Geno Smith and Jarvis Jones will be among the top players vying for the NFL's Rookie of the Year awards at the end of the 2013 season.
Robert Griffin III and Luke Kuechly—the two young men to win the award on offense and defense last season—were both taken early in Round 1 of the 2012 NFL draft, and both players have bright futures ahead of them.
This year's draft class is loaded with defensive talent. As the NFL has evolved into a passing league, specialists on the defensive side of the ball have become all the more valuable. Cornerbacks and pass-rushers are among the hottest commodities in the league these days.
That said, quarterbacks are still the No. 1 need for teams near the top of the draft, and it'll be interesting to see which teams reach for a signal-caller in 2013.
So, which players coming out of the 2013 NFL draft class will take the league by storm?
Note: ROY candidates will be characterized like THIS*
1. Kansas City Chiefs—QB Geno Smith, West Virginia*
If the Chiefs re-sign left tackle Brandon Albert, then it seems likely Andy Reid will look to take a quarterback with his No. 1 overall pick.
Smith isn't as polished as Luck was coming out of college, isn't as speedy or athletic as RG3 and won't be able to punch holes through walls with his fastball like Colin Kaepernick, but he is easily the best quarterback in this year's draft class.
He is accurate—especially on short, timing patterns, which are the staple of the West Coast offense—and moves well inside the pocket. Reid will be able to tailor his offense to fit the young quarterback's strengths, and as long as Jamaal Charles is chewing up yards on the ground, Smith will have success on play-action passes.
Smith would start from Day 1 with the Chiefs, and he'd have an excellent chance to shine under Reid's guidance, making him a logical choice as a favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The Jaguars only generated 20 sacks last season (No. 32 in the NFL). J.J. Watt had more sacks all by himself, which clearly illustrates the team's need for a skilled pass-rusher. Werner is strong, quick and relentless on the edge, and he'll make a big difference for the Jags in 2013.
3. Oakland Raiders—DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Oakland needs help at just about every position, but like Jacksonville, it couldn't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2012. Moore is a guy who was constantly making plays in the backfield last year for the Aggies, and he'd be an upgrade over any defensive end on Oakland's roster in 2012.
4. Philadelphia Eagles—DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
The Eagles are rumored to be switching to a 3-4 scheme on defense, and the hiring of Billy Davis as the team's new defensive coordinator seems to support such a move (h/t ESPN.com's Dan Graziano). Regardless of what scheme the Eagles run in 2013, the team needs dominant interior defenders. Lotulelei matches that description, and he'll fit in either scheme.
5. Detroit Lions—LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Martin Mayhew will sprint down the aisles this April to take Joeckel if he ends up sliding down this far. Joeckel is the best player at any position in this year's draft class, and he'll help Matthew Stafford's development by keeping the Lions quarterback healthy.
6. Cleveland Browns—OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia*
The Browns are switching to a 3-4 scheme on defense in 2013, and the team needs to add pass-rushers who can play without their hand in the dirt.
Jones was a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Bulldogs, and he won't need any time to adjust to the role, unlike many college players coming into the NFL. He led the nation in sacks with 14.5 last year, and he'll have a heck of an opportunity to keep rolling at the next level.
Jones is blessed with elite athleticism and agility, and he has a knack for making big plays when the game is on the line. He will be an instant contributor to the lucky team that drafts him, and he'll be an early favorite to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
7. Arizona Cardinals—LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
The Cardinals featured the worst offensive line in the NFL last year, ranking dead last in both rushing and sacks allowed. Fisher was considered to be a first-round pick before the Senior Bowl, and after he dominated the action all week long, he is now a sure-fire lock for a top-10 pick, thanks to his ability to dominate the edge—especially in pass protection.
8. Buffalo Bills—DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
After paying Mario Williams and Mark Anderson a ton of money to generate a pass rush last year, the Bills are still in need of a pass-rusher. Jordan is a bit of a project, but his raw speed and quickness, combined with his physique, will cause teams to jump at the chance to grab him early in Round 1.
9. New York Jets—OLB/DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
The Jets are reportedly getting ready to release Calvin Pace (h/t CBS New York), and the team has been looking for a consistent pass-rusher at the outside linebacker position for the past two years. Mingo is extremely raw, but if he can add strength and technique in short order, he'll be a dynamo on the edge for Rex Ryan's defense.
10. Tennessee Titans—OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
The Titans have committed to Chris Johnson this year, and since the team is paying him so much, it's imperative that Tennessee bring in some offensive linemen to pave the way for CJ2K. Warmack is a physically imposing guard who will make Johnson's life a lot more pleasant, and he's no slouch in pass protection, either.
11. San Diego Chargers—CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
It's no secret that the Chargers need help on the offensive line, but it would be foolish to reach for a tackle when they can land this year's premier cornerback at a discounted rate. Milliner could be taken in the top five by the time the draft rolls around, and he'd be a significant upgrade over Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
12. Miami Dolphins—WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee*
What Ryan Tannehill was able to accomplish last year as a rookie without elite talent at the wide receiver position was truly impressive. The Dolphins would be wise to add an electric playmaker to give their young quarterback a chance to truly shine.
Patterson possesses elite speed, has an ideal frame (6'3" and 205 lbs.), can leap like a gazelle and has the ability to pluck balls from any angle with skill.
He wasn't as productive in college as guys like DeAndre Hopkins or Terrence Williams, but he has more upside than any other receiver in this year's draft class. As a featured member of the Dolphins offense in 2013, he'd have an excellent chance to win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Tampa Bay could go with a defensive back here, given the team's need for secondary help, but adding a capable pass-rusher is just as effective. Ansah lacks experience, but he has the raw tools to become an elite pass-rusher in the NFL in short order.
14. Carolina Panthers—DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
The Panthers will certainly focus on improving defensively in 2013, and adding a pass-rushing defensive tackle like Richardson will go a long ways towards that goal. Richardson is just as adept at stuffing the run as he is at generating pressure up the middle, and he'd make Kuechly's life a lot easier in the years to come.
15. New Orleans Saints—S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Roman Harper isn't the player he used to be. He's lost a step or three in the past few seasons, and it's about time the Saints found his replacement. Vaccaro is a highly talented player who is just as effective at the line of scrimmage as he is out in coverage, and he will be an impact player from Day 1.
16. St. Louis Rams—G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The Rams needs offensive linemen in the worst way. Cooper is a dominant guard who is really skilled in pass protection, and he'd be penciled in as the team's left guard from the opening day of training camp.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers—ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia*
Larry Foote will be a free agent this spring, and given his age and drop-off in production, it won't shock anyone to see the Steelers let him walk. That leaves an opening on the roster for an inside linebacker to pair with Lawrence Timmons—an opening that Ogletree could fill from Day 1 in 2013.
Blessed with legitimate sideline-to-sideline speed, Ogletree is the kind of linebacker who compares favorably to guys like NaVorro Bowman, Daryl Washington and Lavonte David. Additionally, Ogletree possesses the agility to stay on the field on third downs, which can't be overlooked when evaluating linebackers.
Ogletree is also an instinctive player who trusts what he sees, and once his mind is made up about where he needs to go, he hits like a freight train and attacks the ball. He will have a chance to be this year's Kuechly—especially if he lands with the Steelers—and will be among the favorites to win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.
18. Dallas Cowboys—DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
With Monte Kiffin bringing in his Tampa-2 defense, the Cowboys are in need of a dominant big man who can plug up running lanes and penetrate into the backfield on passing downs. Floyd looks to have the game to dominate at the next level, and if he lands in Dallas, he'd make the team's transition a heck of a lot easier.
19. New York Giants—LT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
If Eli Manning is to avoid another season like the one he had in 2012, the Giants need to bring in a skilled blindside protector. New York's offensive line needs an overhaul, in general, and adding Johnson to the mix would significantly increase Manning's chances of bouncing back from a subpar season.
20. Chicago Bears—ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Te'o will not have an easy time getting past the "catfishing" scam that landed him in hot water, but all signs point to him being absolved of any wrongdoing. He's still an excellent linebacker with a chance to make a big impact in the NFL, and the Bears could certainly use an influx of young talent.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—S Eric Reid, LSU
The Bengals could go in a number of different directions, here, but there's no doubting Cincinnati's need for a skilled safety to play alongside Reggie Nelson. Reid is used to playing at a high level against top competition, given his time in the SEC, and he'd have a chance to make an immediate contribution in 2013 with the Bengals.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—WR Keenan Allen, California
The Rams recently claimed Titus Young off waivers from the Detroit Lions, but that doesn't change the fact that this team still needs to bring in talented wide receivers to give Sam Bradford a chance to shine. Allen isn't as fast as Patterson, but he is an exceptionally gifted receiver who is dangerous with the ball in his hands.
23. Minnesota Vikings—WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
The Vikings are reportedly looking to trade Percy Harvin (h/t Mike Max, via CBS Minnesota), meaning Minnesota will need to draft a wide receiver more now than ever before to make sure Adrian Peterson isn't the only weapon on offense capable of moving the chains. Hopkins was highly productive at Clemson, and his ability to stretch the field will bring a much-needed element for Minnesota's offense in 2013.
24. Indianapolis Colts—DT Kawann Short, Purdue
As Indianapolis continues transitioning into its 3-4 defense in 2013, it's crucial that the Colts add talented defensive linemen to the roster. Short has the ability to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front, and his strength and quickness translates well for him to become a dominant 3-4 defensive end.
25. Seattle Seahawks—DE Alex Okafor, Texas
At the end of the 2012 season, head coach Pete Carroll said his team's No. 1 offseason priority would be to bring in pass-rushers (h/t the News Tribune's Eric Williams). Okafor is a strong player who can dominate the line on running plays and get upfield on passing downs. He'd be a tremendous addition to what has quickly become one of the NFL's most intimidating defenses.
26. Green Bay Packers—C/G Barrett Jones, Alabama
Aaron Rodgers can't continue taking hits like he has the past couple of years. The Packers need interior linemen, and Jones is the most diverse lineman in this year's draft. He could step in right away and play ether guard position or take over as the team's center.
27. Houston Texans—WR Terrence Williams, Baylor
If not for Andre Johnson, the Texans would have no passing attack. And if Arian Foster continues to tote the rock as much as he has the past couple of years, he'll burn out in short order. Houston needs to bring in another receiver to balance things out, and Williams would give the Texans that balance.
28. Denver Broncos—DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
With no clear weaknesses on the roster except on the defensive line, the Broncos will surely look to draft a defensive tackle early in this year's draft. Hankins is a monster of a man who is adept at stuffing the run—something Denver struggled to do in 2013—and he'll be a tremendous addition to a defense that's becoming one of the league's best.
29. New England Patriots—CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State*
It's no secret that the biggest weakness for New England is still its secondary. Aqib Talib made a big difference for a while, and he might be back in 2013, but the Patriots still need to add talented cornerbacks.
Rhodes is an amazing cover corner who loves the challenge of one-on-one battles. His biggest question mark at this time is speed, but if he posts a respectable number at the combine, his stock will soar.
No matter where he lands, Rhodes will have a chance to make an immediate impact. He was a three-year starter at FSU, and his large frame (6'2" and 217 lbs.), combined with his athletic abilities makes him a perfect candidate as a lock-down corner in the NFL.
He may be a dark horse to contend for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2013, but Rhodes certainly has the game to make it happen.
30. Atlanta Falcons—TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Thomas Dimitroff wants Tony Gonzalez to return for at least one more season in 2013 (h/t ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas), but if he doesn't get his wish, he'll need to draft Gonzo's replacement ASAP. Ertz is the most complete tight end in this year's draft class, and while he'll never be able to replace Gonzalez, he'll soften the blow of losing the future Hall of Famer.
31. San Francisco 49ers—WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
49ers fans might cringe at the thought of San Francisco spending first-round picks on wide receivers two years in a row, but Austin would be an incredible addition to the team's offense. Ted Ginn won't likely be back after he tests the market in free agency, and Austin would be able to take over for him and then some.
32. Baltimore Ravens—ILB Kevin Minter, LSU
Ray Lewis has retired, and now Baltimore must scramble to find his replacement. Minter isn't as physically imposing as Ogletree, and he isn't quite as athletic as Te'o, but his instincts and football IQ make up for any physical limitations he brings to the table. He's no Lewis, but he'll contribute right away.
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