2012 NFL Draft: 10 Players Who Can Make an Immediate Impact in the NFL
As the NFL season rolls on, more and more teams lose hope in the playoffs with their latest losses and shift their attention to the upcoming NFL draft.
Dream no more fans of bad football teams—this article is right up your alley.
Using the latest top 10 teams in the draft, this list has been complied to find the 10 college football players who can realistically (again, realistically) make the biggest impact in today’s NFL.
Every team has needs and holes to fill, but how will they fix these issues? The draft—now that the latest labor agreement limits outrageous rookie contracts—is quickly becoming the safest and most cost-efficient route to finding new bodies.
So, which players can lend an immediate helping hand to those franchises most in need?
Here’s the list of the top 10 college players with the biggest potential to make immediate impacts:
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
It appears to be a foregone conclusion the Indianapolis Colts are more than happy to tank all of 2011 if it means securing the top selection in the 2012 Draft.
And it’s also imminent that the Colts won’t be deciding if they take Andrew Luck, but rather what to do with him after they choose the Stanford QB.
Luck took some serious blows from the critics for staying at school to finish his college degree, but he did it none the less and it seems as if his decision has come without consequence. Had Luck decided to leave school last year, Cam Newton would have had pressure for the top choice.
Luck seems to be the closest thing to an absolute sure-thing the draft has seen in years. No doubt he will be a Colt and will make his presence known quickly—somewhere.
Carolina Panthers: Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Speaking of Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the shoe-in Offensive Rookie of the Year is proving his statistics can dazzle and amaze. Only problem is, they’re not resulting in a lot of victories.
Newton will need help if he’s going to turn things around in Carolina. Aside from an aging Steve Smith and a disappointing DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers don’t have many offensive weapons. It’s very likely they will bid on some of the big-name offensive free agents (DeSean Jackson or Dwayne Bowe, just to name names).
This leaves the organization with one last patch to fix—the offensive line.
Offensive tackle Jordan Gross is a solid anchor on the left side and will be for years to come. Matt Kalil could be the right tackle of the future to protect Newton’s other side and the side he rushes to more often than not.
As the best tackle available, Kalil is a solid eight-year investment.
St. Louis Rams: Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Don’t let the Rams ninth-best league average 215 passing yards per game allowed fool you. This team is not as solid at defensive back as the pure numbers would indicate. Remember, the San Francisco 49ers (solid running team), Arizona Cardinals (no offensive line to buy time for Kevin Kolb) and Seattle Seahawks (Tavaris Jackson—enough said) play in the NFC West.
As the potential best overall athlete on the big board, St. Louis would be nuts to pass on Morris Claiborne. Much like the Cardinals did last year with Patrick Peterson, they had to make the move for best player available and they did.
Claiborne would provide an answer for divisional offensive threats such as Larry Fitzgerald and could also make an impact in special teams. The choice would be obvious and the selection would be a cinch. I can’t see a talent like Claiborne falling out of the top five.
Minnesota Vikings: Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Here’s the logic in taking Andrew Luck’s blind side-protecting left guard so highly for the Vikings. First, there’s a need for an upgrade at either tackle position. Second, Christian Ponder needs protection if he’s going to flourish.
Jonathan Martin is a great pass-blocking tackle which is what Minnesota could use. Current left tackle Charlie Johnson (2006 sixth-round choice) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (2009 second-round choice) aren’t exactly Pro Bowl caliber players. Martin could play the left tackle for the Vikings and slide Johnson to the right side.
It will be important for the confidence of Ponder that he have the best protection available so he can make good, sharp throws in a clean pocket when he’s not handing off to Adrian Peterson. Ponder at a young age is easily manipulated by pressure. Keeping him safe will maximize results.
Washington Redskins: Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Which sounds best to Redskins fans: debating between Rex Grossman or John Beck or just ending the argument by bringing in a future franchise quarterback?
As a USC signal caller, Matt Barkley will be ready to handle an NFL offense rather easily. The selection would make all the sense in the world—something the Redskins organization has seemed to avoid doing as of late. It fills an immediate void and sets the 'Skins up for years with one player instead of a carousel.
It’s likely that the Redskins could also call on Oklahoma QB Landry Jones or even Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Any way you slice it, the Redskins will be drafting their next franchise QB if they get a top five selection come April.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The addition of Quinton Coples could make a world of difference for the Jacksonville Jaguars organization in relation to the AFC South.
Look at the quarterbacks that will be in the division in 2012—Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck, Matt Schaub and Jake Locker. It’s hard to win in that division unless teams can get into the backfield and disrupt the timing of the opposing quarterback.
Jacksonville is currently exactly middle of the pack in sacks and interceptions. The two biggest defensive stats both happen to be fueled by defensive line pressure. That’s where a guy like Coples could help the Jags.
Coples is the best defensive end on the board in a year where good defensive line products will be few and far between. It’s a smart choice to make and it would fix a problem the Jaguars have put off for long enough.
Arizona Cardinals: Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Arizona has lacked a true, signature running back for many years now. Looking at their roster now, Chris Wells (“Beanie” to some) and LaRod Stephens-Howling don’t necessarily strike fear in the opposition.
The Cardinals did make a move last year to fix the running back position by drafting Virginia Tech product Ryan Williams, who unfortunately went on IR before getting any shot to play.
If Arizona wants to improve in the West, it starts up front. Offensive line help must come in the form of free agency or other draft picks. However, if Trent Richardson is available this low in the top-10 prospects, it’s a chance the Cardinals would be crazy not to make.
Richardson is a between the tackles kind of runner with a great set of hands to catch balls out of the backfield. Providing Kevin Kolb with a running threat helps open things up in the passing game for Larry Fitzgerald as well. Everyone wins.
Miami Dolphins: Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Because Cam Newton has proven that athletic quarterbacks not named “Tim Tebow” are capable of playing in the NFL, the stock for Robert Griffin III may be higher than expected.
Griffin is an incredible talent with a cannon for an arm and blazing speed. He’s not afraid to check down and run, but he tends to stay in the pocket as long as possible before tucking the ball down and taking off—a trait NFL scouts will love.
With the Dolphins, versatile quarterbacks in an offense that created the Wildcat concept are a plus. It's unlikely Chad Henne has the team believing he’s the best decision moving forward. Griffin would be a nice change of pace and could provide a spark to an offense that could desperately need it.
The only problem is that for some reason, Miami has decided to start winning games as of late. They need to start trading in some “W's” for “L’s,” or Griffin could fall to another team.
Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The best wide receiver in this year's draft could very well end up being the replacement for DeSean Jackson if the Philadelphia Eagles can’t re-sign him and he leaves for free agency.
As a matter of fact, this choice is based strictly off of that assumption.
Jackson may feel his stock is higher than the Eagles do. Remember, Philly just emptied the bank for free agents galore. If Jackson can find a team in need of a WR that has money to blow, why not leave?
Blackmon is such a strong force to be reckoned with. His strength, speed and ability to climb the ladder on jump balls makes him ideal for a team based around offense such as the Eagles are.
Michael Vick can never have enough weapons. Blackmon would fit in nicely to provide a possession receiver across from Jeremy Maclin. Jackson was never really a possession guy as much as he was a home run threat. The swap doesn’t seem that foreign of an idea.
Cleveland Browns: Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Last but not least on this list of mighty NFL contenders are the Cleveland Browns, the proof that Murphy’s Law exists.
Cleveland brought in head coach and offensive guru Pat Schurmur during the offseason to help in the development with QB Colt McCoy. To say it kindly, the change has yet to be seen. Shurmur is responsible for the early days of Donovan McNabb’s career in Philly and the emergence of Sam Bradford last year on the Rams.
Two reasons why the development seems to be stalling are because the Browns are without one-hit wonder Peyton Hillis and their receiving corp is far less than elite.
A dominant No. 1 receiver would make sense to aid McCoy’s progress. Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little are nice, but adding in a fierce No. 1 receiver such as Michael Floyd would be great.
As long as Floyd can stay out of legal trouble, unlike his days at Notre Dame, he could be a solid fit for the Browns.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.