Several rookies and second-year players have all the makings of being fantasy football studs as the NFL regular season inches closer.
Headlining the pack of newcomers are a pair of receivers in St. Louis Rams versatile dynamo Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans.
Similarly to how Hopkins will likely draw a lot of one-on-one coverage with Andre Johnson starting opposite him, the same should be true for Michael Floyd in Arizona. Superstar Larry Fitzgerald will attract plenty of attention, especially with the most competent quarterback he's had in years in Carson Palmer.
Another player of focus is Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who is an unproven commodity, but has the size, athleticism and lack of challengers on the depth chart to be a huge factor in 2013.
Now that a brief overview of each player has been established, let's dig a little deeper and break down why each should be hot commodities in fantasy leagues.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
The diminutive frame may discourage doubters, but the fact is that when Austin has the ball in his hands, he is already as dangerous as anyone in the league.
At least, that's the assessment made by NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock, who is on record as saying Austin is the most explosive player he's ever seen. Mayock's colleague Daniel Jeremiah believes Austin could easily surpass 70 receptions as a rookie.
All of that hype justifies why Austin was the Rams' first-round pick at No. 8 overall—and why GM Les Snead traded up to get him.
The former West Virginia star snagged over 100 receptions in each of his last two seasons in Morgantown, and flashed incredible ability as a ball-carrier in rushing for over 300 yards against Oklahoma.
Austin had a quiet preseason opener, but considering the immense skill set he has and how he should be a go-to target for QB Sam Bradford in the slot, the Rams are likely keeping him under wraps as much as possible.
Other skills players are making their cases as viable fantasy options with stellar preseasons, but no matter what Austin does, the experts' general consensus is that Austin's instant stardom is a foregone conclusion.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
The above touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings encompasses what Hopkins brings to the table: a home-run deep threat with a knack for finding pay dirt.
Hopkins has phenomenal instincts and can track the ball as well as any rookie pass-catcher and snag it at its highest point. It comes as no surprise that his speed, ridiculous vertical leap and well-built frame allowed him to catch 18 touchdowns in his final year at Clemson.
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Talk about making a strong first impression in the pros, though. As mentioned before, the focus of defenses will be on Johnson, and in his first limited action, Hopkins caught four passes for 52 yards.
Texans fans will get their first glimpse of Hopkins in Reliant Stadium against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday, where he should get more work with starting quarterback Matt Schaub for at least a quarter.
Precise route-running and dangerous agility makes Hopkins a threat to turn a short gain into a touchdown as well, which essentially gives him the complete package and opens up the entire route tree.
With that type of precocious polish, and Johnson to distract coverage, Hopkins could be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Universal praise of Floyd's progression entering his second season has emerged from Cardinals camp.
Check out this quote from new head coach Bruce Arians, which Jules Tompkins of ArizonaSports.com logged:
[Floyd] has improved dramatically from the first minicamp to now...Route running, his understanding of concepts, hot (reads), the whole package. He's bought in. He's playing two to three different positions. I'm really pleased with where he's at right now.
Palmer pointed out how much promise Floyd has, how he's wise beyond his years at age 23 and how it seems Floyd is a seasoned veteran rather than a relatively inexperienced pro, per ESPN.com's Mike Sando:
He is still young -- that is what you don't realize about Mike because he is very mature for his age. He seems like he is in Year 4 or 5 instead of going into Year 2, and he didn't play a whole bunch in Year 1. He is still working, he is learning from one of the best [Fitzgerald] and we expect Mike to have a big year.
That is enough to sway just about any skeptic who fears Floyd due to his history of off-field issues, which include alcohol arrests that Sando describes in further detail in his report.
The NFC West is littered with fierce defenses in the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams, but with injuries to Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin, it's arguable that the Cardinals have the most dangerous receiving corps.
Between Fitzgerald, Floyd and Andre Roberts, there are a lot of targets at Palmer's disposal, but Floyd's ability to win 50-50 battles with his 6'2", 220-pound body in Arians' vertical-based passing offense is an undeniably great fit.
Floyd ended his rookie campaign in 2012 with a bang, catching eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco. It appears he's building off that, and in lining up at "two or three" different positions, his role should only continue increasing in Arizona's attack.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns
Reps are invaluable for a raw player like Cameron, and those should only increase based on his breakout performance in the Browns' win over the Lions on Thursday night.
The former fourth-round draft pick out of USC caught two red-zone touchdowns from Brandon Weeden, who looks far more comfortable playing under Norv Turner than he did in the vanilla West Coast offense deployed by fired head coach Pat Shurmur.
It appears that the new staff is looking to expand Cameron's role, too.
Head coach Rob Chudzinski has had success mentoring tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Greg Olsen in the past. Based on his two TDs, there's reason to believe Cameron could emerge as another who improves under Chudzinski.
Gary Barnidge is Cameron's closest competition but he went down with a sprained AC joint against the Lions, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
#Browns TE Gary Barnidge sprained AC joint in shoulder, expected to miss a few days of practice, maybe Indy game Aug. 24. MRI today.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 16, 2013
Cameron towers at 6'5" and 245 pounds, and should only keep improving entering his third season.
Big receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little will attract attention on the outside, and veteran Davone Bess will move the sticks as a possession receiver. Thus, opportunities should be available to Cameron in the form of chunk plays down the seam.
With the size Cameron has, too, Weeden can throw it high in goal-to-go situations and likely see Cameron come down with it more often than not.
If the Browns' offense keeps clicking as it has in two preseason contests, the Weeden-to-Cameron connection could be huge instrumental in turning the Browns around. In the process, Cameron can become the next supremely athletic tight end to shine.