NFL Rookies Who Will Be Household Names by Season's End
As the bright lights of Radio City Music Hall fade into our collective memory, the harsh realities of NFL life are about to set in for rookies across the league. No longer are they big men on campus. These young pups are about to be the fodder for practical jokes and plenty of well-intentioned initiations in 32 different locker rooms.
For some of them, the transition might not take very long.
It takes a lot for an NFL player to become a household name in his rookie season. Some will accomplish it based solely on their incredible skill, while other more talented players get left out. The ones who get the spotlight usually have something extra—an electricity that gets them on constant highlight reels or a nose for the end zone that has them on everyone's fantasy radar.
We've heard over and over that this was a "fatties draft," and that the excitement of this class paled in comparison to other years. So, which players are going to step up and become household names in 2013?
Tyler Eifert (TE Cincinnati Bengals)
Of any player in this class, Tyler Eifert has the most potential for impact on an already solid team this season.
Eifert may have been the best player in the draft after Chance Warmack, but the former Notre Dame star likely fell to the 21st pick in some part because tight ends aren't valued as much as some other positions. He's being added to a Bengals team with a great shot of heading to the playoffs this season—a team that needed more offensive firepower.
Andy Dalton has shown he can be slow and steady, but adding an elite target like Eifert could jack up Dalton's numbers (especially touchdowns) in a hurry.
Star Lotulelei (DT Carolina Panthers)
No one is a bigger fan of Star Lotulelei than yours truly.
Not only was I incredulous when members of the media (and apparently a few teams) dropped him down their boards for a medical condition that was later proved non-existent, but I found it crazy when scouts knocked him for "taking plays off" when he was playing over 90 percent of his team's defensive plays.
Having the top tackle fall to them was a dream scenario for the Panthers. They needed beef up front, and Lotulelei provides it in spades.
His presence will create a ripple throughout the entire defense. Gaudy numbers may not come easily, but he'll quickly become a fan favorite as the Panthers experience success they haven't had yet in the Cam Newton era.
Datone Jones (DE/DT Green Bay Packers)
The Packers draft had impact written all over it, and their first-round pick should be able to create plenty of havoc. That's especially the case in an NFC North where the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have big question marks all along their offensive lines.
Datone Jones can pass rush and play the run, and he will open a lot of opportunities for the Packers linebackers.
Perhaps most importantly, Jones is a fantastic athlete with good speed, great flexibility and agility in space. After getting blown up by the read-option last season, the Packers knew they needed someone who could help put some pressure on guys like Colin Kaepernick.
With the Packers primed for a playoff run, Jones is set to be a big part of their improving defense.
Arthur Brown (LB Baltimore Ravens)
Ray Lewis left some big shoes to fill, but it's important to remember that Arthur Brown doesn't have to be as good as Lewis in his prime. He just has to be better than Lewis was last season—not as difficult of a proposal.
Brown has the athleticism to outshine the rest of the Ravens linebackers in coverage, and he can create some pressure up the middle as well.
Most importantly for a rookie linebacker, Brown has a chance to lead all rookies in tackles next season—a stat I feel can be awfully misleading at times but certainly gets a lot of press. The Ravens have the massive bodies up front to "cover" Brown's size deficiencies and allow him to shine.
Johnathan Franklin (RB Green Bay Packers)
Maybe I'm showing my hand a little bit here by including Johnathan Franklin and not Eddie Lacy. I think both can be fantastic backs in the NFL, and I had first-round grades on both.
The difference, however, is that Lacy is a bit more of a grinder than Franklin, who could end up being a huge factor in the passing game as well.
Sure, Lacy could finish the season with slightly more carries, yards and touchdowns. But Franklin could easily finish with more total yardage, more highlight-reel entries, more explosive runs and as a bigger part of the Packers offense.
Eric Fisher (OT Kansas City Chiefs)
It was a struggle to decide which top pick to put on this list.
Kansas City and Jacksonville aren't exactly cities that spend a bunch of time in the limelight. Heck, Eric Fisher is even going to play right tackle. Quick, name all 32 right tackles in the league!
The Chiefs are set for a turnaround this year. They've brought in a lot of talent this offseason, including a new quarterback (Alex Smith) and a new coach (Andy Reid).
They'll have one of the better lines in football, and if Smith and Jamaal Charles have good years (which they should), Fisher will deserve a lot of the credit. After all, he already has the hype as the No. 1 overall pick.
Sheldon Richardson (DE/DT New York Jets)
While Sheldon Richardson was a bit of an immediate head-scratcher of a pick, the dust has settled somewhat.
Quinton Coples will be switching to outside linebacker, giving Richardson a spot in the starting lineup. Of course, Rex Ryan will likely get creative with so many movable pieces, and Richardson could see snaps all along the defensive line and even standing up as a situational linebacker—he did it in college!
Ryan didn't get the blue-chip pass-rusher he probably wanted, but he's a good enough defensive mind to engineer a pass rush even when all of the pieces aren't there. Richardson will pick up a few sacks and could end up leading his rookie peers in terrorizing quarterbacks.
Johnathan Hankins (DT New York Giants)
As with Sheldon Richardson, the New York spotlight helps Johnathan Hankins' selection to this list.
The Giants' struggles last season started in an unlikely place—the same defensive line that they're so famous for overstocking in years past. While the pass-rushers are there, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul underwhelmed because the middle of the line couldn't collapse the pocket.
That's where Hankins comes in.
Look for Hankins to work his way into the Giants lineup, especially on early downs. The moment Giants fans realize that they're winning more football games than last season and that Hankins is a huge reason for that, they'll make sure he gets all the attention he needs.
Aaron Dobson (WR New England Patriots)
Just based on my experience as a coach through the years, that basketball players, most have good hands. They have to handle the ball a lot. The ball is on them quick, tight passes and handling the ball in traffic and that kind of thing. Usually, when you get a good basketball player, those guys usually have pretty good ball skills in terms of handling the ball: strong hands in being able to keep it and quick hands, being able to snatch it and handle it cleanly and, hopefully, without losing it.
The other thing basketball players usually have (and Dobson has a ton of) is midair body control. The ability to go up and get a football mitigates any concerns about elite speed or athleticism that anyone would have about Dobson. He's a terrific downfield receiver.
Once he learns the Patriots playbook, he'll quickly become a Tom Brady favorite.
Tavon Austin (WR St. Louis Rams)
Tavon Austin was the easiest selection on this list and fits all the criteria.
He's electric, so he'll be scoring touchdowns that people will want to watch over and over.
He's on a legitimate playoff contender. Even though the NFC is going to be tough in 2013, the Rams have improved as much as anyone over this offseason.
He's also already a big name in fantasy circles, as experts salivate to see how he gets the ball and revolutionizes the Rams offense.
Austin not only has the chance to be a household name by the end of his first year, but he has a chance to be a household name by the end of the his Week 1 halftime highlights package.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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