Evaluating The 2012 Rookie Class
One of the things I like to do when comparing rookie classes is compare the current one to the year before. I choose the year before not because I expect each class to be like the next, but because the prior year is the one we are most familiar with from doing the research on it. It’s still too early to truly evaluate the talent in that class and how it has translated to the NFL, but we’ve had a decent introduction to a fair amount of that talent. At this point we know enough to have a baseline on players which is enough to do some broad-spectrum analysis. Let’s look at the 2010 rookie class in review.
Cam Newton led off the draft last year and in spite of seeming to be a very raw player, though blessed with boundless athletic talent, he took the NFL by storm with both his arm and his legs. This year will be a critical for him as defensive coordinators will have film to game plan for him with, so the adjustments he makes will be critical to his success. Jake Locker never did get to start last year, but he was on the field enough for us to know that he has a lot of potential and the heart of a winner. He’ll need to work on his accuracy, but he has great weapons waiting for him. Perhaps no quarterback disappointed more than Blaine Gabbert who carried his fear of phantom pressure from college to the pros. When comfortable though, he does show poise and talent, and the Jaguars have gifted him with a pair of talented receivers.
Christian Ponder wore the albatross of being the most ‘pro-ready’ quarterback last year, but that did not translate on the field very well. Improved line play, better weapons and his own development could help him this year. There was no bigger shock in the 2011 QB class than Andy Dalton who had a fair amount of support to be named the rookie of the year. Dalton was very good in spite of a mediocre year, but he’ll need to improve this year. Colin Kaepernick mostly sat behind a resurgent Alex Smith in San Francisco and seems destined to do the same this year. He needs to show improvement to get management thinking about making the transition to him. The wild card in this class, Ryan Mallett, was the best throwing quarterback from this group. He sits behind Tom Brady in New England and those showing patience on Mallett could be richly rewarded.
The running back group from 2011 was fairly non-descript as prospects and their performance backed that up with a couple of exceptions. Mark Ingram was the lone back selected in the first round. He battled injuries and never really got going; the jury is very much out on him. Ryan Williams and Mikel LeShoure each saw their rookie year end with pre-season injuries. Both are talented and should make it back this year. Shane Vereen was the third back selected in the draft, but injuries derailed him in New England. He should be in the mix for carries this year. Daniel Thomas went to the Dolphins where he flashed some potential but then sat and watched Reggie Bush resurrect his career. He may find himself as an observer again this year as he is not a great fit in the new offense in Miami.
We knew DeMarco Murray could play but his question mark was always injuries. Murray was aware of that script as well and performed perfectly; expect him to continue to tease us like that. Stevan Ridley was on a nice run with the Patriots until he suddenly had ball-security issues. He’ll get a fresh start to correct that. Alex Green showed some promise but an injury on special teams ended his season. Roy Helu flashed his size/speed combo in Washington, but it appears he’s not the favorite to start at this time. Kendall Hunter was effective in a limited role in San Francisco but he’ll have to battle to preserve his touches. Delone Carter showed a lot of heart while Taiwan Jones flashed plenty of speed. Neither are complete backs but both can be effective in the right role.
A.J. Green and Julio Jones were both thought of as stud receivers and both lived up to that sales pitch. They could both be top-10 receivers as soon as this year. Jonathan Baldwin flashed potential but overall had a disappointing rookie year. He’s looking to step up his game significantly. Titus Young finished his season very strongly and will look to build on that this year within the high-powered Lions offense. Torrey Smith was inconsistent, but it seems apparent that he’s going to be very good and a major deep threat. Greg Little played like a man transitioning to a new position who had missed a year of school, but it’s too soon to write him off now. Randle Cobb was also raw last year, but you can see the potential in him to be a very dangerous player. I was not a Leonard Hankerson fan as he came out last year, but it seemed like he suddenly figured out how to catch the ball before an injury ended his season. If he can do that again, he becomes very interesting in Washington.
Greg Salas really caught my eye in St. Louis though finding room on the field this year could be tough. Tandon Doss could not accomplish much while battling a groin injury, but I still really like him and think he can be effective in Baltimore. Denarius Moore showed that his amazing preseason in Oakland was sustainable over the regular season which currently makes him a top-five receiver in this class. Undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin was rock solid in Seattle and looks to build on his rookie year. On the other side of the fence, Jerrel Jernigan did little for the Giants other than turn the ball over on special teams. Edmund Gates did not have enough speed to bypass his lack of experience in Miami. Dwayne Harris is another player I really liked but apparently the Cowboys were not nearly as impressed as I was with him. These three players need to step up their game quickly to make an impact at the NFL level.
Kyle Rudolph nursed a groin injury at tight end for the Vikings, but he’ll get an opportunity to start this year. He’s already a favorite of Christian Ponder. Lance Kendricks had a great preseason and was a drop machine in St. Louis during the regular season. They are talking him up again this preseason but I’ll need to see it to believe it. Rob Housler struggled in the Arizona offense, but big things are expected of him moving forward even though the offense has never featured a tight end. I’m not buying…yet. Jordan Cameron still sits at No. 3 on the Cleveland depth chart which has him trapped for now, but his athleticism is top shelf. He’s a nice project deep on your bench. Julius Thomas is an intriguing player in Denver who has solid potential, but the Broncos just shoved him down the depth chart to get more experienced players on the field in their win-now philosophy with Peyton Manning on board. It’s going to be had to get him on the field in the immediate future. More than a few people who own D.J. Williams in Green Bay were disappointed the day that Jermichael Finley signed his new two-year contract. Don’t give up on him yet.
At this point we have precious little information on the 2011 draft class as far as how they are transitioning to being pros. That leaves us mostly looking at their college resume and trying to figure out how they fit into the offense they now find themselves as well as taking a stab at how their career might play out. That’s right, to be a dynasty owner, you need to be part talent evaluator, part offensive coordinator and part psychic. Experience will serve you well as will getting your talent evaluations correct enough (nobody is perfect) to be able to trust them.
I’ll pass along what I see in this rookie class and hope that nobody I play in any of my dynasty leagues with is reading this. To make this easier on everyone, I’ll go through the talent in the order in which I have them ranked at this time. You’ll need to keep up on these players to see if there is a need to change the order as we go forward. You can bet that will be necessary, but I also encourage you not to over-react to every little news blurb that you read. Coaches are trying to motivate their players during this time of the year. They can do that with praise and they can do it by calling out their failures, so look for patterns and trends on players you are tracking. In the pre-season, playing time (especially with the starters) and performance will finally start to mean something.
Andrew Luck – As the first pick of the draft, Luck will step into the starting role for the Colts the moment he takes the field for them. The lack of elite arm strength is the only quality missing from what a perfect NFL prospect at this position might look like. He’ll have a few veteran receivers around to help him transition to the pro game which is not a bad thing. Considering his talent level and likely career length, he seriously needs to be considered as the first player off the board in dynasty drafts.
Robert Griffin III – The Redskins chose Griffin with the second pick of the draft and like Luck, he’ll be given the keys to drive the offense immediately. Griffin brings a strong arm, great intelligence and tremendous mobility to the table while he works on his progressions, adjusting to pro sets and getting under center. His skill set is a great match for what Mike Shanahan wants in a quarterback, and the Redskins invested seriously in wide receivers to support him. Don’t be shy about grabbing him.
Ryan Tannehill – There’s been a lot made of Tannehill’s knowledge of the offense he’ll be playing under in Miami since it is the same one he played under in college. That knowledge will help, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is still not a significant adjustment for him to make. Tannehill is a heady player, a natural leader and a great athlete, so don’t sell him short in spite of his lack of experience. That said, I see him as a project at this point and would not look at him until Round 2 in a 12-team, 1-QB league.
Russell Wilson – The Seahawks added Wilson to their quarterback depth after signing Matt Flynn in free agency. Wilson has all the tools he needs to be a success in the NFL but at just over 5’10”, his height will be a challenge to overcome. He will be given a chance to compete and can land the starting job if things break right for him, but the odds are great that Flynn starts the season. Another quarterback with smarts and athletic skills, there’s nobody ahead of him who clearly prevents him from rising up the depth charts.
Brandon Weeden – The Browns, in my opinion, reached for Weeden with pick No. 22 in the first round after failing to trade up to No. 2 where they would have taken Griffin. Weeden is going to be given the opportunity to start immediately on a team that should be able to run the ball while still lacking in big-play receivers. Possessing a reasonable skill set, his age and talent ceiling likely mean he’s not cut out to be a star in the league. If QB2 potential is what you are looking for, he’s your man.
Brock Osweiler – The Broncos used a second-round pick to grab Osweiler who immediately becomes the heir-apparent to Peyton Manning. A huge man with a big arm, the circumstances Osweiler finds himself in remind one immediately of Ryan Mallett though Osweiler is not nearly as good. While there’s no guarantee that he develops, you have to think that Manning’s intelligence is going to give him a fighting chance. He’s a logical selection for owners of Manning and others who need a developmental player at this position.
Ryan Lindley – It was the sixth round when the Cardinals called Lindley’s name. Blessed with ideal size and a very strong arm, Lindley has mechanical issues with his throwing motion that have compromised his accuracy. That said, he also made some of the best throws in college football this past season when he was on. If you aren’t impressed with Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, and you shouldn’t be, you could do worse things than consider a late-round flyer to see how he progresses.
B.J. Coleman – The Packers decided that their next quarterback project would be Coleman, their seventh-round selection. Coleman is an athletic player who can put some heat on his throws and who is also a very good leader. He needs to work on his progressions and having a better clock in his head for knowing when to get rid of the ball while under pressure. Take note that he’ll receive excellent tutelage while in Green Bay which might make him worth a flyer if you have good depth at this position.
Nick Foles – The Eagles pulled the trigger on Foles in the third round. A pocket quarterback with a big arm, Foles was brought on board to give the team options as Michael Vick progresses through his thirty’s. Foles was rated as the best quarterback in this draft when throwing under pressure which suggests he might be able to make the adjustment. He’ll be the team’s third-string quarterback this year and the step forward Mike Kafka has taken this offseason could keep him there for a while.
Kirk Cousins – The Redskins shocked the NFL by taking Cousins early in the fourth round to sit behind Robert Griffin III but his availability in that round is evidence that no team considered him starting material at this point in his development. There is no quarterback controversy here unless Griffin totally fails, but Cousins is an inspirational leader who has good tools all around but who does not stand out in any area of his physical game. Intelligent mediocrity is likely his career ceiling.
Trent Richardson – The Browns decided that Richardson was worth moving up to the third pick in the draft for and odds are they are correct. Ordained the best running back prospect to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson, Richardson’s game has no significant flaws and he’ll carry the load for the team immediately. He can run with power, has good speed, very good lateral cutting ability, excellent hands out of the backfield and he can block. Those skills and a solid offensive line make him worth considering as early as you feel comfortable taking him.
Doug Martin – The Bucs traded up ahead of the Giants to grab Martin in the first round. That type of pedigree means we should expect him to be no worse than the busier of two backs while in a rotation with LeGarrette Blount, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him garner the lion’s share of the work. Martin is an exceptionally strong inside runner with good acceleration, good speed and solid hands. Ball security and pass protection are areas to work on. He’ll be going early in dynasty drafts and rightfully so.
David Wilson – The Giants selected Wilson with the final pick in the first round and stated that he was the second-best running back on their draft board. Wilson showcases exceptional speed and quickness which will help him turn the corner at the next level while also playing with surprising power. Still a bit raw as an inside runner, he nonetheless led the nation in yards after contact last year. He’ll play in a rotation with Ahmad Bradshaw where he’ll be the more explosive of the two backs.
Isaiah Pead – The Rams were pleased to find Pead on the board in the second round though many thought that they reached for him there. He’ll be a complementary back to Stephen Jackson to start his career, but the Rams feel that he will inherit Jackson’s role when the time is right. Pead features very good speed and a solid all-around game that would allow him to be a three-down back. His vision is good, not great, and he’ll need to work on his strength to excel at the next level.
Ronnie Hillman – The Broncos chose Hillman early in the third round with the idea rotating him in the backfield with Willis McGahee. Hillman is an extremely good open-field back who has both the elusiveness and long speed to be very dangerous. He’s going to need to improve his pass protection and strength to be a more well-rounded back. Playing in a Peyton Manning offense will draw interest like a moth to the flame after the first ten, or so, picks are off the board.
Lamar Miller – The Dolphins traded up in the fourth round to select Miller. Looked at as a developmental back at this time, Miller will use his speed and lateral quickness on special teams while learning the pro game. Durability and an extensive injury history will be two major knocks against him, but pass protection issues are in that mix as well. Miller is stuck behind Reggie Bush at this time but like LaMichael James, he’ll likely be over-drafted due to all the press he had going through the draft process.
Cyrus Gray – The Chiefs selected Gray in the sixth round where he’ll provide depth behind Jamaal Charles. Gray is a solid all-around back who can run and catch with good elusiveness while exhibiting better short than long speed. The ultimate team player, Gray doesn’t have great physicality which affects him in pass protection. I find him a very intriguing talent and think his skill set could be a better fit in the pros than it was in college. Charles is a huge obstacle to be overcome, though.
Chris Polk – Polk went undrafted due to medical concerns about his shoulders, but he was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. Polk is considered by some to be the best receiving back that was available in the draft, but he’s also a very capable inside runner as well where he breaks a lot of tackles by never stopping his legs. He’s a back to monitor. Ignore that he, like Arian Foster, went undrafted and consider using a late second-round pick on him if you can afford to do so.
LaMichael James – Perhaps no running back selection made me scratch my head more than the 49ers choosing James in the second round. James has exceptional quickness and will be given the ball in space, but with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter ahead of him, how much action he’ll get on third down, the role he seems destined to fill, will need to be defined. He’ll be a liability in pass protection and his size will also hamper him between the tackles. He’ll be over-drafted in most leagues due to his high-selection in the NFL Draft.
Robert Turbin – The Seahawks selected Turbin in the fourth round to provide some depth behind Marshawn Lynch. Turbin is a big, powerful back with an amazing size/speed profile but even with all of that going for him, he never was a dominant back in college. A torn ACL in 2010 may be one reason that his lateral quickness is not that good, so there may be some upside further away from that injury. If he carves out a niche as a red-zone back, he could be intriguing in the second round due to his size and speed along with the propensity of Lynch to get complacent.
Michael Smith – The Bucs added another running back to their roster with the selection of Smith in the seventh round. He’ll add great speed and quickness and also offers the size to be a change-of-pace rather than just be a third-down back behind Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount. Playing behind Robert Turbin in college, he does not have a lot of mileage on him at this point. He might be an interesting PPR back and he offers more upside than a good number of the backs chosen ahead of him in the draft.
Justin Blackmon – The Jaguars moved up in the first round to select Blackmon with the No. 5 pick of the draft. Blackmon has strong, large hands and plays a very physical brand of football. His game speed is not exceptional and he has minor character concerns which came to light again with his DUI arrest. He’ll be the “Z” receiver, or flanker, which is great news for PPR owners. Draft him in the top half of the first round and hope that Blaine Gabbert either develops or steps aside at quarterback.
Michael Floyd – The Cardinals were able to stay patient and still land Floyd with their first-round selection. Floyd has great size and very good hands to go with good long speed. He is not a quick-twitch athlete which may cause some issues getting separation. Multiple alcohol-related incidents suggest he could be a character risk. He should earn a starting role opposite Larry Fitzgerald which should ensure plenty of single coverage. Floyd should be taken in the top 6-8 picks while hoping for improved quarterback play.
Brian Quick – The Rams opened the second round of the draft by selecting Quick. One of the best athletes in this draft class, Quick has great size and coordination to go with outstanding leaping ability and very good speed. He’ll need to work on the nuances of his position and could be slow to adapt to a new offense. He’ll be given every opportunity to start as a rookie and will be the team’s WR1 when ready. Keep in mind that early returns may not justify his lower half of the first round selection, but later returns should more than make up for that.
Kendall Wright – The Titans surprised a few people with the selection of Wright in the first round. Wright brings suddenness and speed to the field along with confidence and good hands. He’ll need to work on improving his routes and his strength to get the most out of his abilities. Look for him to ply his trade mostly in the slot though he will see some action outside as well. The combination of Wright’s speed and Jake Locker’s arm mean you’ll need to grab him in the 7-10 pick range.
Stephen Hill – The Jets threw the dice on Hill in the top half of the second round. He possesses a mind-numbing combination of size and speed to go with great leaping ability. He’ll need to work on his route running along with adding some strength to his frame. He’s already considered a starter for the team opposite of Santonio Holmes, but he’ll need to prove it in camp and preseason. Balancing the fact that he might have the most upside of any receiver in this class against the inconsistencies of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will drive you nuts. Assume the risk anywhere from the bottom of the first round on in your draft.
Alshon Jeffery – The Bears added a big receiver when they selected Jeffery in the second round. Jeffery has tremendous hands and size to go along with being dominant in the air. There are questions about his ability to separate at the next level and his route running needs a good deal of work. He’ll be given the opportunity to start opposite of Brandon Marshall. He’s a tough evaluation due to the strong positives and negatives associated with him so he’s not for those who shy away from risk, but he starts making sense in the bottom of the first round.
Ryan Broyles – The Lions added Broyles to their arsenal of weapons in the second round. He has great hand and foot quickness and is very creative with the ball. He’ll need to add bulk and power to his game as he continues to rehab his left ACL. When that knee is fully healthy, he’ll be the team’s primary slot receiver which will likely push Nate Burleson out the door shortly thereafter. He’s a second-round pick for dynasty owners in a pass-happy offense who could turn out to be a steal.
Rueben Randle – After almost selecting him at the bottom of the first round, the Giants took Randle with the last pick of the second round. Randle is a receiver with great size and good speed who shows great body control and the ability to adjust to balls in the air. He’ll need to refine his routes and add some strength. He should earn the WR3 position opposite of Hakeem Nicks outside and Julio Cruz in the slot. Randle is stuck until personnel changes are made down the road.
Chris Givens – It was the Rams who pulled the trigger on Givens in the fourth round. Givens features great quickness and change-of-direction skills and is one of the best route runners in this class. He’ll need to work on keeping his concentration on easy catches and some question his ability to separate deep. His skill set seems ideal for the slot but with that spot manned, look for him start at flanker. Consider him sometime in the second round while the Rams figure out what they want to do at this position.
Greg Childs – The Vikings drafted Childs with a compensation pick in the fourth round. He uses his body well to position himself for catches and shows good body control along with good hands. A torn patella affected his separation ability and deep speed last season. He will try to fight for a spot in the receiver rotation this season and has some upside moving forward. You could do far worse things than give him a roster spot to see what his upside might be with his size/speed combination should his knee fully heal.
Jeff Fuller – The Dolphins signed Fuller as an undrafted free agent. Fuller has excellent size to go with strong hands and good agility, and he has learned how to use his feet to improve his quickness. He has disappointed in his sight adjustments and needs to improve his concentration. He’s an intriguing player whose stock fell after a poor season last year in college. His size is very good and he stands a fair chance at making the final roster.
Mohamed Sanu – The Bengals selected Sanu in the third round. Sanu profiles as a possession receiver with excellent hands and body control who is willing to work inside. He’ll have issues getting separation down the field due to a lack of long speed and burst, but he’s impressive running short and intermediate routes where he shows no fear. He could develop into a solid role player but he’ll play a support role, so don’t spend an early pick on him.
A.J. Jenkins – The 49ers used their first round pick to select Jenkins who would have gone to the Rams with the first pick of the second round had he still been on the board. Jenkins offers exceptional quickness on short routes as well as excellent long speed on deep routes. He’ll need to add some weight and strength as well as work on his hands at the next level. His versatility will allow him to play anywhere on the field but look for him to take over the deep role from Randy Moss down the road. He’s a prime candidate to be over-drafted.
Marvin Jones – The Bengals selected Jones in the fifth round. Jones has great body control to go along with excellent hands and concentration. He does not have great speed and until he gets stronger, he’ll struggle against physical corners. I think there’s a chance that Jones can beat out Mohamed Sanu to start across from A.J. Green. The balanced offense that he plays in will limit his upside.
T.Y. Hilton – The Colts added Hilton late in the third round. Hilton has excellent deep speed but offers even more quickness to go along with solid separation skills and strong after-the-catch ability. He can be fragile and adding strength will help him beat man coverage. He offers the deep speed that the Colts lost when Pierre Garcon left and he’s also a strong returner. If he earns significant time on the field or if you get points for return yardage, adjust accordingly, but his small frame suggests that being a major contributor on offense will be difficult.
Coby Fleener – The Colts selected Fleener with the second pick of the second round. Fleener has good speed down the seam, works hard, has good hands and runs solid routes. He needs to improve his blocking and he can sharpen up his routes. Fleener will start immediately and should get a lot of looks from Andrew Luck. Look for him to develop into a top player at his position which will require a low first- or high second-round draft pick to acquire.
Ladarius Green – The Chargers selected Green in the fourth round. Green features good hands and excellent length along with solid speed. He’s yet another tight end who lacks power in his blocking and who needs to develop his route running. He’ll get the opportunity to learn behind Antonio Gates early in his career. Consider his future potential based on what Gates offers the team the criticality of the tight end in this offense.
Michael Egnew – The Dolphins selected Egnew in the third round. Egnew has very good hands and outstanding body control to go along with having excellent speed after the catch. He is not very strong and suffers as a blocker because of it. He’ll be eased into a role that will grow over time. It will be interested to see what the future holds as the team has made no secret that they want to feature an athletic tight end as part of the offense.
Dwayne Allen – The Colts selected Allen in the third round. Allen has an excellent release to compliment his excellent hands and he is a load to bring down. He’ll need to improve his concentration in traffic as well as upgrade his blocking. Allen could get plenty of reps if the Colts feature a multi-tight end set. Look at him late in the third round.
Orson Charles – The Bengals added Charles in the fourth round. Charles has big play ability to go with his solid hands and the burst to create separation. He lacks ideal size and will need to work on his routes. Charles will slowly be worked into the offense as a second tight end. His production will be limited this year, but his potential is very high.
Adrien Robinson – The Giants drafted Robinson in the fourth round. Robinson has amazing measurables featuring tremendous size and speed. He’s raw in all facets of the game, but especially his blocking. Injuries at the position could open up a little field time for him this year. Keep an eye on his progress, possibly from your bench if you have the roster space.
(Must be logged in to make comments)
: I'd be hard-pressed to grab Lloyd as a 2nd WR this year, maybe... maybe a sad no. 2 or a decent no. 3...
(8/28/12 6:32 PM PT)
: Hey Joe--- You wrote this article the first week of Aug. Really??? And you still believe Ocho is the WR for New England? Breakout Potential: Risk/Reward
New England Patriots
Brandon Lloyd, WR -- Lloyd may be the rare receiver who gets to break out twice in a career. The first time was when he worked with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Kyle Orton to produce a monster season as an eighth-year player. This time would be with Josh McDaniels and much-better quarterback Tom Brady, and in his eleventh year! That age would seem to work against Lloyd, and it very may well. However, the Patriots currently have a bunch of older receivers on the team (Stallworth, Gaffney, Branch, Ochocinco) and none of them is as adept at going deep with precise routes and great hands. The team is probably hoping that Lloyd can produce for one more year, impersonating the Randy Moss of 2007. It’s entirely possible.
(8/25/12 10:08 PM PT)
: Should potential breakout WR's be targeted before proven WR's who have performed before but may be declining, i.e. Reggie Wayne?
(8/22/12 1:25 PM PT)