Last season Maurkice Pouncey became an All-Pro center in his rookie season. The funny thing about Maurkice's story (yes I know it's not his brother) is that he wasn't expected to even be a center this season. In fact, at the beginning of training camp Pouncey was competing—yes competing!—for a chance to get playing time at right guard.
Obviously Pouncey eventually became the starting center and the rest is history but he definitely benefited from not being under so much pressure to perform instantly.
Unlike Pouncey none of the players on this list have that option. These players are expected to perform from day one and could be the difference between a successful or disastrous season.
Tyron Smith is in a very difficult spot. The former USC starting right tackle has never played left tackle in the NFL while he is still only 20 years old.
This makes his selection ninth overall to the Dallas Cowboys even more pressurized than any normal top ten pick. The Cowboys are a team looking to win the Super Bowl this season. They have all the offensive talent that they could want but pass protection was their fatal flaw last season.
If Doug Free does not return then Smith will instantly be the starting left tackle, throwing him into the spotlight as he will receive more scrutiny than any of the proven players on the offense. Even if Free does return he could be moved to the right hand side. Free was good in his first season as a starter but not great.
Expectations were low for Free so he avoided a huge amount of criticism, expectations are high for Smith who could struggle in the bright lights of Dallas.
Cam Newton may have been the first overall pick in of this rookie class but he didn't come at the greatest cost. The Atlanta Falcons gave up way too much for Julio Jones and because of that he is going to be under major scrutiny catching passes from Matt Ryan.
Unquestionably he has to become the starter across from Roddy White by day one which will be difficult if there is no training camp. Many Falcons fans see Jones as the final piece of their talented offense so he will be expected to push them over the edge.
With comments such as this from Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons' GM, things don't get any easier for Jones:
"Nobody in our organization feared bust or even mediocrity with Julio. It was never a concern. If there was a concern, it was more in line with, 'OK, how do we approach this? How do we get our heads around a two this year and, most importantly, the one next year."
The Seattle Seahawks really confused most so-called draft experts with the selection of James Carpenter in the first round. Carpenter was considered to be as low as a third round pick by some.
Carpenter will likely play guard for the Seahawks as they are set at left tackle with Russell Okung and they passed on the perfect right tackle in Gabe Carimi. Carpenter will need to make an instant impact if he is going to make Seahawks fans forgive the team for passing on players like Jimmy Smith, Gabe Carimi or even Mark Ingram.
The Seahawks had no real need for Ingram but could have traded down as far as the second round to select Carpenter.
You may be surprised to learn that Cam Newton will not be appearing on this list. Newton obviously must show flashes in his rookie season but the futility of the Panthers offense, and team as a whole, will afford him some growth time. The Panthers may even sit him for a while, although I doubt that.
Colin Kaepernick on the other hand will find himself on a team that still believes it is playoff worthy. The San Francisco 49ers appeared to be a quarterback away from being one of the better offenses in the league last year.
Frank Gore remains a top of the range running back while Michael Crabtree is primed to break out to his first round talent. Crabtree is complemented by a very good second choice receiver in Josh Morgan while Vernon Davis is a brilliant pass catching tight end.
Alex Smith is expected to return to the team but fans will looking to Kaepernick to improve the offense as they have grown weary of him over the past few years. He will have no excuses as the talented offense is now led by a reputable quarterback guru in Jim Harbaugh.
Despite his second round status Kaepernick will be under pressure to perform early in San Francisco.
Danny Watkins doesn't have much time to get adjusted to the NFL level. Watkins is an oddity as a rookie as he is 26 years old and will be 27 before the end of his rookie season.
Watkins is undoubtedly talented, which is why the Eagles were willing to take him in the first round, but he has to perform immediately. Obviously he doesn't offer much in terms of longevity and the Eagles wanted him to help them to win a Super Bowl this year.
Watkins will likely play right guard which was a problem position for the team last season while the pressure on him will increase even further if he is shifted to right tackle, another area of need. The former firefighter will need to call on all his composure to succeed during his rookie season.
The Miami Dolphins moved up into the second round in order to select Daniel Thomas as their running back for the future...and now.
The free agency bound Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown don't look like returning as the team moves to a younger group of Lex Hilliard, Thomas and even Lousaka Polite if he is retained.
Thomas figures to get the bulk of the carries early in his rookie season as the Dolphins stick to their running identity. Thomas explosion will need to translate to the NFL immediately if the Dolphins offense is to be consistent this season. That is presuming Chad Henne doesn't have a breakout year.
Da'Quan Bowers drop to the second round in the NFL draft wasn't a major shock. His knee problems had been well documented in the lead up to the draft.
Bowers has to prove himself and perform early because the biggest strike against him was the fact that he won't be able to sustain an NFL career.
Bowers has landed in a place where he won't have any excuses. He will be a starter on a defensive line with other first round talent. Bowers won't be focused on by opposing lines as first round picks Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy lead the team.
The Buccaneers are a team on their way to the playoffs, they will be looking to Bowers to propel them into the postseason.
Patrick Peterson headlined the 2011 NFL draft as reportedly the most talented player in the whole class. Peterson fell to the Arizona Cardinals as the fifth overall selection. The Cardinals were undoubtedly delighted to pick up Peterson but it came at a cost.
Should the Cardinals not manage to pry Kevin Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles, or pick up a veteran quarterback elsewhere, Peterson will need to excel early. This is because the Cardinals quarterback situation is so torrid and the team passed on both Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert in order to take him.
Even though Gabbert fell behind Locker as the third quarterback taken on the board, most onlookers were certain that he would have landed in Arizona if available. The fact that Peterson took his place means that he will have even more pressure on him than just that he receives for being a top five pick.
The Indianapolis Colts two biggest problems last season were pass protection and injuries. Injuries isn't something that they can control but the addition of Anthony Castonzo should help keep Peyton Manning upright.
Manning will succeed when given time which will be key to the team's chances at making it back to the Super Bowl. Castonzo will be the team's blindside protector as a rookie in all likelihood. His performances will be crucial for the Colts even early in his career.
If Castonzo doesn't perform in his rookie season he will be wrapped in a whirlwind of criticism because the Colts are set to win right now. When healthy that roster is arguably the most talented in the whole league.
Jimmy Smith's performances on the field won't be under major scrutiny during his rookie season. He has no problems as far as football goes and he will likely be an upgrade over the Ravens' previous play at the position even if he barely taps his ability.
Smith's scrutiny will come with his off the field issues. Smith had top five ability on the field but his off the field problems and attitude dropped him to the Ravens at 27th overall.
Smith is under pressure to keep his nose out of trouble because a strong organization like the Ravens will have no problem cutting him loose early. He also has no excuses not to change his ways because Baltimore has strong leadership in its locker room with Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and particularly Ray Lewis.
If Smith doesn't learn everything he possibly can from those veterans before he retires his time in the NFL could end quickly.
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