There were two distinct front-runners in the 2012 draft: (1) Andrew Luck and (2) Robert Griffin III. However, beyond the hype of the 1st and 2nd draft picks, were 251 other promising rookies with something to prove to the NFL and their respective teams. If you were looking strictly at the draft’s numerical order, you might automatically expect that Luck and RGIII will also be the two best rookie players of the 2012 season.
However, draft numbers do not define a player’s performance or potential performance on the field. Some rookies will be picked later in the draft and turn out to be exceptional players in the NFL.
I’ve selected a few rookies who I predict will play exceptional this season, and beyond:
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals:
Floyd’s 4.4 40 time and 6’3″ stature, lined up opposite of Larry Fitzgerald, will force defenses to pick their poison.
In case you aren’t aware, Larry Fitzgerald is debatably the best receiver in the NFL right now. The mismatch Fitzgerald creates has defenses panicking, which leads to what Fitzgerald does best: big plays. To stop big plays to Fitzgerald, defenses roll safeties over the top to help the corners cover him and sometimes even add a linebacker underneath to help stop the big plays.
With Floyd, we can expect him to have similar impact to what AJ Green had last season. In fact, I predict Floyd will have a better season this year than Green’s outstanding season last year. This is partially due to the fact that Green did not have the luxury of having a “Larry Fitzgerald” opposite of him in 2011.
Personally, I am very excited to see how this combination plays out. We shall see, but hopefully Arizona has a quarterback that can actually distribute the ball correctly. That being said, defensive coordinators across the league are going to lose some sleep preparing to play the Cardinals this year.
Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Houston Texans:
Mercilus is a “fly under the radar” pick for the Houston Texans. When Mario Williams left for Buffalo, the Texans didn’t panic, they played it true to their board. They knew that their defense played extremely well last season with Mario out for more than half of the regular season, and the playoffs. I have to give them credit though because when this happened, Houston didn’t rush out and try to immediately sign someone to replace Mario. Instead, they waited until the draft and added Whitney Mercilus to their team, the NCAA’s 2011 leader in sacks.
Although I’m not sure how much Mercilus will contribute immediately, he is undoubtedly going to be a key component of the OLB rotation with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. I predict Mercilus to flirt with double digit sacks this season, and be a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year.
Mark my words now, DeCastro will end up being the STEAL of the first round. Solid ‘tough-as-nails’ mean guards like DeCastro do not come along very often. I’m sure Andrew Luck is still disappointed that his new NFL team didn’t do whatever necessary to acquire his favorite buddy from the offensive line at Stanford.
However, the Steelers were smart in picking DeCastro because Ben Roethlisberger was on the ground way too often last season, which was evident with all the injuries that he racked up throughout the 2011 season. For that reason, DeCastro will unquestionably be a starter for the Steelers this season and will quickly become Big Ben’s new best friend.
DeCastro is the best guard to come into the league since Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca. Luckily for the Steelers, they will get to experience two of these solid guard prospects. If DeCastro can be half of what Faneca and Hutch were/are, the Steelers might have just drafted the biggest steal of the draft.
Who do you think will stand out this year? Feel free to leave your comments below and also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @randyschwimmer7