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2011 NFL Predictions: Bold Predictions for All 32 1st-Round NFL Rookies

Nick DeWittAnalyst IAugust 8, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: Bold Predictions for All 32 1st-Round NFL Rookies

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    With all 32 NFL camps now in session, it's time to start looking over this year's crop of touted first-round picks and also time to set some expectations and make some guesses about who will be the stars and stumblers of this year's draft.

    Here's a look at each of the 32 first-round picks, what they're doing with their new teams and a bold prediction for each player.

1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    The Situation

    Newton will likely start from day one unless coach Ron Rivera elects to give Jimmy Clausen one last look. That’s not likely. If the Panthers are smart, they will run a lot and let Newton make plays with his feet and won’t try to make him a pocket passer.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Newton will surprise a lot of naysayers and help Carolina to a 7-9 record by throwing 15 touchdowns and rushing for five more. He’ll also have more than 700 rushing yards.

2. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

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    The Situation

    Miller is expected to be the anchor of a Denver defense that is now under the expert tutelage of head coach John Fox. Miller also should be a starter from day one and will likely be able to contribute quite a bit to a defense that looks to be quite tough.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Miller will lead all rookies in sacks and will also lead his team in that category. He should record between eight and 10 sacks as a rookie and could be more prolific if the defensive line takes a step forward.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills

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    The Situation

    Like Miller, Dareus is joining a defense that struggled in 2010 but looks to have some of the pieces for success in place. Dareus will be an essential piece of a team that lost Paul Posluszny to free agency.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Dareus will struggle on a defense that has no true stud players up front and will record less than five sacks. He will, however, provide a solid push up the middle and will eventually develop into a top-tier defensive tackle.

4. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Situation

    Green is in a tough spot. Rookie receivers can often be more impactful in their first season than any other position player, but a lot of their success depends on the guy throwing them the football. Green’s team has no clear quarterback, and the current options, despite the promise of fellow rookie Andy Dalton, are underwhelming at best.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Green will overcome the Bengals’ lack of a solid quarterback and will make the team forget about Chad Ochocinco by catching eight to 10 touchdowns this season and compiling a 1,000-yard season as a rookie.

5. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    The Situation

    Peterson joins a Cardinals team that traded its top corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb deal. It’s likely that the former LSU product will be expected to contribute right away.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Peterson will struggle in his first season since there are no real playmakers in the Arizona secondary at this point. Quarterbacks will stay away from him, and he will garner only two interceptions. He will, however, flash the talent that made him a first-round pick and will get better as the team surrounds him with more talent.

6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    The Situation

    Jones will be joining an offense in Atlanta that already boasts a great young quarterback, a solid running game and a star receiver. He won’t have the burden of being the only contributor; he’ll get to work with a playoff-caliber team from the start.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Jones will star in the Atlanta offense and will help Atlanta take the division title as he puts up a 1,000-yard season opposite Roddy White. Jones will not only excel; he will also make White more dangerous by drawing double-teams as the season progresses.

7. Aldon Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers

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    The Situation

    Smith joins a defense in San Francisco that is a work in progress but is finally nearing completion. Smith will be expected to help anchor a defensive front that includes star linebacker Patrick Willis.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Smith will be a slow starter but will eventually impress and help Willis to a Pro Bowl season while improving the pass rush as well. He will have a better rookie season than Marcell Dareus as well, recording five sacks at the least.

8. Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    The Situation

    For a while, it looked as though Locker would be a starter from the beginning of the year since the Titans had no other options. With the addition of Matt Hasselbeck, however, it looks as though he’ll start his career on the bench.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Locker will get into action during the season after sitting and learning, but he will be the 2011 version of Jimmy Clausen as he struggles at the professional level. Locker is not ready to be a starter, so the less action he sees this year, the better off the team will be.

9. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys

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    The Situation

    Smith will join a Dallas offensive line that has been in flux thanks to both injuries and free-agent departures. He’ll likely start from the beginning, and he’ll be counted on to protect Tony Romo from another big injury.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Smith will help stabilize the offensive line and will only give up three sacks in his first season. He’ll be a huge reason why Romo has a Pro Bowl-caliber season and Dallas makes a push to the playoffs.

10. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Situation

    Gabbert has been impressive in the early phases of training camp and has gotten a longer look than expected because of David Garrard’s injury. It’s unclear if he will start in Garrard’s place or if the team will look elsewhere if that injury persists.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Gabbert will start if Garrard isn’t able to play, and he will impress enough that coach Jack Del Rio keeps him as his starter once Garrard is healthy. He won’t lead the Jaguars to the playoffs this season, but he’ll have the best rookie year of any quarterback in this draft class, as Jacksonville posts a 9-7 record and Gabbert throws for 12 touchdowns.

11. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

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    The Situation

    Watt will join a defense that looks invigorated by the addition of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and some other new talent in the early stages of free agency. He will start on an already tough defensive line.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Watt will be solid but unsung in his rookie season, as his work is overshadowed by better-known players and by a system that isn’t designed for defensive ends to have game-breaking numbers. Still, Watt will be solid and will help Houston make a playoff push with an improved defense.

12. Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Situation

    Ponder was another quarterback expected to start from day one until the team acquired Donovan McNabb in a trade with Washington. Ponder is probably better for it since the Minnesota offense is in a flux with the departure of Sidney Rice and the adjustments along the offensive line.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Ponder will not see any action early, but once McNabb struggles, the fans will cry out for him to be replaced by the rookie. Ponder won’t step in unless and until the season is already lost. If he does, he’ll be steady but won’t provide much of a spark to an offense that will likely rely on Adrian Peterson very heavily.

13. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions

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    The Situation

    Fairley is joining a young Detroit squad that is looking to make another stride in its development in 2011. Part of that stride will come from improving the team’s patchwork defense. Fairley will team with last year’s draft gem, Ndamukong Suh, to provide a fierce pass rush.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Fairley and Suh will become one of the best tandems in the NFL and will help vault the Lions into the league’s top 15 defenses as well as helping them improve to an 8-8 or 9-7 record. Fairley will garner Pro Bowl consideration and Rookie of the Year votes as well.

14. Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

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    The Situation

    Quinn is joining another young team that is slowly building itself back into a contender. St. Louis had a decent defense in 2010 but needed some help with its pass rush, which has been a black hole for many years.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Quinn will be mediocre in his first season and will seem like a bit of a reach as a mid first-round pick. He will be better than the team’s previous options, however, and will help St. Louis improve and reach the playoffs in a mostly weak division.

15. Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins

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    The Situation

    Pouncey joins a team that is in turmoil. The Dolphins have no clear quarterback, and their head coach is under fire after nearly being replaced in the offseason. The team is also in the league’s toughest division.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Pouncey will be as good as his brother was last year and will be a surprise Pro Bowl pick as he joins his brother in Hawaii. He’ll help solidify the Dolphin offense, but a lot of his work will be overshadowed by poor quarterback play and unreliable running backs.

16. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Washington Redskins

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    The Situation

    Kerrigan will join the 3-4 system in Washington that is now finally free of the dead weight (pun intended) of Albert Haynesworth. He will likely get the opportunity to start at outside linebacker even though he played DE in college.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Kerrigan will be a better linebacker than an end and, after a slow start, will pile up six sacks in a strong rookie season. He will also team with Brian Orakpo to provide a strong pass rush and help make up for a mediocre defensive line.

17. Nate Solder, OT, New England Patriots

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    The Situation

    Solder was expected to be a potential starter until the team brought back Matt Light to protect Tom Brady’s blind side. Now, he’ll be able to learn while being the team’s primary backup.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Solder will end up contributing as a rookie after he shows himself in practice. He might eventually unseat Light, but he’ll have to settle for limited opportunities in his first year. When on the field, he will be solid.

18. Corey Liuget, DT, San Diego Chargers

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    The Situation

    Liuget will provide depth along the defensive line in his rookie season while learning a new system. The team already has three solid starters on the line, so he likely won’t be called upon except in the case of injury.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Liuget will contribute considerably on special teams and will position himself to unseat Jacques Cesaire or Antonio Garay next season. He projects better at defensive end, so Cesaire is the most likely to go.

19. Prince Amukamara, CB, New York Giants

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    The Situation

    Amukamara was one of the most sought-after names on draft day and luckily landed in New York. The team could use a playmaker on defense but now will have to search elsewhere as Amukamara nurses a broken foot.

     

    Bold Prediction

    The foot injury will nag all season, and Amukamara will struggle to stay on the field and be successful. He’ll be much more effective in 2012, when he’ll emerge as one of the NFL’s top corners and put together a Pro Bowl year.

20. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Situation

    Raheem Morris and his staff have been rebuilding the Tampa Bay defense piece by piece and have finally put together a group that could be very, very good. Clayborn will step in on a very young defensive line.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Clayborn will be the second-best rookie on the roster, as he’s overshadowed by the now healthy Da’Quan Bowers. He’ll still be a solid contributor and will become a top-flight defensive end, but his work will be overshadowed by the team’s second-round pick.

21. Phil Taylor, DT, Cleveland Browns

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    The Situation

    Taylor will join a defense that is transitioning to a new coordinator under new head coach Pat Shurmur. Taylor will slot in at one of the team’s defensive tackle spots and will join a very young defensive front.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Taylor will be the best player in the defensive front seven but will still struggle because there is little around him. He’ll keep the middle well blocked, but he won’t make many big plays and as a result will not be considered among the top rookies.

22. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Indianapolis Colts

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    The Situation

    Castonzo was projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round and lived up to that. Now he has to protect Peyton Manning’s blind side. The left tackle spot has been a bit of trouble for the Colts, so Castonzo will be essential to their success.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Castonzo fits the system perfectly, and that will show. He’ll have the best season of a rookie offensive lineman not named Mike Pouncey and will help solidify the Colts offensive line as Manning turns in another big year.

23. Danny Watkins, G, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Situation

    Watkins will join the Eagles as their starting right guard and will try to help solidify the offensive line in front of Michael Vick. It won’t be an easy task since the Philadelphia offensive system is huge and also because Vick tends to take off and freelance.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Watkins will have a solid rookie season but will go largely unnoticed because Pouncey and Castonzo will have bigger years. He’ll help solidify that offensive line, however, and will be a starter at the position for the next decade.

24. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints

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    The Situation

    Jordan will start on a stud defensive line and will be expected to hold down the left end. With so many stars on the defense, he will have an easier time than most adjusting to the NFL level.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Jordan will have a solid year, as the Saints have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. He will make plays and will probably have a better season than Robert Quinn or Adrian Clayborn because he is playing on a better-equipped squad.

25. James Carpenter, OT, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Situation

    Carpenter will be tasked with protecting new quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Right now, he looks likely to start at right tackle even though he was a guard. Keeping Jackson upright will be important if Seattle is to have any chance this season.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Carpenter will struggle. He seemed like a big reach for the first round, and it will show as the team struggles to protect the mediocre quarterbacks it has. Carpenter will prove to be a weak link this season but should eventually develop into a solid starter. He may need to move back to guard for that to happen, however.

26. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Situation

    Baldwin will team with Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston to give Matt Cassel one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. Kansas City has improved across the board, and now a lot of the team’s hopes will depend on how Cassel utilizes the weaponry he’s been given.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Baldwin will outplay Bowe and will have a stud rookie year that puts him up with A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He’ll have over 1,000 yards in Todd Haley’s system and will catch eight touchdowns at the least.

27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Situation

    Smith will need to quickly step into a secondary that is in flux and a defense that is getting older. Smith is likely the best playmaker from among the team’s current group of corners and should be a major piece of their success in 2011.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Smith will beat out Chris Carr, who will move to the nickel, by the first or second week of the season and will become a productive starter for the team. He will have a better year than top corner Patrick Peterson and should terrorize some of the AFC’s quarterbacks.

28. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints

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    The Situation

    Ingram replaces Reggie Bush in New Orleans and will be expected to start from day one and be a major piece of an offense that leans heavily on the pass. Drew Brees needs a solid runner to continue to be an effective passer.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Ingram will make fans forget Reggie Bush and will put together the best season by a rookie running back. He will garner over 1,100 yards and also rush for 10 touchdowns as the New Orleans system finally balances itself.

29. Gabe Carimi, OT, Chicago Bears

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    The Situation

    Carimi will be expected to step in at right tackle on the Chicago offense and protect embattled quarterback Jay Cutler. Carimi was a surprising slip in the first round, so he may play with a chip on his shoulder.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Carimi will struggle. Teams passed on him over some other prospects because they thought he would struggle to play tackle in the NFL. In the tough NFC North, he will have a rough first season and will not be an impact player.

30. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets

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    The Situation

    Wilkerson will slot into one of the defensive end spots on what is suddenly a rebuilding defensive line. The pressure will be great because the Jets expect to be contenders this season, so Wilkerson will have to succeed where others have failed before.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Wilkerson will be a force along the defensive line and will become that unit’s primary playmaker. He won’t have huge statistics, but he will make life easier for the team’s linebackers and help Calvin Pace have one of his best seasons.

31. Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Situation

    Heyward was added to an already deep defensive front as an eventual replacement for either Aaron Smith or Brett Keisel. Both Smith and Keisel expect to start for all of the 2010 season, but both missed significant time with injuries last season.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Heyward will have little impact on defense this year. That’s just the way Pittsburgh does business. He will, however, be a stud on special teams and will challenge Ziggy Hood, another former first-rounder, for playing time in platoon situations. Heyward will eventually end up being better than Hood, who is already a solid contributor.

32. Derek Sherrod, OT, Green Bay Packers

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    The Situation

    Sherrod has the pleasure of joining the defending champions and will likely slide inside to a guard spot. Sherrod was projected higher but slipped past some other linemen in the draft for various reasons.

     

    Bold Prediction

    Sherrod will be a solid starter and will help the Green Bay offensive line to another good season. Aaron Rodgers will benefit from Sherrod’s stability and sturdy blocking, which will put Green Bay in position to defend its title.

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