These rookies show that what GMs do after the first round separates the men from the boys
The first round of the NFL Draft gets a lot of media attention, but every successful team finds productive players in the second round and beyond. Today, rookies and young players are being counted on more than ever in the NFL. Gone are the days of waiting three years for a young player to break into the starting lineup. The 2012 NFL Draft will be remembered for an excellent class of quarterbacks, but fans shouldn’t forget these valuable non-first-round picks:
TE Dwayne Allen, 3rd round (#64), Indianapolis Colts: The former Clemson star outclassed the much-heralded Coby Fleener (2nd round) and delivered a productive rookie season for the Colts. Allen caught 45 passes for 521 yards (11.6 pp) and 3 touchdowns. Indy found a tight end who can block and give them some production as a pass catcher. There aren’t many tight ends who can provide help on the run as well as the pass. The Colts found such a player in the third round and that has great value. Allen’s production should only increase as he and Andrew Luck gain experience.
RB Vick Ballard, 5th Round (#170), Indianapolis Colts: Ballard didn’t impress at the combine with a 4.65 walk time on the forty-yard dash. However, a sprint in shorts does not measure toughness or durability. Ballard gave the Colts decent production with 211 carries for 814 yards (3.9 per), 2 touchdowns, 17 receptions for 152 yards (8.9 per) and one touchdown. Ballard didn’t wear down as the season progressed and Indianapolis has a contributor in their backfield with a last-round pick. The depth of Indy’s 2012 draft class is one reason the team went from 2 wins to 11 in a single season.
OLB Vontaze Burfict, undrafted, Cincinnati Bengals: Burfict was the perfect example of how a disastrous postseason can crush a player’s draft stock. Burfict showed up to the NFL Scouting Combine out of shape, tested positive for marijuana and blamed his college coaches for his poor junior season. The result was that every NFL team decided it wasn’t even worth taking a flyer in the sixth or seventh round of the draft. Marvin Lewis was rewarded with his strong people skills by signing Burfict as a free agent.
Burfict started at weakside linebacker for the Bengals after Thomas Howard missed the entire season with a knee injury in Game 2. Burfict led the Bengals with 127 tackles, and his nasty (but controlled) disposition helped give a young defense a bit of an edge. Vontaze Burfict showed that some mental cases work.
WR TY Hilton, 3rd Round (#92), Indianapolis Colts: The 3rd round was definitely the charm for the Colts. Hilton’s acceleration and speed produced big plays (50 receptions for 861 yards (17.2 per), 7 touchdowns, 11.5 punt return yards, and 1 touchdown) in his first year. Andrew Luck has a wide receiver who widens the field to connect for years to come. Hilton could be to Luck what Mike Wallace (3rd round, 2009 NFL Draft) has been to Ben Roethlisberger.
CB Casey Hayward, 2nd round (#62), Green Bay Packers: Many fans don’t realize what a breakout rookie season Hayward had for the Pack. He led Green Bay with 6 interceptions, 26 interrupted passes and added 53 tackles and a forced fumble. He was Green Bay’s best defender in 2012 and rarely missed an assignment. His high soccer IQ turned out to be more important than an average (4.53) forty times.
CB Janoris Jenkins, 2nd round (#39), St. Louis Rams: This is another example of a team taking a calculated bet on a player with a suspicious character and being rewarded. Everyone knew Jenkins was a gifted cornerback, but his love of marijuana got him fired from Florida. St. Louis had numerous draft picks to spend a second-round pick on first-round talent. Jenkins produced on the field with 73 tackles and 4 interceptions (with 3 touchdown returns). Whether Jenkins can consistently stay out of trouble remains to be seen, but so far so good. The success of Jenkins and Burfict has to help a team pull the trigger on Tyrann Mathieu in the 2013 NFL Draft.
RB Alfred Morris, 6th round (#173), Washington Redskins: Morris was clearly the best value pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The sixth-round gem rushed for 1,613 yards on 335 carries (4.8 per) and scored 13 touchdowns. Morris led the Redskins to the playoffs down the stretch with a lame RGIII at quarterback. The Florida Atlantic product turned out to be perfect for Mike Shanahan’s one-cut zone blocking scheme. Morris lacks outstanding speed, but runs with great determination and determination. This will be a pick that scouts will scratch their heads over how they overlooked this player for years to come.
RB Bernard Pierce, 3rd round (#84), Baltimore Ravens: The demise of running back has been greatly exaggerated. A productive running game is still a valuable asset, and teams need a couple of good running backs. The Ravens found a good complement for Ray Rice in Bernard Pierce. The rookie rushed for 532 yards on 108 carries (4.9 per) and a touchdown. Pierce came in strong at the end of the season and has a promising future in Baltimore.
OT Mitchell Schwartz, 2nd Round (#37), Cleveland Browns: The cerebral and disciplined Schwartz started the entire season for the Browns at right tackle. He made few mistakes and appears to be a long-term answer at an important position. The jury is still out on Brandon Weeden as the Browns’ quarterback. However, Cleveland has the foundation for a good offensive line. If skill position talent blossoms, then the Browns should finally see their win totals really improve.
RB Robert Turbin, 4th round (#106), Seattle Seahawks: The NFL is really a two-back league, as it’s very hard to find a quality running back who can take the punishment of carrying the ball 20-25 times a game. 16 weeks Seattle is lucky to have a workhorse in Marshawn Lynch. However, the team wisely found a quality backup for Lynch in Robert Turbin. The mighty rookie had 354 yards on 80 carries (4.4 per minute) and caught 19 passes for 181 yards (9.5 per minute). Turbin’s role will grow in later seasons and help extend Lynch’s career.
MLB Bobby Wagner, second round (#47), Seattle Seahawks: Who knew the tiny state of Utah (Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin played there) was a hotbed for NFL talent? Wagner proved to be a gem in the second round, as he led a strong Seattle defense in tackles with 140 tackles and added a pair of sacks and 3 interceptions. Seattle should be in the middle for years to come with an instinctive linebacker who makes plays from side to side.
QB Russell Wilson, 3rd round (#75), Seattle Seahawks: A single strong draft class can put a team on top. The Seahawks probably had the best draft of 2012, and Wilson became a great find at the biggest position in the game. Wilson completed 252 of 393 attempts (64%) for 3,118 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 489 yards (5.2 per) and scored an additional 4 touchdowns. His amazing poise and maturity helped lead the Seahawks to the playoffs. Wilson may be just 5-foot-11, but Seattle’s future looks bright with this third-round steal.