It's that time of year—NFL training camp is upon us once again. And with it, of course, comes the delightful endless stream of storylines and subplots heading into the new season. Focusing on the youngsters, however, who are the top 10 rookies we'll be watching as training camps unfold?
While the obvious answer would be to list the top 10 picks from the 2012 NFL draft, that wouldn't seem quite right.
Everyone knows who their teams' top picks were, and they will undoubtedly be under heavy scrutiny with every move they make and every sound byte they give. Getting outside the first round, here are the rookies you should keep an eye on this training camp.
A third-string running back drafted in the sixth round? Yup.
The Kansas Chiefs have Jamaal Charles coming back from an ACL tear that knocked him out for almost every snap last season. Behind him they have Madden 12 coverboy Peyton Hillis, but he played without any motivation last year and was allowed to leave Cleveland this offseason without much a fight.
Gray is a powerful back who can run well between the tackles, but he also has the burst to break it outside when given a seam. A shoulder injury slowed Gray down late in the year, leading to a drop in his draft stock, but he's a capable all-around back who could make an impact in Kansas City should Charles or Hillis struggle.
Were it not for the fact that he played on a torn ACL during his national championship-winning senior season, there is no way Josh Chapman's name would have lasted on the draft board till Round 5.
Chapman took one for the team when he decided to play on his busted up knee instead of shutting it down for the year and having surgery. This led to Chapman still hobbling around at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, and the unfortunate draft-day slide.
Chapman should be healthy once the regular season rolls around, and with the Colts moving to a 3-4 this year, they could use his big body at the nose to draw the double-teams. Chapman ran a very similar scheme at Alabama and is NFL-ready once his knee checks out.
Another player afflicted by an injury-related slide, the Houston Texans found an absolute steal in fourth-rounder Jared Crick.
Crick was a preseason first-round prospect at Nebraska before a torn pectoral muscle shut him down for much of his senior season. Crick didn't recover in time to participate in the Senior Bowl, but he did perform well at the scouting combine. His pectorals and past knee issue were enough to scare teams away until Day 3 of the draft.
Crick will start out behind Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt, but he has a good chance to work himself into the rotation at defensive end behind Smith. Watt won't leave the field much, but if Crick can play like he did at Nebraska, it won't be long before he's pushing Smith for minutes.
With Casey Hampton on his last legs and Chris Hoke gone from the Pittsburgh Steelers lineup, fourth-rounder Alameda Ta'amu has a chance to make a splash behind first-year starter Steve McClendon.
Ta'amu is a big body at 6'2" and 350 lbs—definitely big enough to cause a traffic jam in the middle of the Steelers' 3-4 defense at nose tackle. Where Ta'amu must get better (based on his play at Washington) is staying low enough to generate a push and working within the scheme without trying to get too far upfield.
If the Pittsburgh coaches can harness Ta'amu's amazing size and potential, he could be a starter this season.
The Seattle Seahawks surprised a lot of people when they took Russell Wilson in Round 3 having invested heavily in Matt Flynn just prior. There is a definite battle at quarterback in the Seattle training camp this summer, and Wilson is firmly entrenched in the middle of it.
Wilson was a baller at Wisconsin, and really impressed in sessions at the Senior Bowl and combine, but there was the prickly issue of his height. At around just 5'11", many were concerned about Wilson's ability to see over NFL offensive lines, despite the fact that his Wisconsin offensive line was the fourth tallest in all of football last season—college and NFL.
I've yet to meet anyone who isn't pulling for Wilson. He's a great kid, a phenomenal athlete, and he throws the ball with picture-perfect form and velocity. Watching him in training camp won't just be fun, we could be seeing the quarterback of the future in Seattle.
The Houston Texans have a big need for a No. 2 wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson after they released Jacoby Jones this spring. The hope is that third-rounder Devier Posey can be that guy.
Posey was very talented at Ohio State, but he missed most of his senior season due to suspension and then struggled to adjust so quickly to the new QBs throwing his way at the Senior Bowl.
What you did see when Posey played at Ohio State this past season was an aggressive wideout who attacks the ball in-flight. He works back to the ball very well and has the size to be a boundary receiver.
If Posey can adjust to Matt Schaub quickly and knock off some of the rust he accumulated last season, the No. 2 receiver spot is wide open for the taking.
With their second pick in the 2012 NFL draft the New York Jets addressed what may be the weakest position on their roster: wide receiver.
By adding the super-athletic Stephen Hill, New York gave their quarterbacks the size, speed and athleticism previously lacking on the Jets roster.
The issue with Hill—and what's worth watching in training camp—will be how quickly be acclimates to the NFL game at receiver. Coming out of an option-based offense at Georgia Tech, Hill wasn't asked to run many routes in a non-existent passing game. While he was putting in major work pre-combine to get better there, Hill is still a work in progress.
If training camp goes well, Hill could be lining up opposite Santonio Holmes as starter from opening day.
The Baltimore Ravens couldn't have known when they selected outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the second round just how badly they'd need him this season. But they do now.
Upshaw will be asked to fill in for 2011's Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, who will miss at least most of the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. With Suggs out, Upshaw is the next man up in Baltimore.
While very few can replace Suggs right away, Upshaw is in a good position to try. He's coming from a versatile scheme at Alabama that asked him to line up in multiple positions—something Baltimore does in their hybrid scheme—so he is prepared to read the offense from different areas of the field.
How well Upshaw blends into the scheme may very well be the storyline of training camp in Baltimore. It will help that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are there to get him lined up, but the coaching staff is counting on Upshaw to be a Week 1 starter.
The St. Louis Rams' second-round pick will be under the watchful eye of the media, fans, coaches and even the league from the minute he straps on his helmet. If you haven't heard of Janoris Jenkins yet, here's an update:
- Kicked off the Florida football team
- Multiple marijuana-related arrests
- Fathered four children with three women
While he's not been a model citizen, Jeff Fisher and the Rams are expecting him to be a model NFL player. Jenkins is penciled in to the starting lineup and is being counted on to impact the Rams defense from the minute training camp starts.
There is talent there, and a lot of it, but Jenkins needs to shake off the rust that comes with playing one year at Division II North Alabama. He also needs to start performing on-field immediately to effectively keep people's minds off the whole off-field side of things.
Watching Jenkins in camp for his athletic talent is one thing, but you can bet there will be those watching, micro-analyzing every aspect of his attitude and demeanor to see if he can be a key player in St. Louis.
It may be cheating to list the top two picks from the draft here, but there is no doubt that they will be the most-watched rookies in any NFL training camp this summer.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are being counted on by thousands to turn around the respective football programs in Indianapolis and Washington. That is why they were drafted one-two in Round 1 this year.
Fans and media members will be watching every snap to see if Luck can step in to the shadow of Peyton Manning and lead the Colts his rookie season. In Washington, they'll all be watching to see if RGIII can transition to an NFL-style offense after playing in a wide-open scheme at Baylor.
Questions abound for these two superstars as they begin their careers, and the eyes of the NFL will be upon them.