As the NFL continues to improve its overall parity year by year, there has been one common theme over the last five years. A team’s group of young talent, specifically rookies, are as vital as ever to a team’s success. Last season, the league was taken by storm thanks to rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
All three shared a common goal, which was the ability to make their respective teams relevant into the month of January. These three rookies were a small sample of a 2012 NFL Draft that contains a plethora of young talent across the league landscape.
How will this year’s rookies compare to the unprecedented talent from last year’s draft class? In terms of discovering who will become the offensive and defensive rookie of the years, it’s very possible that both the quarterback and linebacker position won’t be a recipient of the award this year.
When looking at the potential offensive players who are legitimate candidates for the award, the only quarterback who could be within the conversation is EJ Manuel. From a talent standpoint, Manuel’s supporting cast trumps the three rookie quarterbacks from 2012.
The combination of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, combined with the receiver trio of Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, and Da’Rick Rogers puts him in a position to quickly become comfortable with offensive coordinator Nate Hackett’s offense.
However, the transition to a pro-style offense will be a huge adjustment within itself. Manuel displayed his potential in his first preseason game against the Colts, but his production won’t come that easy against the first string defense for four quarters. Ultimately, there are going to be struggles, and those struggles could kill his chances early on, especially if his performances aren’t leading to wins.
Thus, who is the outright favorite to win the offensive rookie of the year in 2013? Here’s a hint: He was the most explosive offensive prospect heading into the NFL Draft.
Tavon Austin’s speed makes him capable of becoming the downfield threat for Bradford, but his ability to catch and run in the intermediate routes makes him an extremely difficult receiver to defend.
Austin’s newest teammate, corner back Cortland Finnegan, told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that Austin can be used in a variety of ways:
"Trying to keep up with a youngster with 17 different pitches," Finnegan said. "It's like he's got a fastball, a curveball, a sinker and a few more."
He is also fortunate to have an emerging supporting cast around him. Brian Quick and Chris Givens continue to grow as pass catchers and have already have begun building chemistry with Bradford. Jared Cook reunites with Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and brings a lot of potential for Bradford and company.
However, Austin’s raw talent along brings an instant upgrade to the position and gives the Rams' offense the missing piece to their roster.
The MMQB staff analyzes the impact that Austin has on his new quarterback.
WATCH: Tavon Austin is the missing piece that QB Sam Bradford has desperately needed the past three seasons http://t.co/SmL2LUeS4Q— The MMQB (@theMMQB) August 12, 2013
As a result, the combination of his unique skill set along with the up and coming supporting cast will give the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft the nod for the best offensive rookie.
Though, we could get an intriguing matchup this year. Could Austin potentially go one on one with a prime candidate for defensive rookie of the year? Tyrann Mathieu continues to make waves at Cardinals training camp.
The former Heisman contender might have received the rude awakening he needed after missing out on playing at LSU for another year, followed by watching his draft stock fall in 2013. Yet, that hasn’t stopped him from playing at a high level in training camp in the preseason.
Mathieu was impressive in his first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Apparently, that shouldn’t come as a surprise according to Bruce Arians. The first year head coach said that Mathieu has provided this every day in practice.
Arians: Mathieu was "all over the field," just like every day in practice http://t.co/KVKjdcDnvW— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 11, 2013
Granted, Mathieu is gaining plenty of notoriety for the hope that he could turn not only his career, but his life around. But credit needs to be given when it’s earned. When one works hard, the right opportunity eventually comes along.
As Darren Urban of the Azcardinals.com mentions, Mathieu will receive the start this week due to Rashad Johnson suffering a MCL sprain during Monday’s practice. First impressions mean everything in a business such as the NFL, where expectations are as high as ever.
Though, if Mathieu impresses while playing with the first team defense this weekend, a permanent starting spot could eventually be in his future. If that’s the case, he could start preparing for the beginning of a storyline that could highlight this football season.
His potential as a starter in the Cardinals secondary is an intimidating look for opposing offenses. Patrick Peterson is primed to continue locking down team’s number one receivers. Due to the vast improvement from the Cardinals corner backs, Mathieu can find himself playing a similar role that he did during his time at college.
Mathieu will be more inclined to take chances on forcing turnovers if Arizona’s defense builds on from last year’s campaign. He is an obvious threat in the middle of the field because of his back-end speed, and is extremely capable of capitalizing on gutsy throws from quarterbacks.
He is also able to force turnovers in the opposing backfield due to being used in blitzing packages. Whether Mathieu provides pressure on the quarterback on the play, or finishes the tackle on the running back for negative yardage, Mathieu is too talented where he will simply be given only one responsibility.
The more he impresses over the next few weeks, the more confidence he instills in not only his coaches, but also the teammates in his locker room. A confident Tyrann Mathieu could result in the rookie becoming the anchor of a defense that wants to contain offenses and allow their own offense to provide the necessary spark.
At some point this season, Tavon Austin and Tyrann Mathieu could be battling one-on-one in a potential pivotal divisional game in 2013. Little do they know that these two young emerging stars could affect their own franchises for seasons to come.
Matt Miselis is an NFL columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL