Fearing the media crunch would distract Manti Te'o, the San Diego Chargers have barred access to the rookie linebacker until the team's June 11-13 minicamp. This speaks to the concerns franchises have about integrating first-year players into the pressure-packed environment of the NFL.
With that in mind, which rookie faces the most daunting spotlight in 2013?
Smith under a giant media microscope in New YorkFirst of all, I agree with the Chargers' policy on Manti Te'o. That said, I believe New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith faces the most daunting spotlight, for a few reasons.
Not only is Smith entering a high-profile market in New York, he's coming from a low-profile market in Morgantown, W.Va. Mark Sanchez, the incumbent starting quarterback, is coming off of two subpar years. Obviously, patience is wearing very thin with No. 6. Therefore, there will be pressure from outside the organization to play Smith. Finally, Smith has shown his inexperience in dealing with the media so far, and that only increases the heat.
Milliner faces the weight of the world as Revis' replacementWe can think all we want about Geno Smith and Manti Te'o being under the most scrutiny, but when all is said and done, the guy under the biggest spotlight is New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner.
Milliner's replacing Darrelle Revis, and because his fellow Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie is so good, the rookie will be targeted on a routine basis. Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson ... you name it, Milliner is going to get it. He plays on the side of the ball that could be under the most duress for the Jets, because the offense probably isn't going to light it up. He also plays on the side of the ball that is most likely to determine coach Rex Ryan's future with the franchise.
Can Manuel be the Bills' savior at quarterback?Buffalo might not be a major media market, but I still believe quarterback EJ Manuel will be the rookie facing the most pressure in 2013. The Bills have been looking for Jim Kelly's replacement for the past 15-plus years. They surprised the football world when they selected Manuel in the middle of the first round, and the fan base is optimistic he'll become the franchise QB the organization desperately needs.
This Bills' offense has a nice complement of skill-position talent and a solid offensive line. If Manuel wins the starting job, he'll be expected to produce right away. I'm not convinced he's ready to live up to expectations in his rookie campaign.
Playoff guarantee will come back to haunt Smith, JetsI think the brightest spotlight will shine on Geno Smith in 2013. When Smith predicted the Jets would make the playoffs, he welcomed the one kind of pressure no quarterback really wants to see: the New York media blitz. The Manti Te'o saga will eventually fade, but a playoff guarantee in New York will follow a player for the rest of his career. Look at what happened to Vince Young, just for uttering the phrase "dream team."
We saw the amount of attention the "excited" Tim Tebow received as a backup to the struggling Mark Sanchez -- and that was without any type of guarantee. It'll be doubly intense for Smith.
Dolphins put the spotlight on Jordan with their draft-day trade-upThe Miami Dolphins put the bull's-eye squarely on defensive end Dion Jordan when they jumped up in the draft to get him with the No. 3 overall pick. There are high hopes in Miami; the expectation is a playoff berth. People will look to Jordan to play a huge part in that.
Jets want Smith to win a rigged QB battle, but is the rookie ready for his close-up?Geno Smith faces a spotlight bigger than the one Commissioner Gordon shines in the Gotham sky to summon Batman. The Jets are the new Cowboys: good or bad, every slight movement they make is news. I know critics have been harsh on Smith over the past couple of months, what with his behavior at the draft, the bold playoff prediction and the decision to fire his agents. But this is actually a good thing for Smith. None of these issues will actually shape who he is. In fact, they'll all be forgotten as he takes the field to try to win a rigged QB competition, with the team wanting him to seize the job from Mark Sanchez -- just like Sanchez beat out Kellen Clemens in a rigged competition four years ago. It's the "Circle of Life," except this time, Rafiki is holding up Smith instead of Sanchez.
The best thing is, Smith has learned very early that every move he makes is going to be scrutinized. He looks across the locker room and sees what happens when you don't succeed as a QB in that city. Right now, the Jets are doing the rookie a favor, allowing him to soak up the playbook and improve while Sanchez takes most of the heat from the fans and media because it's his job that's at stake. But soon, Sanchez will be out, and the gig will be Smith's. Then the newbie will learn what it's like when it seems as though every eye in the world is on you, scrutinizing every muscle twitch. A big part of becoming a successful NFL QB is learning to deal with immense pressure -- hopefully, Smith can improve in this area.