Potential Sure Bets In 2012 NFL Draft

Top college QBs like Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are slipping away from the Dolphins

Earlier this morning I opined my list of players who could be busts in the NFL given their draft projections vs. their talent level or hype.  Now, to keep my head outstretched for our readers to joyfully lop off, I give you my 10 best prospects who regardless of whether they fail or succeed will be solid value choices.

Luke Kuechly – He is compared to Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher and has yet to take an NFL snap.  His upside is tremendous and most believe that he will be an annual Pro-Bowler.  For Kuechly, being drafted won’t add pressure to him succeeding.  Most believe him to be drafted in the mid-first round but he could go as high as 8 or 9 as well.  The truth is that everyone is high on this mans ability.  His character is of no concern and he excels in almost all aspects of the game.  He is quick, he is explosive, and has incredible instincts.  He has also been a major part of the Boston College defense since his rookie season when he started 12 games.

David DeCastro – DeCastro is viewed as the best pure guard in the draft and in fact, in the last few drafts.  He still has tremendous upside and most believe that he will step into the NFL and have no hiccups in the transition.  For DeCastro, many believe he will be drafted in the mid-teens to mid-twenties.  While everyone is high on his ability, the fact that he plays guard will keep him out of the top 10 and likely out of the top 12 or 13 selections.  Many would consider him being drafted earlier than 15 a reach, the truth is that his production on an offensive line will do far more than simply living up to a slot number.

Michael Floyd – Justin Blackmon may be the first WR off the board come Thursday but it’s Michael Floyd that many predict will have the better career.  A polished route runner with exceptional hands and the ability to get off the line using his body and quick bursts in spaces.  Floyd does not posses elite speed but his body frame and ability is enough to keep CB’s on their heels.  Floyd is speculated to go anywhere between 6 and 16 and while six may be a little bit too high, his upside and potential more than warrant a team to take a risk.  Unlike Blackmon, Floyd won’t have the nuance of having to live up to lofty pre-draft expectations and can integrate into the NFL a little more quietly.  This situation reminds me of last year Julio Jones selection in round 1 by Atlanta compared to the production that the Bengals got out of AJ Green.  I also don’t believe that teams will shy away from his off-field issues any more than I believe those issues will carry over into his NFL career.

Kirk Cousins – No one is going to take Cousins in round 1 but he very well could be the best QB not named Griffin or Luck.  He is a second to third round project but is very polished and an exceptional leader on the field and in the locker room.  Many believe that Cousins will become a better starter than Tannehill and it’s possible as he will not suffer the expectations of a first round draft grade.  Cousins has the tools to make it in the NFL and will likely be taken by a team to groom behind another starter.

Melvin Ingram - Ingram can go either way but the truth is he is going to get drafted exactly where he projects.  Between 7 and 15.  This is a perfect spot for Ingram and that will lead expectations to be softer.  A pass rushing DE/OLB, Ingram will immediately help his new team.  No one will criticize the team that drafts him if in another two years he has not made the transition well.  Unlike the Jets taking Vernon Gholston a few years back, there are little questions about Ingram’s ability thus he isn’t a reach and therefore a player who translates well with value at his draft position.

Andrew Luck – Luck will undertake the stress of being the first overall pick in the draft but there is no doubt that he deserves to be.  Whether his career is boom or bust won’t be debated in another five years.  No one will look back and say the Colts made a stupid pick.  They are making the only pick.  Luck will always be compared to RGIII but again, the Colts have the option of drafting either player and even now the consensus says that Luck is without question ready for the NFL.  Simply put, there is no Ryan Leaf/Peyton Manning or even an Eli Manning/Phillip Rivers question here.  Andrew Luck is the best pure passer product in over a decade and as such, while he may end up being labeled a bust, his drafting by the Colts will not be.

Janoris Jenkins – The Florida CB has had a myriad of issues since the NFL Combine and before from his being removed from the Florida squad for drug use.  Jenkins was a first round slotted player but his off-field issues have bumped him out of the first in all likelihood and possibly out of the second as well.  It’s been reported that teams have removed him completely from their draft boards.  So why label him a sure bet?  Simple, his upside potential is worth the risk if he is drafted in round 2 and it goes up if he is drafted later.  Yes, he may slide back and fail NFL drug tests and even face a suspension if he fails to give up the weed, but if he does he could be a steal for the team that looks beyond that and gives the kid a chance.  That all being said, if Jenkins is taken mid to late round 1, I think the risk out weights that reward.

Doug Martin - Boise State’s little engine will likely find success in this years round one of the draft.  Projected as the second running back off the board, Martin is a late first rounder who will not face the daunting task of carrying a teams offense on his shoulders, like Cleveland if they should take Trent Richardson.  Martin has a high engine and while he lacks breakaway speed he attacks the line of scrimmage instead of dancing behind it.  He will also likely find himself splitting time with another running back currently on the roster of the team that drafts him.  As a late first round talent given his high upside, Martin should be considered a sure bet for avoiding the “bust” tag.

Morris Claiborne – It’s hard to predict what corners will do in the NFL but it’s safe to say that Claiborne will not be a reach for any team in this draft.  He is athletic, consistent, and fast, posting 40 yard times consistently in the 4.4 range.  Some believe that Claiborne will be taken as high as the third pick and even that is not too high.  The reality is that Claiborne could become a shut down corner in the NFL and if he fails to deliver on that prediction he will at worst be serviceable.  Claiborne was well coached at LSU by Les Miles and can also be a productive kick-returner.  I suspect that Claiborne will struggle at times with his NFL acclimation but he is one of the best prospects in this years draft and while like any player, could be a bust, Claiborne won’t be a reach.

RGIII - Yes, this is a cop-out as I have him listed as a bust on the earlier article.  RGIII can go both ways.  Some will view him as a bust if he doesn’t lead the Skins to a Super Bowl, division titles, or playoff wins, others will see him as a bust because of how high he was drafted and what the Redskins gave up to get him.  Which is the point I made in that article.  That being said, he has a tremendous upside both intellectually and physically and as such for the same reasons that Andrew Luck can’t be labeled with bust potential, neither can RGIII solely live on that list.  He is one of those players that simply does not possess the character concerns or play concerns not take take a chance.

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