Which offensive rookies will make the biggest impact in 2013?
Who will be the top impact 2013 NFL offensive rookies? Let's take a look at decide.
This wasn't the sexiest draft for youngsters on the offensive side of the ball: one quarterback taken in the first round, a heavy run on offensive linemen, the first year since 1963 with no running back taken in the first round, and a slew of wide receivers who all have question marks.
If we sit back and compare this coming season to 2012, 2013 is going to look flat-out awful when we talk about offensive rookies who make an impact. Though we'll see guys emerge who play a big role for their teams, there won't be any holy triumvirate of Russell Wilson/Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III emerging from this draft class.
However, there are guys who'll make an impact. I've got 10 of them on the offensive side listed below (defensive players coming later), listed in order of the impact I think they'll ultimately make this season. This isn't my list of the 10 best rookies; it's a list of guys who I think will have the biggest impact for their respective teams in 2013. There are also plenty of high picks on this list; typically speaking, bad teams are more able to provide an opportunity for players to step in and make immediate contributions.
Agree, disagree, have your own list or just generally want to yell at me for leaving someone out/putting someone in? Leave your thoughts in the comments or let me know on Twitter @WillBrinson.
1. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals
This bandwagon, I am driving it. Good luck finding people who are as high on Bernard as I am. I think ultimately he ends up stealing the every-down role from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Why is that exactly? Because Bernard can make an impact in multiple facets of the game. He's not a scatback, he's what Pete Prisco likes to call an "air back." Bernard's capable of getting out in space and generating big plays, he can be a feature runner when they need him to be, he's a dynamic pass-catching back (92 catches in 2011 and 2012 at North Carolina) and he's a force on special teams as well (ask former NC State coach Tom O'Brien about his punt-returning skills). Color me all in on Gio blowing up for the Bengals.
2. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
The hype for Austin leading up to the NFL Draft was out of control, but it was very much worth it. Austin's one of the new-aged movable chess-piece type of offensive players who can be a devastating weapon for a creative offensive coordinator. Looking at the Rams setup on O, it's clear they'll be improved: Sam Bradford finally has blindside protection in the form of Jake Long, tight end Jared Cook was a primo addition in free agency, Brian Quick and Chris Givens should continue to develop, and St. Louis picked up Austin's West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey in the draft. Not forcing Austin to be a true "No. 1" wideout in his first season, making teams guard other guys and giving him the rock in various places all over the field -- including out of running sets -- will maximize his effectiveness and make him a strong candidate for ROY.
3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
Bell's an interesting case in talent vs. opportunity when it comes to making an impact as a rookie. Looking at what he did while at Michigan State, he really doesn't stand out as anything more than a plodder. Bell's not going to come in and become a dominant running back in the NFL right away. But he is likely to see a ton of touches on a Pittsburgh team with few other options in the backfield. Only Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman represent competition for Bell, which means even if he doesn't win the starting job, he's going to end up getting a ton of touches. If Bell wins the job, which I think he will, he'll carry it 300 times next year. That's a major impact regardless of your talent level.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
I look at this match and I can't help but think Hopkins is stepping into a pretty perfect situation for success. He'll be lined up across from All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson (who was the last wideout taken by Houston in the first round, a decade ago), which means not facing No. 1 corners. With the departure of Kevin Walter, there's no one else on a razor-thin depth chart to challenge Hopkins for playing time and reps on the field, which means the opportunity is there. Hopkins has sure hands and runs good routes, which means he should quickly gain Matt Schaub's trust. And Johnson isn't the only distraction for opposing defenses; having Arian Foster and Ben Tate provide one of the most stout running back combos in the NFL means secondaries have to key on stopping the rush as well. Friend of the site Lance Zierlein (of the SidelineView.com) also notes that Hopkins looked incredibly impressive at rookie minicamp.
5. Jonathan Cooper, OG, Cardinals
It's counter-intuitive to think that an offensive guard on a bad offensive line is going to make an immediate impact for a team in a division featuring three extremely dangerous defenses. But Cooper is talented and athletic enough to make a difference immediately, and you can't understate the importance of what an improvement at guard will mean for the Cardinals. Cooper's presence will shore up the left side of the line with Levi Brown at tackle and that in turn makes life easier for everyone on the line, including Bobby Massie on the right side, who improved over the course of 2012. It's a trickle-down effect that will result in Carson Palmer having more time in the pocket and could result in another rookie -- running back Andre Ellington -- becoming an important piece of the offense, particularly in the screen game, where Cooper excels in blocking.
6. Eric Fisher, OT, Chiefs
Crazy to think the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft is going to play right tackle, huh? But let's not discount Fisher's value too much because he's playing the tackle position perceived as less important on the line. For one, Fisher's ability to shore up protection for Alex Smith is critical. Smith was far more successful with the 49ers when he was protected (just like most quarterbacks!) by their stout line. For two, it looks like we'll be seeing some Pistol action from the Chiefs featuring Smith and Jamaal Charles (Fantasy owners: commence drooling), and pulling that off will require plenty of athleticism on the offensive line, which is exactly what Fisher brings. It doesn't hurt matters that Fisher is a perfect fit for the type of screen and short-pass-heavy attack that Andy Reid will use Charles in. And, of course, there's no guarantee left tackle Branden Albert stays healthy the entire season. Fisher could find himself protecting Smith's blindside at any moment.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings
Patterson is raw and only has one year of production at the college level, but, man, his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands is intriguing. Patterson, like Austin, can also score in a variety of ways; he carried the ball at Tennessee and was a special-teams dynamo. It's highly likely the Vikings believe he can replace Percy Harvin in that phase of their game next year and keep the special teams unit from missing much with Harvin's loss. There's a reasonable chance they're right. I think there's a reasonable chance Patterson is used in a similar way to Austin too. Instead of asking him to do "traditional" wideout things, Minnesota will have him operate as more of a playmaker. If they're smart, that's what they'll do anyway.
8. Luke Joeckel, OT, Jaguars
You know what's even crazier than the top pick being used as a right tackle? The top TWO picks being used as right tackles. Joeckel is going to play on a bad team, but that doesn't mean he can't have a big impact. Plugging him in on the right side accomplishes a few things for the Jaguars. It improves their protection of Blaine Gabbert (Joeckel will be asked to block J.J. Watt, so have fun with that rook) and gives them a chance to fairly evaluate Gabbert's ability to play when he doesn't have excuses like no receivers and no protection. Joeckel improves the Jaguars running game as well; Maurice Jones-Drew and, hopefully, Denard Robinson will both find themselves with bigger holes to run through. The Jags' top pick also gives them flexibility when it comes to the future of Eugene Monroe, who's entering the final year of his contract (in the unlikely event Monroe leaves, Dave Caldwell isn't without a franchise left tackle). I don't expect Jacksonville to win a lot of games next year -- does anyone? -- but I do expect them to improve because of an offense that can stay on the field longer, and that should be a direct result of Joeckel slotting in on the right side of the line.
9. EJ Manuel, QB, Bills
Really tempted to put either Geno Smith or Tyler Wilson on this list. But I'm not because Geno isn't guaranteed to win the Jets job. Saying the Jets have a dearth of playmakers is like saying outer space lacks oxygen and Wilson has the longest shot to start, even if I really want to get bold and throw him on here. Instead, Manuel's the choice and not because I love the Bills decision to select him. I do, however, like that he'll basically be handed this job unless Kevin Kolb performs ridiculously well leading into the season. That equates to impact. Manuel also has a nice group of weapons in Buffalo. C.J. Spiller is as a dynamic running back as there is in the NFL and can greatly impact the passing game, therefore easing Manuel's burden. Stevie Johnson isn't a true No. 1 wideout, but he's a much better option than other teams present. T.J. Graham is an underrated speedster who can be a deep threat. (Off topic: If I change my name to W.J. Brinson, will the Bills draft me next year?). Marques Goodwin is somehow even faster. Robert Woods is a perfect complement as a strong possession receiver. Buffalo's not trotting out the Broncos receiving corps or anything, but they've got a fast and potentially dangerous group. Add in Spiller and Fred Jackson, and Manuel will have a shot to make an impact.
10. Eddie Lacy/Johnathan Franklin, RBs, Packers
Is it cheating to include the two guys Ted Thompson drafted instead of picking one to blow up? Maybe. But it's my list, so whatever. If I had to guess, I'd say it's Lacy that makes a bigger impact, but mainly because of his ability to block in the passing game -- carrying the ball is critical for the Packers' new backs, but being able to add an additional layer of protection for Aaron Rodgers might be an even bigger job. Franklin can fill the role too, and Thompson's decision to draft him speaks to the serious concerns with Lacy's immediate health. But maybe it also speaks to value and Thompson zigging when others zag. The reason they're lower is a lack of clarity on both guys' injury status as well as the fact that we don't know who will get the majority of touches, if anyone even does.
Honorable Mention: Denard Robinson, RB, Jaguars:
If Robinson was going to see 10-15 "touches" per game, he'd be somewhere on the middle of this list. But 10-15 "snaps"? It'll be difficult for him to make an impact in that situation, which is a shame, because giving him those kind of touches would result in some electricity.
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