Commentary

Rookies set to break out

Who can give a big second-half boost? Start with these 10 NFL rookies

Originally Published: November 11, 2011
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Adrian ClaybornKim Klement/US PresswireAdrian Clayborn (right) is due to excel in the second half of the season.

Last year, Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap didn't even see the field until late September. He didn't get more than spot duty until Week 6. In his ninth game with the Bengals, he finally got his first sack -- it wouldn't be the last. During the second half of the season, Dunlap was a terror, piling up 8.5 more sacks. Over the final nine games of the season, only the great Jared Allen took down more quarterbacks. An afterthought to start the season, Dunlap piled up 9.5 sacks.

It's common for rookies to come on late as they combine fresh legs and a better understanding of the nuances of the NFL game, and the lockout that took place earlier this year didn't help. While there are many rookies who are already making their mark, including recent standouts like Vikings QB Christian Ponder, here are 10 guys who have been relatively quiet in the first half of the season but who could really make a jump in the second half.

1. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The game in London against the Bears is where I really started to see Clayborn again look like the outstanding prospect we saw at Iowa. Clayborn actually leads the Bucs in sacks (3), but that just shows you what kind of a player he can be, because he's just starting to hit his stride. Clayborn is a complete defensive end, a guy who won't kill you in the run game by getting too sack-happy. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber talent and healthy now, so he really has a chance to come on.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst