Early NFL Rookie Award Predictions
Every year, the Associated Press hands out two rookie awards: Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Now that all the drafted rookies have found homes, we have a very good idea of who will have an opportunity to thrive. Why not take an early stab at who'll be taking home the hardware at the end of the season?
I always wondered why there wasn't an "overall" award, so that one's getting predicted too.
Rookies are their own special kind of phenomenon. Often a rookie's impact isn't really in terms of being one of the best players at their position in the NFL but in terms of eye-popping numbers, team-changing impact and overall buzz, so the "instant impact" and "late-blooming" rookies of 2013 will also get nods.
Sometimes a rookie is notable for the impact he doesn't make. It's a dubious honor, but a rookie will also be named the "most disappointing."
Finally, I'll project an unofficial 2013 All-Rookie team.
Are any of your team's rookies collecting any (possibly imaginary) trophies at the end of the season?
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams WR
St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin was the most prized offensive playmaker available. His incredible combination of speed, hands and before- and after-the-catch ability were so striking that people barely even noticed his lack of imposing size.
Not only does Austin have all the classic markers of a quick-impact rookie, he also went to a team which is both desperate for his specific skill set and yet good enough that he won't be trying to do it by himself.
Talent, fit and opportunity: All the signs point to Tavon Austin as 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year
Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions DE
The Defensive Rookie of the Year Award is all about eye-popping numbers.
It's hard to measure the contributions of a space-devouring defensive tackle or a receiver-negating cornerback, so the players who make the splash plays (sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles) get the nod for awards like this one.
The Detroit Lions' Ezekiel Ansah has a lot of question marks surrounding the finer points of his technique and experience.
Unlike most of his fellow rookies, though, he'll be dropped into a system set up to maximize his position's stats. And the Lions are so thin at defensive end that he'll get every rep he's fit to take.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh benefited from this same formula: He played nearly every snap as a rookie, notched double-digit sacks and won this award.
He's a better player now that he gets fewer sacks, but the raw Ansah doesn't need to know that.
Just turn him loose, and the stats and awards will pile up.
Overall Rookie of the Year
Geno Smith, New York Jets QB
Yes, the wait will be worth it—for both the long-sliding quarterback Geno Smith and his new employers, the New York Jets.
Smith's polished field-reading skills and good, quick decision-making are exactly the tools needed to succeed in new Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's offense. Smith's height, arm strength and quick overhand release will make sure his slants and over-the-middle passes hit home.
Like a taller, faster Jeff Garcia, Smith should be very productive very quickly for the Jets. As the new franchise quarterback of one of the most attention-grabbing franchises in the NFL, if Smith performs like he's capable of, he'll certainly be the most storied, celebrated rookie in 2013.
Instant Impact Rookie of the Year
Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints S
There are a lot of dynamic rookies going to teams where they'll make a quick impact. Most of those rookies are going to teams where they're replacing departed veterans.
If those players—like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Jarvis Jones—do their jobs, they'll simply be maintaining the status quo.
Kenny Vaccaro, though, will immediately change the nature of his unit. With his athleticism, aggression and coverage skills, Vaccaro's going to give a soft New Orleans Saints secondary instant grit.
Late-Blooming Rookie of the Year
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals TE
At first he'll be overshadowed by superstar receiver A.J. Green, tailback and fellow rookie Giovani Bernard and current top tight end Jermaine Gresham.
By the end of the season, Eifert and quarterback Andy Dalton will have figured each other out. Eifert's incredible blend of size and athleticism will make him a terrifying mismatch downfield.
If the Bengals can find their way back to the postseason, the storyline of Eifert's postseason coming-out party is there just waiting to be told.
Disappointing Rookie of the Year
Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs LT
This one comes with a caveat: I think Eric Fisher is a great young left tackle prospect and have little doubt he'll come to be one of the best left tackles in the NFL.
As of this writing, though, the Chiefs still have incumbent left tackle Branden Albert.
Watching Fisher at the combine, he looked much less smooth and polished playing on the right side than the left. As a converted tight end, he lacks the huge bulk and raw power usually associated with right tackles.
Fisher will face more power moves, inside moves and bull rushes from stronger left defensive ends. Given his lean, athletic skill set, he'll have to adapt for this while doing everything he's used to doing "backward."
None of this adds up to a smooth NFL transition.
All-Rookie Team Offense
QB: Geno Smith, NYJ
RB: Eddie Lacy, GB; Giovani Bernard, CIN
WR: Tavon Austin, STL; Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN
TE: Tyler Eifert, CIN
OT: Luke Joeckel, JAX; Terron Armstead, NO
OG: Jonathan Cooper, ARI; Chance Warmack, TEN
C: Barrett Jones, STL
All-Rookie Team Defense
DT: Star Lotulelei, CAR; Sharrif Floyd, MIN
DE: Ezekiel Ansah, DET; Datone Jones, GBP
ILB: Jon Bostic, CHI
OLB: Jarvis Jones, PIT; Sio Moore, OAK
CB: Desmond Trufant, ATL; Darius Slay, DET
S: Kenny Vaccaro, NO, Johnathan Cyprien, JAX