Predicting the 10 Hottest NFL Rookie Jerseys for 2013
The name of the jersey-selling game is exposure.
It starts with solid play, but it takes a little more than that for a rookie to sell NFL jerseys at a high rate. First-year players have to not only excel on the field, they also need to possess swag, charisma and/or a story that makes them compelling to fans.
Last year, Washington Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III had it all. The NFL Rookie of the Year's No. 10 jersey sold more than any other player in the NFL, per NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
RGIII's appeal was created by a variety of factors. He plays quarterback, which always helps. If you count Tim Tebow, eight of the 10 players with the most popular jerseys are signal-callers.
RGIII is also a dynamic playmaker, which landed him on his share of highlight reels. He's a guy who's comfortable in front of the camera, and he captured a few endorsement deals as well.
Finally, he started from day one for one of the most storied NFL franchises that happens to play in the nation's capital. The stars couldn't have aligned much better for RGIII in this regard.
No player in the 2013 NFL draft will have it as sweet, but this slideshow spotlights 10 rookies who will still make their mark in the area of jersey sales.
In case the feature image wasn't a big enough hint, Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is one of them.
10. Alec Ogletree of the St. Louis Rams
Freakish athletes always excite fans. There are few players in this year's rookie class who are better pure athletes than the St. Louis Rams' Alec Ogletree.
At 6'2", 242 pounds, he ran a disappointing 4.70 40-yard dash at the combine, but one look at him on the field in college tells you he plays much faster. According to ESPN's early depth chart, Ogletree is expected to start at weak-side linebacker for the Rams.
St. Louis already has a good young defense. More specifically, it has a beefy, talented defensive line that will absorb blockers. That should give Ogletree an opportunity to use his speed to roam and lay big hits in the running game.
As long as the hits are legal, expect the rookie to quickly gain a reputation as a punishing tackler.
If he gets a pick in pass coverage, he's a threat to take it to the house. That will be great for his popularity and, in turn, lead to better-than-average jersey sales.
9. Jarvis Jones of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Few talent evaluators doubted Jarvis Jones' ability as a playmaker. But his spinal stenosis condition created a ton of red flags. His durability will be a major focus of the media this season.
Jones' pass-rushing ability is undeniable, though.
He led the nation in sacks for Georgia in 2012, and there is no better way to bring a defensive player attention. No defensive stat will create a star out of a player quicker than QB takedowns.
Because Jones should have a great opportunity to rush the passer in Pittsburgh, he's a good bet to make his mark in the high-profile category. And because he plays for the Steelers, whatever he does will get a lot of attention.
The questions about his health led to Jones slipping to the Steelers at No. 17. He is now set up to be one of the draft's biggest steals.
All of those factors equal attention, and that should lead to a decent amount of jersey sales.
8. Star Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers
Jones wasn't the only prospect with health concerns. Star Lotulelei was believed to have a heart condition that scared many teams away from the highly regarded defensive tackle in the draft.
He was cleared, but it is hard to imagine a player as talented as Lotulelei slipping to 14th if there weren't still some concerns.
The Carolina Panthers selected Lotulelei, and his run-stuffing prowess will help fill a major hole for a team that was just 14th against the run in 2012.
Lotulelei will be a story all season because of his play and what he had to endure during the draft process. Like Jones, he could very well turn into one of the steals of the 2012 draft.
In addition to that, Lotulelei is a mature 23-year-old who is married with two young daughters. With so much attention going to the players in the league with legal problems, he is the type of prospect the league should want to thrust into the limelight.
Lotulelei's off-the-field story is compelling, but he should also play a major part in the Panthers' return to the playoffs this season. His No. 96 jersey should be fairly popular this year.
7. Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals
No player selected in the 2013 NFL draft is more polarizing than the Arizona Cardinals' third-round selection, Tyrann Mathieu.
His talent level and look is sufficient to make the 21-year-old a star, but he'll have to get a handle on his self-discipline.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com's Dan Hanzus) reports that Mathieu has already entered the NFL's drug-testing program.
Mathieu seems to be taking full advantage of this opportunity to play in the NFL. The NFL rookie symposium was apparently an inspiring event for him, per the Cardinals' website.
"For me, [the symposium] was real educational, inspiring and one of those reality checks, and I've had a few of those since I've become an Arizona Cardinal," he said.
There is no doubt that Mathieu can make an immediate impact on the field. Per Marc Sessler of NFL.com, he has seen "plenty of snaps" in offseason practices and has a shot at the starting free safety job.
Of all the non-quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft, Mathieu may have the most star potential of any player.
If he stays clear of trouble throughout the season and makes an impact on the field, he will be a major success story whose jersey becomes a hot item.
6. Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos
Running back is obviously one of the glamour positions in the NFL. Players have perhaps the best chance to make an immediate impact at this position.
This season, no player may be in a better spot to shine as a rookie than Montee Ball. According to ESPN.com's depth chart, he is penciled in as the starter for the Denver Broncos.
Ball is a workhorse and a record-setting back from Wisconsin.
Peyton Manning will certainly be the most ballyhooed offensive player for the Broncos, but Ball will make his mark. Provided he stays healthy, he's a safe bet to rush for at least 1,200 yards for a team that figures to be one of the best in the AFC.
Ball's jersey will be popular in Denver and across Broncos Nation.
5. Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy finds himself in a position similar to Ball. He's joining a quality team with an all-world QB, but he has a leg up on his fellow rookie RB.
The Green Bay Packers' recent history of running backs is not on par with that of the Broncos. Lacy has a chance to make a huge impact at a position his team has been trying to fill with a game-changer for the last three seasons.
The Packers haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2009, when Ryan Grant ran for 1,253 yards. If Lacy gets near the 1,000-yard plateau, he'll be the newest Lambeau Leaper and a favorite in Green Bay.
His epic spin moves won't hurt his cause for additional attention and jersey sales either.
4. Denard Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars
Even with a position change from quarterback to running back, wide receiver or kick return specialist, Denard "Shoelace" Robinson is a magnetic playmaker.
Expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to spice up their offense with the varied talents the Michigan alum can provide.
He may not be prepared to become the NFL's next Slash-type player, a la Kordell Stewart, just yet, but as a running back, wide receiver or kick returner, Robinson is destined to make plays.
The team officially designated his position as OW (offensive weapon). That alone should tell you something about his abilities.
Building on the popularity he attained as a standout collegiate player, Robinson's No. 25 jersey will become one of the most sought of all NFL rookies.
3. EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills
Being a rookie quarterback who is likely to start can mean one of two things: a player is headed for instant stardom because he shows flashes of brilliance, or he may need counseling to deal with his early struggles.
Buffalo Bills rookie EJ Manuel is setup to at least have a decent year. It isn't as if he has to follow in a legend's footsteps.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a decent run with the Bills, but his tenure rendered no playoff appearances. In fact, the Bills haven't made the playoffs this century. The 13-year drought is the longest current absence in the NFL.
If Manuel can simply show he has the capacity to lead the team toward the postseason, he will become an instant star in Buffalo. He's stepping into a situation led by new head coach and offensive guru Doug Marrone.
The confident Manuel says he feels he "got better every day of OTAs," per Chris Brown of Buffalo Bills.com, and the Bills released Tarvaris Jackson to confirm that statement. He will likely still have to beat out Kevin Kolb for the starting gig, but I wouldn't bet against him.
Manuel is the future in Buffalo, and that will make him popular for a city filled with hope.
2. Geno Smith of the New York Jets
Mark Sanchez will probably win the starting QB job for the New York Jets for now, but raise your hand if you think Geno Smith will have supplanted him by Week 5.
In many cities, the most popular player on an NFL roster is the backup QB—unless, of course, the starter is a productive player. Sanchez hasn't been very good, and it seems it will be only a matter of time before Smith overtakes him.
The Jets didn't take Smith 39th overall to be a backup. Despite the fact that Sanchez has said he is "confident" he will beat Smith out for the job during camp, per Zack Cox of NESN.com, barring a simply spectacular start, the writing is on the wall.
Smith's No. 7 jersey will be shown during telecasts of Jets games about half as much as Tim Tebow's was. That means you'll see it about 30 times per game instead of 60.
If and when Smith has some early success as Sanchez's replacement, his jersey sales will rise as quickly as Sanchez plummets on the Jets' depth chart.
1: Tavon Austin of St. Louis Rams
Tavon Austin is the most electrifying playmaker in this year's rookie class. His ability to take the ball to the house in just about any situation is the reason his stock shot up just before the draft. It is also the reason he's listed here.
On cool points alone, Austin is the man whose jersey should be the hottest amongst all NFL rookies. He's lightning fast, as evidenced by his 4.34 40-yard-dash time at the NFL combine. Speed thrills, and being rather diminutive only adds to the appeal.
At 5'8", 174 pounds, you probably couldn't pick Austin out of a crowd. Fans dig that from their superstars because it gives them an everyman quality.
Yet, with a football in his hands, Austin is far from an "everyman." Look for him to make an immediate impact as a slot receiver, kick returner and in NFL jersey sales numbers.