Some fans approach the NFL draft like kids at Christmas. They’re so excited for new toys that last year’s gifts are quickly forgotten, especially the ones that weren’t used much. Here’s a look at 10 players selected in the 2012 draft class who are expected to make big strides after having lesser roles in their first NFL season. If they don’t produce, some may not be long for the roster. —Alex Marvez
Atlanta right tackle Lamar Holmes (2012 third round/Southern Mississippi)
The Falcons made a surprising move earlier this month, releasing seven-year starter Tyson Clabo. While the cut was directly related to the need to clear salary cap space for a future Matt Ryan contract extension, it also speaks to Atlanta’s confidence that the massive Holmes (6-foot-5 and 333 pounds) is ready for action after appearing in only one game last season as a reserve.
Miami running back Lamar Miller (2012 fourth round/Miami)
The Dolphins thought they had a steal last April when they nabbed Miller in the fourth round. Although he struggled with pass-protection concepts, Miller showed enough promise in 13 games of action that Miami allowed two-year starter Reggie Bush to leave for Detroit in free agency. Miller, who averaged 4.9 yards on his 51 carries, is the favorite over 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas to assume the first-team spot.
Dallas safety Matt Johnson (2012 fourth round/Eastern Washington)
The Cowboys, who haven’t had a difference-maker at safety since Roy Williams’ heyday, could be tempted to select Kenny Vaccaro if available with the No. 18 overall pick. Should the University of Texas standout land elsewhere, Johnson will be the frontrunner to start at free safety now that Gerald Sensabaugh was released earlier in the offseason. Johnson’s athletic potential impressed Cowboys coaches despite not playing as a rookie because of hamstring problems.
Houston kicker Randy Bullock (2012 fifth round/Texas A&M)
As fellow rookies Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein enjoyed outstanding campaigns, Bullock spent his first NFL season on injured reserve after hurting his groin in training camp. Bullock was selected before Walsh and Zuerlein. He also was a more accomplished college specialist, having won the 2011 Lou Groza Award after converting on 29 of 33 field goals his senior season. Bullock is slotted to handle the kicking duties for Houston with the Texans not re-signing Shayne Graham.
Philadelphia defensive end Vinny Curry (2012 second round/Marshall)
Even high draft picks can have their NFL careers damaged by a change in coaching staffs. Curry will try not to let that happen to him. Selected as an outside pass rusher for a “wide-nine” defense, Curry must find a home in Philadelphia’s new 3-4 scheme or he could soon be elsewhere. If shifted to a five-technique end, Curry would need to add weight to his 266-pound frame and learn to better engage offensive tackles. Curry also could get a look at outside linebacker, but has little experience dropping into coverage.
New Orleans defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (third round/University of Regina)
The Saints’ shift to a 3-4 defense should benefit Hicks, a third-round pick who notched 20 tackles as a rookie reserve in 2012. He is still raw, having transferred from Louisiana State to Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada for his final two college seasons. But the 6-foot-5, 324-pound Hicks has the size to play nose tackle and should also compete for snaps as a five-technique end.
San Diego guard Johnnie Troutman (2012 fifth round/Penn State)
While the Chargers struggled to protect quarterback Philip Rivers, Troutman could only watch from the sideline, as he spent 2012 on injured reserve recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. The pre-draft injury caused Troutman — who didn’t allow a sack in his final three college seasons — to slip into the later rounds. Troutman will compete for a starting spot with the Chargers losing right guard Louis Vasquez to Denver and not re-signing Tyronne Green.
New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle (2012 second round/Louisiana State)
With starting wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz set to become unrestricted free agents in 2014, Randle has the chance to show he could be a replacement if one or both aren’t re-signed. Randle already handled punt return duties as a rookie and is the favorite to become New York’s No. 3 receiver now that Domenik Hixon left for Carolina in free agency and Ramses Barden wasn’t re-signed.
St. Louis wide receiver Brian Quick (2012 second round/Appalachian State)
With Quick having played at a non-BCS college, the Rams knew he would need time to develop. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that fellow rookie receiver Chris Givens made a more immediate impact on offense. With the Rams not re-signing their top two receivers from 2012 in Danny Amendola (New England) and Brandon Gibson (Miami), St. Louis is relying on Quick to accelerate his development after catching 11 passes as a rookie reserve.
Indianapolis tight end Coby Fleener (2012 second round/Stanford)
The first tight end chosen in last year’s draft, Fleener was outplayed by a Colts teammate who was selected one round later. Dwayne Allen had more catches (45 to 26), receiving yards (521 to 281) and starts (16 to 10). The Colts hope that Fleener, who should benefit from a full offseason in the team’s strength program, will be able to recreate the strong quarterback-receiver bond he shared with Andrew Luck at Stanford.