The 2012 draft is so last month, and the 2013 draft is too far away to comprehend, so our draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. is thinking back to the 2011 draft and has come up with some players he thinks could break out in their second NFL seasons. It's an Insider piece, so only those of you with Insider access can read it. But that's OK, because I like you guys better anyway. Just please don't tell the others. I don't want anyone to get upset.
Anyway, Mel has three players on his list from the NFC East, and they are...
I thought Hankerson was just about to really get it going last year when a hip injury derailed his season. While the Redskins went out and made several moves at wide receiver, I think Hankerson could put up big numbers as a down-the-field threat in Mike Shanahan's offense. He's a bigger target, something this offense lacks otherwise, outside of tight end Fred Davis.
How could I have Smith here after he started 16 games for the Cowboys in 2011? It's not that he started, it's where he starts. Smith won't be 22 until December, and the Cowboys worked the youngster in on the right side last year. But if he takes over at left tackle, in a division with the kind of pass-rushers the NFC East has, it'll be a true test of his value. I think he'll do well.
My take: Smith was a monster at right tackle last year, one of the best in the league at that position. There's nothing to indicate he can't handle a transition to the more important spot, and if he does he has the talent to excel there for a very long time.
This is more of a long shot because Austin isn't even slated to start, but while he got hurt last year and never really got his season on track, I think he can be a big part of the rotation in 2012 if his health is there. This is an immensely talented kid who just needs to keep his motor running; Tom Coughlin will get him going.
My take: Austin is one of the real wild cards for the Giants this year, and if he can stay on the field he could have a huge impact on the Giants' already excellent defensive line. Kind of like Jason Pierre-Paul last year, he has the ability to make himself a starter if the opportunity for playing time should arise.