery and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli must have seen enough of McClellin's ability as a pass-rusher to bring him into the Bears 4-3 system.
It was a surprise to many Bears fans when Shea McClellin was announced as the team's first pick. However, his first preseason game showed a lot of what impressed the Bears staff.
He flashed outstanding quickness when he chased former Bears backup QB Caleb Hanie down for a sack. He contributed a few tackles but left a lasting impression for the staff.
The next day of practice McClellin was promoted to the first team playing alongside Julius Peppers.
If McClellin continues to perform at a high level he could be looking at a starting position at defensive end. This would also give the Bears more flexibility at defensive tackle as previous No. 1 end Israel Idonije would move inside.
The Bears turned many heads when they picked McClellin 19th overall, and McClellin could end up turning a lot of heads his rookie season for Chicago.