NFL teams look to stockpile those mid-round picks in the draft to fill depth vacancies and in the hopes of hitting on a Tom Brady. Every year we find guys that were head scratchers at the time of the draft that make an impact as rookies.
NFL personnel make their reputations off these types of hits rather than hitting the home run in the first round. That’s expected when you collect the salary of NFL general manager.
With training camps underway for all 32 teams, we look at players beyond the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft that could make significant impacts as rookies.
James Michael-Johnson, OLB, Cleveland Browns (Round 4)
JMJ was a tackling machine at Nevada and figures to crack the rotation of linebackers in Cleveland early on. With Scott Fujita slated to miss the first three games, Johnson could challenge Kaluika Maiva for the starting gig alongside D’Qwell Jackson. Early reports from Browns training camp have JMJ as a legitimate contender to start for this young team in the early-goings.
Robert Turbin, RB, Seattle Seahawks (Round 4)
Marshawn Lynch could be facing a league suspension following his DUI arrest. That would leave the starting RB spot wide open for Turbin to capitalize on. Pete Carrol appears to have confidence in his rookie ball carrier saying that there isn’t any question that Turbin could be a feature back for the ‘Hawks.
Dwight Bentley, CB, Detroit Lions (Round 3)
Aaron Berry’s release opened a giant, gaping hole in Detroit’s already struggling secondary. The good news for Lions fans is Bill Bentley. Bentley has showed well thus far in training camp and could easily earn a starting job by week one. Bentley will be battling Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey for the starting job and figures at worst to man the nickel corner spot.
Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens (Round 3)
Ray Rice is locked in as the primary ball carrier in Baltimore but this offense is predicated on the run. There will be carries for Rice’s backup and that job appears to belong to the Temple rookie. Pierce is a big back with nimble feet that will benefit from running behind a veteran offensive line. Pierce won’t tote the ball for a ton of carries but this could be quality over quantity.
Evan Rodriguez, TE, Chicago Bears (Round 4)
Temple is dominating our list of impact rookies. The Bears offense was satisfied with the TE play of Kellen Davis during the Mike Martz era but that may not cut it with Mike Tice in charge. Brandon Marshall will be the featured receiver but I would look from a solid impact from Rodriguez, who has drawn praise during the early stages of training camp.
Travis Benjamin, WR, Cleveland Browns (Round 4)
The Browns could have six or more rookies playing significant time for them this season. Travis Benjamin has drawn the praises of Pat Shurmur and Co. during the Browns camp. Supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon has drawn most of the attention (probably deservedly so) but Benjamin could be getting a lot of Brandon Weeden love come September. Benjamin’s speed is much needed for a team lacking much of that quality and he could push Josh Cribbs for special teams action.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos (Round 3)
Willis McGahee isn’t exactly the most consistent back in the league, leaving the Broncos with a major need for a backup that can be relied on. They thought when they drafted Knowshon Moreno he was going to be a feature back…oops. Enter the San Diego State RB – Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is lightning quick that at the very least should be a change-of-pace back for the Broncos. Something tells me Hillman will be much more than that.
Bobby Massie, OT, Arizona Cardinals (Round 4)
The Cards could have gotten a steal in the 2012 NFL Draft. They have been searching for a tackle (right or left) for the better part of a decade without success. Massie slid into the fourth round of April’s draft leaving the Cards with no other choice but to take the Ole Miss product. The early results have been positive for Massie and the Cards. He should unseat Jeremy Bridges on the right side and may take over on the left side eventually.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (Round 3)
Wilson is firmly entrenched in a quarterback battle with Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson. Wilson has earned the praise from players and coaches for his early work in Seattle training camp, leading many (Peter King included) to believe that he could challenge for the starting spot. Wilson may not wind up the week one starter but he could be the week seventeen signal caller.