7 NFL Players Who Shined in OTAs and Could Make 53-Man Rosters
The free-agency frenzy and the draft is essentially like having two minutes to shop for groceries before a massive storm hits. The supermarket is packed with customers, and items are flying off the shelves. You run through the aisles, throwing stuff in your cart, frantically barking things like, "We need this!" or "Grab that!" and "Get two of those!"
When you hit the organized team activities (OTAs), that's when you take a moment to step back and look at the items you picked up.
The items will vary in quality; you'll be happy about those delicious apple pies you stocked up on, but you may have inadvertently picked up an expired carton of milk and several disgusting avocados that weren't nearly as fresh as the sign indicated.
The smart ones look at their items and say, "We did a good job." The not-so-smart ones look at their items and say, "What the hell did we just buy?"
OTAs are important because you get to see what your rookies can do. You get to study the abilities of your free-agent acquisitions. You also get to see how far your injury-prone players have progressed in their rehab.
It marks the first time the young guns and the veterans on your team meet and start building their chemistry. It's an early brick in the foundation of what you hope to achieve throughout the dog days of camp and over the course of a long and daunting season.
If you want a Lombardi trophy, now's the time to start working for it.
Here are seven players who shined in the OTAs and have a great shot of making their team's rosters and having an impact in 2012.
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When you factor in Mohamed Sanu's natural ability to run crisp routes and gain separation, along with the receiving records which he collected at Rutgers, there was never a doubt that he would be one of the more coveted receivers up for grabs in the 2012 draft.
Sanu was selected by the Bengals in the third round as the overall 83rd pick. After an initial glimpse of Sanu's abilities in the Bengals' OTAs, fellow wide receiver A.J. Green was impressed. According to the Bengals' official website, Green had this to say about his new teammate:
"Man, that guy is smooth. He works the middle really well. A lot of people have questioned his speed, but the guy has football speed. It's just like myself. A lot of people say that he didn't run the fastest, but you see him on the field and he's fluid in-and-out of his breaks, he catches everything with his hands and he attacks the ball. He's going to be a special one."
Look for Sanu to be a strong contributor in the Bengals' new-and-improved offensive attack in 2012. He's headed for a roster spot and much more.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, New England Patriots
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Brandon Lloyd achieved elite status in 2010 by topping the league with 1,448 receiving yards. Problem is, that prolific season was sandwiched in between a series of inconsistent seasons.
Added to that quandary is the fact that Lloyd has played on six different teams in his decade-long career. Great football players need a home—a place where they can grow as athletes and expand their craft. Lloyd hasn't had that, and his frequent team-hopping might suggest that he has a misfit streak in him.
Lloyd seems at his most productive when he's partnered with Josh McDaniels. That's great news for Patriots fans, because McDaniels will return as New England's offensive coordinator in 2012, thereby linking the team's newly minted receiver with his most inspiring offensive guru.
Lloyd may also benefit from his brand new offensive guru—Tom Brady. The combination of McDaniels and Brady may provide Lloyd with the home he's spent a career searching for.
According to the Patriots' official website, Lloyd has already shown some skills during the team's OTAs:
"First look at Brandon Lloyd was impressive. He seemed to show good quickness and footwork as well as soft hands. He made a couple real nice receptions and didn't seem to be uncomfortable or lost in anything he did on the field."
This is excellent news for the more skeptical Patriots fans who worried that Lloyd might follow in the footsteps of Chad Ochocinco. Look for Lloyd to leapfrog over the team's lengthy list of potential receivers and be a profound contributor in the 2012 season.
Juron Criner, WR, Oakland Raiders
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No two colors define football more than silver and black. With a rich backstory peppered with names like Al Davis, John Madden, Ken Stabler, Lester Hayes, John Matuszak, Tom Flores and Marcus Allen, the Raiders are one of the most important franchises in NFL history.
For all these reasons and more, when the Raiders are good, football is good.
Enter rookie Juron Criner. He was one of the more underrated receivers up for grabs in the 2012 draft, and the Raiders wisely scooped him up.
According to the Raiders' official website, Criner is already showing flashes of brilliance. Raiders' quarterback Carson Palmer had this to say about his rookie receiver:
"Made a couple great catches. I think he proved that if you give him a chance, he'll go up and get it. So he's an exciting young guy. It makes other guys at the same position realize that there's going to be a lot of competition there."
Head coach Dennis Allen also added these thoughts:
"I think every day he gets a little better. He's learning more what to do, so I was pleased with the way he practiced today. It's not a whole lot different than what we saw on him on tape in college. So that's what we expect out of him."
Criner, himself, added this self-assessment:
"I feel like it was a good practice, but that sets the tone for how I need to practice the rest of the time here, years to come."
Expect big things from Criner. He will be a stud.
Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants
Pinkus / AP
In the 2012 draft, the Giants selected one of the hottest wide receivers on the market. In drafting Rueben Randle, Big Blue aggressively demonstrated their intention to repeat as world champions.
Will it be enough? Tough to say, considering how many teams improved themselves over the offseason. Even still, providing Eli Manning with more capable targets on the field should be enough to make every other NFC team very nervous, especially in the last few minutes of a tight game.
Giants.com's John Schmeelk and WFAN's Paul Dottino have a great video on the Giants' official website, in which they break down the team's progress throughout the OTAs. Here's what Dottino had to say about Randle:
"We watched rookie minicamps just a short time ago and I thought that Randle immediately made a very strong impression. I think he continued that here in the OTAs. I will say this: He's very polished, he clearly has a concept about what he's doing, which puts him a little bit ahead of the curve as to most of the other rookies."
Great news for Giants fans. A giant bummer for everybody else.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
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In a whirlwind offseason around the league, the Redskins were one of the teams that truly left their mark. In the course of a few months, they rearranged the face of their franchise by drafting quarterback Robert Griffin III and bringing in the highly underrated receiver Pierre Garcon. Griffin III and Garcon have the potential to be one of the most lethal one-two punches in the NFL.
According to Sports Illustrated, Griffin III is already impressing his teammates at the Redskins' OTAs.
Santana Moss had this to say about his new young quarterback:
"Right now, he's been doing everything that we expect. He's looking sharp."
Garcon added these thoughts:
"He doesn't look like a rookie. He's throwing, and he's putting the ball where it needs to be. He's doing a great job. He's accurate on his deep ball and everywhere else."
London Fletcher had this to say:
"You can obviously see the maturity, the leadership, all the intangibles you would like in your quarterback. He's very humble, very respectful and not coming in feeling like he's entitled to anything. He's willing to work, he works hard, he's here early and he's in the playbook. A lot of different things that, believe it or not, there are some first-round draft picks, especially some high guys, they come in and feel like things should be given to them. That's not the case with him. He has an aura about himself that people want to gravitate to him, just get to know him, and talk to him. You can see why everyone felt so highly about him."
RGIII will enter the 2012 season as Washington's starting quarterback and take the league by storm.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
Sakuma / AP
Darren McFadden is building his health back to full strength, which is great news for the Raiders and bad news for every other team in the NFL. The Raiders are very quietly building a strong and explosive roster that can make a legitimate impact on the 2012 season.
According to the Raiders' official website, McFadden is making an impression during the OTAs. Quarterback Carson Palmer had this to say:
"He caught a screen today and did something that probably not anybody else in the league can do. You can't watch him, in my position. You've got to go through your possession, your footwork, your hand placements, and then do the bootlegs and not turn around to see what he does. That's the hardest thing for me right now, is you want to watch him because he's so electrifying and he can do so many different things. It's been great to work with him."
McFadden is a stud who will roar into the 2012 season with a vengeance.
Devin Hester, WR, ST, Chicago Bears
In the 10 Commandments of the NFL, the first Commandment is: "Thou shalt not kick it to Devin Hester." And yet, year after year, kickers violate this holy rule like clockwork.
At this point, it shouldn't be a surprise that Hester's headed for a roster spot in 2012. What might be surprising, however, is the level of praise at the team's OTAs which he recently got from quarterback Jay Cutler. According to CBS Chicago, Cutler had this to say about his star teammate:
"Devin Hester is probably having the best camp out of all the receivers. We have a lot of weapons. Management is going to have a tough job figuring which five-six guys we want to keep."
Brandon Marshall, arguably the Bears' most surprising and incredible offseason pickup, added this:
"I love Devin. I've never been around a guy who runs routes like that outside of those numbers. I've played with a lot of great receivers and this guy has great feet. Of course we know what he's capable of with the ball in his hands and especially on special teams, but as a wide receiver, I think Coach Bates and Coach Tice have a great feel for what he's capable of doing and putting him in that position. I honestly think he's going to have an All-Pro year at wide receiver and I'm just going to ride along and enjoy with him."
Big praise, indeed. For all of those Bears fans who hope to see Hester eventually land in the Hall of Fame, a strong showing in 2012 could go a very long way.