By Mike Griffen
Training camp has begun for just over three quarters of the league and the rookies are starting to learn the ropes. This years’ crop of newcomers cannot and should not be expected to match it’s predecessor’s in the class of 2012 in terms of immediate impact. But all in all the class of 2013 boasts a multitude of NFL ready players at every position. Let’s take a look at some offensive rookies from this year’s draft class that you might not be very familiar with but whom I believe will may have a dramatic effect on their team this season.
Tyler Wilson – Oakland Raiders
I’m putting the Arkansas product on this list not because I think he’s going to have a great season numbers-wise or lead the Raiders to the playoffs. No. I’m putting Wilson here because the fourth-rounder is one of the few first year quarterbacks who actually has a chance to win a starting job or at the very least, seeing significant time playing time. He comes into his first NFL training camp in competition with former LSU Tiger Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor out of THE Ohio State University. Given the Raiders penchant for developing young talent, or utter lack thereof, I’m not sure if Wilson will ever reach his full potential (going into the 2012 season he was a projected first round pick by many scouts but the Razorbacks had a rough year, as did Wilson, and he slipped to round four.) I think Flynn will win the starting job out of the preseason but given his inexperience, I think Wilson will get a chance to be the signal-caller at some point this year.
Giovani Bernard - Cincinnati Bengals
In my mind Giovani Bernard is far and away the best back in the 2013 draft class. The first players that come to mind when I watch film of Gio are Doug Martin and Ray Rice. At 5’8″ 202 lbs, Bernard shares remarkably similar physical characteristics as well as a knack for catching passes out of the backfield. He’s been wowing the Bengals coaching staff since he arrived in Cincy. He has great vision and great patience, letting the play develop and then hitting the holes once the emerge. Gio was one of the best receiving running backs in the nation last year, with 490 yards and 5 TD’s. Cincinnati’s West Coast offense will provide plenty of dumps and screens for Bernard, allowing him to showcase his versatility. I’m confident that Giovani will secure the starting spot when Week 1 rolls around. By all accounts the man is a class act and from what I’ve seen, he’s tough not to root for. He’s my preseason pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. I expect he and the Bengals first round TE Tyler Eifert will have a monster impact on the team and may lead the Bengals out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell is a prototypical Pittsburgh Steelers running back at 6’1″, 230 lbs. He’s a big, bruising back with a very strong lower-body and surprisingly nimble footwork. As of now, the Steelers’ running back competition is up the air. Bell, Isaac Redman, and Johnathan Dwyer are all competing for the number one spot on the depth chart but in my eyes, Bell blows both of them out of the water. Following the departure of Rashard Mendenhall to Arizona, Pittsburgh is in need of a power-back and they’ve found one in the former Spartan. The nearest comparison I can give is a LeGarette Blount type, only with better decision making on and off the field. He’ll be a reliable workhorse for the Steelers for a long time. I wouldn’t be shocked if he went over 1,000 yards on the year.
Cordarrelle Patterson – Minnesota Vikings
Without a doubt the biggest developments this offseason for the Minnesota Vikings involved their receiving corps. The team traded disgruntled and oft-injured wide-out Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2014 first-round pick. The Minnesota front office went out and replaced the über-dynamic Harvin with Greg Jennings from the rival Green Bay Packers. While Jennings will be the number-one receiver, the Vikings first-round pick in this year this year’s draft, Cordarrelle Patterson, could have just as big of an effect as Jennings. The 29th overall pick out of Tennessee is big, 6’2″, 216 lbs, and very athletic (37 inch vertical, 4.42 40-time), allowing him to go up and get the ball as well as create the separation to do so (he was a JUCO track star as well.) He has stupendous vision, incredible reaction time and acceleration, and a remarkable ability to change direction on a dime. Cordarrelle is also quite versatile himself. In his only season against FBS competition Patterson racked up 308 yards on just 25 carries, an average over 12.3 per hand-off. His speed, agility, and quickness also make Cordarrelle great in the return game. Overall, Cordarrelle Patterson should do a bang-up job at helping Vikings fans get over the loss of Percy Harvin.
Markus Wheaton – Pittsburgh Steelers
Following the departure of Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers immediately went about re-bolstering their receiving corps through the draft. The wide out they settled on was a relatively unknown and an extremely underrated pass-catcher out of Oregon State by the name of Markus Wheaton. In his senior season as a Beaver, Markus totaled 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 TD’s and finished his career as OSU’s all-time leader in receptions. He’s got 100m track speed but his quickness is the first thing you notice when watching film of him. He’s capable of beating teams both horizontally and vertically and is a viable option at both slot and outside receiver. While Wheaton is only 5’11″, 182 lbs, his best NFL comparison is his teammate Antonio Brown, who possesses similar build and playing style and accumulated 1,108 yards in 2011. Markus will be primarily be sharing targets with Brown and Emmanuel Sanders this season and should have an opportunity to see significant playing time this season.
Aaron Dobson – New England Patriots
As most people already know, Tom Brady doesn’t have many viable, proven targets to throw to right now. Welker’s gone to Denver, Gronk is injured yet body-slamming people in night clubs, Brandon Lloyd is gone, and well, you know all about Aaron Hernandez. So who’s Brady got to throw to? The Pats have two bona fide slot receivers in Amendola and Julian Edelman but on the outside there’s alot of questions. The player I think has the most potential is Aaron Dobson. He’s big (6’3″, 210 lbs.) and has great concentration and soft hands. Dobson is a legitimate deep threat, comparable to Sidney Rice of Seattle, and could potentially see a similar amount of targets that Brandon Lloyd did last season. Look for Dobson to be one of Brady’s go to deep threats.
Zach Ertz - Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted tight end Zach Ertz with the third pick in the second round of the draft. The pick came as a bit of a surprise to many in that the Eagles had their choice of quarterbacks at that point (Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley.) But they went with the 6’5″, 250 lbs Stanford product. Ertz, while not as athletic as his first-round counterpart Tyler Eifert, is a good route-runner and has excellent size and is tremendously physical. He possesses great hands and an uncanny ability to adjust his body to make a catch and can also line up in the slot. He’s drawn many comparisons to Cowboys tight end and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. He’s likely to be utilized in a bevy of two tight end sets along side Brent Celek. I expect Ertz to put up but time numbers this season and finish in the top 10 in terms of TE yardage this season.