has been perhaps the best late-round steal of the 2012 draft so far.
So much attention, both before and after the 2012 NFL Draft, landed on the top two picks: Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Washington's Robert Griffin III.
Their battle for headlines has overshadowed, to some extent, what has been a pretty successful start for this year's rookie class. From No. 3 pick Trent Richardson on down through seventh-rounders like Alfonzo Dennard, David Paulson and Daryl Richardson (we'll get back to him), there have been plenty of contributors from April's draft choices.
As is always the case, there also have been some letdowns -- a statement made with the understanding that many players need more than half a season to fully acclimate themselves to pro football.
With the season officially crossing the halfway mark in Week 9, we take a look at some surprises and early disappointments among the 2012 rookies.
Well Worth the Pick
• Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots (No. 21 overall)/Dont'a Hightower, LB, Patriots (No. 25): The Patriots dealt their way into the 21st and 25th overall picks in April, then used both of them to shore up their defense.
So far, all of those decisions have paid off in a big way. Hightower missed two games with a hamstring injury, but he's recorded 22 tackles and two sacks this season, while starting five games.
Jones, meanwhile, has to be in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His six sacks lead the way for rookies, and he's provided a dynamic pass-rushing piece on the end of New England's defensive line. Jones faced a tough task trying to step in and replace the 2011 production of Andre Carter. He has answered the bell and been downright unstoppable at times.
• Lavonte David, LB, Buccaneers (No. 58): While we're on the subject of possible Defensive ROY candidates ...
David was the third of three high-impact draft picks Tampa Bay made this year -- Mark Barron at No. 7 and spectacular running back Doug Martin at 31 being the other two. As solid as Barron has been, there is no way to overlook the impact David has made so far. He leads the Buccaneers in tackles with 67 and racked up 16 in a Week 8 win over Oakland.
• Casey Hayward, CB, Packers (No. 62): The Packers' pass defense has been better than most people think this season, and the quick emergence of Hayward is a key reason why.
The ex-Vanderbilt star picked off four passes over the season's first half, including two during a surprisingly easy win at Houston. Even more importantly, opposing receivers simply are not catching balls when he's covering them. According to Pro Football Focus, 21 of 39 passes thrown Hayward's direction have resulted in incompletions or interceptions, and quarterbacks have a dismal 25.5 rating on those plays.
Hayward picked off 13 passes over his final two years of college ball, so the Packers knew they were getting a potential playmaker. But he has to be exceeding their wildest dreams to this point.
• Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (No. 75): You could make the case that Wilson is the third-best 2012 Seattle draft pick thus far, behind first-rounder Bruce Irvin (he's proven a lot of people wrong, including yours truly) and second-round LB Bobby Wagner.
Wilson, however, has been the most pleasant surprise of a 2012 QB draft class that is more than holding its own thus far. Consider that, with Wilson starting every game, Seattle has posted a 5-4 record and Wilson has thrown a TD pass in seven of nine games. He also has wins over Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Tony Romo on his resume already, with a potential playoff berth in reach.
• Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins (No. 173): Not a bad find in the sixth round, eh?
Morris emerged early from a glut of Redskins running backs to secure the starting job alongside rookie QB Robert Griffin III. He needs just 207 yards over Washington's final seven games to eclipse 1,000 for the season, and he has topped 100 yards rushing in three separate games.
A quick mention here, too, for St. Louis running back Daryl Richardson. The next-to-last pick of the 2012 draft, Richardson posted more than 400 total yards during the first half of St. Louis' season -- all while stealing playing time from Steven Jackson.
We're Still Waiting
• First-round WRs (Justin Blackmon, Jaguars, No. 5 overall; Michael Floyd, Arizona, No. 13; Kendall Wright, Tennessee, No. 20; A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco, No. 30): If there is one player from that first-round quartet that deserves a little pat on the back, it's Wright. His 42 receptions lead all rookies by a huge margin -- even if his 9.1 yards-per-catch average leaves a lot to be desired.
Blackmon and Floyd have been held back by poor quarterback play, but a combined 432 yards and two touchdowns to this point is well below what was expected from that duo. They're both lapping Jenkins, who's stuck behind a host of veteran receiver options in San Francisco and has rarely been active on game days.
Let's go ahead and loop St. Louis' Brian Quick (No. 33 overall) and the Jets' Stephen Hill (No. 43) in here, as well. Hill's dealing with some of the same shaky QB work that Blackmon and Floyd are, but he has barely registered a blip on the radar since a two-touchdown Week 1. Quick can't even get on the field, with 2012 third-rounder Chris Givens leapfrogging him on the depth chart.
• Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Bengals (No. 17 overall): Put an asterisk by this one for now, because Kirkpatrick has yet to see game action after injuring his knee back in July. Better days have to lie ahead for the Alabama product.
That said, the Bengals were counting on Kirkpatrick to step in and play an important role from Day One. They're still waiting on him to make an impact.
• David Wilson, RB, Giants (No. 31): Don't think for a second that Giants fans are ignoring what Doug Martin, taken one pick before Wilson, is doing in Tampa Bay. Wilson was supposed to replace Brandon Jacobs as a complement to Ahmad Bradshaw in the Giants' backfield, while providing a home-run threat as a return man.
He has had much more success in the latter role through nine games -- Wilson is averaging 26.8 yards per kick return compared to 88 total yards rushing. Instead of counting on Wilson, the Giants have upped the responsibilities of Andre Brown, a player cut by five NFL teams during his career (including, at one point, the Giants).
• Bill Bentley, CB, Lions (No. 85): The Lions let Eric Wright walk in free agency, then passed on help in the secondary in favor of OT Riley Reiff and WR Ryan Broyles early in the 2012 draft. As a result, Bentley, their third-round choice, entered camp with a lot of weight on his shoulders.
That all went down the tubes in a hurry.
Remember those Casey Hayward coverage numbers from before? Well, 85 percent of passes thrown Bentley's direction (17 of 20) resulted in completions. Bentley also missed a game early with a concussion, then landed on injured reserve after injuring his shoulder in Week 6.
• Bobby Massie, OT, Cardinals (No. 112): The reality is that Massie landed in an impossible situation. He was considered by many a project pick in April -- a player with nice upside, but one who would require time to adjust to the NFL.
Instead, the desperate Cardinals threw him into the starting lineup at right tackle. The results have been predictable. Massie has allowed 13 sacks and 34 QB hurries in eight games, eye-popping numbers both. Along with D'Anthony Baptiste at left tackle, Massie has helped form the worst OT pairing in the league over the first half of the season.