The 2012 NFL draft was headed by Andrew Luck, the most talented college prospect the game has seen since Peyton Manning. Luck didn’t disappoint as a rookie, starting all 16 games while leading the Indianapolis Colts to an unheralded playoff spot.
Luck was joined by two other rookie quarterbacks in the postseason, each of whom started all 16 games and made the Pro Bowl. Along with offensive tackle Matt Kalil, running back Doug Martin and kicker Blair Walsh, six players made the Pro Bowl as rookies. That bodes well for the future of the league.
The following list breaks down the performances of the 32 first-round rookies based solely on year one (and in backwards order).
This in no way means a player that didn’t put up a good showing won’t become a star one day. After all, both Manning quarterbacks turned in forgettable rookie campaigns. But this does show which players are on track to becoming franchise players.
The San Francisco 49ers had a gaping hole at the second wide receiver position. Michael Crabtree finally emerged as a star but the team shuffled through players like Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn as their second receivers.
Despite being a first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins never caught a pass. He played in just 37 snaps for the Niners, who managed to qualify for the Super Bowl despite Jenkins’ season-long no-show.
Moss probably won’t be back next year and Manningham is best suited as a third receiver. The 49ers really need Jenkins to step up and be a starter opposite Crabtree.
Dre Kirkpatrick may as well have redshirted his debut season in the National Football League. He suffered a leg injury in preseason, then was placed on injured reserve late in the season with another injury.
In between, starting corners Leon Hall and Terence Newman played well enough that Kirkpatrick really wasn’t needed. He participated in just 43 snaps on defense.
The Green Bay Packers really needed another pass-rusher opposite Clay Matthews, but they didn’t get that performance from Nick Perry.
It was a rough season for the team’s first-round pick. Perry played all 67 snaps in the opening week, grading very poorly, per Pro Football Focus. Perry saw limited action for the following weeks, struggling as a pass-rusher and getting exposed in coverage.
He eventually landed on injured reserve with a wrist injury.
The Pittsburgh Steelers could really have used David DeCastro in 2012. Ben Roethlisberger won’t last much longer if he continues to take the hits he’s been taking.
DeCastro tore his ACL in preseason though, which shuffled Willie Colon into the starting lineup. DeCastro returned for Week 14 and started the final three games.
He was a highly rated guard coming out of college and should be a fixture on the Steelers for the next decade.
For a player that was taken sixth overall in the 2012 NFL draft, Morris Claiborne has been a disappointment. Playing cornerback at the pro level is vastly different than at the collegiate game.
Six games into his professional career, Claiborne had allowed three touchdown passes without recording an interception. He finished the season allowing a 107.8 passer rating, ranking 93rd amongst 113 cornerbacks.
Whitney Mercilus may have been a bit of a stretch as a first-round pick. He was brought on largely to replace Mario Williams as a pass-rushing force.
Mercilus showed glimpses during his rookie season but also struggled mightily. He turned in his worst game of the year late against the Indianapolis Colts, failing to generate any pass rush against mediocre right tackle Winston Justice.
Until Week 17, Michael Floyd was largely unspectacular. He topped 47 receiving yards in a game just once before a 166-yard breakout game in the season finale.
Floyd finished with 562 receiving yards on 45 catches. That’s not bad considering he had just 91 receiving yards (and three drops) after five games. It’s also tough to really evaluate Floyd considering his awful quarterback situation in 2012.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Dontari Poe to be a big body in the front of their defense a la Haloti Ngata or Vince Wilfork.
Poe started from day one for the Chiefs. His impact was minimal in terms of statistics. He’s not a pass rusher, and Poe finished with no sacks and just nine quarterback hurries.
Poe didn’t really do much to shore up the KC run defense, either. The unit ranked 25th in scoring defense, 27th in rushing yards allowed, and 25th in rushing yards allowed per attempt. Poe generated a fair amount of double teams but provided very little impact.
Justin Blackmon finally showed some signs of life late in the season after a really rough first half. He averaged fewer than three catches and just 25 yards per game for the first nine weeks. He dropped four passes and struggled in running routes.
Blackmon finally turned it around in a Week 11 breakout game against the Indianapolis Colts, catching a ridiculous 236 yards’ worth of passes. Blackmon averaged 5.4 catches and nearly 90 yards for his final seven games. Still, the fact that he was taken fifth overall after the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to get him drops his stock some.
Brandon Weeden inherited a tough situation in Cleveland. His weapons were limited and he played in a tough division. Weeden’s NFL career began with a dreadful four-interception game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
After that, he settled down somewhat. He threw 13 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions for the rest of the way. The problem with Weeden is that the offense surrounding him is subpar and Weeden is already 29 years old.
Kendall Wright saw his draft stock drop after he ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He then turned in a disappointing 2012 season.
Wright finished with solid statistics, catching 64 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns. But he dropped too many passes (seven) and committed too many penalties (five), and Wright was one of only four receivers with at least five of each.
Seventh overall is very high to take a safety, which places increased expectations on Mark Barron.
Barron is a big, physical hitter comparable to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great John Lynch. Barron was exposed in pass coverage right from Week 1, allowing 91 receiving yards and a touchdown pass.
Barron made a bunch of tackles early on but then hit the rookie wall. That’s not uncommon for a first-round safety; Earl Thomas went through a similar experience and he’s a Pro Bowler now.
The Detroit Lions used Riley Reiff in a limited role this season, and he fared very well. Reiff started seven contests, although he played just 20-30 snaps most games.
Reiff was an asset though, mainly in jumbo formations. He was the sixth offensive lineman in goal-line situations. Reiff finished 2012 with no sacks allowed in 336 snaps. He will likely move into a starting role next season for the 35-year-old Jeff Backus.
At 6’1”, 265 pounds, Melvin Ingram is undersized to play 4-3 defensive end. That’s why he was a better fit in San Diegio’s 3-4 defense.
Ingram was a pass-rushing specialist as an outside linebacker. He registered a ridiculous 29 quarterback hurries in 475 snaps. That’s a hurry every 16 snaps, which compares favorably to J.J. Watt (one every 31 snaps), Von Miller (19 snaps) and Clay Matthews (31 snaps).
If Ingram can parlay that into a higher sack total in 2013, he’s going to be a force. Ingram could stand to work on his coverage skills though, as he allowed a ridiculous 143.8 passer rating.
Shea McClellin had a similar campaign to Melvin Ingram. McClellin played in a part-time role but he registered a high percentage of pressures to snaps played.
McClellin saw an increased role as the season went on, finishing with 22 pressures among his 369 snaps. That’s a percentage comparable to the finest pass-rushers in the game.
The Cleveland Browns traded up one spot to draft Trent Richardson, which was a completely unnecessary move considering the Minnesota Vikings were not going to take him.
Richardson averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on 267 rushes. He was 44th among 60 running backs in average rushing yards gained after contact (2.1). And that’s behind a pretty solid offensive line.
He did score 11 touchdowns though. And Richardson should do much better in the future as Brandon Weeden continues to develop.
Ryan Tannehill quietly had a productive season. He has a below-average supporting cast and was thrust into the starting role from day one.
Tannehill limited his turnovers and led the Miami Dolphins to seven wins this year. That’s a respectable total. Tannehill showed the maturity and poise that could make him a franchise quarterback in Miami.
After fumbling in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, David Wilson saw his touches greatly reduced. But the New York Giants obviously have enough confidence in him for the future, seeing as they released veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
Wilson had a breakout game in Week 13, rushing for 100 yards on 13 carries. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry over the final four weeks of the season, scoring three times. Wilson also showed explosiveness as a kick returner, averaging 26.9 yards per return with a touchdown.
As a rookie, Quinton Coples made just two starts but he saw action in all 16 contests.
Coples registered five-and-a-half sacks, nine quarterback hits and 14 pressures. He was especially effective down the stretch, registering four sacks in his final four games.
Coples would probably be best suited in a 4-3 defense so he could rush the passer more. If the New York Jets made that switch for 2013, it’s not unreasonable at all to expect 10-12 sacks.
Michael Brockers has a bright future in the National Football League. He didn’t play in the first three games for the St. Louis Rams before starting 12 of the final 13 contests.
Brockers recorded four sacks and a forced fumble. He has the size (6’5”, 322 pounds) to easily play nose tackle should the Rams switch to a 3-4 formation.
The Buffalo Bills got an even better rookie season from their first-round cornerback than the Dallas Cowboys did from Morris Claiborne.
Stephen Gilmore had some struggles (he led all corners with 13 penalties). But he had some fine moments, too. Gilmore held Andre Johnson to four catches for 49 yards late in the season. He blanketed Justin Blackmon for just 18 yards in Week 13. And he allowed zero touchdown passes after Week 5. This was while mostly covering the opposing team’s best receiver.
The New England Patriots look like they got a terrific pick in Dont’a Hightower. Hightower started at weak-side linebacker from day one, registering three quarterback pressures against the Tennessee Titans.
For the season, Hightower started 15 of 16 games. He rated as the third-best defensive player on the Patriots in 2012, per Pro Football Focus. Hightower is the type of player that can man the Patriots’ defense for the next decade.
The Philadelphia Eagles gambled by trading up to select Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State. Cox had a very productive rookie season, and he was the team’s best defensive tackle by the conclusion of the year.
He registered 5.5 sacks, third-best among all interior defensive linemen in the National Football League. Cox played well enough that the Eagles may look to cut both Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins in the offseason.
The New England Patriots seem to have gotten a real find in Chandler Jones, giving them a tremendous one-two punch in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Jones was effective right away as a rookie. He totaled six sacks, nine quarterback hits, 28 pressures, three batted passes and 20 tackles. That’s a complete defensive end, and he will only continue to thrive in the Patriots defense.
The Seattle Seahawks shocked the football world when they picked Bruce Irvin, a third-round talent, in the first round.
And then Irvin went out and had a very productive rookie campaign. He picked up eight sacks, despite only starting the NFC Divisional Round game. Irvin was a pass-rushing specialist, a la Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. Irvin also registered a dozen quarterback hits and 24 pressures in just half a season of snaps.
Luke Kuechly looks like a fine football player. He led the NFL in tackles (164 according to ESPN), a testament to his ability to always be around the football. He recorded a sack, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, eight passes defended and 11 tackles for loss.
What keeps Kuechly from ranking higher is his slow start to the season. He was a liability for the first three games, never more so than Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But he really turned it around. By the season’s final four games, he was averaging 12.5 tackles per game.
The Minnesota Vikings added a quality young safety to their aging secondary. Harrison Smith is a tremendous cover safety, and he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44 percent of their passes thrown his way.
Smith registered three interceptions and made 80 solo tackles, tied for 10th-most among any safety in the game. And he’s only going to get better.
The Cincinnati Bengals have the makings of a fine offense for the future. They have two bookend tackles in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, and they added a terrific guard in Kevin Zeitler.
Zeitler was a quiet prospect heading up to the NFL draft. He started from Week 1 though, seeing action in 1,128 of 1,135 snaps for the season. Zeitler rated extremely well according to Pro Football Focus, grading as the 12th-best guard among 81 qualifiers in 2012.
Other than Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin may have been the best running back in the NFL in 2012. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry. He ran for 1,005 yards after contact, second to just AP among all running backs. And he coughed up the football just one time.
Martin also did this playing behind an offensive line that lost Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph for the whole season and Carl Nicks for half the season.
The Minnesota Vikings made the correct choice by selecting offensive tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Kalil was a Pro Bowler from day one. He solidified a position that was absolutely awful in 2011. It’s no coincidence that AP rushed for 2,000 yards in Kalil’s first season. Even though Kalil is a much better pass blocker than run blocker, he’s way better than Charlie Johnson.
The Washington Redskins pulled off a king’s ransom of a trade when they shipped three first-round picks for RGIII.
Robert Griffin III was stellar as a rookie though. He showed the maturity of a quarterback 10 years his senior. RGIII completed a ridiculous 65.6 percent of his passes in his first year in the league. He threw 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions and helped revolutionize the spread option.
His 102.4 passer rating was fourth-best in the NFL. RGIII even led the Redskins to a playoff berth, which even the most passionate Redskins fans couldn’t have imagined in 2012.
Whether RGIII can ultimately stay healthy will determine how long of an NFL career he has.
Andrew Luck was significantly better than either Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson in 2012.
He took a team that went 2-14 the previous season and led them to an unheralded playoff spot. Luck threw for a rookie-record 4,374 yards and added 23 touchdown passes. And he did so throwing the ball 627 times, fifth-most of any quarterback in the league. Compare that to Griffin (466) or Wilson (477).
Luck’s offensive line was extremely subpar as well. Only left tackle Anthony Castonzo deserves to start at this level. Luck was hit a league-high 14 times when throwing. His receivers dropped an NFL-worst 50 passes. And the average distance of Luck’s passes was further than any quarterback in the game.
Simply put, Luck’s 18 interceptions and 54.5 completion percentage were the result of the Colts throwing him to a big-league offense right away. The Colts (21st-ranked scoring defense, 26th-ranked total defense) would have been 4-12 without Luck. Instead, he led an NFL-record-tying seven fourth-quarter comebacks and they finished a ridiculous 11-5.