Who Will Be The 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year?
By Bill Lund
The 2013 NFL Draft is a week behind us and grades for your favorite teams are in. Fans across the nation are excited at the new prospects for their team (or they have taken their frustrations to social media and are demanding refunds for their season tickets). With OTAs around the corner, we can begin to look at which rookies could have the biggest impact on their team’s fortunes on their way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Several impact rookies were drafted in the first three rounds, and arguments can be made for several players being best set up to succeed. Eddie Lacy, it appears, will walk into the Packers backfield as a starter. But injury questions and the drafting of Johnathan Franklin out of UCLA leads me to believe they have the makings of a young running back by committee. As much as both backs will improve the run game, the potential to share carries will negate the impact in Rookie of the Year voting. Players such as DeAndre Hopkins and Cordarrelle Patterson are walking into great team situations where they will not be asked to carry the bulk of the offensive load; they may impact their teams by providing additional weapons for their respective offensive attacks. Giovani Bernard and Montee Ball will provide a boost to the ground games for the Bengals and Broncos, but they will share carries initially with veterans on the current roster.
Ultimately, the two offensive rookies I believe will have the biggest impact on their teams are Tavon Austin and Le’Veon Bell bring to the table. Both players will have the opportunity to get the touches needed to garner attention of the postseason honors voters.
Austin may have landed in the best situation. The Rams have made free agent upgrades at the offensive line, adding Jake Long to protect Sam Bradford. With the loss of Danny Amendola, the Rams traded up to take Austin at No. 8, and he will immediately fill the void he left at the slot position. Austin possess gamebreaker speed and quickness and could prove to be an upgrade at the position athletically. Provided he signs quickly and is able to gel with Bradford and the offense, Austin appears to be in the best position to take Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Bell is walking into a situation with a proven quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a quality offensive line. Pittsburgh has been looking for an every-down back ever since Rashard Mendenhall's injury problems began. Bell is the kind of big back that the Steelers covet, but he also possesses the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Coming from a pro-style offense in college, Bell gives Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley the option of using him as a three-down back, which will garner him touches. With a proven passing game, Bell won’t be asked to carry the offense, just take the handoff and move the chains.
On the surface, it is easy to say Austin will get the bulk of Bradford's targets, considering the loss of both Amendola and No. 2 receiver, Brandon Gibson. While Austin is a significant talent on a team in desperate need of an explosive receiver, NFL defensive coordinators love to take away a team’s best target. The Rams' lack of proven receivers on the outside to take the pressure off the slot will put Austin in the crosshairs. In addition, the Rams lost Steven Jackson, leaving the run game in a state of flux.
Bell has the better surrounding cast, which will allow him to come into his own. With the Steelers' desire to return to the power running game that has produced playoff success over the year, Bell has the potential for early success. He doesn’t have to carry the offense like Austin will be expected to, and he will get the touches needed to put up the stats necessary to be the 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Lacy looks like a good bet, if healthy, even with the presence of Franklin. No team needs production from the running game more than GB, and it's easy to forget that Ryan Grant was once a workhorse for McCarthy and co.