Doug Martin and 5 Players Who Are Clearly the Future of the NFL

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIIOctober 25, 2012

Doug Martin and 5 Players Who Are Clearly the Future of the NFL

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    Doug Martin can do it all as the running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: run, block and catch passes out of the backfield. Coach Greg Schiano has been behind his (second) first-round pick for quite some time, and for good reason.

    In a league filled with backfield committees, Martin is capable of holding down the fort on his own.

    He doesn’t have to, since LeGarrette Blount is a skilled runner in his own right, but the abilities that Martin brings to the table are something that NFL coaches and GMs undoubtedly look for in their pursuit of collegiate stars.

    There are other players in the league that didn’t take long to make their presences felt in the NFL—and some are re-defining their positions as we speak.

    NFL front offices will begin looking for the next "fill-in-the-blank" while the current guy is still playing.

    Here are five of those guys, ranked by how much their positional roles might be valued going forward.

5. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

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    A massive player capable of being the primary target in a passing-oriented offense, Rob Gronkowski is setting the standard for receiving tight ends in the NFL.

    He’s essentially un-coverable by a single defender and is a preferred target in the red zone.

    Gronkowski holds the NFL record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 17, set in 2011.

    New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham also fits into this category after his 99-catch effort last season, but Gronkowski is younger—he’s just 23 years old.

4. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

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    Patrick Peterson is the epitome of a do-it-all defensive player: He is a physical specimen that can cover, hit, return kicks and run the Wildcat offense.

    Other teams—especially the Seattle Seahawks with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner—have prioritized adding bigger defensive backs.

    At 6’1”, 219 pounds, the 22-year-old is big enough to compete for the football with the 6’4” wide receivers that NFL teams trot out onto the field weekly.

    He can also outrun most of them.

    Peterson has three interceptions this year in seven games.

3. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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    Randall Cobb—along with division rival Percy Harvin—has been a fantastic short-area target for his respective quarterback.

    But that’s not all he does.

    Like Harvin, Cobb is a multipurpose offensive threat who can line up all over an offensive formation. As if giving a defense headaches wasn’t enough, he can return kicks and punts effectively.

    While Harvin’s name is mentioned in MVP talks, Cobb’s won’t be due to his quarterback’s inclusion in those same discussions. That Aaron Rodgers is pretty good.

    Nevertheless, Cobb’s impact won’t go unnoticed by NFL GMs; sooner rather than later, guys will be looked upon to fill roles like Cobb, Harvin and their running back counterpart Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints.

    Cobb is just 22 years of age.

2. Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers

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    Aldon Smith was a top-10 draft pick in his class. He wasn’t a full-time player in his rookie season, but the pass-rushing specialist racked up 14 sacks last year as an outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.

    He compares favorably to 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller, and the Seattle Seahawks have already taken notice of his exploits: They added speed-rusher Bruce Irvin in the middle of the first round in 2012.

    As the league continues to chuck the football around, a premium on pass-rushers will remain a mainstay in team-constructing strategies.

    The 23-year-old Smith fits the role very well.

1. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it an inordinate amount of times: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league.

    Robert Griffin III, 22, beats out contemporaries Andrew Luck and Cam Newton for one particular reason; his speed sets him on another playmaking level than either one of the No. 1 overall picks.

    He can make all of the throws and boasts the NFL’s highest completion percentage (70.4) despite the absence of a No. 1 receiver like Newton and Luck both enjoy.

    RGIII has a 101.8 passer rating through his first seven games. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

    And then there are his legs—he’s run for six touchdowns and his longest carry in his young career was 76 yards.

    In the future, GMs will continue to value traditional passing quarterback play first (as RGIII represents), but eyebrows will always be raised when a guy sprints a 4.41 40 at the combine.