NFL Draft 2012: The 10 Most Important First-Round Rookies for the NFL Season

Joey Rebbe@@JoeyRebbeCorrespondent IJune 12, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: The 10 Most Important First-Round Rookies for the NFL Season

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    The NFL offseason is in full swing, with mini-camps being conducted this week. Fans of all 32 NFL teams are itching to see how rookies will perform in camp, usually a good indicator of season performance.

    No rookie experiences more pressure to immediately succeed than the first-round draft pick of each time. Often these young men are called to start, and within a few months must master the playbook of an NFL team.

    In this slideshow, we'll evaluate which rookies will have the biggest impact on their respective teams in 2012.

    As a side note, for anyone expecting Ryan Tannehill to be on this presentation, he won't be. I am of the opinion that he shouldn't start over Matt Moore, much less have an immediate impact in 2012.

    As always, feel free to rant, rave, or display excessive amounts of fandom in the comments!

    Without further ado, let's get going.

Honorable Mention: Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Far and away the most unexpected pick in the draft, Bruce Irvin was labeled as a second-round pick due to character issues and size issues. Pete Carroll was heavily derided for this pick, yet Irvin has definite potential to impact the Seahawks roster.

    Though Seattle's defense emerged as a Top 10 squad last season, the pass rush was distinctly lacking. Look for Irvin to remedy that as he fits into a situational, Aldon Smith-type role.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

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    Weeden is a disciplined pocket passer who can sling the ball with excellent velocity and accuracy. The 28-year-old former baseball player was considered by some to actually be the purest pocket passer in the draft.

    As reports are already surfacing that Weeden will start in 2012, it is to be expected that the man will have a considerable impact on the Browns' success. In the brutal AFC North, the Browns need a tough, resilient quarterback who can take a hit one play, yet stand tall in the pocket and deliver a strike the next play. Weeden is that guy.

10. Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots

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    The Patriots' defense prides itself on versatility. Although the modified 3-4 base has been generally ineffective the past two seasons, it has been nothing if not extremely creative.

    Dont'a Hightower solidifies this defense. He is an excellent wrap up tackler, and can rush the quarterback for good measure. In small zone assignments, he can cover fairly well. All of these are the prerequisites for a 3-4 linebacker.

    With the addition of Hightower, expect the Patriot defense to climb out of the depths of NFL rankings.

9. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    David DeCastro is the most highly touted guard prospect to come out of the draft since future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson. His footwork is phenomenal and his strength is brute. This is exactly the kind of smart draft pick we've seen the Steelers make for years.

    In 2011, the Steeler offensive line left Big Ben out to dry, finishing near the bottom of the league in pass blocking efficiency and giving up huge sack numbers. The Steelers can build around DeCastro and young standout Maurkice Pouncey and get their line back to top form.

8. Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Dre Kirkpatrick knows how to play on an elite defense. The Cincinnati Bengals are a defense on the rise who are trying to solidify themselves in that elite category. It's a match made in heaven.

    Kirkpatrick will function as a superb compliment to high-caliber corner Leon Hall, putting an exclamation point on the professionalism of yet another AFC North championship defense.

7. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals

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    Michael Floyd will make the most splash of any receiver in the draft. He is sure-handed, a fluid route runner and has much better size than fellow first rounder Justin Blackmon (whose rookie year will most definitely be marred by the quarterbacking of Blaine Gabbert).

    Although both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are average quarterbacks, a large target like Floyd shouldn't be too hard to hit (especially with all the coverage focused on superstar Larry Fitzgerald). Expect a good number of passes to go Floyd's way, and for Floyd to convert those passes into yards and touchdowns.

6. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    I know I'm going to catch some flak for this one. Many predict RG3 to win rookie of the year.

    Something tells me otherwise, however, and that something is the Redskins.

    I, along with many others, don't believe ol' Mike Shanahan has that coaching brilliance he once possessed. He most likely will not use the supremely talented Heisman winner to his full advantage.

    That's not to say that RG3 won't have an impact; instead, he will put together a solid season permeated with flashes of brilliance that will give Redskin fans hope for their bright future.

5. Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys

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    As is to be expected, Jerry Jones and Co. did some deft maneuvering to climb the draft board and snag a highly touted defensive prospect. Claiborne is a fundamentally sound corner, with great hip positioning and nice range.

    Dallas got torched in the secondary last year. Matt Stafford and other QBs forced the Dallas DBs to give up some extremely embarrassing plays. Claiborne figures to remedy that situation (if, of course, he learns how to spell the word "remedy").

4. Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mark Barron is an incredible safety. He can cover the field, hit like a freight train and maneuver around blockers to get into the backfield. His overall playmaking ability is a mold between Earl Thomas and Eric Berry, two Pro Bowl safeties who came out of the 2010 draft.

    The Bucs stocked up on talent this offseason. They might flop, as "offseason winners" so often do. Regardless, Barron will be a lethal, free flowing weapon on the back line of the secondary for years to come.

3. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns

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    Trent Richardson is the most talented player in this year's draft. His perfect blend of power and finesse ran this back into Heisman finalist territory. Richardson possesses the X factor that so many all-time greats once had.

    Richardson will give the Cleveland Browns what they haven't truly had since 2007: offense. Richardson's knack for playmaking will complement Brandon Weeden's pocket passing nature. As a duo, they will keep defenses guessing and finally give the Browns a shot at the AFC North title.

2. Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings

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    The NFL's greatest franchises tend to share one thing in common: they all have a dominant left tackle. Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden all led their teams to extreme success.

    Matt Kalil is supposed to be the next big thing when it comes to left tackles. It was my personal opinion that if the Vikings didn't take Kalil, their franchise would be set back for the next ten years.

    Well, luckily for my personal opinions and Viking fans everywhere, they took Kalil. Christian Ponder now has a master of blocking footwork protecting that ever so valuable weak side. This will have a huge impact on the Vikings, as it allows Ponder to truly flourish.

1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Big shock here. Andrew Luck, the most hyped prospect since Peyton Manning, who he was drafted to replace.

    Luck's key assets are his existing knowledge of pro-style offenses, his evident mastery of different drop backs and, of course, that tight spiral coming off a seemingly effortless throwing motion that produces unheralded accuracy.

    Essentially, Luck has to have a huge impact. His team is horrendous, and there's nowhere to go but up. As long as he stays away from throwing the Venus on a 3 spider Y Banana, he'll undoubtedly have the biggest impact of any first-round draft choice come September.

    Disagree? Angry that Ryan Tannehill and Luke Kuechly shouldn't be on this list? Let me know in the comments below.