5 Second-Year NFL Players Poised to Become Superstars in 2012
When looking back at the 2011 NFL draft, one could realistically argue that five bona fide superstars can already be identified from the class: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Bengals receiver A.J. Green, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a borderline candidate after leading Cincinnati to the playoffs and earning a spot as an AFC Pro Bowl quarterback.
Despite already showing great promise in Year 1, however, I doubt the 2011 class is done producing elite level players. In fact, there are five names from the class who could breakout in a big way in 2012.
In the following slides, we break down the five 2011 rookies who will be household names by the end of this season.
Juilo Jones, Falcons
There may not be a more obvious choice on this list than Jones, who looks ready to jump into the elite category of NFL receivers in 2012.
Jones was well on his way during his rookie season—catching 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns—but injuries robbed him of three games in 2011.
The Falcons moved up several spots two Aprils ago to nab Jones with the No. 7 overall pick.
Falcons receivers coach Terry Robiske told the Associated Press that Jones' size (6'3", 220 pounds) and speed will be tough for opposing defenses to handle in his second year.
Just look at the physicality of the guy. When you look at how strong he is, how big a guy he is, how powerful he is ... he’s got all the powerful stuff that’s just beautiful to watch.
The Falcons are expected to lean more on Matt Ryan and the passing game in 2012, and Jones has already been productive in two preseason games (nine catches, 150 yards, touchdown).
If he's healthy for 16 games, expect Pro Bowl numbers.
J.J. Watt, Texans
Watt simply has everything you want in a perfect 3-4 defensive end.
The former Wisconsin Badger stands 6'5" and weighs 295 pounds, but he's also equipped with a drive and non-stop motor that may be equaled only by 49ers All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith.
He’s going to be a bust — not a first-round bust but a bust in the Hall of Fame. The only players I’ve seen that can do what he can do with his intensity can be found in Canton...He’s powerful, and he’s got a great feel for what it takes to play his position...He dominated the line of scrimmage against two playoff teams. I think he’ll continue to go from there because he works so hard at it. He wants to be a great player.
Watt has been dealing with an elbow injury during the preseason, but no one in the Texans organization appears nervous that he won't be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
When healthy, Watt is one of the few young defensive linemen who can take over a game at the line of scrimmage.
Robert Quinn, Rams
Quinn just began scratching his enormous potential as a pass-rusher during a five-game stretch in the middle of his rookie season.
From Weeks 8 to 12, Quinn delivered a sack in four of five games. However, Quinn had just one in the 10 other games he played during his rookie season.
Heading into his sophomore year in St. Louis, Quinn could be ready to burst onto the NFL scene.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has called Quinn quick around the edge throughout camp, and he backed up that praise with a sack during the Rams' second preseason game.
With a legitimate pass-rushing option in Chris Long opposite him for 2012, Quinn has all the makings of being a breakout stud this season. Ten to 12 sacks certainly isn't out of the question.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
Tight ends have quickly become all the rage in NFL offenses, and it appears as if the Vikings have themselves a good one in Rudolph.
The Notre Dame product has been the dominant offensive player for Minnesota through three weeks of camp and preseason.
From Dan Wiederer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Christian Ponder looks for Kyle Rudolph a lot. Rudolph has big hands, long arms and added confidence. Don’t be surprised if he leads the team in targets this season.
But Minnesota's offense should be tailored directly around Rudolph, which means 70-80 catches in 2012 is right in his wheelhouse. He'll get his shot to thrust his name into the conversation for the NFL's best tight ends.
Titus Young, Lions
Those outside of the immediate Detroit area may be surprised by Young's inclusion on this lsit, but don't be. He has breakout season written all over him in 2012.
Young, who caught a 24-yard touchdown pass in the Lions' Week 2 preseason game, has been impressing those in attendance of the Lions' workouts all offseason.
From Lions beat writer Anwar Richardson of MLive.com:
During voluntary workouts, organized team activities, minicamp and training camp, Young has been almost impossible to stop during practices. He has the unique combination of speed, cutting ability, and great hands.
Playing alongside the best receiver in the game (Calvin Johnson) and a 5,000-yard passer (Matthew Stafford) only increase Young's chances of improving on the 607 yards and six touchdowns he accumulated last season.
A 1,000-plus yards season and 10 touchdowns certainly isn't out of range for an electric player in a pass-heavy offense.