NFL Rookie Report: Whose Stock Is Rising, Falling This Offseason?
The contrarian voice can be heard loudly in the football media. Everyone looks good in minicamp. Every team talks up their rookies. You can't learn anything from how players perform without pads. The truth is that the first two months of a rookie year can portend big things or reveal just how much work a young player has to do if he's going to make it in the NFL.
Not everyone looks good in minicamp, and some look better than others. Teams do talk up their rookies, but not every rookie, and when there's agreement between coaches and impartial writers, we need to take notice. You can learn something from how players perform without pads. Here's what we've learned about 10 rookies, whose stock is moving up or down after their first two months as a professional football player.
Up: Seattle 3rd-Round Quarterback Russell Wilson
After only three days of minicamp practice featuring rookies and other inexperienced players, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decided that he had seen enough to make Wilson a full-fledged member of the starting quarterback competition.
Wilson has been splitting reps with Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson throughout the spring, holding his own and displaying great leadership qualities on and off of the field. Even if he doesn't win the job in the preseason, Wilson put the league on notice that he has a good chance to be starter at some point in his career. A remarkable feat considering he isn't even six feet tall.
Down: Jacksonville 1st-Round Wide Receiver Justin Blackmon
Blackmon had a spring to forget after coming in as a top five pick and possible savior of the Jaguars passing game. He was arrested for aggravated DUI with a blood alcohol level of .24, which could be an indication of a larger problem.
Free-agent addition and fellow starting wide receiver Laurent Robinson told Blackmon to "grow up." That is his place as the "obvious leader" of the wide receiver corps, according to Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.
On the field, Blackmon is living down to some of the less enthusiastic scouting reports about him. When we talked to Charlie Bernstein (from ESPNFlorida) in an interview with 102.3 ESPN in Denver, he said Blackmon is having trouble creating separation, which was a major knock on his athletic skill set. If teams could have a do-over on a first-round pick, Blackmon would likely top the list.
Up: Oakland 5th-Round Wide Receiver Juron Criner
You might have thought the beat writers in Oakland were caught in a time warp after OTAs. The reports of multiple circus catches by an unheralded fifth-round pick at wide receiver were eerily reminiscent of the first reports about Denarius Moore, who now starts for the team.
Criner's body control and catch radius have made him an instant favorite and the No. 4 receiver, backing up Darrius Heyward-Bey. If the inconsistency that plagued Heyward-Bey during his first two years in the league returns, Criner could follow Moore's example and become a starter as a rookie.
Down: Houston 3rd-Round Wide Receiver DeVier Posey
It's hard to find anything positive about Posey's performance in May and June. His conditioning was a problem according to head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak also said he was "hollering" at Posey as much as any member of the team. According to the Houston Texans website, Kubiak called Posey "inconsistent" during minicamp.
Bring up Posey whenever anyone tells you that everyone looks good in the spring. The fact that Posey's flaws are more prominent than his assets in Kubiak's mind is a bad sign. Look for Keshawn Martin and second-year wideout Lestar Jean to force Posey to a healthy scratch at No. 5 while he continues to make up the time he missed being suspended for most of the 2011 season.
Up: Buffalo 1st-Round Cornerback Stephon Gilmore
Unlike Blackmon, Buffalo first-round pick Stephon Gilmore has looked like a top 10 pick in minicamp and OTAs. Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick loves him according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. Fitzpatrick applauded his instincts, aggressiveness and competitiveness.
That should come as no surprise, as Gilmore confidently ruled the team's rookie minicamp. The Bills have a surplus of cornerbacks even after the release of Drayton Florence, but it is hard to believe that Terrance McGee is going to beat Gilmore out to start after taking a pay cut this offseason.
Down: Miami 2nd-Round Offensive Tackle Jonathan Martin
You can't hold all of Martin's slow start against him. He was held out of Miami's practices until mid June because Stanford was still in session. The Dolphins are putting him at right tackle, a position he hasn't played since high school.
So it shouldn't be that surprising that South Florida Sun-Sentinel beat writer Omar Kelly reported that Martin struggled against Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick. Lydon Murtha is Martin's main competition.
Right now, unless Martin has a great camp and preseason, the team would be smart to let Martin get more accustomed to being on the right side before asking him to be a key piece of the offensive line.
Up: New York Jets 3rd-Round Linebacker Demario Davis
Rex Ryan compared Davis to Ray Lewis because of his ability to lead, but we don't have to take the coach's word for it. Darrelle Revis also singled out Davis when asked who stood out as a leader, according to Brian Costello from the New York Post.
Costello also reports that Davis has been moving around the defense and playing with the first team in sub packages. Bart Scott was unsuccessfully shopped during the offseason, and if his $4 million-plus salary wasn't guaranteed, the Jets might have cut him by now. His presence on the roster won't stop the Jets from getting Davis on the field a lot in his rookie year if he keeps playing the way he did this spring.
Down: San Francisco 49ers 1st-Round Wide Receiver A.J. Jenkins
Jenkins showed up to rookie minicamp in poor shape. Matt Barrows from the Sacramento Bee reported that Jenkins had a rough spring and got knocked around, often finishing plays on the ground. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat beat writer Grant Cohn called Jenkins one of the worst wide receivers in the team's minicamp.
Of course, many players have overcome slow starts to have great careers, but Jenkins trajectory clearly looks like that of a first-round bust. The 49ers signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham during the offseason, so they can give Jenkins some time to catch up and stay on his feet.
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