10 NFL Rookies Unfairly Saddled with Insane Expectations
The 2013 NFL draft has come and gone, and a whole new era of stars will soon be introduced to both teams and fans across the country.
Some rookies expected to dominate will fizzle; other rookies expected to struggle will sizzle. That's just the way it works year in and year out.
But one thing is for sure: There will be a group of rookies that, for one reason or another, are unfairly saddled with insane expectations heading into their neophyte campaigns into the National Football League.
Here are the 10 rookies that have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher
For the vast majority of the draft process, the prevailing assumption was that the Kansas City Chiefs would use the first overall selection on Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, considered by many to be the "safest" player in the draft.
However, the Chiefs threw the NFL world a curveball in the hours preceding the draft when it became clear they were actually going to select Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher with the first pick. Then, they did just that.
Now, Fisher will not only be saddled with the pressure that comes with being the first overall selection in the draft, but also will be under intense scrutiny to be better than Joeckel and prove that his coach (Andy Reid) and general manager (John Dorsey) made the right decision.
The Chiefs have a proud fanbase that yearns to return to the postseason. Whether fair or unfair, given his draft status, a lot of those hopes will be directed at Fisher.
Miami Dolphins DE Dion Jordan
The Miami Dolphins have clearly gone "all in" this offseason.
When free agency began, general manager Jeff Ireland opened owner Stephen Ross' checkbook, signing receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe—not to mention a host of other players as well—in an attempt to bolster the roster for a run at the postseason.
Then, the Dolphins came out of nowhere on draft day, trading the 12th and 42nd overall picks to the Oakland Raiders for the third overall selection and using that pick to draft Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan.
This year is make-or-break for Miami, and because the team traded up to get Jordan, a lot of the pressure will fall on him. He's already being counted on to be a pass-rushing terror alongside fellow defensive end Cameron Wake, who is, you know, only one of the best players in football.
Detroit Lions DE Ziggy Ansah
The Detroit Lions, seemingly rebuilding since their last NFL title in 1957, got unlucky yet again, this time on draft day.
In a draft containing three elite offensive tackle prospects, the Lions held the fifth overall selection. Detroit also had a major need to fill on their offensive line, as protection for Matthew Stafford was the order of the day.
But, as is usually the case for the star-crossed franchise, things went sour. The three tackles (Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson) went in the first four picks, leaving Detroit without the chance to draft one of them.
The Lions used the pick on BYU pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah, an extremely raw player with a ton of upside.
Detroit made the playoffs in 2011, but stumbled in embarrassing fashion in 2012. This is a big year for coach Jim Schwartz if he wants to keep his job in Motown. Lions fans are thirsting for a winner. Simply put, the Lions need Ansah to get after the opposing quarterback if they're to succeed in 2013.
No pressure, right?
St. Louis Rams WR Tavon Austin
Is there anyone that didn't like the Rams trading up to the eighth overall pick to select West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin?
I absolutely loved it, and I'll bet you did too.
Think about the things you heard after the pick: Austin finally provides quarterback Sam Bradford with a weapon. He will be a terror on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome. Just get the ball in his hands, and he's a threat to score.
Wow. Pressure, anyone?
After going 4-1-1 in the division last year, the Rams are on people's radars. While the average fan only considers the 49ers and Seahawks to be true contenders in the NFC West, the savvy fan is well aware that St. Louis will play a major role in how the West is won.
Much of the credit, or blame, will fall on Austin. He's expected to come in and make all the difference for St. Louis.
New York Jets CB Dee Milliner
Perhaps no player in the draft will be saddled with more insane expectations than New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner.
Not only will Milliner face the criticism that comes with being a first-round pick in New York, but he was also drafted essentially to replace the departed Darrelle Revis, only the best cornerback in franchise history.
With the Jets having little to no talent on offense (more on that later), the defense will be counted on to win games, and Milliner will be expected to play well right off the bat.
And, if he doesn't, he'll immediately hear the comparisons to Revis.
Could there be any unfairer expectations for a rookie than these?
San Francisco 49ers S Eric Reid
The San Francisco 49ers are one of the very best teams in football, widely considered (including by yours truly) to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
One of the holes on their roster heading into the draft was at free safety, as former starter Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 49ers addressed that need by trading up to the 18th overall selection and using that pick to draft LSU safety Eric Reid.
Reid will immediately start on a team with aspirations to win the Lombardi Trophy and play in front of a fanbase that won't accept anything less than a top defense in the league.
If Reid doesn't perform up to snuff, the venom and bile of 49ers fans could be directed his way, as the rest of the defense is already established.
Chicago Bears OL Kyle Long
The Chicago Bears offensive line has seemingly been a disaster for years, utterly unable to protect franchise quarterback Jay Cutler.
This offseason, the Bears hired a new head coach, Marc Trestman, an offensive guru who comes in with the clear directive to elevate Cutler's play to the next level.
There's no way that can happen without a competent offensive line in front of him.
Chicago filled one need on the line in free agency, signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a big-money deal, but you just knew Phil Emery was going to address the position in the draft.
I just didn't think it would happen the way it did, with the team selecting Oregon's Kyle Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, with the 20th overall selection.
Long was projected by many, including Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller (who actually nailed Long to the Bears, albeit at 50th overall) as a second-round pick, so it was a bit of a stunner when he went in the first round.
Because of his last name and draft status, Long will be saddled with insane expectations right off the bat. He'll be counted on to protect Cutler and help return the Bears to the postseason.
Dallas Cowboys C Travis Frederick
Ah, the Dallas Cowboys. They're always good for some entertainment.
As I followed the draft on Twitter before Dallas made its pick, I saw that former Cowboys vice president of player personnel and SiriusXM NFL Radio host Gil Brandt tweet that the Cowboys had four players on their board for the 18th overall pick, and none remained.
My ears immediately perked up. Few things are more exciting than Jerry Jones wheeling and dealing during the NFL draft.
Jones traded down with the San Francisco 49ers to end of the first round and used the 31st overall pick on Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.
Frederick, projected by Miller to go in the fourth round, was an absolute stunner of a selection. In theory, it makes sense, as the Cowboys desperately needed to add blockers to protect quarterback Tony Romo. But Frederick, at that spot? It didn't make a ton of sense.
If the Cowboys offensive line fails yet again in 2013, a lot of the blame will be placed on the shoulders of their first-round pick, who the Dallas fanbase expects to come in and perform well.
Ah, the Dallas Cowboys. They're always good for some entertainment.
Chicago Bears LB Jon Bostic
1,052 tackles. 41.5 sacks. 22 interceptions. Eight Pro Bowl appearances. The 2005 Defensive Player of the Year. A future inductee into the Hall of Fame.
Ladies and gentlemen, the great Brian Urlacher, one of the most beloved players in Chicago Bears franchise history.
The team announced earlier this offseason they were "moving on" from the 35-year-old linebacker, leaving both a hole at middle linebacker and tremendous shoes for his replacement to fill.
With their second-round pick, the Bears selected the player they hope can do that, Florida linebacker Jon Bostic.
While Bostic won't necessarily be counted on to start immediately in Urlacher's old spot (as the Bears signed D.J. Williams earlier in the offseason), he'll certainly get a lot of time in the role. And, as a rookie, it's natural that Bears fans would compare him to Urlacher.
Look again at Urlacher's career accomplishments. Right, wrong or indifferent, that's what Bostic will be compared to.
I'd characterize that as being saddled with unfair expectations.
New York Jets QB Geno Smith
Come on: You just knew a quarterback was making this list.
I considered Buffalo's EJ Manuel, but let's be honest, the Bills aren't expected to be good whether he plays or not, so I don't think his expectations are unfair.
But, the expectations for Geno Smith, selected by the Jets with the 39th overall pick? Yeah. Those expectations are already a little out of control.
Having grown up in New York City and residing there now, I'm friends with a great number of Jets fans. All of them seem convinced that Smith is the answer, the player who can lead them back to the postseason.
The problem, of course, is that the Jets have almost zero talent on the offensive side of the ball.
I like Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson at running back, but can they succeed behind a below-average offensive line?
As for the receivers, Santonio Holmes is coming off injury, and Stephen Hill has hands of stone, which can be construed as a negative when your primary job is to catch the ball.
Tight end Dustin Keller is now a Dolphin, and the Jets didn't use any of their draft picks to improve their talent at the skill positions.
I know reports have come out that Mark Sanchez might stay on the Jets roster, and that general manager John Idzik stated that all five quarterbacks will contend for the starting job (Smith, Sanchez, David Garrard, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms), but I don't buy it.
Sanchez should be a goner. I believe the Jets will take the hit and cut him. He doesn't deserve to compete for the job.
The likely scenario is that Garrard starts at the beginning of the season, with Smith taking over once Garrard either gets hurt, plays in an ineffective manner or the cries for Smith become so loud that the Jets have no choice but to turn to him.
And when they do, the weight of a tortured franchise will rest on the shoulders of Smith, a rookie quarterback with almost zero help around him.
Good luck, kid. That's the epitome of being saddled with unfair expectations.