The first round of the NFL Draft receives much of the media attention, but every successful team finds productive players in the second round and beyond. Today more than ever the rookies and young players are counted in the NFL. The days of waiting three years for a young player to enter the starting lineup are long gone. The 2012 NFL Draft will be remembered for an excellent quarterback class, but fans shouldn’t forget these valuable non-first-round picks:
TE Dwayne Allen, third round (# 64), Indianapolis Colts: The former Clemson star outpointed the most hyped Coby Fleener (second round) and delivered a productive rookie season for the Colts. Allen caught 45 passes for 521 yards (11.6 for each) and 3 touchdowns. Indy found a tight end who can block and give them some production as a pass receiver. There aren’t many tight ends that can help both in runs and passes. The Colts found such a player in the third round and that’s tremendous value. Allen’s production should only increase as he and Andrew Luck gain experience.
RB Vick Ballard, 5th Round (# 170), Indianapolis Colts: Ballard did not impress on the combine with a 4.65 pedestal time on the forty-yard dash. However, a sprint in shorts does not measure toughness or durability. Ballard gave the Colts a decent production with 211 carries for 814 yards (3.9 percent), 2 touchdowns, 17 receptions for 152 yards (8.9 percent) and a touchdown. Ballard didn’t wear out as the season progressed and Indianapolis has a contributor to its backfield with a late-round pick. Indy’s 2012 draft depth is one reason the team went from 2 wins to 11 in a single season.
OLB Vontaze Burfict, undrafted, Cincinnati Bengals: Burfict was the example of how a disastrous postseason can crush a player’s draft actions. Burfict showed up on 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 team in the NFL decided it wasn’t even worth taking a wheel 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 as a weak-side linebacker for the Bengals after Thomas Howard missed during the season with a knee injury in the second game. Burfict led the Bengals with 127 tackles and his unpleasant (but controlled) disposition helped give a young defense a bit of an edge. Vontaze Burfict proved that some cases work.
WR TY Hilton, Third Round (# 92), Indianapolis Colts – The third round was definitely the Colts allure. Hilton’s acceleration and speed produced big plays (50 receptions for 861 yards (17.2 per), 7 touchdowns, 11.5 yards per punt return and 1 touchdown) in his first year. Andrew Luck has a great outfield receiver to connect with for years to come. Hilton could be to Luck what Mike Wallace (third 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 terrific rookie season Hayward had for the Pack. He led Green Bay with 6 interceptions, 26 broken 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 proved to be more important than an average (4.53) forty times.
CB Janoris Jenkins, 2nd Round (# 39), St. Louis Rams: Here’s another example of a team making a calculated bet on a suspicious player and getting rewarded. Everyone knew Jenkins was a talented cornerback, but his fondness for marijuana led to him being fired from Florida. St. Louis had numerous draft picks to spend a second-round pick on top first-round talent. Jenkins produced on the field with 73 tackles and 4 interceptions (with 3 touchdown returns). Whether Jenkins can steadily stay out of trouble remains to be seen, but all is well so far. Jenkins and Burfict’s success has to help a team pull the trigger on Tyrann Mathieu in the 2013 NFL Draft.
RB Alfred Morris, sixth round (# 173), Washington Redskins: Morris was the best-value pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The sixth-round gem ran for 1,613 yards on 335 carries (4.8 per each) and scored 13 touchdowns . Morris led the Redskins to the playoffs down the stretch with a funky RGIII at quarterback. The Florida Atlantic product proved perfect for Mike Shanahan’s one-cut zone lock scheme. Morris lacks outstanding speed, but runs with great determination and determination. This will be a pick scouts will scratch their heads about how they overlooked this player for years to come.
RB Bernard Pierce, third round (# 84), Baltimore Ravens: The demise of the running back position has been greatly exaggerated. A productive running game is still a valuable asset, and teams need a good set of backs. The Ravens found a good match for Ray Rice in Bernard Pierce. The rookie rushed for 532 yards on 108 carries (4.9 per each) and a touchdown. Pierce was 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 in 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 flourishes, the Browns should finally see their win totals really improve.
RB Robert Turbin, 4th Round (# 106), Seattle Seahawks: The NFL is truly a two-back league, as it is very difficult to find a quality running back who can withstand the penalty of carrying the ball 20-25 times per game per game. 16 weeks. Seattle is lucky to have a workhorse in Marshawn Lynch. However, the team wisely found quality endorsement for Lynch in Robert Turbin. The powerful rookie contributed 354 yards on 80 carries (4.4 percent) and caught 19 passes for 181 yards (9.5 percent). Turbin’s role will grow in later seasons and help extend Lynch’s career.
MLB Bobby Wagner, 2nd Round (# 47), Seattle Seahawks: Who knew the small state of Utah (Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin played there) was a hotbed of NFL talent? Wagner proved to be a gem in the second round as he led a strong Seattle defense in tackles with 140 tackles, adding 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 wing to band.
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 top position in the game. Wilson completed 252 passes on 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 percent) and scored an additional 4 touchdowns. His amazing poise and maturity helped lead the Seahawks to the playoffs. Wilson may be only 5-foot-11, but Seattle’s future looks bright with this third-round steal.