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Following on from our preemptive look at Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates last week, we follow that up with our shortlist of offensive rookies primed to make a run at their respective end of season accolade.
Tavon Austin – St Louis Rams
The former West Virginia wide receiver has all the tools to take the NFL by storm, having already impressed at the college level, having over 3000 yards receiving, 1000 yards rushing and 2000 yards in the return game during his time at WVU. With Danny Amendola now a member of the New England Patriots, quarterback Sam Bradford needs a new favorite target, and reports emanating from the Rams’ training camp suggest that man could be Austin. If Bradford can get the ball to Austin on a regular basis, there is no doubt his ability to make a tackler miss will come to the fore, and he could become a big playmaker for St Louis.
E. J. Manuel – Buffalo Bills
If Manuel can see off competition from Kevin Kolb for the starters’ role, then he could surprise a lot of people with his productivity this year. Playing behind a talented and young offensive line, he has a premiere target in Stevie Johnson, and a trio of rookie receivers in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da’Rick Rogers, all of whom could potentially play significant roles in the Bills’ season. One knock on Manuel from his college days was his inconsistency, but if he can improve on that, and Woods can become a dual threat with Johnson, then there is no reason to doubt Manuel’s chances of competing for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Cordarrelle Patterson – Minnesota Vikings
We previously mentioned that the Vikings could count themselves fortunate that Shariff Floyd fell to them in the draft, but trading up to take Patterson with the 29th pick overall had nothing to do with luck. The trade could be looked back on as an inspired move if he can live up to the undoubted potential he boasts. The fact he spent just one season with a Division I school is a concern, but with the threat of Adrian Peterson in the Vikings’ backfield, and Greg Jennings occupying the number one receiver spot, means Patterson could be in for a productive season, in both the passing and return games.
Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
In 2012, Bell’s first year as a fulltime starter, the former Michigan State running back rushed for 1740 yards, the most in the Big Ten, and showed enough to forego his senior year, making himself eligible for the NFL Draft. At 6 ft 1, and weighing 244 lbs, Bell is exactly the kind of bruising runner that the Steelers love, and the kind of player they have lacked for the last couple of seasons. Although he is excellent at running between the tackles, Bell also has surprising turn of pace, and can hurt teams on the outside too. If he can get the support he needs from Pittsburgh’s offensive line, then there is no reason to doubt that Bell could be leading all rookies in rushing come the end of the season.
Montee Ball – Denver Broncos
Ball could prove to be Bell’s biggest competition at the running back position, although only if he sees off both Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno at Denver first. Providing he does, Ball and Bell should see more carries than the likes of Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, and will likely eclipse them all in yardage. With Peyton Manning and a talented group of wide receivers in town, Ball could struggle to see the ball as much as Bell, and is potentially already playing catch up the Steeler.
Aaron Dobson – New England Patriots
A surprising selection for many, Dobson has a great opportunity to make a big impact in his rookie season. Some of Tom Brady’s favorite targets are no longer with the Patriots, and with the duo of Amendola and Rob Gronkowski both widely regarded as injury prone, Dobson could see himself used frequently in the Patriots’ offensive scheme. His chances live and die by the chemistry he can create with quarterback Tom Brady in training camp and the preseason games. If he can display good hands and proficient route running, thus securing himself sufficient game time, he will be aided by playing with one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, if not all time.
Honorable mentions; Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals), DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans), Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals), Geno Smith (New York Jets), Vance McDonald (San Francisco 49ers), Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles), Robert Woods (Buffalo Bills).
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