NFL Playoff Predictions: 7 Rookies Who Will Shine in the Postseason
The 2011/2012 NFL playoffs draw near, and many of this year's rookies who were lucky enough to be drafted by playoff teams will get the opportunity to experience the excitement that the postseason brings.
Most of them won't play a significant part in their team's respective playoff runs, but here are seven outstanding rookies who could solidify themselves as NFL studs with big postseason performances.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Von Miller was selected with the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and he has more than lived up to his billing.
The former Texas A&M linebacker has recorded 63 tackles, 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 13 starts for the Broncos, and he has been an integral part of their remarkable run this season. Though they still sit at 8-6 with a chance to lose the division to the red-hot Chargers or the lingering Raiders, I like the Broncos' chances of holding onto the division with games versus the Bills and the Chiefs left on the schedule.
If Denver does indeed make it, Miller will have been a big reason, and if the Broncos are going to make any sort of run, Miller will be a big reason.
Titus Young, WR, Detroit Lions
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Boise State product Titus Young has had a very good rookie season, catching 40 passes for 544 yards and four touchdowns in Detroit's aerial assault.
Young has been a speedy compliment to Calvin Johnson at wideout, and he, along with Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew, is part of the reason why Johnson has had such a monstrous year. With so many weapons, defenses are forced to single-cover Johnson or leave another talented player open. Young has also caught a touchdown pass in each of Detroit's last two wins, both of which were last-second nail-biters.
Detroit is in pretty good position to make the playoffs with a 9-5 record, even though tough games against the Chargers and the Packers loom. If they are able to hold on and secure a wild-card berth, they'll have finally done what they've wanted to do for so long.
Young will have to keep up his production into the postseason, if for no other reason than to soften up the coverage on Megatron.
JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The have second-best defense in the league in terms of yards allowed and the fourth-best in terms of points allowed.
Much of the reason for such a quick turnaround is the ample talent on the roster that fit into the 3-4 scheme, but first-round draft pick JJ Watt was picked specifically to fill a void at the defensive end spot. Watt has come in and recorded 55 tackles and 5.5 sacks on the season, and he and Antonio Smith have developed into one of the most formidable defensive end tandems in the league, regardless of scheme.
Houston is not likely to get very far in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback, but JJ Watt and the defense might have something to say about that.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Rob Carr/Getty Images
After failing to record a single stat through his first two games, Ravens rookie Torrey Smith exploded onto the NFL scene with a five-catch, 152-yard, three-touchdown performance against the St. Louis Rams in a 37-7 win.
Since then, Smith has been inconsistent at times, but lights out for the most part. He has had big games in some big wins (three catches for 84 yards vs. Houston, five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh, six catches for 165 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati) and provides and explosive element to a team that sorely needs one in the passing game.
The Ravens have a good chance at going a long way in the playoffs on their defensive prowess alone, but the ability of Smith to stretch the field—and quarterback Joe Flacco's ability to get it to him—could mean big things for this team.
Randall Cobb, WR/KR/PR, Green Bay Packers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
As if Green Bay's offense wasn't already good enough, the Packers decided to make a luxury pick in the second round when Kentucky speedster Randall Cobb was still on the board.
Things have worked out pretty well for both Cobb and the Packers thus far. Cobb has returned a kickoff for a touchdown and a punt for a touchdown, adding 23 catches for 353 yards and a touchdown through the air despite fighting for touches with the likes of Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones and Donald Driver.
Cobb has been more involved in the offense recently, with six catches for 98 yards in the past two games.
Cobb's kick/punt-returning abilities will make him a constant threat during the playoffs, but his impact might not stop there if a guy like Jennings, who has been sidelined with a knee injury, misses any postseason time.
Either way, look for Cobb to be a factor in the Packers' playoff run.
Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
Karl Walter/Getty Images
Aldon Smith was seen as a very risky pick at No. 7 overall in the 2011 NFL draft, but as his first regular season prepares to end, he has racked up an impressive 13 sacks to go along with 31 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Smith's impact has been growing throughout the year. In his last three games alone, he has collected 5.5 sacks, including 2.5 in the Niners' 20-3 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The former Missouri standout seems to be gearing up for the playoffs, and if he keeps up the production, he could help San Francisco go deep into the postseason.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
What is it about guys with dreadlocks being speed demon wideouts?
In all seriousness, Falcons rookie Julio Jones does draw parallels with the previously-mentioned Torrey Smith in that he has provided his team with an explosive down-field threat that wasn't there before.
Jones missed three games this season and still totaled 42 catches for 755 yards and five touchdowns, an average of an impressive 18.0 yards per reception.
The Falcons are in very good position to finish 10-6 and earn a wild-card berth, and Jones has been a big part of important wins in the past two weeks, with three catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns in a comeback win against Carolina and five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in a drubbing of Jacksonville.
Jones could be the weapon the Falcons were missing when last season's run was cut short.