The 2013 NFL draft brought a lot more offensive linemen than flashy prospects at skill positions, but there will still be rookies lighting up the stat sheet.
This year’s quarterback class was thin, but there was a plethora of talent at other positions. Wide receivers were abundant, defensive linemen were frequently chosen, the talent at safety went deep into the draft, and three of the first four picks were offensive linemen.
Offensive linemen aren’t usually the winners of big-name awards, but there are plenty of other rookies who can display their potential from the get-go.
Which offensive rookies will rise to the occasion? Which defensive rookies will join the wave of young defensive talent?
Here are predictions for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham are leading the way in a wave of dominant tight ends, and Eifert is primed to join the exclusive group right away.
The evolution of the position has led to tight ends being drafted higher. Eifert was drafted with the 21st pick in the 2013 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, which will help an offense that already has A.J. Green catching passes and Jermaine Gresham starting as a serviceable tight end.
However, Eifert has the ability to completely change the Bengals’ offense. His stats at Notre Dame weren’t eye-popping, but his average of 13.7 yards per catch in 2012 and his 113 receptions over his last two years are definitely admirable.
Eifert flashed his potential at the 2013 NFL combine, where he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash. His time ranked fourth among tight ends, and his splendid 35.5″ vertical leap and 11’9″ broad jump both ranked second among tight ends.
His athleticism and his ability to make tough catches will allow him to perform like a star and contribute immediately. Green is a dominant receiver, but the Bengals don’t have many other options for quarterback Andy Dalton.
According to bengals.com, the Bengals are excited about the progress Eifert has made. While Marvin Jones is athletic and Jermaine Gresham averaged four catches per game in 2012, neither will produce as much as Eifert in the upcoming season.
With star cornerbacks and safeties keying in on Green, Eifert will be able to sneak by defenders and free up some space on deep routes and intermediate routes. His incredible hands should allow him to earn the trust of quarterback Andy Dalton, which is key for a rookie pass-catcher.
Eifert is an amazing athlete, and he averaged about six catches and 69 receiving yards per game over his last five games. He will make an immediate impact in Cincinnati, and he will jumpstart a great career with a solid rookie campaign.
Runner-up: Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Barkevious Mingo, LB, Cleveland Browns
At LSU, Barkevious Mingo wasn’t dominant, but he definitely has what it takes to dominate in Cleveland.
In the Browns’ 3-4 defensive scheme, Mingo will play outside linebacker, which will allow him to be a force. Ray Horton, who led the Arizona Cardinals’ defense in 2012, is patrolling the Browns’ defense, and that’s great for Mingo.
Horton is known for coaching to his players’ strengths, and he’s going to utilize Mingo in the best way possible.
The former Cardinals defensive coordinator is known for sending outside linebackers on blitzes often, which is good for Mingo. Mingo’s 1.58 10-yard split at the 2013 NFL combine wowed scouts, and it showed how quick he is off the line of scrimmage.
Horton sent outside linebacker Sam Acho on blitzes often, and Acho registered four sacks and 21 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As a defensive end in LSU’s 4-3 scheme, Mingo registered 15 sacks over his three-year career. In 2011 and 2012, Mingo posted 12.5 sacks.
His stats are solid, but there were players in 2012 with better numbers. However, not many are likely to have better stats in the NFL.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Hoag compared Mingo to DeMarcus Ware, another 4-3 defensive end who had to make the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker. Mingo was more productive than Ware in college, and while Ware only registered 11 sacks at Troy, he has accumulated 111 sacks over his NFL career.
And if Mingo works hard, he’ll be able to do the same thing.
Mingo’s 12’8″ broad jump and 37″ vertical leap opened eyes, and it showed everyone how athletic he is. Mingo’s athleticism should allow him to blow by big offensive linemen, and having Horton should allow him to post gaudy numbers.
Pass coverage isn’t Mingo’s biggest strength, but his athleticism and speed should allow him to stick with fast receivers and tight ends. Mingo won’t need to play against the pass much with the Browns, but he’s still capable of covering receivers.
In addition to getting to the quarterback often, Mingo has the potential to learn quickly and develop into a solid run-stopper and pass defender. He was picked sixth for good reason, and he will terrorize defenses from the get-go.
Runner-up: D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland Raiders
This article was originally published on Bleacher Report.