NFL Predictions: Torrey Smith and 5 Guaranteed Future All-Pros
Torrey Smith took his time making a name for himself in the NFL. He took three weeks, to be exact. Week 3 of his NFL career saw Smith take each of his first three receptions to the house en route to a five-catch, 152-yard coming-out party.
And now, after quietly stringing together a run of solid performances, Smith has once again bested the 150-yard plateau, a feat that ought to make hiding a lot harder for the speedy greenhorn.
Of course, Smith isn't alone this season when it comes to rookies making an impact on their teams. Young players across the league are putting their franchises on the right path, but none have changed the culture as much as these five first-year wonders.
Torrey Smith, WR (Baltimore Ravens)
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Might as well start with Smith since his 165-yard performance in Week 11's win over the Bengals is the inspiration for this list.
Despite excellent speed and a knack for making huge plays down the field, Smith was pegged as just another raw receiver by more than a few NFL draft analysts before last April's selection ceremony.
Of course, it just so happened that a receiver with excellent deep speed and a knack for making huge plays down the field was exactly what Baltimore and the strong-armed Joe Flacco needed.
Smith waited to break out until the third week of the season, when each of his first three NFL receptions went for touchdowns in a cakewalk win over the St. Louis Rams. A one-grab performance the following Sunday dampened his scintillating debut, but Smith has quietly grabbed at least three passes in each of his past six games, racking up a pair of touchdowns over that time.
With no one else on the Ravens roster possessing Smith's blend of top-line vertical speed and strong hands, he should be the go-to guy for Flacco's bombs for the remainder of his career. That should spell more than a few Pro Bowl seasons.
Cam Newton, QB (Carolina Panthers)
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This is a story that's been written before, and for good reason. Newton's been on every list of impressive young players since the 2011 season started after he kicked off his NFL career with 422 yards and two TD passes.
And he hasn't slowed yet.
Sure, Newton's impressive stat totals (like averaging more than 260 passing yards per contest or totaling 21 scores through 10 games) have led to only two wins, but he's breaking records set by a guy named Manning, and he's only going to get better.
And, although it may sound like a bad spin-off of the misguided "Suck for Luck" campaign, earning a second consecutive top-five draft pick could be the best thing for Carolina and Newton if it helps them land an elite receiver who can develop along with their young passer.
A.J. Green, WR (Cincinnati Bengals)
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Andy Dalton has been great this season. He's outplayed passers who came off the board well before he did, and he has the Bengals competing with the Steelers and Ravens.
But, if you think Dalton could have done all this without Green's help, then you might need assistance of a different nature.
Dalton has tossed nearly half of his scoring strikes to Green, who is easily the team's leading receiver despite missing nearly all of the past two games. With his excellent size, body control and leaping ability, Green has the goods to remain a productive pass-catcher for years. And if Dalton can continue to improve, the Bengals could become a mainstay near the top of the AFC North.
Their team success, coupled with the fact that Green is built for the red zone, should give the rookie wideout plenty of statistical evidence to back up the many, many Pro Bowl invites he'll receive throughout his career.
Von Miller, OLB (Denver Broncos)
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Denver could have finally shored up the terrible interior of their defensive line if they'd chosen to draft Marcell Dareus.
And they could have nabbed a cinch replacement for Champ Bailey if they'd chosen to draft Patrick Peterson.
Instead, they chose Von Miller, and the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft has done nothing but prove his worth every week.
Coach John Fox used one of his last top-two picks to select defensive end Julius Peppers, and after that success he doubled-down on pass-rushers by adding Miller, the man who led the NCAA with more than 17 sacks in 2009 and wowed the scouts at the Senior Bowl with his instincts and almost immeasurable quickness.
The hype has been justified; Miller leads all rookies with eight sacks, a mark that ranks sixth among all players this season, and he's also forced two fumbles.
But more importantly, despite the headlines heavily favoring Tim Tebow, Miller's presence off the edge has contributed to a defense that has allowed only 11.5 points per game in their last two wins.
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB (Washington Redskins)
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Although we didn't mention it with Miller, having a strong teammate on the other side is a huge boon for any rookie pass-rusher—and both Miller and Ryan Kerrigan can thank their respective GMs for making sure that Elvis Dumervil and Brian Orakpo are still in uniform.
Of course, that's not to say that these young players couldn't get it done on their own, but Kerrigan's five sacks, four forced fumbles and interception return for a touchdown might not have been as easy without offensive lines worrying about All-Pro Orakpo coming from the other edge.
Still, Kerrigan has exhibited a knack for making big plays while remembering to stay at home and mind his responsibilities against the run, a skill that has allowed him to notch 41 tackles for second among all rookies.