5 NFL Rookies Who Will Make Playoff Teams Even Better
The 2012 NFL draft was one of the deepest in years. The fact that this year's draft class was so packed with impact players made it easier for playoff teams to get guys who could help them right away.
While a lot of training camp still remains and most rookies still need to step up and prove themselves, here's a look at five first-year players who should improve playoff teams.
David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 12-4 in 2011 and lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Denver Broncos. One of the big problems the Steelers had was an aging offensive line that had begun to spring leaks over the past few seasons.
On draft day this year, the Steelers got incredibly lucky, as Stanford guard David DeCastro fell to them at No. 24. I had DeCastro graded out as one of the top 10 players in this year's draft class and believe he will immediately be one of the NFL's top guards.
He is currently Pittsburgh's starting right guard, while fellow rookie Mike Adams looks like he will be the starter at left tackle.
At 6'5" and 316 pounds, DeCastro is a massive presence at guard. And while he hasn't exactly torn things up during training camp (according to the Beaver County Times), he will undoubtedly make the team's offensive line better once he settles in.
Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots desperately needed to upgrade their pass-rush this offseason. To do that, they made several moves, but none was more important than the drafting of Syracuse defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones.
The Patriots grabbed Jones with the 21st pick in the draft and immediately installed him as an edge rusher in the team's 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense. In his first preseason action, Jones registered five quarterback pressures in 14 dropbacks. That's a pretty incredibly debut.
At 6'5" and 266 pounds Jones definitely has ideal size off the edge. He also possesses off-the-charts athleticism that should make him a force. He is shaping up to be an impact player as a rookie and should help significantly improve New England's defense.
Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers needed to find a player who could come off the edge opposite of sack master Clay Matthews to help improve the team's pass-rush. So they decided to dip into the USC well again and came up with Nick Perry, who I had graded as the draft's best pure pass rusher.
Perry has come in and immediately established himself as the starter across from Matthews. After being one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-10/12 during his college career, he's now playing outside linebacker. But with Perry's athleticism, speed and instincts the shift shouldn't be a problem.
As things stand now, Perry will be starting at left outside linebacker, with Matthews moving around the formation and finding places to wreak havoc. The rookie has to be one of the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year, as his main job will be to pressure opposing quarterbacks. And that's what he does best.
Bill Bentley, Detroit Lions
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Drafted as "Dwight" Bentley and now being referred to as "Bill," this cornerback out of Louisiana-Lafayette was a third-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2012 NFL draft. But after going 85th overall, Bentley is looking like a steal early in training camp.
The Lions obviously have a fantastic defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but their secondary was a problem in 2011. Detroit allowed 239.4 passing yards per game, which ranked 22nd in the NFL.
Bentley has come in and established himself quickly in training camp. He is in contention to start across from Chris Houston and has been outperforming Jacob Lacey and Alphonso Smith so far.
The Lions needed a big boost to the secondary, and Bentley has great instincts and ball skills. He also boasts solid cover skills and will step up and help against the run.
With such a weak group of corners surrounding him, it's not a stretch to think Bentley will be Detroit's top cover man very soon.
Peter Konz, Atlanta Falcons
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Peter Konz was the top center in the 2012 NFL draft, but the Atlanta Falcons nabbed him with the 55th overall pick with plans to have him play guard for now. At this point, Konz is in a battle with incumbent starter Garrett Reynolds to win the right guard spot.
In the long run, Konz will almost certainly take over at center for Todd McClure, but for now, he'll probably stick at guard for at least a few years. That will only make the Falcons better up front.
Konz is huge for an interior lineman at 6'5" and 314 pounds. He has to improve his strength, but he anchored a Wisconsin offensive line that blew opponents away running the ball during his time in Madison.
Meanwhile, he should be an effective pass-blocker as well, especially as he develops a bit.
The Falcons have plenty of playmakers on the outside, but getting a blue-collar mauler like Konz on the interior of their line will improve their running game and give quarterback Matt Ryan more time to throw the ball.