NFL Predictions: 5 Under-the-Radar Rookies Who Will Surprise in 2012

Ben Stepansky@@benstepanskyCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2012

NFL Predictions: 5 Under-the-Radar Rookies Who Will Surprise in 2012

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    Pull out the chips and dip, order some wings and hold the napkins, because the 2012-2013 NFL season is a mere three days away.

    Preseason and training camp have come and gone. Players and coaches have done their homework. Now, it is time to put all that hard work to the test.

    A very solid crop of rookies are about to embark on their first NFL season and hope to make an immediate impact for their respective teams.

    Fans are expecting big things from top picks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson. But which rookies have been flying under the radar waiting to impress us all?

    Here are five newbies to keep your eye on as the season progresses.

Mohamed Sanu, WR

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    It has been a slow preseason for Mohamed Sanu, who was expected to be the No. 2 wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals opposite Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

    Sanu is currently listed behind Brandon Tate and Armon Binns on the Bengals' depth chart, but possesses too much natural talent to stay there long.

    The third-round pick out of Rutgers set a Big East single-season record with 115 receptions last year. He also hauled in seven touchdowns.

    Reliable hands and a 6'2'' frame will make him a prime target for second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

    If Sanu becomes the No. 2 receiver, he will see a lot of single coverage as defenses keep their focus steady on Green. 

Audie Cole, LB

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    Audie Cole, the seventh-round pick out of NC State, has already done his fair share of surprising.

    In the Minnesota Vikings' preseason win against the Buffalo Bills, 36-14, Cole would have single-handedly scored the same number of points as the entire Bills offense.

    He returned two interceptions for touchdowns and quickly distinguished himself in Minnesota. 

    Cole made the 53-man roster and will likely see most of his time on the special teams unit. However, he may continue to impress, we could seem him shuffled into the middle linebacker spot if Jasper Brinkley struggles.

    After the Vikings' matchup against Buffalo, Kevin Seifert of reported that despite Cole having just one interception in college, we saw "a player who anticipated throws from two veterans -- Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith -- and didn't have much doubt about where he should go after he caught the ball."

LaMichael James, RB

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    The San Francisco 49ers are stacked with talent at the running back position.

    LaMichael James fits in nicely to a group featuring Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs. As the only rookie of the three, James will slowly get mixed in.

    James was an outstanding running back at the University of Oregon, rushing for over 1,500 yards in each of his three years. 

    He is also a great receiving back and could be used on third down plays.

    Despite being 5'9'', James is a physical runner who could be used on the goal line as well if Gore continues to struggle in that department or if Jacobs gets injured.

    Kickoff returns will be an area where James can make the highlight reel, so look for him there.

Doug Martin, RB

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    Doug Martin was taken as the 31st pick in the NFL draft, yet didn't receive much attention.

    The reliable and NFL-ready Martin joins LeGarrette Blount in the backfield for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team looking to rebound after a poor 4-12 showing last season.

    Blount's disappointing 2011 campaign should be enough to give Martin a chance at the starting job. 

    The rookie scored 43 touchdowns for Boise State in three years as a starter. He has great footwork and a quick burst that will allow him to thread through secondaries for big gains.

    Martin's play should ease the responsibility of quarterback Josh Freeman and help the Bucs to a better record in 2012.

Russell Wilson, QB

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    He may not be under the radar anymore, but Russell Wilson has definitely earned the starting job in Seattle.

    The dual-threat quarterback outperformed former Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn to gain the respect of Pete Carroll.

    Wilson excelled in his senior year at Wisconsin, passing for 33 touchdowns, rushing for six and even receiving one.

    He will seek to bring that same production to Seattle while keeping the defenses guessing.

    Playing to his advantage are the numerous rookie quarterbacks starting in the NFL, the most heralded being Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. This will take some of the spotlight off Wilson and allow his play to do the talking.

    A strong arm and a good feel for the game will help Wilson to a solid rookie season.