Stat Predictions for the Top NFL Rookies of 2013
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If there's any group of NFL players who will be getting an outsize amount of attention over the coming months, it's the rookies—especially those who are assumed to be taking up starting roles.
So, what could we see from some of these high-expectation rookies this season? Here are a few early predictions of what their stat lines might look like once the 2013 season has wrapped.
CB Dee Milliner, New York Jets
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No, rookie New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner isn't replacing Darrelle Revis—that's Antonio Cromartie's job—but he will be a starter and a highly scrutinized one at that. With the Jets desperately trying to turn their fortunes around, Milliner's ability to step in and make an impact immediately is something they sorely need.
There are concerns about Milliner's initial readiness, however—at Alabama, he wasn't required to backpedal, which has raised some questions about how effective he'll be in man coverage. Though this is something that can be taught and refined, it also means we'll likely see a few raw edges in Milliner's game this year.
Stat Prediction: 60 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three interceptions, 10 passes defensed
TE Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
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The Cincinnati Bengals took the draft's top tight end, Tyler Eifert, in the first round to add another weapon for quarterback Andy Dalton and draw more defensive attention away from top receiver A.J. Green so he can reliably get open and make plays. Eifert appears well suited for this job, and so far through OTAs and minicamp, he's lived up to his first-round pedigree.
Eifert will be joining Green, receiver Mohamed Sanu, tight end Jermaine Gresham and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard as Dalton's main targets this year. Though Dalton will have many mouths to feed, Eifert's overall versatility and talent should make him a more effective, reliable option than the veteran Gresham. His stats by the end of the year will clearly reflect this.
Stat Prediction: 90 targets, 75 receptions, 850 yards, seven touchdowns
WR Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
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The St. Louis Rams recommitted themselves to quarterback Sam Bradford this year—they added offensive tackle Jake Long in free agency and took two new receivers in the draft. The first of those two (both from West Virginia), Tavon Austin, looks like he could easily finish his 2013 season as the top rookie in the league.
Austin has been quite impressive in practices thus far, showing off his speed, his quick change of direction and sure hands. He's exactly the type of playmaking, game-changing receiver Bradford has lacked thus far in his professional career, and he should make Bradford—and the Rams as a whole—look that much more dynamic and dangerous this season.
Stat Prediction: 120 targets, 93 receptions, 1,490 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns; 39 kick returns, 990 return yards, two return touchdowns
WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
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Rookie Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson may be raw, but he's proven himself as a playmaker in his college days and even has already drawn comparisons to Randy Moss—or, at least, a Randy Moss in the developmental stage.
Though receiver can be a deceptively difficult position to grasp, Patterson will be sent directly into the fire alongside free-agent veteran acquisition Greg Jennings (who has had only incredibly positive things to say about Patterson) and could begin his year higher on the depth chart than teammate Jerome Simpson.
Patterson has speed, reliability, the added plus of being a threat in the return game and, as Jennings explained it, an "it factor" that has him poised to become one of 2013's rookie standouts.
Stat Prediction: 100 targets, 78 receptions, 1,365 receiving yards, eight touchdowns; 40 kick returns, 890 return yards, three return touchdowns
LB Manti Te'o, San Diego Chargers
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When the San Diego Chargers snagged linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round of the draft, the prevailing concerns were how much of a distraction the fallout from the fake-girlfriend scandal would be for his new team and, more importantly, if he could truly become a high-impact, three-down linebacker in the NFL.
The good news is that the Chargers locker room has been a welcoming place for Te'o, laying to rest any worries he'd be taunted by his new teammates. The better news is that he's apparently picking up his new defense quickly and has been impressive in practices, sans pads, thus far. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune says he's one of the most NFL-ready rookie defenders he's seen. Te'o's chances for a successful first season appear to be rising as the summer progresses.
Stat Prediction: 70 combined tackles, three sacks, six QB hits, 10 hurries, one interception, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries
RB Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
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With the release of Willis McGahee earlier this month, rookie Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball seems to have the starting job well within his reach. Though there are other backs with whom he'll have to compete this summer—Ronnie Hillman and, potentially, Knowshon Moreno based on how well he recovers from knee surgery—the Broncos clearly had something big in mind for him considering his second-round draft pedigree.
Though Denver's offense is generally the Peyton Manning Show, the quarterback has always performed best when he has a reliable, playmaking back carrying the football. Ball is like a younger McGahee, which means fresher legs, fewer injuries and, of course, a more affordable payday. He should find success with the Broncos almost immediately.
Stat Prediction: 301 carries, 1,630 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns; 32 targets, 25 receptions, 360 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns
WR Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots chose to remake their receiving corps this year, bringing on free agent Danny Amendola and drafting a pair of new faces, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.
This rework comes at a pivotal time for the Patriots—Wes Welker is gone, and the playing status of both star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are in doubt, with the former undergoing back surgery and the latter linked to an ongoing murder investigation. The new and young additions may have some serious heavy lifting to do this year in order to keep the Patriots' passing game among the most efficient and high-scoring in the league.
Dobson has alternated between making impressive catches and dropping passes in practices thus far. This inconsistency will need to be ironed out during training camp this summer, as he was considered to have reliable hands coming out of college at Marshall. The Patriots' situation at receiver will result in Dobson getting significant time of the field, and, though he may start slow, he should make the most of his opportunities.
Stat Prediction: 135 targets, 91 receptions, 1,005 yards, six touchdowns
RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
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In an attempt to revive their run game, the Green Bay Packers drafted two running backs—Eddie Lacy in Round 2 and Johnathan Franklin in Round 4. They join DuJuan Harris, James Starks and Alex Green and will compete for roster positioning and their share of carries in 2013.
Of the two rookies, Lacy is the most intriguing. Thought to be the best back of the draft class, he wound up the second actually taken (after Giovani Bernard, whom the Cincinnati Bengals selected earlier in Round 2). A phenom at Alabama, Lacy also has a history with turf toe that scared some teams away. Despite his impressive production, many chalk it up to his excellent offensive line and not his overwhelming talent.
Even if Lacy is as good as initially billed, the fact that the Packers possess such a varied group of backs with disparate styles makes it seem like the team is destined to use a committee approach this year. This will hold his overall stat line down, but he'll still be productive.
Stat Prediction: 180 carries, 775 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns; 16 targets, 10 receptions, 200 receiving yards
QB Geno Smith, New York Jets
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The New York Jets did not draft quarterback Geno Smith for the purpose of making him their starter in his rookie season. If he develops into it, that's one thing, but generally his presence on the roster is a way to push incumbent Mark Sanchez and to provide the team with an alternative if Sanchez again disappoints.
Smith will need to learn a completely different offense from the one he ran at West Virginia, which revolved around passing from the shotgun. As such, his footwork needs improvement, but he's already managed to flash the talent that caught everyone's eye in 2012. Smith could see time on the field this year—not just in specialized plays but also as a bona fide starter if Sanchez falters—but he won't likely be lined up under center come Week 1.
Stat Prediction: Five game appearances, three starts, 138 attempts, 70 completions, 740 yards, five touchdowns, five interceptions
RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers' run game in 2012 was one of the team's worst in decades, prompting them to draft running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round this year. The hope is that Bell, a speedy, shifty prospect out of Michigan State, can give the Steelers' ground game an element of dynamism and unpredictability they sorely lacked last year—as well as more overall stability at the position.
Bell joins incumbents Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch as well as free-agent addition La'Rod Stephens-Howling in the battle to get the most carries this year. Bell is lowest on the depth chart presently, though this is expected to change after training camp begins.
The main concern with Bell is his pass-blocking—he didn't do much of it in college, but it's a skill that is required out of most NFL backs, including those in Pittsburgh. This could limit how much work he gets this year, especially on third downs, but the fact that he was drafted so highly (especially for the Steelers) as well as the reported switch to a zone-blocking scheme in the offensive line, certainly indicates he'll be getting a significant number of carries in his rookie season.
Stat Prediction: 280 carries, 1,010 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns; 20 targets, 10 receptions, 220 receiving yards, one receiving TD