Stock Up, Stock Down for Big-Name NFL Rookies Post-OTAs
Members of the 2013 NFL rookie class are little over a month away from their first training camps, which will open throughout the league in late July.
The organized team activity/minicamp portion of the NFL offseason schedule has come to a close for all but three teams (Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans).
From rookie minicamp to OTAs to mandatory minicamp, the rookies have had their opportunities to make initial impressions on their veteran teammates. Even with training camps yet to begin, some of the rookie class' biggest names are looking in either better or worse shape than they did following the draft in April.
In the following 12 slides, we take a look at some of the biggest names in this year's NFL rookie class and evaluate whether each has moved toward or away from meeting high expectations in his opening NFL season.
Stock Up: St. Louis Rams WR Tavon Austin
Tavon Austin was the first offensive skill-position player selected in the 2013 NFL draft because he is an explosive athlete who can line up all over the field and create big plays. Thus far, reports indicate that the St. Louis Rams are not wasting any time finding roles in their offense for the No. 8 overall selection.
First and foremost, Austin is set to be an immediate replacement for and upgrade over departed wide receiver Danny Amendola in the slot. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Austin is already working in the slot in the Rams' first-team offense.
Austin has also been taking snaps at running back, according to Joe Lyons of the Post-Dispatch. His speed and quickness make him a dynamic runner out of the backfield.
Austin is also a dangerous kickoff/punt returner. He has already shown that in Rams OTAs by beating special teams coverage units, including juking out punter Johnny Hekker, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.com.
The Rams didn't draft Austin to be just a slot receiver; they drafted him to be an offensive X-factor. As he is already showing playmaking ability in multiple capacities, it looks like the Rams are getting what they wanted.
Sando tweeted last week that the Rams are "giddy" about Austin thus far.
Stock Down: Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Jarvis Jones
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected outside linebacker Jarvis Jones with the No. 17 overall selection to replace James Harrison. Jones, however, may not be ready to take over Harrison's role in the starting lineup as a rookie.
Following minicamp, it appears that Jones may not play much as a rookie. Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week that Jones is not yet ready to handle playing on the Steelers defense.
“It's not fair to the rest of the guys to have him out on the field,” Butler told the Tribune-Review. “He knows that. Before he plays, he's got to know what he's doing.”
It is not uncommon for Steelers rookies to spend the majority of their opening seasons on the bench. No rookie has started on the Steelers defense since Casey Hampton and Kendrell Bell both did in 2001, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
That said, Pittsburgh drafted Jones into a situation with the door wide open to a starting spot. His top competition to start at right outside linebacker, Jason Worilds, has just 10 sacks in three NFL seasons. If Jones fails to buck the trend and plays sparingly as a rookie, it will be a disappointment.
Stock Up: New York Jets DT Sheldon Richardson
No. 9 overall pick Dee Milliner and second-round selection Geno Smith have received the most attention among New York Jets rookies. Early reports, however, indicate their second first-round selection, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, may be most ready to make a big impact as a rookie.
While many (including myself) questioned where Richardson would fit on New York's depth chart, the Jets don't seem to be viewing that as a problem.
Richardson has been showcasing his versatility in training camp. In a defense that uses both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts, Richardson told Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com that he has lined up at defensive tackle in the four-man front and has worked at both nose tackle and defensive end in the three-man front.
Richardson is a quick and explosive interior pass-rusher, and it appears the Jets are ready to put him on the field in a wide variety of packages. He is a playmaker on the defensive line, and the more versatile he is, the more playmaking opportunities he will have.
Alongside Muhammad Wilkerson, Richardson could help form one of the NFL's elite interior pass-rushing duos.
"You put him all over the place and he's just hitting and he's going 100 mph," Ryan said.
Stock Down: New York Jets QB Geno Smith
While Richardson seems to be immediately carving out a major role on the Jets defense, Geno Smith hasn't yet been able to earn his spot in the Jets' starting lineup.
With incumbent starter Mark Sanchez coming off a career-worst NFL season, many Jets fans hoped Smith would come into offseason workouts and immediately separate himself as the team's best quarterback. According to reports, that hasn't happened yet.
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York wrote prior to minicamp that Smith hadn't "blown anybody away" with his throwing performance in OTAs. On Wednesday, Jets quarterbacks coach David Lee called the competition "even," according to Cimini.
Lee said Smith has been "struggling with the basic things" as he adjusts to the Jets' West Coast offense, according to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger. With Smith's lack of preparation, Cimini said there was "no doubt" Sanchez would start if the season began Wednesday.
That doesn't mean Smith won't end up starting Week 1. It does indicate, however, that Smith's progress has been slower than expected to this point. The West Virginia alum is going to need to make major strides in training camp to earn the starting job.
Stock Up: Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel
On the surface, the Buffalo Bills' quarterback competition is not much different than that of the Jets.
No. 16 overall pick EJ Manuel is battling Kevin Kolb, a veteran free-agent addition who has struggled in previous opportunities, for the chance to start as a rookie. The battle is expected to continue well into training camp, as neither quarterback has been named the starter yet.
Manuel, however, seems to be on more of an upward trajectory to this point than Smith.
Kolb and fellow veteran Tarvaris Jackson split the majority of quarterback repetitions in OTAs, according to BuffaloBills.com. But after the team cut Jackson last week, Manuel received a significant increase in opportunities during the team's three-day minicamp.
Between the first two days of minicamp, Kolb received 95 snaps while Manuel received 75, according to Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News. Kolb and Manuel "split most of the work, with Kolb getting the first snaps" on the third day, Gaughan wrote.
While Kolb may technically be ahead of Manuel for now, the rookie will certainly have the opportunity to win the job in training camp with Jackson out of the mix. Kolb failed to establish himself as a long-term starter in his stint with the Arizona Cardinals, and Manuel has a more impressive set of physical tools.
Stock Down: Oakland Raiders CB D.J. Hayden
The Oakland Raiders believed Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden's health issues were in the past when they drafted him with the No. 12 overall selection. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case, setting back his preparation for his rookie season.
The fact that Hayden became an NFL draft pick in the first place is remarkable. Hayden's inferior vena cava, the largest vein in the body, was ruptured during a freak injury in practice in November. The injury "should have killed him," according to Bleacher Report medical writer Dave Siebert, but he survived and was cleared to participate in Houston's pro day in March.
Hayden tweeted on May 20, however, that he was experiencing stomach pain and was hospitalized less than a week later. He underwent abdominal surgery to have scar tissue removed. Stephania Bell of ESPN said the scar tissue resulted from his emergency surgery following the IVC tear.
As a result of his hospitalization and surgery, Hayden missed the remainder of Raiders OTAs and the team's minicamp. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told the Contra Costa Times that Hayden is "on track" to return to practice for the start of training camp, but he also admitted that Hayden's health situation is "uncharted waters."
It would be a significant setback for both Hayden and the Raiders if he is not ready for training camp. He is projected to be a starter at one of the team's weakest positions, which makes it important for him to be available to get significant repetitions in both training camp and the preseason.
Stock Up: Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert
The Cincinnati Bengals already have a very good No. 1 tight end in Jermaine Gresham, but that's not going to stop No. 21 overall pick Tyler Eifert from making a big impact on the field as a rookie.
A skilled, well-rounded tight end with both great size and athleticism, the Notre Dame product can be an immediate asset as both a passing weapon and a blocker.
Eifert "hasn't had any problems" with getting up to speed with the Bengals this offseason, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Reedy said Eifert has lined up "all over the field."
Eifert should see the field most often in two-tight end sets opposite Gresham, where he can be kept in line next to the offensive tackle or flexed out as a receiver. The Associated Press (via the News-Sentinel) reported he has also lined up as a slot receiver.
The Bengals will get Eifert, one of the most talented and NFL-ready members of this year's rookie class, on the field often as long as he continues to show he is one of the team's best 11 offensive players.
Stock Up: Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
The Houston Texans went into the 2013 NFL draft needing a wide receiver who could start as the No. 2 option opposite Andre Johnson. No. 27 overall pick DeAndre Hopkins is wasting no time establishing himself in that role.
Hopkins worked with the first-team offense throughout spring workouts, according to Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he has been "impressed" with Hopkins and that the rookie receiver is "very gifted," according to Scurfield.
Kubiak said following the draft that he expected Hopkins to play "very, very early," according to the team’s official Twitter account. It does not seem those expectations have changed.
Hopkins is a very skilled receiver who excels at route running, has great hands and does a terrific job attacking the football in the air to make plays. The Clemson product should be able to get open against NFL defenses even as a rookie and immediately help draw multiple coverages from opposing defenses away from Johnson.
Stock Up: Baltimore Ravens SS Matt Elam
The Baltimore Ravens are replacing both starting safeties from last year's Super Bowl team, which makes it imperative for first-round pick Matt Elam to be ready to play immediately. Fortunately, Elam is becoming acclimated quickly, according to reports.
Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun wrote that Elam "consistently caught (his) eye" with his play during the team's minicamp. Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun said Elam was "arguably the most active player on defense" during the team's final day of minicamp.
The Ravens coaching staff has also been impressed. Secondary coach Teryl Austin told BaltimoreRavens.com that Elam has proven to be what the team expected "and maybe a little bit more."
Elam has been receiving first-team repetitions on defense, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com. Assuming Elam continues to impress in training camp, the Florida product should certainly be in line to take over as the team's starting strong safety.
Stock Up: San Diego Chargers ILB Manti Te'o
Te'o was still the No. 38 overall selection in the 2013 draft by the San Diego Chargers, and fortunately, the focus is back to what he can do on the football field—in a good way.
Chargers veteran fullback Le'Ron McClain told Alex Marvez of Fox Sports that Te'o has "caught everybody's eye to see that he's a great player."
Chargers beat writer Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego tweeted that Te'o is one of only three NFL-ready rookies he has seen in nine years of covering the Chargers. ESPN's Bill Williamson tweeted that the Chargers are "thrilled" with Te'o's on-field progress.
Additionally, the Chargers gave Te'o the platform to speak with the media last week after previously keeping him on a media hiatus for more than a month.
Fortunately for Te'o, the media also turned their focus to asking mostly football questions, according to Matt Calkins of U-T San Diego. Williamson was impressed with Te'o's media appearance, tweeting "man, that kid can handle himself well with the media."
All around, things seem to be headed in the right direction for Te'o, who is projected to start alongside Donald Butler at inside linebacker. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy told Sports Illustrated's Peter King in May that the team plans for Te'o to "play three downs."
Stock Down: Miami Dolphins CB Jamar Taylor
Neither of the Miami Dolphins' first two draft picks participated in OTAs or the team's mandatory three-day minicamp. While NFL rules forbade No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan from participating due to Oregon's late graduation, second-round pick Jamar Taylor has also been out following sports hernia surgery in May.
Miami drafted the No. 54 overall selection out of Boise State as the favorite to start at cornerback opposite free-agent addition Brent Grimes. Taylor should still have a shot at beating out Richard Marshall for the No. 2 job but will have to be a quick learner after missing valuable repetitions in spring workouts.
Dimitri Patterson and fellow rookie Will Davis, a third-round pick, could also factor into the competition for a starting spot in training camp.
Taylor is the most talented cornerback of that group. He is a physical cornerback who excels in both press and man coverage, but he is also a terrific athlete who is rangy in zone coverage. If he is healthy, his combination of physicality and playmaking ability would make him a great starting option opposite Grimes.
Stock Up: Denver Broncos RB Montee Ball
Montee Ball ran for 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Wisconsin. The NCAA's all-time record-holder in touchdowns scored, Ball appears ready to take on a significant role immediately with the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos released Willis McGahee, their leading rusher from last season, last week. The Broncos are going in a new direction at running back, and the likely leader is their rookie, who they selected No. 58 overall.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told USA Today in May that the team is going to "count on (Ball) in a big way this year." Outside linebacker Von Miller told Mile High Report that Ball "really stood out" in spring workouts.
It certainly sounds like Ball will see a heavy portion of the workload out of the backfield in Denver this season, just as he did at Wisconsin over the past two years.
Considering Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman combined for just 855 yards and five touchdowns last season, it should come as no surprise that the quick, physical and hard-running Ball is standing out early among Broncos running backs.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.