I spent the last few days breaking down my 2012 NFL free agency pro board as well as those players that would upgrade the Rams’ roster in 2012. When I look back at the 2011 draft, I started writing player summaries based off playtime and production, and slotted players in color categories that really impressed me on tape.

Color explanation:

BLUE: Blue players are playmakers and difference- makers in every game. Playoff teams need at least 10 or more on the roster.

RED: Starters/heavy contributors teams can win with right away. They have Blue traits with ascending skill set.

ORANGE: Backup/special teams players with limited production. They struggle to match up with high red players and have limited skill set to ascend to a low red player.

GREEN: A high percentage of free-agent greenies get hurt and lack the skill set to ascend to an Orange player.


1 1 Panthers Cam Newton QB Auburn

BLUE – 2011 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the year, 2011 Pepsi Rookie of the Year, 2011 Pro Bowl. Had an outstanding season, most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history (4,051) and most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season (14). Was the leader that people doubted prior to the draft and his competitive natural was in full flow from practice sessions to game-time situations. Sources tell me the losses didn’t sit well with this young signal-caller. He was seen running several miles through downtown Charlotte in sweat pants and a hoody several minutes after a home loss. Hopefully, he will get past the sophomore jinx with flying colors. Newton is a playmaker and difference-maker.

1 2 Broncos Von Miller OLB Texas A&M

BLUE – 2011 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 Pro Bowl, 2011 All Pro Team. An outside linebacker with natural pass-rush skills, to flip hips and turn corner with burst to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks off the edge, with very good production (64 total tackles/50 solo, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles). Good toughness to play injured. The future is extremely bright for this difference-maker.

1 3 Bills Marcell Dareus DT Alabama

BLUE – Big man that was disruptive in the middle and demanded a double team, and still teams had a hard time blocking him on a consistent basis. Has quick first step with strong use of hands to punch and explode creating separation, lateral pursuit with good football instincts, reading blocks on the move. Production (43 total tackles, 5.5 sacks) was very good for an interior defensive lineman. Watching tape he didn’t play like a rookie. Dareus was a difference-maker for the Bills’ defense in 2011.

1 4 Bengals A.J. Green WR Georgia

BLUE – 2011 Pro Bowl. Green’s skill set and attributes for the receiver position transferred from the University of Georgia to the NFL and he didn’t skip a beat. It is rare for receivers to walk onto the NFL landscape and preform at a Pro Bowl level, but he did. Many college receivers struggle to adapt when releasing off the line of scrimmage vs. man press, running routes full speed consistently and creating production after the catch. Not Green. I watched him play pitch and catch with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton against the Rams and it was a beautiful thing. A true playmaker that has the ability to stretch the secondary outside the numbers and his production was off the charts (65 receptions, 1,057 yards, seven touchdowns, 16.3 yards per catch average). Green is a difference-maker.

1 5 Cardinals Patrick Peterson CB LSU

BLUE – 2011 Pro Bowl, 2011 First Team All Pro. This was my No. 1-one ranked player in the 2011 NFL draft, and I felt he was the best athlete, who brought dual versatility to the next level which proved out. There is one thing several teams learned in 2011: don’t kick him the ball, and if you do, hang time must be in your plans in order to slow this difference-maker down (44 punt returns, 699 yards, four touchdowns, long 99 yards). As a corner, Peterson was impressive from the first game to the last. His ability to flip his hips and mirror receivers in routes for a young player was good and will only get better in the near future. He displayed very good football instincts to locate the ball in air. Yes, he was beat on some plays, but it was not for lack of awareness. On tackling, his toughness stood out. Production (64 total tackles/59 solo, one sack, two interceptions, 13 passes defended).

1 6 Falcons Julio Jones WR Alabama (trade up from Cleveland)

RED – Jones has all the size, length and speed. But like Alabama, he struggled to stay healthy missing several games with soft tissue injuries. When on the field he was a true RED player, starter and contributor with production that flashed BLUE traits. Production was very good for a rookie (54 receptions, 959 yards, eight touchdowns, long 80 yards, 17.8 average).

1 7 49ers Aldon Smith LB Missouri

RED – This rookie was not a starter, but a key contributor and earned the following awards: 2011 Pro Football Writers Association Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2011 NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year and had very good production (37 total tackles, 14 sacks). His explosive edge play and the ability to rush the passer set the tone on defense in every game I watched him play, which included two live games against the Rams. This young player has an extremely bright future as an edge player. Very athletic to sink and flip hips to tilt and toss or run around offensive tackles with ease. Can turn speed into power and run through blockers with collision tackling skills with explosive finish. Was used in base defense and sub-packages on passing situations from two-point stance on edge and as an inside rusher. Future Pro Bowl player and was a difference-maker as a rookie.

1 9 Cowboys Tyron Smith OT USC

RED – This rookie offensive tackle has the length, wing span and athletic ability to play for a decade or more. This was a great pick for the Cowboys at No. 9. A competitive right tackle with feet to slide and adjust vs. edge players and arm length to keep separation from defenders.

1 11 Texans J.J. Watt DE Wisconsin

RED – This player’s motor never stopped running. Matter of fact, in every game I saw it ran 100 mph. Watt really fit in well as a 3-4 defensive end, battled through double teams with consistent pressure on the pocket, with very good chase and pursuit outside the box, with strong collision tackling skills. Good production (56 total tackles, 5.5 sacks). A starter and heavy contributor as a rookie, I can’t wait to see him after a full off season of weight lifting and training.

1 15 Dolphins Mike Pouncey C Florida

RED – Started all 16 games. Is smart, tough and played very well for a rookie that had to make most of the calls and some of the protections per several sources. An athletic offensive lineman that helped anchor the interior. A good offseason program will help with overall strength and explosion for the 2012 season.

1 20 Buccaneers Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa

RED – Edge player that delivered consistent pressure as a pass rusher. Flashed disruptive play with good overall production (40 total tackles, 7.5 sacks). Another young player that will benefit from a good offseason. Questions on shoulder coming out of Iowa never really affected his play at the next level.

1 24 Saints Cameron Jordan DE California

RED – This rookie started 15 games out of 16, played like a veteran player from game one. Explosive first step quickness, strong use of hands and proved to be the disruptive player the Saints were hoping. Motor runs hot with collision tackling ability and good overall production (31 total tackles, one sack). Saw him live against Rams and the growth from college play to New Orleans was very impressive for a rookie.