NEW YORK -- Last year's NFL Rookie of the Year races were hotly debated throughout the season. The candidates this year are a little tougher to predict.
This was a draft heavy on big uglies up front. But you normally need stats to get the year-end hardware, and offensive linemen usually are ignored. Defensive linemen, especially on the interior, often take time to make a big impact.
With that in mind, we've selected seven players we believe are in the best position to make the most noise as rookies:
1. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals running back: Tight end Tyler Eifert is a perfect fit for the Bengals' offense, but Bernard is in a better spot to put up numbers right away. The Bengals' offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, and the offense is begging for a running back with explosive skills like Bernard. Don't be surprised if he winds up out-gaining BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
2. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams wide receiver: He's already the Rams' best receiver. General manager Les Snead didn't trade up to draft Austin at No. 8 overall without a plan to feature Austin heavily in the offense. It's going to be fun to watch defenders try to keep up with Austin during his 13 games in domes this season. 13 (repeated for emphasis. A writerly trick.)
3. Unnamed Green Bay Packers rookie running back: I originally had Eddie Lacy written down. His three-down skills and tough running style figure to play very well against the six-man fronts that Aaron Rodgers affords. (If the Packers' offense can make running back Cedric Benson look younger, it can make a rookie look like a veteran.)
4. Arthur Brown, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: There's a reason why inside linebackers often win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Players typically transition to the position well and immediately become tackle machines. Brown, theoretically Ray Lewis' replacement, is in line to start and should rack up tackles behind a beefy defensive line.
5. Alec Ogletree, Rams linebacker: Like Brown, Ogletree should benefit from the quality defensive line in front of him. Ogletree was criticized in the pre-draft process for not being able to fight off blockers, but there's a good chance he will be able to roam free to make plenty of tackles and splash plays. A starting job is all but guaranteed.
7. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints safety: It's rare that a rookie safety is in position to make enough plays to pique the average fan's interest, but Vaccaro could be an exception. He'll be asked to cover great tight ends on the schedule like the Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez and the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. Vaccaro will be asked to blitz; he'll be asked to play center field and make big plays. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will put Vaccaro in position to get noticed.