Who's to blame is up for debate, but Tavon Austin hasn't lived up to his potential in 2013. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season and beyond …
The need for immediate returns in the NFL puts an awful lot of pressure on rookies, who often need some time before they're able to translate their skills to football's highest level.
But teams spend a lot of time and energy prepping for the draft, then commit big bucks to players with zero professional experience. So, the expectations for rookies are naturally high from Day One.
These eight players, all taken in the top 45 last April, have not lived up to the hype thus far:
8. Kevin Minter, LB, Cardinals (No. 45): Injuries have wreaked havoc on a handful of top-50 guys, including Minter's teammate, guard Jonathan Cooper (No. 7 overall). The Cardinals also recently lost star third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu for the season to a knee injury.
The door was open for Minter to step in and claim playing time early on, with Daryl Washington suspended for the Cardinals' first four games. But he's been unable to stay healthy, to this point playing just one defensive snap the entire season -- even more disappointing since he saw heavy run early in the preseason.
The future might be very bright for Arizona's 2013 draft class, particularly if Mathieu returns and RB Andre Ellington continues to develop. But chalk up 2013 as a missed opportunity for Minter.
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7. Darius Slay, CB, Lions (36): The Lions used an early Day 2 pick on Slay, hoping to bolster a sorry secondary. The plan has backfired thus far.
Slay was benched multiple times early in the season and then coughed up his starting spot opposite Chris Houston to Rashean Mathis. He's currently ranked as the 93rd most-effective corner by Pro Football Focus (among players with at least 25 percent of their team's snaps played) -- two spots ahead of the struggling Houston.
When Slay finally did flip the switch for a Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay, a knee injury bounced him from the lineup afterward.
6. Justin Hunter, WR, Titans (34): Tennessee traded up for Hunter, who then got called out by receivers coach Shawn Jefferson for missing OTAs and more recently was benched in Week 15 for violating team rules. In between, the talented, 6-foot-4 receiver made just 18 catches, with 10 coming in Weeks 11 and 13 combined.
Hunter was a healthy scratch in Week 1, barely saw the field in Week 2 and has one catch or less in eight of the games in which he's played.
5. Bjoern Werner, DE/OLB, Colts (24): Another player slowed by injury, Werner always projected as a little more of a project pick than most of his fellow first-rounders. Still, it's been a tough go to get on the field ... and he has not exactly excelled once there. Werner had a chance to start for a suspended Erik Walden in Week 12 against Arizona, only to turn in arguably his worst showing.
The 2014 season should be better than 2013 for Werner. The Colts certainly hope so.
4. EJ Manuel, QB, Bills (16): No one will throw in the towel on Manuel just yet, but it's safe to say the Bills were hoping for more than an inconsistent, injury-plagued 2013 out of their rookie starter. Manuel was the first QB off the board in last year's draft -- a move that was questioned at the time and has looked more suspect of late, as players like third-rounder Mike Glennon and even undrafted Matt McGloin have been at least as effective, if not more so.
3. Dee Milliner, CB, Jets (9): Essentially, the plan in New York after Darrelle Revis left via free agency was to let Antonio Cromartie again inherit Revis' No. 1 role, while Milliner stepped into Cromartie's vacated spot as the No. 2 corner. Instead, it's been a slow go for Milliner, who has been benched in no fewer than three games.
Rex Ryan did throw his support behind Milliner a few weeks back, saying that he will be the best cornerback out of the '13 draft before all is said and done. Considering that he was the first CB picked, that's a fitting bar -- one that Milliner has not come close to reaching yet.
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2. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams (8): Blame the St. Louis play- calling or the quarterbacks or a steep learning curve for Austin. Whatever the explanation, we've only recently begun to see why the Rams moved up to nab the wide receiver in the top 10.
The Rams simply have had trouble finding ways to get Austin involved; he's scored in only two outings (four touchdowns total) and has one game with more than 100 yards receiving. Austin does have a 98-yard punt return and an 81-yard reception, so the home-run ability remains. St. Louis will need much more, however, in 2014.
1. Eric Fisher, OT, Chiefs (1): Kansas City threw a bit of a curveball by drafting Fisher ahead of Luke Joeckel to kick off the 2013 draft. Perhaps the fact that Joeckel missed the last three months of the season will make it easier to swallow how shaky Fisher has been.
Slotted into the starting lineup immediately at right tackle, Fisher has allowed six sacks and 32 QB hurries this season, both team-highs, and often has looked overmatched against the speed and power he sees from opposing edge-rushers.
The Chiefs would love Fisher to develop into a long-term stalwart on the line with an eventual move to left tackle. Right now, he's no closer to securing that future than he is to losing his job in 2014 or '15.
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