Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith is one of the best rookies in 2012,and he's destined to become a perennial member of the NFL's All-Pro team in years to come.
But Smith isn't the only rookie who has the skills to become one of the league's elite. The 2012 NFL draft class is loaded with talent and there are a handful of players who will rise above the fray to become members of the All-Pro team at least once in their careers.
Let's take a look at the rookies who are most likely to make the jump into elite status.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Watching Luck play this year has been a revelation. This kid is simply the most prepared young quarterback that I've ever seen and his physical abilities are just as impressive as his mental prowess.
Luck is a natural leader, a fearless competitor and a talented quarterback who has already come back to win two games in the fourth quarter. Give him an offensive line and he'll be unstoppable.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
RG3 will make it to at least one All-Pro team before he's finished—if he can stay healthy, that is.
Griffin isn't as technically sound as Luck, but his ability to make extraordinary plays with his feet sets him apart. As long as he learns to get down and stops taking massive blows from defenders, Griffin will become one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
Richardson is slowly starting to get to 100 percent after missing some time this preseason with minor knee surgery. From what we can tell so far, he's the real deal.
Richardson possesses a rare blend of talents—a blend that even Adrian Peterson doesn't have. He may not be comparable to Peterson in terms of raw running abilities, but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield sets him apart from many of the power backs we see in the NFL today.
He's fast, he's strong, he's quick, he can make insane cuts when he has to, and he has a nose for the end zone. Richardson will be named to multiple All-Pro teams before his career is up.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
There aren't many running backs in the NFL as effective as Morris right now.
He's an elite downhill runner who always seems to fall forward. He rarely gets stopped at the line of scrimmage, and he's proving to be another late-round gem in the mold of Terrell Davis who fits Mike Shanahan's offensive system to perfection.
It won't be long until Morris is recognized as the best running back in the NFC and earns his way onto an All-Pro team or three.
So far, the wide receivers in this year's draft class can only be described as disappointing.
Get back to me next year, and we'll see if anyone has popped up on the radar. For now, this group is in the doghouse.
Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings
So far, Kalil is as good as advertised for the Vikings.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kalil hasn't given up a single sack in five games, and has only allowed a single quarterback hit and six hurries.
It won't be long until Kalil becomes a perennial Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection.
Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals
Many considered David DeCastro to be this year's top guard prospect, but he is likely lost for the season to a brutal knee injury.
Zeitler has stepped up and made a case that he is the best rookie guard this year, and I don't believe even a healthy DeCastro would have played better than the Bengals rookie.
According to PFF, Zeitler has only given up a single sack and is their No. 10-ranked guard in the NFL. He's technically sound and drives his man back with power in the running game, and his agility really shines in pass protection.
Zeitler will end up making multiple All-Pro teams by the time he's finished.
Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
Forget about the future, Jones is going to contend for All-Pro honors this year.
Jones is Pro Football Focus' No. 4-ranked 4-3 defensive end, and for good reason.
So far this season, Jones has tallied 18 tackles (nine solo), three sacks, two forced fumbles and a tipped pass. Even when Jones isn't the one making the tackle or sack for the Pats, he's having a positive impact on the game.
Jones is the real deal, and he's clearly the best defensive lineman in this year's draft class. Look for this young man to earn multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro appearances during the course of his career.
Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks
Irvin is this year's Aldon Smith. In five games, Irvin has tallied 4.5 sacks and, from what I can tell, this young man is just starting to get his feet wet.
Pass-rushers in the NFL are a rare and prized commodity. Irvin looks to have the skills, temperament and athleticism to become an elite pass-rusher in the years to come, and I expect to see him make at least one All-Pro team before he's finished.
Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams
If you haven't seen Jenkins play, you need to make a point of watching a Rams game sometime. Seriously, there aren't many players that could make me watch a Rams game (49ers fan, here), but I love watching this kid.
If you're one of the millions who watched NFL Network's coverage of the 2012 NFL draft, then you probably heard Mike Mayock raving about Jenkins' hips.
Mayock, and the other experts who were high on Jenkins, weren't overstating the epicness that is Jenkins' hips. This young man can change directions quicker than anyone, and once he sees what's happening between his receiver and the opposing quarterback, Jenkins pounces like a cat to break up the play.
Through five games, Jenkins has one interception, six passes defended and has held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.6 percent completion rate and 74.8 passer rating, per Pro Football Focus.
There aren't many cornerbacks in the NFL who can hold a candle to Jenkins, and he's only just getting started. If Jenkins can stay healthy and stay out of trouble, he's going to be one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks for the next decade or longer.
Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
Smith's strong play at the free safety position is a big reason why the Minnesota Vikings are off to a shocking 4-1 start to the 2012 season.
Athletic, strong and instinctive, Smith is already proving that the Vikings made the right decision when they traded back up into the first round to land him last April.
Through five games, Smith has made 17 solo tackles, has defended four passes (quarterbacks only targeted him nine times so far), and is holding opposing quarterbacks to just 55.6 percent of passes and a passer rating of 70.1, according to Pro Football Focus.
Simply put, this kid is playing lights-out football. He's going to make at least one All-Pro team, and it won't be long until he's considered to be among the best safeties playing in the NFL.
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