Many were skeptical of Phil Emery’s choices during his first NFL Draft when he, according to some, overreached for Shea McClellin in the first round and again with Brandon Hardin in the third round.
McClellin struggled at times during his rookie season with injuries and inconsistent play and finished the year with 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and Hardin missed the entire 2012 season due to a neck injury he suffered in the preseason.
Second-round pick Alshon Jeffery showed flashes of his potential, but he missed six games due to injury and finished with 24 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
Fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez was touted as an Aaron Hernandez-type “hybrid” tight end but made the switch to fullback before the beginning of the regular season and ended up starting five games in 2012. Two offseason arrests earlier this year led to his release in early June.
Sixth-round pick Isaiah Frey, and undrafted free agents Matt Blanchard and James Brown, spent the majority of the 2012 season on the practice squad with Brown seeing action as a starter at left guard near the end of the 2012 season due to injuries more than anything else.
While it was just one season and a small sample size, it is fair to say that the 2012 rookie class was a bit underwhelming. In just a few weeks of Training Camp and two preseason games, one of the biggest storylines this year has been the play of the 2013 rookie class.
Last Thursday night the Bears lined up with rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side of the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Long graded out with a +5.7 rating for the game, which is considered “ludicrously good” for a guard. They went on to say that “He was quick, mobile, strong at the point of attack, playing with good leverage, and when he combined with fellow rookie RT Jordan Mills, formed a double team the Chargers’ defensive line couldn’t deal with.”
That is certainly high praise for a guy like Long who had only five career starts under his belt at Oregon before being drafted by the Bears in the first round.
Long appears to have the starting right guard spot locked down, and as long as Mills (a fifth-round pick) continues to play as well as he did on Thursday night, he could be lined up next to Long on September 8th for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Initially expected to be the backup to D.J. Williams at the middle linebacker position, second-round pick Jonathan Bostic has taken advantage of his increased reps with the first team due to a nagging calf injury that has caused Williams to miss the majority of Training Camp and both preseason games.
Bostic jumped out on in the first game with an interception returned for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers and made a crushing hit on Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie in the second preseason game. I speculated earlier this offseason on whether or not Bostic could push to fill Brian Urlacher’s shoes in Week One, and it appears that he will likely be the team’s starting middle linebacker come opening day.
Fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene, sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington and seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson have all put good things on tape so far during the preseason and would appear to be on their way to making the team’s 53-man roster. Undrafted free agent Zach Minter has taken advantage of injuries along the defensive line and could push for a spot in the defensive tackle rotation.
It is a bit premature to assume that this year’s rookie class can have a greater impact than last year’s but with the possibility of having three rookies starting (Long, Mills and Bostic) and others being contributors at not only their position but on special teams, they may have a shot at being the more productive group of Phil Emery’s first two drafts.
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