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NFL Draft 2013: First-Round Locks Who Will Contend for Rookie of the Year

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NFL Draft 2013: First-Round Locks Who Will Contend for Rookie of the Year
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Being a first-round pick in the NFL draft usually means one thing—you have the best shot at contending for one of the two (offensive and defensive) Associated Press Rookie of the Year awards that are handed out.

Ten of the last 11 defensive winners have been from the first round, while the last nine offensive winners have also been from the NFL draft's opening night at Radio City Music Hall.

While the 2013 draft isn't even close to being finalized, there are a number of guys that are sure to go in the first round. With that selection, a starting role and chance to earn playing time right away is generally expected, making Rookie of the Year more likely for first-rounders right out of the gate.

It's way too early to look at what a college prospect will do in the NFL, but here are two guys on both offense and defense who should be considered first-round locks and will contend right away for one of those prestigious awards.

 

WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Austin is as big of a first-round lock as they come, and is a player some feel could rival Wes Welker as the best slot receiver in the league in a few years.

I have him going to the St. Louis Rams at No. 16, but there's a good chance a mystery team could sneak up into the selection series before that and nab one of the most prolific college football receivers that 2012 had to offer.

Austin lined up all over the field at West Virginia in 2012 and throughout his Mountaineer career, providing a spark as both a receiver and out of the backfield. He had career games against Baylor as a receiver (215 yards) and Oklahoma as a running back (344 yards) in 2012, and established himself as one of the fastest players at the 2013 NFL combine.

As a playmaker, versatility specialist and overall standout on the offensive side of the ball, the only thing standing between Austin and a spot on this list is not getting playing time. That shouldn't be a problem, and you should start considering Austin as an under-the-radar candidate to lead the NFL in receptions in 2013—a bold prediction if there ever was one.

 

QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

West Virginia knows how to churn out offensive products.

Joining teammate Austin on this list is his quarterback, Geno Smith, a guy some feel could go as a high as No. 2 or drop down into the range that the Buffalo Bills (No. 8) would be comfortable selecting him as their franchise QB.

Either way, Smith is going to get a chance to shine.

As the best overall QB in the class, Smith has a leg up on the rest of the guys that will be drafted after him. Free-agent QB movement be darned—Smith will go, compete and likely win a job no matter what team selects him in the first round in April.

Another bold prediction, but the youth movement at the QB position is too great to ignore. Last year gave us five rookie starting QBs, throw in Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker and 11 of the league's 32 starters are just two years removed from college.

Smith makes No. 12. After a brilliant, four-year career under quality offensive coaching, Smith is an easy choice to make this list. He'll need the right system and fit, but he's head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the field when it comes this category.

 

DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Von Miller and Aldon Smith are two guys that have taken the league by storm at the pass-rushing position (OLB) over the past couple of seasons, and Jordan is one of the guys that could be considered in that category in 2013.

Under Chip Kelly at Oregon, Jordan thrived in 2012.

He's positioned himself to be the first (at worst-case third) 3-4 OLB taken in the 2013 draft, right along with LSU's Barkevious Mingo and BYU's Ezekiel Ansah. Jordan's speed on the outside sets him apart, and he's a bit more polished at doing other things than the other two guys vying to be the first 3-4 OLB taken.

That being said, Jordan should thrive in this role in 2013.

NFL teams and fans alike love a guy that can get to the QB with regularity, and Jordan's rookie season should be predicated on being put in situations where he can do just that—no matter what team (Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville) picks him up in the draft.

 

OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia

Jones is no stranger to the spotlight. The 2012 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is a stranger to the uncertainty of the NFL draft, but he shouldn't worry on draft night—teams would be crazy to let this guy get away in the first round.

Having the rare ability to get to the QB and still stay in coverage from time to time, Jones has a nose for the ball and is the best player on one of the best defenses the SEC had to offer in 2012.

Although his draft stock is uncertain right now, his football skills will be too great to pass up in the first round. With that in mind, Jones' versatility and ability to cover receivers out of the backfield and in space should be a big advantage to whatever team drafts him in April.

The kind of advantage that you want on the field.

Like the other three candidates on this list, Jones has a long way to go. Training camp hasn't even started yet, but it's never too early to show some love to college prospects that will be given a chance to shine in their rookie seasons.

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