This week in New York, Sotheby's will sell off one of the most famous paintings of the last 200 years, "The Scream." The painting was Munch's statement on despair, the existential horrors of being. Thus ends my attempt at art criticism, but with the 2012 NFL Draft over, I can relate to feelings expressed in the painting.
In an effort to hang onto last week's highs and to make the natural pivot of looking at the future in the wake of the draft, it's time for a look at a handful of breakout candidates among the year's rookie class. Predictions are difficult because so much depends on the circumstances around the rookie, from the players he has to work with to a rash of unpredictable injuries that will change the NFL landscape.
Some of these are fairly obvious; some are leaps of faith. I'll let you decide which is which. The players with the biggest impact in year one:
The two players that will be connected to each other for their entire careers.
It doesn't matter how much talent a player has; succeeding as a rookie quarterback is a tall order. Both Luck and RG3 are in good situations in that their team actually has some receivers or tight ends. It seems like those players are usually added as a next step in the rebuilding process.
For Luck, my head comes back to what Ben Roethlisberger and Sam Bradford did in their respective rookie seasons. Both players kept it simple, or their coaches did, and produced results. The Colts' roster has plenty of holes in it, and pass protection could be a problem. Having rookie tight end Coby Fleener, a guy Luck knows well from their days on campus, helps tremendously, as does having a savvy veteran like Reggie Wayne. The lack of a running game is a detractor.
The tendency for pundits on RG3 is to go for the easy Cam Newton comparisons. Griffin is not going to do what Newton did as a ball carrier. Newton has four inches and 20-plus pounds on RG3. The Redskins can't let him run too much because he's a huge investment. And that's okay. Griffin possesses an incredible arm and the kind of accuracy the CIA is still trying to program into its attack drones. If Josh Morgan can live up to his potential, he and Griffin can get behind defenses with frequency.
Again, pass protection is a concern in Washington. The Kirk Cousins pick was so galling because it came at the expense of offensive tackle help, with guys like Bobby Massie still on the board.
Luck: 61 percent completion rate, 3,600 yards, 26 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 130 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Griffin III: 58 percent completion rate, 3,300 yards, 22 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 420 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
This is an easy one. First of all, Richardson is running back, a very good one at that. He also has the luxury of stepping in on day one and being the most talented player in the Browns' offense, which is meant as both a statement on Richardson's ability as well as on the woeful offense in Cleveland.
Unfortunately for Richardson, six of the Browns' 16 games this season will be against three of the stingiest defenses in the league: Baltimore, Pittsburgh and an up-and-coming Cincinnati team. Adrian Peterson ran for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns in his 2007 rookie season. He did that in just 14 games in an offense where Tarvaris Jackson handled most of the quarterbacking duties. I think the schedule is just too tough for Richardson to match those numbers, but I will not be surprised if he does.
Prediction: 1,240 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
Claiborne landed in a great situation, playing across the field from a very good Brandon Carr who the Cowboys added in free agency this year. Cornerback is a tough position for rookies, and not one where they get the chance to stand out early in their careers. In this case, teams will be avoiding Carr and picking on the rookie.
Coverage measures aside, I wonder what kind of damage he can do with interceptions. I really think Claiborne has the potential to pick off a few passes this year, especially since a solid secondary will allow Dallas to attack more up front. Once he has the ball in his hands, he can be deadly effective. The Cowboys would be smart to let him return punts.
Prediction: 5 interceptions, 2 touchdowns
Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Seattle Seahawks
I can feel the limb cracking underneath me on this one. Irvin has a nice package of pass rushing skills. Seattle has a very good defensive front with linemen like Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Jason Jones. It's a good marriage, and clearly one the Seahawks are patterning off of what San Francisco did last year with Aldon Smith.
Seattle will keep Irvin limited to situational play. He can sweep in while opposing blockers are occupied with the big bodies elsewhere on Seattle's defensive front.
Prediction: 8 sacks
Of all the receivers taken in the 1st round, Wright may have the best situation. If Jake Locker plays, or when he plays, the Titans can take advantage of Wright's incredible down field ability. Wright is more of a receiver than the typical go route guys teams pluck out of the 2nd round.
His quickness gives him the ability to do some damage all over the field. Think about what guys like Wes Welker can do out of the slot, then factor in Wright's ability to do damn near anything he wants with the ball in his hands. He has the potential to score on even a short dump off pass. If Chris Johnson can play like his former self, defenses will have matchup nightmares against the Titans.
Prediction: 950 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, New England Patriots
Jones benefits by landing on a Patriots team that knows how to work the Xs and Os to get the most out of their players. He can play in a variety of defensive looks, with his hand in the dirt or standing on two legs.
Sacks were hard to come by in New England last season. Andre Carter, last year's sack leader for the Pats, is still unsigned. With Jones and Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots would be wise to bring back Carter, assuming he checks out medically. Jones is the odds on favorite to lead the team in sacks this season.
Prediction: 10 sacks
I'm probably higher on Jones than most people, but I love his potential, especially as part of a Cincinnati offense headlined by A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. The question here is whether or not Jones gets many looks with Green and Mohamed Sanu, the Bengals' 2nd-round pick.
I think he will. In the end, he may end up getting more looks than Sanu. Jones is a possession receiver with upside, a guy that has a better ability than Sanu to get yards after the catch. He also has potential as a vertical threat, with the hands and a head to beat deep coverage. Defenses will put their best corner on Green, maybe two corners even, and Jones will allow the Bengals to burn them.
Prediction: 740 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns