Rookie Progress Report for Every NFL Team's Rookie Class so Far
Everybody hopes his/her favorite NFL team made the right decisions when making its selections on draft day. The progress, or lack thereof, of each rookie is something fans monitor very closely. Minicamps are a good opportunity to turn some heads, but it's training camp where the rookies can really earn some playing time.
Check out the upcoming slides to see how rookies are faring as training camp approaches.
2012 Picks: Michael Floyd, Jamell Fleming, Bobby Massie, Senio Kelemete, Justin Bethel, Ryan Lindley and Nate Potter
Michael Floyd is the headliner in this class, but players like Jamell Fleming and Bobby Massie have a chance to make an immediate impact. According to Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly, Fleming has been the most overall impressive performer of the group.
The makeup of the Arizona Cardinals secondary could offer Fleming a chance to earn snaps as the No. 3 cornerback. A group of Patrick Peterson, Greg Toler and Fleming has a chance to provide excellent coverage.
Well, Mike has really made some plays throughout the camp. He really looked good in our Saturday practice out at the stadium making a couple of plays. He consistently catches the ball. He’s strong and physical at the ling of scrimmage. He’s an intelligent young man. He’s really picking up and grasping things.
Massie has some work to do, but he's getting a chance to win the starting right tackle position away from Jeremy Bridges. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has noticed Massie and came away impressed with his athleticism.
These three rookies appear the most likely to make an impact this season. However, to count out others like Senio Kelemete, who could see time at guard, would be a mistake. Depth is important in the NFL, as you never know when an injury can strike.
2012 Picks: Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Bradie Ewing, Jonathan Massaquoi, Charles Mitchell and Travian Robertson
The Atlanta Falcons rookie class isn't making much noise early in the offseason. Peter Konz is expected to compete for the open right guard spot and will gain some attention once training camp opens. His ability to seize that position could play a major role in the success of the Falcons' running game.
Jonathan Massaquoi has a shot to earn some snaps in passing situations. His quickness off the edge gives him the ability to get after the quarterback. Massaquoi showed up this offseason at 260 pounds, a weight that better suits his skill set.
Bradie Ewing is another guy with a chance to see significant playing time this season. The Falcons are one of the few teams that still use a fullback as a lead blocker. Ewing could carve out a nice role opening running lanes for Michael Turner.
2012 Picks: Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce, Gino Gradkowski, Christian Thompson, Asa Jackson, Tommy Streeter and Deangelo Tyson
The Baltimore Ravens got a steal when they landed Courtney Upshaw in the second round. This selection became more important after the injury to Terrell Suggs and loss of Jarret Johnson via free agency. Upshaw is already slated to open training camp as the starter at right outside linebacker.
Kelechi Osemele had an opportunity to land the starting left guard position, but he was unable to impress the coaches during minicamp. This and the signing of Bobbie Williams has closed the door for Osemele to begin training camp as the starter. Williams all but has that job locked down, and it would take an injury or terrible training camp for him to lose the starting job.
Bernard Pierce is another rookie who failed to take advantage of an opportunity. The Ravens are searching for someone to back up Ray Rice, but at this point Pierce didn't stand out enough to take the lead on that competition.
Tommy Streeter has caught the eye of John Harbaugh, with Harbaugh stating he has "made big strides."
2012 Picks: Stephon Gilmore, Cordy Glenn, T.J. Graham, Nigel Bradham, Ron Brooks, Zebrie Sanders, Tank Carder, Mark Asper and John Potter
The Buffalo Bills look primed to get as many as two immediate starters out of their 2012 draft class.
According to Jared Kracker of BuffaloBills.com, Cordy Glenn received all the first-team reps at the left tackle position. Glenn was believed to be in competition with Chris Hairston for the starting job, but based on talent Glenn is more suited for the position. Lining Glenn up at left tackle leaves Hairston to play on the right side, where he has a lot more potential.
Stephon Gilmore figures to earn one of the starting cornerback jobs. He might not have any NFL experience, but Gilmore doesn't play like a rookie. His instincts and hard work will help him avoid racking up a large number of mistakes.
Gilmore might not be the only rookie member of the secondary to see early playing time. Kracker also reports that cornerback Ron Brooks is seeing time in both the slot and on the outside. Brooks might not earn starter snaps, but everyone knows the third and even fourth defensive back sees significant playing time.
Wide receiver T.J. Graham is struggling to pick up the playbook, with Chan Gailey saying, "Graham struggled because he has just not been in the system. He just needs to learn the system. He has a lot of talent."
2012 Picks: Luke Kuechly, Amini Silatolu, Frank Alexander, Joe Adams, Josh Norman, Brad Nortman and D.J. Campbell
The Carolina Panthers are going to get a lot of production out of this rookie class. Everyone expected Luke Kuechly to become an immediate starter, but Josh Norman and Amini Silatolu are also on pace to open training camp as starters.
Norman is a highly talented cornerback who fell some in the draft because of questions about his maturity. However, having a strong head coach like Ron Rivera might be the exact thing needed to get the most out of Norman's talent.
The Panthers secondary needed an infusion of young talent, and finding it in the later rounds is always helpful. If Norman can hang on to the starter's job, the Panthers' entire defense would see a benefit.
Carolina's offensive line gets a boast from the explosive, strong and talented Silatolu. He's a bit raw but athletically gifted enough to learn on the go. Silatolu will immediately help the Panthers' running game find some more consistency.
Kuechly was slated to open training camp at outside linebacker. However, he's seen a lot of time at inside linebacker and impressed everyone. This means it's very possible Jon Beason is the one that changes position. Either way, a linebacking corps featuring Kuechly and Beason has a lot of potential.
2012 Picks: Shea McClellin, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy
The major contributors out of the Chicago Bears' 2012 draft class will be Shea McClellin and Alshon Jeffery. Both are considered favorites to earn starting roles by the end of training camp. In fact, both will receive most of their time as specialists.
During minicamp, McClellin didn't see any time with the first team. However, this isn't a major concern because his initial role will be as a situational pass-rusher. Look for the Bears to play Israel Idonije in running situations and McClellin when they need to create pressure.
Jeffery also isn't lining up with the starters, but with wide receivers that isn't very important. The Bears will work Jeffery in on certain packages. Chicago moved up in the draft to add Jeffery because of his size and potential, which means he will absolutely be worked into the offensive game plan.
Not much is expected out of Brandon Hardin early in the season. He is coming off an injury and hasn't been able to participate in practice because of Oregon State's academic calendar.
2012 Picks: Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Devon Still, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Thompson, Orson Charles, Shaun Prater, Marvin Jones, George Iloka and Dan Herron
The Cincinnati Bengals added a bunch of talented players throughout the three days of the 2012 draft. They could see immediate contributions from all 10 selections. Because of their recent solid draft approach, the future in Cincinnati is very bright.
Kevin Zeitler already figures to man one of the starting guard spots. His addition brings toughness and gives the Bengals' run blocking a boost. Adding a guard in the first round isn't always a sexy pick, but it's these choices that help win football games.
Dre Kirkpatrick will figure in the secondary rotation, but at this point he's still learning the ins and outs of the NFL. In a recent interview, Kirkpatrick talked about how he is learning to backpedal after never being asked to do so in college. It may take a few weeks for him to earn significant playing time, but he's too talented to remain on the sidelines.
Devon Still and Brandon Thompson will be worked into the defensive tackle rotation. Both have the ability to hold up against the run while also penetrating the pocket. Defensive lines perform better when they are fresh because of a deep rotation.
Mohamed Sanu is locked in a heated battle to earn the starting receiver spot opposite A.J. Green. His strong showing so far this summer has him in the early lead.
Coach Marvin Lewis has been extremely impressed with Orson Charles, saying, "Orson has exceeded in every way my expectations. I knew he was a big, strong guy, but his ability to run and catch the ball has been impressive.”
2012 Picks: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, John Hughes, Travis Benjamin, James-Michael Johnson, Ryan Miller, Emmanuel Acho, Billy Winn, Trevin Wade and Brad Smelley
The Plain Dealer expects Brandon Weeden to be named the starting quarterback within the first couple days of training camp. However, that might be tough if he isn't signed by the time training camp opens. At this point, Weeden remains unsigned because he is seeking a four-year, fully guaranteed deal.
Eventually this will get worked out, but any missed time will hurt his readiness for the opening of the season.
There's no question Trent Richardson will be the opening-day starter and ready to carry the load. The Cleveland Browns have no choice but to make him the focal point of their offense. He's the most talented playmaker on the roster.
James-Michael Johnson appears poised to open the season as one of the starting linebackers. He is taking the spot left open by Scott Fujita's suspension, but Johnson is talented enough to keep a starting job even when Fujita returns. Expect Johnson to quickly prove to be one of the bigger steals in this draft.
The lack of talk surrounding Travis Benjamin suggests he currently isn't in the running to win the No. 3 receiver role.
With Phil Taylor out with an injury, John Hughes and Billy Winn will have an opportunity to earn a spot in the defensive tackle rotation. I'm a big fan of Winn's and feel that he could really surprise some people this season. He's a real disruptive player who makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The reason Cleveland selected Mitchell Schwartz in the second round is because it lacked great options at right tackle. This means it will take some real struggles during training camp for Schwartz not to begin the season as the starter.
2012 Picks: Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, Matt Johnson, Danny Coale, James Hanna and Caleb McSurdy
Injuries have been the major storyline following the Dallas Cowboys' 2012 draft class. Morris Claiborne, Danny Coale and Kyle Wilber have all missed time due to injuries. Luckily, these injuries happened early during the offseason, and each could be back in action by the time training camp roles around.
Claiborne's health is the one to keep an eye on because the Cowboys are counting on him to begin the season as one of their starting cornerbacks. Dallas' focus on improving its secondary was a major reason it feels good about the upcoming season.
2012 Picks: Derek Wolfe, Brock Osweiler, Ronnie Hillman, Omar Bolden, Philip Blake, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan
So far this offseason, the Denver Broncos have worked Derek Wolfe and Danny Trevathan into the defensive rotation.
However, by the end of the season Ronnie Hillman has a good chance to make the most impact of any Broncos rookie. Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson sees Hillman replacing Willis McGahee as the starter at some point this season.
Trevathan has received a ton of practice time as the nickel linebacker. He has caught the attention of John Fox, with Fox stating, "(Trevathan) has attacked it really well as far as in the meeting rooms, in his playbook. This game is so mental, and for a young guy, he's caught on pretty quickly."
Linebackers that do a good job in coverage are becoming more important in this pass-happy NFL. Trevathan could really make a major impact for the Broncos this season.
Wolfe is going to see time at both defensive end and defensive tackle. This versatility is going to ensure he gets a lot of snaps in the defensive line rotation. Wolfe has really impressed the entire coaching staff, and it appears Jack Del Rio has major plans for him.
2012 Picks: Riley Reiff, Ryan Broyles, Dwight Bentley, Ronnell Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green and Travis Lewis
Dwight Bentley has a chance to make the most immediate impact out of any of the Detroit Lions' rookies. Detroit needs a lot of help in the secondary, and Bentley possesses the physical talents needed to earn early playing time.
Tahir Whitehead is a perfect fit for the Lions' defensive system. He reminds me a lot of Willie Young, in that he's a bit undersized but has the explosiveness to pressure the quarterback.
He's already gaining positive reviews from Gunther Cunningham, who said, "That's by far the biggest surprise I've had in quite a while as a coach. I think (linebacker coach) Matt Burke and the scouts did a great job with him, he's much better than a fifth-round draft pick. He is something."
Riley Reiff has a shot to win a starting job during training camp, but he has some work to do. At this point, the Lions might keep Reiff as an option to replace one of the struggling starters later in the year.
At this point, Ryan Broyles' health is still in a constant state of flux. Until we know his status, it's hard to figure out just the type of impact he'll have this season.
Green Bay Packers
2012 Picks: Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian, Terrell Manning, Andrew Datko and B.J. Coleman
The Green Bay Packers went into the 2012 draft knowing they had to address their pass rush. This is why they selected Nick Perry in the first round. Perry already has a strong hold on the starting outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews.
Green Bay needs Perry to either draw attention away from Matthews or take advantage of the one-on-one situations he creates. If Perry struggles to make an immediate impact, the entire Packers defense could have another poor season.
Casey Hayward has impressed enough that Dom Capers is talking about the possibility of moving Charles Woodson to safety.
"It’s not like it would be a radical move. We feel he could play any one of those positions and that’s one of the things he brings to the table, the flexibility that he can," Capers said.
The defensive line added a lot of depth with the selections of Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels. Worthy will see action at all three defensive line spots and may be mainly asked to penetrate the pocket. Daniels doesn't appear to have a specific role on the defense. However, he's talented enough to be rotated in and out of different packages.
2012 Picks: Whitney Mercilus, DeVier Posey, Brandon Brooks, Ben Jones, Keshawn Martin, Jared Crick, Randy Bullock and Nick Mondek
Many, including myself, believed the Houston Texans needed to come out of this offseason adding more talent at wide receiver. They spent two draft picks to bring in DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin. However, neither has shown enough to believe they'll make an impact this season.
In fact, Gary Kubiak stated the following about Posey: "He’s inconsistent. He missed a year of football, which you can tell. He has to respond to corrections quicker, but the talent is all there. Missing all that ball last year has had an effect on him, so we have to get him caught up."
Brandon Brooks has also gotten off to a poor start this season. He showed up to minicamp out of shape, carrying a few extra pounds. This lack of condition was noticed by the coaching staff and isn't something that made them happy. It's never a good thing for rookies to make such a poor first impression.
First-round pick Whitney Mercilus appears to be the only rookie really making a good impression. Defensive end Antonio Smith sees a lot of talent when watching Mercilus, saying he looked "explosive. He got some power and he got some quickness, and he’s confident in himself. That’s always a good combination."
2012 Picks: Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Josh Chapman, Vick Ballard, LaVon Brazill, Justin Anderson, Tim Fugger and Chandler Harnish
Andrew Luck is slated to open the season as the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback, but at this point he is a bit behind. Stanford's academic year prohibited Luck from working out at the latest minicamp, which resulted in Luck falling behind in learning the playbook. However, because of his strong work ethic and football IQ, Luck will be fine.
The Colts are aiming to run a base offense with two tight ends, which means both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are in line to start. This base offense should provide the Colts with the ability to create plenty of mismatches. Both Fleener and Allen are capable of stretching the field and making plays in the passing game.
Josh Chapman is working hard to get back to full strength after suffering a knee injury last season. "Everything's going right on schedule. I'm getting my strength back. I'm getting back to myself and feeling pretty good," he said.
Having Chapman in the middle of the defense could really help the unit. His run-stuffing ability is something the Colts really missed last season.
General manager Ryan Grigson has talked about the potential T.Y. Hilton possesses. His quickness and route-running ability make him a good fit to work out of the slot. It appears he has a chance to see some action early in his career.
2012 Picks: Justin Blackmon, Andre Branch, Bryan Anger, Brandon Marshall, Mike Harris and Jeris Pendleton
According to John Oehser of Jaguars.com, Andre Branch has done a good job this offseason and has impressed the coaching staff. He appears ready to make an immediate impact as a rookie. Branch will definitely see time in passing situations but could quickly earn more playing time.
Justin Blackmon's off-field issues are disappointing, but he's the type of person that will use this to motivate him. Look for Blackmon to try to regain some positive attention by getting off to a fast start. Despite the presence of Laurent Robinson, Blackmon is the most talented wide receiver on the roster. Coach Mike Mularkey knows that without Blackmon his offense will struggle.
Kansas City Chiefs
2012 Picks: Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson, Devon Wylie, DeQuan Menzie, Cyrus Gray, Jerome Long and Junior Hemingway
I've said all along that Dontari Poe's future is brightest at the nose tackle position. His strength, size and anchor allow him to control the line of scrimmage. Despite his impressive combine performance, Poe doesn't do a good job penetrating the pocket; he's much better suited to eat space.
Jeff Allen was one of my favorite players in the 2012 draft class. He is being moved inside to guard, and it will take some time for him to adjust. However, Josh Looney of KCChiefs.com feels Allen has a good chance to eventually unseat Ryan Lilja as the starter at left guard.
If Devon Wylie can remain healthy, he'll challenge Dexter McCluster for snaps at wide receiver. Wylie is just as quick and elusive as McCluster but is a better route runner. I expect the Chiefs coaching staff will quickly realize Wylie does a better job finding the open holes in the defense.
2012 Picks: Ryan Tannehill, Jonathan Martin, Olivier Vernon, Michael Egnew, Lamar Miller, Josh Kaddu, B.J. Cunningham, Kheeston Randall and Rishard Matthews
I'm not sure the fanbase will agree, but the fact that Ryan Tannehill isn't in the running to begin the season as the starter is a good thing.
Tannehill has a ton of talent but just isn't ready to be an NFL quarterback. The more time he spends on the bench learning the ins and outs of the game, the better chance he has to succeed. This doesn't mean he won't see playing time this season, just that he'll have time to ease into his role.
Last season, Reggie Bush was able to remain healthy and produce. However, his history suggests he'll miss some time in the near future. This will be an opportunity for Lamar Miller to show off his explosiveness.
Miller and Bush have a lot of similarities, and he could prove to be a cheaper option moving forward. Even if Bush remains healthy, Miller is projected to see some time both in the backfield and in the slot.
Jonathan Martin spent his career at Stanford playing left tackle. However, he's being asked to move to the right side in Miami. This position change combined with Stanford's academic calender keeping him from fully participating in practice is slowing his transition. However, the thought is that Martin is too talented not to win the starting right tackle job in training camp.
2012 Picks: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison, Greg Childs, Robert Blanton, Blair Walsh, Audie Cole and Trevor Guyton
There isn't much news surrounding Matt Kalil mainly because there's little doubt he'll open the season as the starter. He's the best offensive lineman on the roster and the only one with the skills to play left tackle. Expect the other rookies to get more attention because a lot of them are fighting for playing time.
The Minnesota Vikings moved back into the first round to land Harrison Smith because of their needs at safety. Smith is already working with the first team and is expected to make a major impact. He's a versatile player who'll make plays in both the passing and run game. Look for him to make some rookie mistakes, but the future is very bright for Smith.
Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright are in the competition to win the punt returner job. Both are lightning-quick and have shown game-breaking ability. At this point, either would be a good option for the Vikings. Wright is also seeing time working at slot receiver. Depending on the formation, he could see some meaningful snaps at the position.
According to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN, Greg Childs is the early favorite to fill in for Jerome Simpson while he serves his suspension. Childs is a decent athlete who has a great feel for the game. He does an excellent job finding the opening in the defense and getting open. He could be prove to be a real steal for the Vikings.
New England Patriots
2012 Picks: Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson, Jake Bequette, Nate Ebner, Alfonzo Dennard and Jeremy Ebert
Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower will have major roles in the New England Patriots defense this season. Both were selected in the first round in order to bolster the pass rush and help against the run.
Jones has a lot of pressure on his shoulders to be the team's top pass-rusher. Bill Belichick will use him at both outside linebacker and defensive. If he's unable to generate consistent pressure, the Patriots defense will really struggle.
To this point, New England and Hightower have been unable to agree on a contract; it appears Hightower is looking for four years guaranteed.
Mike Rodak of ESPN gives Jeremy Ebert a 15 percent chance to make the roster. He gives the following reason for why the Patriots could consider keeping Ebert around: "At the top of the depth chart, only Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney are under contract beyond this season. Keeping Ebert around would give the team a young receiver to develop for the future."
Alfonzo Dennard dropped to the seventh round because of some troubling off-field issues. However, the Patriots felt comfortable enough to give him a chance. It appears to be paying off, as Dennard looks impressive so far this offseason. With Dennard it's never been a question of talent—there was a point when he was considered a first-round prospect.
New Orleans Saints
2012 Picks: Akiem Hicks, Nick Toon, Corey White, Andrew Tiller and Marcel Jones
Trades and the bounty scandal limited the New Orleans Saints' ability to add meaningful talent through the draft. At this point, it seems that only Nick Toon has a decent chance of contributing this season. The impact of such a small draft class won't be felt this year, but it could cause major issues down the road.
Akiem Hicks could figure into the defensive line rotation down the road. However, a recent hand injury will force him to miss some time. The injury isn't a major concern, but any missed practice time is an issue. Hicks is very raw and needs plenty of coaching if he hopes to be ready to contribute.
According to Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune, Nick Toon appears to have the early lead to win the No. 4 wide receiver job. The fact that New Orleans will be missing some of its coaches this season might make it lean towards using more of a veteran group. This could mean Toon doesn't see meaningful snaps until later in the season.
New York Giants
2012 Picks: David Wilson, Rueben Randle, Jayron Hosley, Adrien Robinson, Brandon Mosley, Matt McCants and Markus Kuhn
The New York Giants will get major contributions from at least two of their 2012-draft picks. David Wilson and Rueben Randle will see plenty of action as rookies, and both could even earn starting roles. New York did a good job targeting these two players to come in and fill some holes in the offense.
Wilson will start the season backing up Ahmad Bradshaw, but he's talented enough to eventually seize the bulk of the carries. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been really impressed with Wilson so far:
I don’t know if we’ve had a guy as explosive, regardless of the position, here. I don’t know if we’ve seen quite the darting, the explosiveness in short bursts that we’ve seen with him. That’s kind of exciting to see.He’s got some excitement that I don’t know if we’ve had that kind of guy. In this guy you’ve got the kind of explosion that I’m not sure how guys in the league have.
Meanwhile, Randle is seeing a lot of action because of the departure of Mario Manningham and injury to Hakeem Nicks. The more reps Randle receives during the offseason, the more prepared he'll be once the regular season rolls around. This is a great chance for him to build a relationship with Eli Manning.
New York Jets
2012 Picks: Quinton Coples, Stephen Hill, Demario Davis, Josh Bush, Terrance Ganaway, Robert T. Griffin, Antonio Allen and Jordan White
Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill are the headliners of the New York Jets' draft class. However, Demario Davis also figures to see significant playing time this season.
speed and natural burst, saying Davis "has something the Jets' other LBs don't have: speed. He recorded a 'sack' in team drills, blitzing up the middle. Okay, he was unblocked, but you could see the burst. He also drops smoothly into coverage. Message to Bart Scott: You'd better be on your game when camp opens."
As for Coples, the Jets seem to be rearranging their entire defensive strategy to fit his playing style. New York will feature a lot of four-man fronts where Coples will line up at defensive end. Lining up Coples at that spot allows the Jets to get pressure on the quarterback from a different alignment. His natural position is as a 4-3 defensive end, and it's where he has the most potential to make an impact.
The Jets need someone to help increase the effectiveness of the passing game. Stephen Hill has the talent to become an instant playmaker in this Jets offense. His size and speed combination will cause matchup problems for opposing defenses. Look for New York to get him heavily involved in the red zone and in deep routes.
Players like Terrance Ganaway, Antonio Allen and Jordan White will be used to provide some depth. They won't see a lot of playing time this year, but they still have some potential.
2012 Picks: Tony Bergstrom, Miles Burris, Jack Crawford, Juron Criner, Christo Bilukidi and Nathan Stupar
The 2012 draft didn't give the Oakland Raiders many chances to add top-level talent. Their decision to acquire Carson Palmer, Aaron Curry and Terrelle Pryor cost them a handful of picks. However, it looks like Miles Burris and Juron Criner have a chance to make an impact this season.
Burris has been used at outside linebacker, but his ability to rush the passer gives him versatility. Coach Dennis Allen could use him as a poor man's Von Miller. Initially, Burris could see most of his playing time on passing downs.
Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times sees a lot of Denarius Moore in Juron Criner. He had a very impressive minicamp that helped him catch the eye of the coaching staff. If he's able to build on that during training camp, he could earn some early paying time.
Tony Bergstrom and Jack Crawford appear headed towards a backup role. Both will provide solid depth along both the offensive and defensive line.
2012 Picks: Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Dennis Kelly, Marvin McNutt, Brandon Washington and Bryce Brown
Fletcher Cox is the headliner of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2012 draft class. However, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin will also see plenty of playing time. Both players used the minicamp to impress the coaching staff. Boykin has a chance to leave training camp as the team's nickelback and kick returner. With NFL offenses being pass-heavy, look for Boykin to see a lot of time on defense.
The Eagles defense struggled last year because of the inconsistent play of their linebackers. They were often out of position, missing tackles or just failing to make plays. This is why Kendricks will open training camp as the Eagles' starting strongside linebacker.
Kendricks uses his speed, tenacity and instincts to make plays all over the field. He's the type of player that will immediately stand out to the fans and coaches.
Vinny Curry's minicamp was cut short because of a high-ankle sprain. He's not expected to miss training camp, but sometimes ankle injuries have a tendency to linger.
The Eagles are going to use Cox in multiple roles. His versatility helps him make an impact from either the defensive end or tackle spot. Look for Philadelphia to allow him to pin his ears back and penetrate the pocket.
Rookies like Marvin McNutt, Brandon Washington and Bryce Brown will be used in a reserve role. It's safe to say all three are fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
2012 Picks: David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Alameda Ta'amu, Chris Rainey, Toney Clemons, David Paulson, Terrence Frederick and Kelvin Beachum
The Pittsburgh Steelers did a great job improving their offensive line with their first two picks of the 2012 draft. Mike Adams and David DeCastro will be immediate starters. They will be a welcome addition to an offensive line that has both struggled and been hampered by injuries.
Adams' impressive start to the offseason has been the most noticeable. He's working hard and at this point has earned the starting left tackle job. His ability to win this job allowed the Steelers to shift Marcus Gilbert to right tackle and Willie Colon inside to guard. The unit as a whole is better because of Adams' presence.
Casey Hampton is expected to miss the first couple games of the season, and Alameda Ta'amu will be asked to fill in. Ta'amu is a big-bodied defensive tackle who excels at occupying space. This experience Ta'amu is receiving will help the Steelers see if he is the long-term replacement for the aging Hampton.
When Pittsburgh selected Chris Rainey, it knew it had to be creative to ensure he got involved in the offense. Todd Haley sees him as a hybrid between a running back and slot receiver. It appears Haley has already considered how to get him involved, saying, "It might be third down, it might be by package, you might see him as a receiver or as a running back, but you’ll see him do a little bit of everything."
Sean Spence showed his athleticism during minicamp and caught the eye of linebackers coach Keith Butler. It appears Spence may earn the opportunity to fight for snaps as early as this season.
San Diego Chargers
2012 Picks: Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Brandon Taylor, Ladarius Green, Johnnie Troutman, David Molk and Edwin Baker
Every one of the San Diego Chargers' 2012 draft picks has a chance to make some sort of a contribution as a rookie. However, Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes are expected to see the most playing time. Both players could finish the season as starters at their respective positions.
The Chargers plan to use Ingram at outside linebacker as someone who can relieve both Shaun Phillips and Jarret Johnson. They'll line him up all over the field in an attempt to create mismatches to make it easier for Ingram to rush the passer.
Reyes would make a good partner for Corey Liuget at the 5-technique spot. He plays with good leverage and has some quickness that allows him to get after the quarterback. Those two would make a really talented tandem.
Brandon Taylor will also have a chance to compete for a starting job during training camp. He's in the mix to begin the season as the starter at strong safety. General manager A.J. Smith feels that Taylor is an excellent football player:
He can run support. He's extremely competitive. He's football smart. He's aggressive. He's not a cautious guy. I just like his overall game. And, hopefully, he'll be able to get in the mix at strong safety. It's a never-ending search, and if somebody can step in and be "The Guy," I'll be happy.
San Francisco 49ers
2012 Picks: A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, Trent Robinson, Jason Slowey and Cam Johnson
It appears that LaMichael James is the top candidate to make an impact for the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie this season. The other rookies appear headed towards a reserve role or some spot playing time.
A.J. Jenkins could get worked into the rotation later in the year, but at this point he's behind several players at wide receiver. ESPN's Mike Sando feels Jenkins will slowly be worked into the rotation, but he'd be surprised if Jenkins tops 30 catches this season.
Joe Looney and Darius Fleming are injured and are expected to miss some time, with Fleming expected to miss the entire season.
2012 Picks: Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Jaye Howard, Korey Toomer, Jeremy Lane, Winston Guy, J.R. Sweezy and Greg Scruggs
The Seattle Seahawks' first four selections in the 2012 draft all have a chance to make major contributions as rookies. Bruce Irvin is the headliner and is expected to bring a heavy dose of pressure on the quarterback. He'll be worked into the defensive line rotation, seeing most of his action in passing situations.
Bobby Wagner has already solidified a starting role in the Seahawks' linebacking corps. In fact, he's impressed enough to earn the right to make the defensive play calls on the field. This shows the coaches view him as a leader and smart football player.
The Seahawks' quarterback competition will be one of the more closely watched in all of football. Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson all have a shot to win the starting job. Wilson has to overcome his height limitations, but he obviously impressed his coaching staff during minicamp.
Robert Turbin is an under-the-radar running back who has a lot of potential. He runs with good power and has a nice second gear. Turbin has a great chance to open the season as the team's third-down back and primary backup to Marshawn Lynch.
St. Louis Rams
2012 Picks: Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Trumaine Johnson, Chris Givens, Rokevious Watkins, Greg Zuerlein, Aaron Brown and Daryl Richardson
The St. Louis Rams are expecting major contributions from as many as six of their 2012 draft choices. Michael Brockers, Brian Quick and Janoris Jenkins are within reach of earning starting jobs in the early part of training camp. In fact, some feel Quick must quickly become the Rams' go-to receiver if this team hopes to find any success.
Steven Jackson is aware of the lack of options in the passing game. He has taken it upon himself to challenge Quick and make sure he's aware his teammates are counting on him. Jackson has this to say regarding Quick:
But over the next six weeks, he's going to have to work real hard to be prepared for a long season, because we're going to lean on him, lean heavily on him. He's a high draft pick and we're going to need someone on the outside to make plays and I'm challenging him right now because we're going to need him to prepare himself over the next six weeks to be a standout on this team.
Jeff Fisher has similar thoughts about Janoris Jenkins, whom he expects to make an early impact. Currently, there's an open cornerback spot opposite Cortland Finnegan, and Jenkins is talented enough to seize the job. Jenkins is a top-15 talent and would have been drafted that high if not for his off-field issues.
Isaiah Pead could be the primary backup to Steven Jackson and someone who can be a change-of-pace back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2012 Picks: Mark Barron, Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Najee Goode, Keith Tandy, Michael Smith and Drake Dunsmore
Doug Martin is an all-around football player who is likely to unseat LeGarrette Blount as the primary back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His versatility is what gives him the advantage over Blount. Martin possesses the ability to both run between the tackles and break off a long run. However, it's his ability to pick up a blitz that will earn him more playing time.
I absolutely love Lavonte David as a football player. His explosiveness, tenacity and instincts allow him to make plays all over the field. He's the type of player that's always around the football making game-changing plays. Don't be surprised if he finishes the season as the Buccaneers' leading tackler. His chances are increased because he's already in the starting lineup.
Look for Mark Barron to immediately make the rest of the defense better. He's going to line up at strong safety, where he'll be able to impact both the running and passing game. His leadership, instincts and athleticism allow him to consistently make impact plays.
2012 Picks: Kendall Wright, Zach Brown, Mike Martin, Coty Sensabaugh, Taylor Thompson, Markelle Martin and Scott Solomon
The Tennessee Titans selected Kendall Wright with their first-round pick with the hopes that he'll be able to help open up their offensive attack. Wright's speed and quickness allow him to threaten the deep part of the field. This deep threat will increase the number of big plays while also drawing some defenders out of the box to help the running game.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer had this to say about Wright: "He’s a guy who’s a lot of fun. He’s not a diva—he’s not your typical wide receiver. He’s a football player. He hurt his shoulder and that night he is out bowling left-handed. He won me over on that."
Zach Brown is a tremendous athlete who slipped a little because of questions about his instincts. However, he has already impressed the Titans by showing the type of upside he possesses. Look for him to challenge Will Witherspoon for the starting job at some point this season.
Tennessee took a risk on Taylor Thompson hoping that he will be able to convert from a defensive lineman to a tight end. So far, Thompson has shown a lot of quickness and is slowly working his way into being an offensive player. Expect to see a lot of Thompson on special teams, but he could work into the tight end rotation by the end of the season.
2012 Picks: Robert Griffin III, Josh LeRibeus, Kirk Cousins, Keenan Robinson, Adam Gettis, Alfred Morris, Tom Compton, Richard Crawford and Jordan Bernstine
The Washington Redskins packaged a lot of assets in order to move up and land Robert Griffin III. This means there's a lot of pressure on his shoulders to fulfill his potential. So far, the Redskins have had nothing but great things to say about their young quarterback.
Griffin has shown a strong work ethic and a ton of leadership. Recently, he hosted a players-only workout in Texas to help everyone get on the same page. This is the type of initiative seasoned veterans take, not rookies.
Kyle Shanahan has been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Griffin has learned the playbook. The more comfortable he is with the playbook, the faster he'll be able to play. His athletic ability means he can attack the defense in many different ways. The quicker he gets a handle on the basics of the playbook, the faster Washington can expand his role.
The thought was that Josh LeRibeus would see time at both center and guard this season. However, he's been getting more reps at center. It appears the Redskins are grooming him to be the long-term starter at the position.