NFL teams would love to pick a player in the NFL Draft that changes their team for years to come. That kind of player is incredibly rare, though — there isn’t necessarily even one in every draft class. Most teams, then, would settle for players who can contribute at a high level immediately.
Those players are still not easy to find, but they are much more common. Some guys need a lot of time to get comfortable, adjust to the new league, and learn what the coaches need from them, while other guys don’t.
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Here’s a look at five high-profile 2012 NFL Draft prospects who could be immediate contributors for their new teams:
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The running back class this year is as bad as it has ever been. Richardson is unquestionably a top-level pick, but Lamar Miller of Miami is currently the only other guy with a consensus first-round grade, and he could easily fall into the second round. That means that teams that are hungry for running help — and there are several of them — could take Richardson sooner rather than later to avoid risking being shut out of the help they need.
Richardson, then, is all but guaranteed to land in a place that needs and wants him, and he’ll have the chance to establish himself as a starter right away if he is up to the challenge.
He’s not my favorite back, but he has what it takes to contribute. He’s big, he’s not afraid of contact, and he has patience and vision already that most guys have to grow into — if they ever find it at all. He’s also more than competent in the passing game, so he can be versatile and find more ways to help his new team.
There is no reason why he can’t hit the ground running and put together a solid rookie campaign form start to finish.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
A lot of wide receivers take a while to find their way and become comfortable. If Blackmon can land in the right spot, though, I think he could be the exception.
There are a couple of reasons for that. First, the guy has a reputation for being an extremely hard worker. He is a weight room freak, and he practices far beyond minimum requirements. That kind of determination and commitment is what makes guys successful at the next level. As significantly, his style of play will make it easier for coaches to trust him early on than most rookies. He’s not an explosive guy who needs to beat a corner to make a play. He is exceptional at catching the ball, and he seems to be able to pull in balls that a lot of guys would never be able to contain. Since his hands can be trusted so easily, and are so hard to defend against, he should be able to help a desperate team right away.
Ryan Kalil, OT, USC
We’ve seen in the past that exceptional left tackles can step right in and look like veterans. Joe Thomas and Jake Long come to mind. Like those two, Kalil has the makings of an exceptional left tackle.
He’s very strong against both the run and the pass, he’s incredibly tough, and his instincts are consistently sound. He should be the ultimate plug-and-play player. Beyond his freakish physical tools, though, what makes it easy to trust Kalil is that he knows first hand what it takes to succeed as a high-level pro. His dad played offensive line in the USFL, and his brother Ryan was the starting Pro Bowl center for the NFC after a very strong year with the Panthers.
With apologies to Andrew Luck, Kalil is the closest thing to a sure thing in this draft.
David Decastro, OG, Stanford
The offensive line is a surprisingly intellectual place to play, and Decastro certainly holds his own there. He is well ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding what is going on in a game and responding in the best possible way. His instincts are stellar, and that makes him very easy to trust. He is strong in most situations, and he is healthy and physically sound.
A team that needs a guard they can trust should be able to plug Decastro into their rotation from the start and not worry about it.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Last year Von Miller of the Broncos showed that an exceptional linebacker who lands in the right situation can be a difference-making star from the first game on. Kuechly may not quite be as good as Miller, but the comparison isn’t ridiculous, either.
A couple of things stand out for this guy and they are things that will make him a strong pro. For one, he is mature and very hard working. There is no reason at all to doubt that he will do everything he needs to do to be as ready as humanly possible. Second, his instincts are incredible. He has a built-in ball radar that is truly elite. Because he understands the flow of the game so well he’ll be able to adapt and adjust to the NFL level and the more complex defensive and offensive systems far easier than most players do.