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Bleacher Report's Preseason All-Rookie Team

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 2, 2013

Bleacher Report's Preseason All-Rookie Team

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    Not every rookie can pan out in exactly the way NFL teams and their fans hope. 

    We know the term "bust," and that applies more this Labor Day weekend than almost any other time of the year. When formerly heralded second-round picks like quarterback Jimmy Clausen and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham can be axed alongside undrafted free agents and injured veterans, it's a stark reminder that many rookies will not live up to expectations. 

    The rookies who step up and showcase NFL-ready skills will become building blocks for their respective organizations. In that spirit, Bleacher Report's lead writing crew has put together our preseason All-Rookie team.

    Note: This is not an award for preseason performance. Rather, it's a prediction before the season of which rookies are going to shine in their first season. Also, we voted based on a basic personnel set of two backs, two receivers and a tight end.

    On defense, we used a 4-3 set. It's important to note, however, that some players might be "out of position" as they were voted into the position they play and not the position they would play on this hypothetical squad—just like on a normal all-anything team.

    Caveats aside, on to the rookies to look forward to the most in 2013!

     

    Voters:

    Michael Schottey—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Matt Bowen—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Mike Freeman—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Ty Schalter—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Matt Miller—National Lead NFL Draft Writer (Twitter)

    Erik Frenz—AFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Andrea Hangst—AFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Chris Hansen—AFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Knox Bardeen—NFC South Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Brad Gagnon—NFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Tyson Langland—NFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Zach Kruse—NFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

Quarterback

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    The Voters' Selection:

    EJ Manuel (QB Buffalo Bills)—12 Votes

     

    Simply put, EJ Manuel is the only rookie passer who's a lock-solid pick to start every week he's healthy. Yes, some in the New York Jets organization are rumored to be ready for the Mark Sanchez era to give way to Geno Smith, but Manuel has won the job and doesn't have a playoff winner looking over his shoulder. 

    Furthermore, he's back to practice following his knee procedure and has a chance to start in Week 1. If he's able to gut it out and start all 16 games, he'll still need to do lots of learning on the fly. He was a fantastic athlete at Florida State, but he didn't display skill as a pocket passer.  

    All in all, Manuel was the first quarterback drafted this year for a reason. The Bills consider him their franchise passer of the future and have enough talent around him—running back C.J. Spiller and receivers Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson—to make this one of the easiest picks on the All-Rookie team. 

     

     

    Also Receiving Votes: N/A

Running Backs

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Eddie Lacy (RB Green Bay Packers)—12 Votes

    Gio Bernard (RB Cincinnati Bengals)—10 Votes

     

    Lacy was the fourth back selected in April, but he has risen to prominence not only because of his landing spot—a stacked Packers offense—but also because starter DuJuan Harris was just put on IR with a knee injury. This means that the Packers will need to depend on Lacy to take some of the heat off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers

    Our panel seems to be convinced he'll make those carries count. 

    Bernard—the first back selected in this year's class—has a bit more of an uphill battle in a Bengals offense that still features BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Yet with Bernard's receiving ability and athletic prowess, it's conceivable that he not only carves out a niche for himself this season, but overtakes The Law Firm as a player who makes the Bengals offense that much more deadly. 

    With crowded backfields elsewhere in the league, the only other "running back" who received votes was Denard Robinson, who will play a slash role in Jacksonville. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Denard Robinson (OW Jacksonville Jaguars)—2 Votes.

Tight Ends

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Tyler Eifert (TE Cincinnati Bengals)—12 Votes

     

    Eifert was the consensus favorite tight end of this year's class and landed in a good situation in Cincinnati where Jermaine Gresham underwhelmed last season. However, even if Eifert was quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target through part of training camp, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he'll need to be at his best to get consistent targets. 

    Overall, however, most young tight ends need to fight for snaps, and Eifert's big-play ability could help him stay one of Dalton's favorite targets—most notably in the end zone, which would certainly validate his selection here. 

    If New England fans want to "start" Zach Sudfeld in a two-tight end set, and "bench" running back Gio Bernard, then go right ahead. (He got more votes than Bernard). He's come on even stronger than his most strident supporters thought he might. He's the Patriots' starting tight end to start the season and should be a great partner with Rob Gronkowski when the latter finally returns from injury.  

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Zach Sudfeld (TE New England Patriots)—11 Votes; Travis Kelce (TE Kansas City Chiefs)—1 Vote.

Wide Receivers

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Tavon Austin (WR St. Louis Rams)—9 Votes

    DeAndre Hopkins (WR Houston Texans)/Kenbrell Thompkins (WR New England Patriots)—5 Votes 

     

    Austin is more fun to watch in real life compared to the impact he will probably have on the stat sheet for the St. Louis Rams. At 5'9", 174, he's not going to be bodying up any cornerbacks in the red zone and will need to get most of his touchdowns from further out. That said, he's explosive enough to be a threat to do so nearly every time he touches the ball. 

    Our second receiver spot is a tie between first-round pick Hopkins, who is Andre Johnson's newest stablemate in Houston, and Thompkins, who has surprised everyone in the preseason after joining the Patriots as a UDFA. 

    The common thread here is explosiveness, as each of these guys is liable at any moment to spring for a huge reception. It can typically take a while for a rookie receiver to gain his quarterback's trust, but big-play threats like these three could be ahead of the curve already. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Cordarrelle Patterson (WR Minnesota Vikings)—4 Votes; Quinton Patton (WR San Francisco 49ers)—1 Vote.

Offensive Tackles

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     The Voters' Selection:

    Luke Joeckel (OT Jacksonville Jaguars)—12 Votes

    D.J. Fluker (OT San Diego Chargers)—6 Votes 

     

    Although he wasn't selected first in April, Joeckel takes top honors here as one of the few bright spots to a Jacksonville team that needs all of the light at the end of the tunnel it can get. It helps Joeckel that Eric Fisher has been banged up a little bit this preseason and that the latter may get overshadowed on a Kansas City team with a lot more talent. 

    Fluker gets the nod as the best lineman on San Diego's roster already as a rookie. He'll look to pull double duty protecting quarterback Philip Rivers from strong-side rushers who have vexed him in the past as well as being the go-to in short-yardage situations. 

    From a team perspective, if either the Jaguars or Chargers are going to do anything of note this season, these two will need to be at their very best. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Eric Fisher (OT Kansas City Chiefs)—4 Votes; Lane Johnson (OT Philadelphia Eagles)—1 Vote; Jordan Mills (OT Chicago Bears)—1 Vote.

Interior Offensive Line

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Travis Frederick (OC Dallas Cowboys)—12 Votes

    Kyle Long (OG Chicago Bears)—12 Votes

    Chance Warmack (OG Tennessee Titans)—10 Votes

     

    The voters were much more in agreement on the interior of the offensive line, where both Frederick and Long were unanimous selections. Ironically, both were notably "overdrafted," according to expert projections last April, but they have already taken large steps to solidify themselves as one of the best linemen on their respective teams. 

    Warmack was a near-consensus selection and appears to be in for a huge season blocking for running back Chris Johnson, who hopes to finally get back to "CJ2K" status with a better line in front of him this season. Warmack may have hypothetically lost a few votes to Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, but the latter is out for the year after breaking his fibula

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Larry Warford (OG Detroit Lions)—2 Votes.

Defensive Tackles

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Star Lotulelei (DT Carolina Panthers)—11 Votes

    John Jenkins (DT New Orleans Saints)—6 Votes

     

    Lotulelei should pay dividends for a Panthers team that has needed more beef (and talent) on the interior of the defensive line for some time. With his ability to both occupy blockers and create havoc, the Panthers' already-talented linebacking corps is in for a huge year. (It helps, too, that the Panthers also have our third-place vote-getter in Kawann Short.)

    Jenkins slots in as a 3-4 nose tackle for Rob Ryan's new defense. He'll have to fight Brodrick Bunkley for snaps early on, but Ryan has never had a problem with rotating in talented players and finding new fits for guys to get the best 11 players on the field. At nearly 350 pounds, one has to expect Jenkins is going to be a big factor in stopping the NFC South's star running backs. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Kawann Short (DT Carolina Panthers)—5 Votes; Sharrif Floyd (DT Minnesota Vikings)—2 Votes.

Defensive Ends

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Datone Jones (DE Green Bay Packers)—10 Votes

    Ezekiel Ansah (DE Detroit Lions)—5 Votes

     

    As mentioned in the intro slide, we're not really looking to put together a line of Lotulelei, Jenkins, Datone Jones and Ezekiel Ansah (although it'd probably be pretty fun to watch). Remember, this is an all-star team, not really a functional starting lineup.  

    So, although Jones is a 3-4 defensive end, he gets the nod here as our top vote-getter. The Packers have big plans for Jones, as he gives them a legit athlete on the starting line and someone who can apply pressure rather than just open up rushing lanes for the linebackers. 

    Ansah squeaks in as the second starting end, and the Lions hope he can make a lot of the doubters on our voting panel look foolish for overlooking him. Although Ansah may continue to struggle at the finer points of the game, as he hasn't been playing for that long, he could put up huge numbers in the Lions' Wide 9 scheme.

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Sheldon Richardson (DE New York Jets)—4 Votes; Dion Jordan (DE Miami Dolphins)—3 Votes; Damontre Moore (DE New York Giants)—2 Votes.

Outside Linebackers

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Jarvis Jones (OLB Pittsburgh Steelers)—9 Votes

    Barkevious Mingo (OLB Cleveland Browns)—8 Votes

     

    Again, if you didn't read it on the last slide (or in the intro), this is not a selection under the pretense that we'd love to see Jones and Mingo as 4-3 outside linebackers—that would probably be a pretty huge liability in coverage. All players were simply selected at their normal position and shoehorned into a 4-3 defense, just like a normal all-star team selection process. 

    Both Jones and Mingo are going to look to do one thing well in 2013—rush the passer. Neither Pittsburgh nor Cleveland drafted these young men to stick them in coverage or to collect 100-plus tackles early on in their careers, and both might play limited downs to maximize their rushing potential in their rookie seasons. 

    That said, it doesn't matter how much one is on the field if he's collecting double-digit sacks along the way—something both of these linebackers have potential to do. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Alec Ogletree (OLB St. Louis Rams)—4 Votes; Sio Moore (OLB Oakland Raiders)—2 Votes; DeVonte Holloman (OLB Dallas Cowboys)—1 Vote.

Inside Linebackers

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Jon Bostic (LB Chicago Bears)—10 Votes

     

    Whereas the voters started a couple of pass-rushers on the outside, we've got our tackle-hound on the interior, as it's completely possible for Bostic to collect a ton of tackles this season, and he (or our top backup, Te'o) could easily lead the rookie class in that particular stat. 

    Like Kyle Long (our top vote-getter at guard), people were surprised the Bears selected Bostic as high as they did, but he's come a long way throughout training camp and the preseason. He looks ready to inject some athleticism into a linebacking corps that is hoping to miss as few beats as possible in the post-Brian Urlacher era. 

      

    Also Receiving Votes: Manti Te'o (LB San Diego Chargers)—7 Votes; Kiko Alonso (LB Buffalo Bills)—7 Votes.

Cornerbacks

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Robert Alford (CB Atlanta Falcons)—9 Votes

    Dee Milliner (CB New York Jets)—4 Votes

     

    The position of least consensus on the B/R ballots, cornerback is a tough position to make an immediate impact as a rookie. If top-flight cornerback talents like Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Dallas' Morris Claiborne could struggle in coverage as rookies, this group will likely have its ups and downs as well. 

    Alford wasn't even his team's top cornerback in this past draft, as Desmond Trufant was selected above him. With a nice camp, however, it appears Alford is pushing Trufant for snaps and could end up pushing his fellow rookie all season long. 

    Milliner barely squeaked out a spot in a crowded field on this ballot. He's been called out already by his head coach, but his play can't be too bad, as he's already running with the starting lineup. Milliner, along with the rest of the Jets, should probably start looking forward to 2014, or at least not dwell too long on this year's mistakes.

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Xavier Rhodes (CB Minnesota Vikings)—3 Votes; Darius Slay (CB Detroit Lions)—2 Votes; B.W. Webb (CB Dallas Cowboys); D.J. Hayden (CB Oakland Raiders)—1 Vote. 

Safeties

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Kenny Vaccaro (S New Orleans Saints)—10 Votes

    Eric Reid (S San Francisco 49ers)—9 Votes 

     

    If cornerback, as mentioned on the last slide, is a tough position to make an immediate impact in, then safety has to be right up there as well. Vaccaro, our lead vote-getter, may not even play safety very much in his rookie year, as he's ticketed for a nickelback role—the same role he played at Texas. 

    Reid, however, is the 49ers' starting safety out of both necessity and because of his phenomenal talent. With the Niners' incredible front seven, he'll likely have his hands on a few errant passes this season. He's replacing All-Pro Dashon Goldson (now with Tampa Bay) and will have to accelerate his own personal learning curve in a tough NFC West. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Matt Elam (S Baltimore Ravens)—5 Votes.

Specialists

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    The Voters' Selection:

    Caleb Sturgis (K Miami Dolphins)—8 Votes

    Jeff Locke (P Minnesota Vikings)—11 Votes

    Tavon Austin (KR/PR St. Louis Rams)—15 Combined Votes

     

    Although the ballot had spots for both returner slots, Austin easily took both honors and may actually have a much better year returning the ball than as a receiver. One thing is for sure, however: Our voters expect Austin to be exciting to watch this season. 

    Both Sturgis and Locke were the first of their respective positions taken in the draft, and both are starters, so those picks are as chalk as one can get. Don't be surprised, however, if they're overtaken by some of our vote-getters below, as kicking specialists tend to outplay their draft position as much as any other position on the field. 

     

    Also Receiving Votes: Dustin Hopkins (K Buffalo Bills)—4 Votes; Cordarrelle Patterson (KR/PR Minnesota Vikings)—4 Votes; Sam Martin (P Detroit Lions)—1 Vote; Marquise Goodwin (KR/PR Buffalo Bills)—1 Votes; Robert Alford (KR/PR Atlanta Falcons)—1 Vote; B.W. Webb (KR/PR Dallas Cowboys)—1 Vote. 

     

    Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route. 

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