After setbacks, 2011 rookies ready to make another go of it

Posted Feb. 29, 2012 @ 3 p.m.
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By Kevin Fishbain and Eli Kaberon

In the days following the NFL draft, coaches, general managers and other front-office executives for all 32 teams like to discuss how great their incoming class of rookies is. No matter if the player picked was first overall or Mr. Irrelevant, optimism is high heading into summer workouts and training camp. Each team believes that its players will step in and make great contributions.

However, lots of things can change those expectations, especially injuries. Being hurt in training camp or preseason games can end careers before they even start, and many rookies have had a tough time recovering from early setbacks.

In 2011, several early-round draft choices had their rookie campaigns either partially or fully wiped out because of injuries. Here's a look at seven of those players and what type of impact they might make for their teams this coming season.

(Players listed in order they were drafted.)

OT Gabe Carimi / Bears — The only first-rounder on the list, the 29th pick in the draft missed all but two games because of a right knee injury. The Bears have high hopes for Carimi in 2012, but head coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL Scouting Combine that he wasn't sure if the second-year tackle would be ready to return by the time the team's offseason program begins in April. It's expected that Carimi will be ready by training camp. He is the likely starter at right tackle.

CB Ras-I Dowling / Patriots — Patriots fans got an inkling of how the team feels about Dowling — who was the first pick of the second round of the '11 draft — by the fact that he started the two games he played before landing on injured reserve. Injuries plagued Dowling in college, and he needs to prove he can stay healthy. However, he could be an X-factor in the Patriots' secondary in 2012, a unit that is sorely in need of an upgrade in personnel. Dowling's size and physicality give him the versatility to play inside or maybe some safety.

RB Ryan Williams / Cardinals — Entering last season, the Cardinals expected Williams, the second running back picked in the draft at No. 38 overall, to give Beanie Wells a run for his money for the team's starting RB job. But that plan failed to materialize after Williams suffered a season-ending right knee injury (ruptured patellar tendon) in the preseason. By all accounts, Williams has fully recovered, but after the way Wells performed this past season (1,047 yards, 10 TDs), Williams likely will remain in a backup role. The Cardinals love his determined running style.

DE Jarvis Jenkins / Redskins — The 41st overall pick of the draft was the talk of Washington's training camp last season, as he came in and dominated veterans above him on the depth chart. However, a torn ACL in August ended his season before it even began. The team is still excited about his potential, and there is a good chance that Jenkins could be the Redskins' starting left end when the 2012 season begins.

DT Marvin Austin / Giants — The North Carolina product is loaded with talent. However, the major concern surrounding Austin will be rust. After being ineligible for his final collegiate season and then missing all of his rookie NFL season because of a torn pectoral muscle, the 52nd overall pick hasn't played in a game that matters since 2009. Austin is expected to be the Giants' fourth defensive tackle on the 2012 depth chart, although the team likes to rotate players a lot to keep its D-linemen fresh.

RB Mikel Leshoure / Lions — Taken with the 57th overall pick, Leshoure was expected to be a physical complement to the speedy Jahvid Best. Unfortunately, in the first practice of training camp, Leshoure suffered a torn Achilles tendon and was placed on injured reserve. He is expected to return to the field in 2012 and regain his role as a power back, though there are serious questions about the durability of both Leshoure and Best (concussions).

LB Jonas Mouton / Chargers — Expected to be a special-teams ace, the 61st pick in the draft couldn't make it through the preseason. A shoulder injury that didn't respond to treatment forced the team to place him on injured reserve in late September, which wound up costing the team when LB depth became an issue late in the season. Mouton is on pace to return in 2012 and will be counted on to add speed and physicality to San Diego's coverage and blocking teams on both punts and kickoffs.