AFC East Rookies To Watch

CB Stephon Gilmore is one of the Rookies we expect to be successful

With NFL camps opening up in just 20 days we figured it was time to take a look back at some of the 2012 Draft Picks that we expect AFC East teams to have hit on. Staff Writer Eric Samulski took the lead on this project as he goes over the two rookies that he finds to be the most intriguing and interesting for each team.


CB Stephon Gilmore

You don’t take a cornerback in the top 10 and not expect him to start immediately, so this selection should come as no surprise. However, Gilmore’s presence here is also due to the fact that he has been receiving praise for his offseason performance. In rookie camp, he picked off a pass each day of practice, and he’s continued that success throughout Bills OTAs, finding himself around the ball on a consistent basis. At 6’0” 190, he has the size the hold up against larger receivers and has experience starting since he was a true freshman. Gilmore will also be helped by the pressure that the defense plans to bring, after the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and the return of a healthy Kyle Williams. With quarterbacks not likely to have long in the pocket, the Bills secondary expects to see more rushed or ill-timed throws, which can lead to more playmaking opportunities. Regardless of interception total, Gilmore figures to be on the field early and often, and should be a prominent member of the defense throughout the entire season.

LB Nigel Bradham

Nigel Bradham was a popular, but below the radar selection in this April’s draft. A thumping linebacker from Florida State, Bradham was slightly out of position as a middle linebacker. While he has the skillset, he lacks the quick recognition instincts to lead a team from the center of the field. He’s more suited to run and hit from the outside, something the Bills asked him to do a lot so far this offseason. While his special teams prowess figures to enable him to see the field early on, don’t be surprised to see Bradham unseat Kirk Morrison at OLB before the season is over. Bradham is a very physical player, with solid tackling abilities and brings the type of athleticism that the Bills coaching staff loves in their defensive players. He’s versatile enough to play in multiple sets and should help the Bills in many facets throughout his rookie campaign.


DL Quinton Coples

Talent was never an issue for Coples. At the beginning of the 2011 season, many analysts had him pegged as a likely number two overall pick, behind Andrew Luck. He has great size, at 6’6” 285 pounds, and possesses athleticism that is rare among athletes even forty pounds lighter. Concerns about his motor and his natural position caused him to drop on draft day; a drop which turned out to be a blessing since there is no team better suited to make the most of out his natural gifts than the Jets. For one, if anybody figures to flick Coples’ light switch on and get him to work, it’s Rex Ryan. He has the type of aggressive system that defenders love to play in. Secondly, Coples doesn’t have to have a natural position to play in the scheme that Ryan uses. He can line up at DE, DT, or even OLB depending on the down and formation. It allows him to match-up based on his strengths, something that has already allowed him to shine this offseason. With the Jets sorely in need of some defensive punch, Coples figures to be a key defensive piece for their coordinating mastermind.

RB Terrance Ganaway

This selection might be the most curious on the list, but I think that Ganaway might simply benefit from being in the right place at the right time. After seeing diminishing returns from star quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2011, the Jets have claimed that they are going back to a ground’n’pound style of offense. A claim that they backed up when the added Tim Tebow and started installing him in every formation under the sun. However, a small problem with the Jets wish to pound the football is that starting running back Shonn Greene has shown no improvement since his breakout playoffs a couple years ago. Despite being a workhorse for the Jets last season, he only average 4.2 yards per carry and showed little burst, totaling a long run of only 31 yards. Back-ups Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight don’t have the type of power to hold up under a heavy workload, so if Greene falters, and he likely will, the Jets may need to turn to Ganaway to help move the rock. With a 4.65 40 yard dash, Ganaway is not going to leave anybody in the dust, but his 6’0” 240 pound frame can take a beating and he showed good explosiveness in college and by posting a 38” vertical leap and 10 foot broad jump at the combine. It may take a while for the opportunities to come, but I’m fairly certain they will, and he has the skillset to take advantage.


RB Lamar Miller

Opportunities will come a lot sooner for Miami’s rookie running back. A projected second-round pick, Miller fell to the 4th where the Dolphins were more than happy to scoop him up. In 2011, Miller became the first Hurricane running back since Willis McGahee to rush for over 1,000 yards and showed good abilities both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. At 5’11” 215 pounds, he has good size and is in a good situation in Miami. Reggie Bush may have had a breakout season in 2011, but he’s never been a true feature back and despite his desire to prove otherwise, the likelihood is that his frame will not be able to take multiple years of consistent carries. The Dolphins expected this when they drafted Daniel Thomas last year, but he’s been unable to stay healthy and has not shown much starting ability when he’s actually on the field. With two injury-prone and inconsistent runners ahead of him, the chances figure to be there for Miller and he might be the most complete back out of the three.

WR Jeff Fuller

An undrafted free agent, Fuller might be a surprise on this list, but I’ve been a fan of his for a while. After a solid junior campaign, Fuller took a nose dive in 2011 as a senior at Texas A&M. However, I’m more apt to forgive a guy for one bad year when he’s shown consistent ability throughout the course of a career. It also doesn’t hurt when that guy is 6’4”. Fuller may have had some issues with drops in his postseason workouts, but it wasn’t a consistent problem throughout his entire college career and is one that I think was more linked to the pressure he was putting on himself. He has long arms, a wide catch radius, and knows how to find soft spots in a zone. On a Miami team that lacks any real receiving talent, even before trading Brandon Marshall, Fuller figures to stick as a possession WR. His size and ability to move the chains will make him a strong safety valve for a quarterback, especially if that quarterback turns out to be his college teammate, Ryan Tannehill.


LB Don’t’a Hightower

Alabama continues to turn out solid defensive talents year after year. They’re well-coached, aggressive, and mentally strong; all things that the Patriots really lacked on defense last season. Hightower will immediately pair with Jarod Mayo to give the Patriots a very solid ILB tandem. With Mayo attracting much of the attention, look for Hightower to be able to shed many of the one-on-one assignments against him and find himself in the backfield consistently. He has strong instincts and doesn’t make many mistakes when he has runners within an arms length. The Patriots also like to take chances schematically, which should benefit a player with Hightower’s athleticism.

WR Jeremy Ebert 

Ebert may have been born to be a Patriot. A shifty receiver who can make people miss after the catch, he’s the ideal heir apparent to Wes Welker, a position that Julian Edelman had and then gave up. A former high school quarterback, there is nothing that Ebert does that jumps out at you, but he does everything well. He understands routes, runs them crisply, and has athleticism to be a real threat whenever he has the ball in his hands. The Patriots figure to use him in the return game early, but with only Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd proven commodities at WR, and Deion Branch on his last legs, Ebert might be able to sneak his way into snaps as well. With Brady’s propensity for short completions to open up long strikes, something they will likely do more of now that Lloyd is on the team, Ebert might be the perfect fit for the scheme.


Tags: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, NY Jets

One Response to “AFC East Rookies To Watch”

  1. NEPD says:

    Ebert is fantastic Welker insurance and contract leverage.

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