We don't make any long-standing predictions for NFL rookies during the first preseason games of their careers, but doesn't stop us from keeping a closer eye on the newest crop of rookies each time a new season begins.
The 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame game will take place on Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins will both make the trip to Canton, eager to officially kick off the 2013 campaign but understandably hesitant to leave it all on the field.
Which team had a better 2013 draft?
According to ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins, Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo won't even play a snap in Sunday's game. Watkins also reported that a rookie who would have cracked our list below, wide receiver Terrance Williams, is doubtful for Sunday.
Early preseason games are best suited for emerging players eager to showcase their improvement, rookies looking to assert themselves at the start of their careers and those on the bubble to make the roster.
Keeping the second set of players from that list in mind, here's a look at three rookies you should follow closely during on Sunday.
What: 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
Who: Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins
When: Sunday, August 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Fawcett Stadium, Canton, Ohio
Rookies to Watch
Cowboys TE Gavin Escobar
Dallas turned some heads by selecting a tight end with a second-round pick in the 2013 draft, but it's clear that Escobar will have a chance to contribute to the offense right away.
The release of fullback Lawrence Vickers earlier in July confirmed the idea that the Cowboys will have two—sometimes three—tight ends on the field at various times during a course of the game this year.
Dallas has Jason Witten and its 2012 draft pick, James Hanna, in the fold at the position, but Escobar is more of a receiving tight end who can get out in space and create matchup problems for opponents.
As noted by ESPN's Tim MacMahon, the former San Diego State man has shown some solid route-running skills so far in training camp:
Gavin Escobar just dropped a ball on a corner route, but he's such a smooth route runner. Great burst out of break to separate from Wilcox.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 30, 2013
Escobar had 17 touchdowns in three collegiate seasons. If he has a nose for the end zone in the NFL early on, he could quickly become one of Romo's favorite targets in the red zone.
Romo won't get a chance to mesh with Escobar on Sunday, but the young TE can make a case to gain early playing time alongside one of the greatest to ever play the position (Witten) with a strong showing against Miami.
Dolphins DE Dion Jordan
Miami moved up in the 2013 draft to grab Jordan with the No. 3 overall pick.
Expected to wreak havoc along the defensive line, the one-time Oregon star has been as good as advertised as a pass-rusher during the first part of training camp with the Fins.
If you need further proof, check out these tweets from Dolphins TV and radio host Jesse Agler and Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
Main Fins observation from last couple practices (nothing earth-shattering)...Dion Jordan looks sensational rushing the passer. Exciting.— Jesse Agler (@finsjesse) August 1, 2013
Top 3 hon. mention: DE Dion Jordan has been a beast. CB Brent Grimes still ballin'. DE Olivier Vernon another solid day.— Chris Perkins (@chrisperk) August 1, 2013
The Dolphins need Jordan to be a force. While it might be unfair to heap an expectation of that nature on a rookie, Miami felt comfortable enough trading multiple picks for Jordan for a reason.
Sunday will be our first real glimpse at the pass-rusher in action, and if the tweets from training camp hold true, we could see Jordan create problems for Dallas' offensive line in the early going.
Cowboys S J.J. Wilcox
Dallas will likely start the year with veteran Will Allen and Barry Church as its starting safeties, but J.J. Wilcox is a rookie who has worked his way into the rotation early on in camp.
For starters, his teammates are already believing in his abilities. This tweet from Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News confirms that idea:
#Cowboys S Will Allen on rookie S JJ Wilcox: "You watch, He's going to make a big play against Miami - an interception, a hit, something."— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) July 28, 2013
When Church was forced out of training camp with an injury, it was Wilcox who took his place with the first group. Watkins had that report on Twitter:
With no church JJ Wilcox is moved to 1-team. McCray and Johnson are 2-team safeties.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) July 29, 2013
An offensive player by trade during the first part of his college career, Wilcox only played one season as a safety at Georgia Southern. Although that switch didn't scare the Cowboys away, it did make them pause before pulling the trigger.
As reported by Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones and the entire Dallas draft war room had a "huge discussion" about whether or not Wilcox could make the switch before selecting him in the third round.
So far, he's made the decision look like a smart one.
Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram sees Wilcox as a player who can win a starting job at some point this year:
JJ Wilcox might end up being the other biggest rookie contributor. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins the safety job at some point.— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) July 23, 2013
Both teams have rookies and undrafted players who will see plenty of game action on Sunday.
Which rookie are you most excited to see?
With starters and franchise players only expected to see a few snaps (or no snaps at all), the earliest preseason game of the year will be successful if fans come away from the action excited that the regular season is almost here.
If a few rookies make a statement, that will just be icing on the cake.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.