It's never too early to look ahead.
The NFL Network concluded "The Top 100: Players of 2012" on Wednesday night, with Aaron Rodgers earning the No. 1 spot. Considering four 2011 rookies made the cut, I thought it would be interesting to project which four rookies from April's 2012 NFL Draft have the best shot at landing on next year's list. Here are my top four candidates, followed by five other top contenders:
Of all the 2012 rookies, Richardson is the best bet to crack the "Top 100" list in 2013. He has all of the physical tools to be a top-five NFL running back: outstanding vision, balance and power to run effectively between the tackles, as well as burst and wiggle to create big plays on the perimeter. The Browns' offense has been atrocious over the past few seasons, but they do have a stout offensive line for Richardson to run behind. He should put up very solid numbers and I'll be surprised if he doesn't make the "Top 100" next year.
I expect Luck to have a roller-coaster rookie season, but there will be enough high moments for him to garner "Top 100" consideration next summer. He is dripping with poise, leadership and intelligence, so the NFL stage won't be too big for him. I don't expect him to post statistics similar to the incredible numbers Cam Newton put up last season, but he should be able to duplicate Andy Dalton's rookie production.
Barron is by far the top safety in this draft class and should have an immediate impact on Tampa Bay's defense. He is a very physical run defender and has excellent instincts in coverage. The Alabama product can play up in the box or roam off the hash in Cover 2. I anticipate a high tackle total in 2012, as well as 4-5 interceptions.
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Kuechly is one of the most decorated and productive linebackers in college football history, excelling in all aspects of the game. He is very quick to key, flow and fill against the run. He uses his hands well to get off blocks and is a solid, chest-up tackler. Against the pass, he is an explosive blitzer and has outstanding instincts and ball skills in coverage. Kuechly is going to stuff the stat sheet in 2012 and will have a very good shot at making the "Top 100" next year.