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Ten players from 2012 NFL Draft poised for bigger roles (1 Viewer)



Ten players from 2012 NFL Draft poised for bigger roles

By Chris Wesseling

Around the League Writer

While the NFL draft hype season kicks into full gear, Around The League wants to ensure that last year's top prospects don't get overlooked. We recently highlighted a handful of 2012 NFL Draft picks on the brink of Pro Bowl status. This time we are delving into a 10-pack of second-year players who will be thrust into a major role in 2013.

1. David Wilson, running back, New York GiantsThe first-rounder's explosiveness was evident as he racked up the most all-purpose yards (1,925) yards by a rookie in franchise history. But mistakes in pass protection, route running and ball security limited his offensive snaps. Now that Ahmad Bradshaw is gone, general manager Jerry Reese is confident that Wilson can be the "lead dog" in a tandem attack with Andre Brown.
2. Lamar Miller, running back, Miami Dolphins

We pointed out in early February that Reggie Bush became persona non grata in Miami because the team's brass believes Miller can be a "bigger, faster, better" version of Bush. The fourth-rounder showed impressive burst with the ability to succeed between the tackles and in space. The addition of deep threat wide receiver Mike Wallace should leave Miller poised for success against few stacked boxes.

3. Peter Konz / Lamar Holmes, offensive line, Atlanta FalconsKonz was drafted in the second round as the first center off the board, but spent the majority of his rookie season filling in at right guard. With veteran center Todd McClure retiring, Konz should find more success at his natural position. He needs to hit the weight room this offseason to help handle bigger nose tackles. Offering ideal size at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, Holmes was drafted in the third round after catching the eye of NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock at the East-West Shrine game. The release of right tackle Tyson Clabo suggests the Falcons have high hopes for Holmes in his second season.

4. DeMario Davis, linebacker, New York JetsHead coach Rex Ryan raised unreasonable expectations when he compared Davis' mannerisms and leadership to Ray Lewis, but the third-rounder was limited to nickel packages as a rookie. With Bart Scott out of the picture, Davis will combine with pass rusher Quinton Coples to add a much-needed speed element to the Jets' front seven this season. One NFL executive said last summer that Davis projects as an 8- or 10-year starter based on his strong talent level.

5. Riley Reiff, offensive tackle, Detroit LionsThe first-rounder started eight games as a rookie, but was mostly limited to jumbo packages as a sixth lineman. Now that Jeff Backus retired and Gosder Cherilus was signed away by the Indianapolis Colts, the coaching staff is leaving the door open for Reiff to step in as the left tackle. His short arms and average athleticism may be better suited to the right side if the Lions settle on a left tackle with No. 5 overall pick.

6. Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker, Houston TexansDefensive coordinator Wade Phillips noted that the light flipped on for Mercilus at mid-season, and the first-rounder went on to rack up 6.5 sacks in a part-time role. General manager Rick Smith expects an "exponential" leap in Mercilus' second season, which likely factored into the decision not to re-sign Connor Barwin.

7. David DeCastro, offensive guard, Pittsburgh SteelersThe Steelers held out hope that DeCastro would contribute despite a dislocated kneecap, torn medial collateral ligament and partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee, but the first-rounder didn't enter the lineup until mid-December. Widely viewed as an elite guard prospect and one of the safest selections in last year's draft, DeCastro could emerge as Pittsburgh's best offensive lineman in his second season.

8. Isaiah Pead, running back, St. Louis RamsThe second-rounder's rookie season never got on track after missing OTAs due to a late college graduation. The Rams still have high hopes, though. "We drafted Isaiah because we felt like he has a chance to be a good back," head coach Jeff Fisher said at the NFL Scouting Combine, "not necessarily just a change of pace back for 'Jack,' but the guy." Pead already has been picked by one national analyst as the breakout player of 2013. With Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson all departing, Pead could join wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens as second-year starters in a less experienced, more dynamic offense.

9. Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Arizona CardinalsThe first-rounder was a non-factor in the first half of the season, but showed flashes down the stretch, culminating in a 166-yard effort in the season finale. New head coach Bruce Arians "loved" Floyd coming out of Notre Dame and called the receiver a "bright young star" in February. Floyd is strong vertically, which fits both Carson Palmer's strengths and Arians' offense.

10. Nigel Bradham, linebacker, Buffalo BillsThe Bills' woeful run defense showed considerable improvement once the fourth-rounder replaced Arthur Moats in the starting lineup in Week 6. Bradham played his best late in the season, leading one observer to exclaim the coaching staff has to be "jumping through hoops" at his emergence so early in his career. With the release of veteran Nick Barnett, it's apparent that the Bills have "high hopes" for Bradham in 2013.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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Five future Pro Bowl players from 2012 NFL Draft

By Chris Wesseling

Around the League Writer

Now that we find ourselves in the thick of NFL Draft hype season, last year's top prospects have gotten lost in the shuffle. Let's take a look at a handful of 2012 draft picks poised to earn a Pro Bowl nod in their second time through the NFL's 16-game schedule.

1. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Buffalo Bills
Before the Bills squared off against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, Gilmore sent a text message to the coaching staff letting them know he wanted Larry Fitzgerald in shadow coverage. Gilmore promptly held Fitzgerald to one catch for 11 yards. From there on out, the No. 10 pick in last year's draft flirted with shut-down status against opponents' No. 1 receivers.

"He's become a better player each week," former Bills coach Chan Gailey said late in the season. "He's becoming more knowledgeable. He's understanding the game and what he's got to get done."

Among the most physical and aggressive cornerbacks in the NFL, Gilmore didn't allow a touchdown after Week 5. Reggie Wayne and Sidney Rice were the only receivers to clear 50 yards in his coverage once he started shadowing.

2. Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
The No. 9 overall pick in last year's draft became the first rookie since Patrick Willis in 2007 to lead the NFL in tackles. Kuechly was promptly rewarded with the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell noted that Kuechly played as well as any middle linebacker in the league after moving from the weak side in Week 5.

Veteran Jon Beason recently ceded his middle-linebacker spot, noting that Kuechly is "exceptional" and an "unbelievable talent." Kuechly sheds blockers with ease and goes sideline-to-sideline with any "Mike" linebacker.

3. Lavonte David, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kuechly took home the hardware, but no player had more of an impact on his team's defense than David. The Bucs made the unprecedented turnaround from last in the league in run defense in 2011 to first in 2012 behind David's 20 tackles for loss -- the second-most by a rookie since the NFL began tracking the statistic in 2000. In fact, only J.J. Watt (39) and Von Miller (28) finished with more tackles for loss among all defensive players.

David also finished first among all 4-3 outside linebackers in stops (70) and tackles (122) and second to Miller in quarterback hurries (14), according to Pro Football Focus' metrics. He and three-technique tackle Gerald McCoy are the backbone of the defense going forward.

4. Dwayne Allen, tight end, Indianapolis Colts
When you go back and watch film of the Colts' 2012 season, Allen jumps off the screen as a more athletic version of Heath Miller. Big and fast with great hands and the ability to shield defenders with his body in traffic, the 64th overall pick in last year's draft outplayed the more hyped Coby Fleener as a reliable target for Andrew Luck.

After breaking Ken Dilger's franchise record for receptions by a rookie tight end, Allen should have garnered serious Pro Bowl consideration last season. "If you just look at the versatility of Dwayne Allen and his ability to line up in the backfield and lead block, or detach and line up in the slot and win the one-on-one matchup," new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton recently said, "that's a tremendous weapon that you want to have in any offense."

5. Trent Richardson, running back, Cleveland Browns
Don't make the mistake of overstating Richardson's disappointing per-play stats. The No. 3 pick in last year's draft started the season behind the eight ball following a second knee scope. By Week 6, he was playing through two to three broken ribs painful enough that he was forced to sleep standing up. All things considered, the team had to be pleased that their bell cow was able to grind out over 1,300 yards and a dozen touchdowns.

When you turn on the tape from Week 5 versus the Giants, Richardson is the most explosive player on the field. The new Browns regime expects to see that version of a healthy Richardson in 2013, already making it clear they're going to "run the shoes off" their tailback. "They're gonna pass me the ball more," Richardson told ESPN Cleveland. "And they want me to be a leader for this team. ... They want me to be that stallion that's gonna take this program to another level."

Other candidates to reach the Pro Bowl: Casey Hayward, Chandler Jones, Harrison Smith

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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Andre Roberts woke up last year. Michael Floyd needs to beat him out because neither is replacing Fitz.

I have a feeling Roberts is going to consistently produce and be hard to beat out. Floyd has the ability (many say) but he has to do it.

Palmer could easily have three nice WRs to throw to. Floyd needs to not play like a rookie in year two though.

And on the flip side of this discussion:


Alfred Morris among sophomore slump candidates

By Marcas Grant NFL.com

f you're heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times -- beware the sophomore slump. For plenty of guys, it's never as good as the first time. Whether it's because defenses have caught on, injuries become an issue or someone was just playing over his head as a rookie, it's not uncommon for guys to be just a touch off their second time through the league.

Of course, few things are as frustrating as spending an high draft pick on a rookie sensation only to have that player turn out to be a bust the following year. But since we're here to help, here's a list of five guys who might not be what they once were ... for one season, at least.

Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: This one is admittedly something of a quibble. I don't think Morris is going to be bad in 2013 ... he just won't be as good as he was in 2012. The former Florida Atlantic Owl came out of nowhere to finish second in the NFL in rushing yards, behind only Adrian Peterson. Duplicating a 1,600-yard season is a lot to ask -- especially when opposing teams are going to start game-planning for you. Not to mention that if Robert Griffin III really can be ready for Week 1, it will likely put a dent into the number of touches Morris sees next season.

Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings: Your eyes do not deceive you; there is a kicker on this list. Blair Walsh had a phenomenal season, leading the league with 35 made field goals (in 38 attempts). Even more amazing was that the rookie nailed 10 of 10 from 50-plus yards. It's pretty incredible to even get 10 cracks from 50 yards or more. But to make all 10 of them? Just wow. Walsh is accurate and has a strong leg, but it'll be a shock to see that happen again in 2013.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns: Weeden wasn't particularly great in 2012, but where plenty of his rookie counterparts like RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson seem likely to take another step forward in 2013, the Browns QB could be headed the other way. Start with a change in coaching staffs. Few things throw an inexperienced NFL quarterback off track like having to learn a new offensive system. On top of that, the new Browns regime has made it clear that they plan to make Trent Richardson the centerpiece of the offense. Unless Weeden finds a new level of efficiency in 2013, it will be hard for him to match even his mediocre 2012 numbers.

Bryce Brown, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Bryce Brown was the new hotness in fantasy football -- for two weeks. Beyond that, he was either an afterthought or struggling with fumbling issues. It seems promising on the surface that Brown now gets to play in Chip Kelly's run-first offense, but there's still the issue of LeSean McCoy being the No. 1 back. What's more, DeSean Jackson has been very vocal this offseason about his perceived role in the attack. If all you remember about Brown were his performances in Weeks 11 and 12 and hoping for a glimpse of that in 2013, you could be disappointed.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts: Hilton was another one of 2012's surprise rookies. He stepped up as Indy's home run hitter after the departure of Pierre Garcon, but could never sustain his consistency. Now with Darrius Heyward-Bey sporting a horseshoe on his helmet, Hilton could be forced into a slot receiver role as a No. 3 option. His production could possibly approximate what he achieved last season, but he'll be hard pressed to improve upon it.

Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG
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I don't understand the Alfred Morris logic.....that RGIII could take touches away from him. That didn't happen last year, why would it happen this year????

I don't understand the Alfred Morris logic.....that RGIII could take touches away from him. That didn't happen last year, why would it happen this year????
I don't think he would run more but he could pass more as he develops/matures.

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