Andrew Luck and 5 Training Camp Studs Poised for Superstardom
214 players are selected annually in the NFL draft, and countless others are signed as undrafted free agents.
Many of that group turn into good players or even above-average role players, but how many reach the level of superstardom? I guess it depends on how loosely you throw around the term "star," but to me, there are no more than 100 in the NFL.
Does that mean a very good player doesn't make an impact? No, but it does mean that his presence isn't felt quite as much.
I scoured every team's roster and chose the top five training-camp studs who will end up as superstars some day. It's not by choice that all the players on the list are rookies; it just ended up being that way.
The amount of talent Janoris Jenkins possesses as a man-to-man cover corner is astonishing. If he would have kept his nose clean in Florida, they wouldn't have dismissed him from their program, and he probably would have been a first-round selection.
But maybe that's just what needed to happen for him to get his life headed in the right direction. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are adamant about being Jenkins' babysitter as long as he's under their watch.
On how Fisher will treat Jenkins, Paul Kuharsky, ESPN's AFC South blogger, had this to say: "He'll be far more hands-on with Janoris Jenkins than with anyone else. He'll talk about treating him the same as everyone else, and he'll baby him."
It seems as if his dominant play is already transferring over from the collegiate level. No negative talk at all about his on-the-field play, and NFL insiders like Adam Schefter are echoing things we heard pre-draft about his potential:
Through a week of training camp, Janoris Jenkins has flashed Pro Bowl potential. He's looked like a natural corner, like he can man that position. Has looked like a difference-maker at the cornerback spot, like a future Pro Bowl player. The Rams are very excited about what they've seen from their young cornerback so far.
Based on his skill set, playing background and potential, there's no doubt in my mind that Jenkins will one day be a star.
One of the lesser front-line stories we've heard about so far into training camp is the rapid learning of weak-side linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Carolina knew what type of player they were getting and felt like his impact would be made early on in run support. After all, that was the area that really allowed him to shine in college.
However, Kuechly's coverage ability is turning heads at Panthers camp. No one really thought that this area of his game would catch on so quickly.
Our friends over at Sideline Scouting reiterated those same thoughts in their pre-draft scouting report: "Not a natural man-coverage backer, is not especially quick or agile with his back to the quarterback and isn't asked to cover a tight end or running back very often."
Fans who have been attending practice imply that the MVP over the first week of camp has been Kuechly. This isn't surprising, as his natural athletic ability matches up with his desire for the game.
All he has to do is keep filling the gaps, sniffing out run plays and reacting to plays on the fly. Doing these three things will strengthen the position previously held by Thomas Davis.
The David Glenn Show is the largest sports radio show in North Carolina, and on their show was Joe Person, reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Person sees the team up close everyday and offered this nugget via Twitter:
Person: I think Luke Kuechly will have an incredible year. He's as good as advertised
—David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) July 31, 2012
The kid's a star and can man any of the three linebacker positions. Superstardom is not too far off for this Boston College product.
When Jared Allen is sending hostile profanities your way, you have to be doing something right. Allen finished the 2011 season with 22 sacks and is regarded as one of the best pass-rushers in the game.
According to Pro Football Talk, Matt Kalil bothered big brother Ryan for some tips on how to stop the All-Pro. Apparently, the advice given is coming in handy. The Vikings may have found their cornerstone offensive tackle for the next 10 years; shutting down Allen basically implies he can shut anyone down.
Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN sent out this tweet on the day of Kalil owning Allen:
Matt Kalil just stonewalled Jared Allen two snaps in a row in one-on-ones. Allen cursed loudly. #Vikings
—Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 31, 2012
These are the types of training camp battles an organization wants their No. 1 pick to engage in. The competition between the two will only make each of them better. Plus, it's pretty safe to say the rookie offensive tackle will learn something that he can then use against other pass-rushers.
For Minnesota to improve, Christian Ponder needs to remain upright, so drafting a star like Matt Kalil proves to already be paying dividends.
The media is flocking to Redskins Park to watch Robert Griffin III and his flashy speed. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Andrew Luck is quietly going about his business, and it might just be me when I say this, but the coverage of the No. 1 pick seems to be less of a priority this year.
Regardless, that doesn't take away from Luck's progression. More than one report has acknowledged that he has control over everything, just like Peyton Manning did.
His command of the huddle and pre-snap reads have to be the most impressive, considering we are only two weeks deep in training camp. Members of the Colts coaching staff noted that his knowledge of the game and preparation makes life a whole lot easier for everyone.
Head coach Chuck Pagano doesn't see him as a rookie. In a recent interview with NFL.com's Albert Breer, he said:
It's because he's right—he's making the right decisions, he's making the right checks, he's making the right calls. The guys know. This guy knows his stuff[...] From my vantage point, it's like you're watching a guy that's a three- or four-year veteran.
"QB Andrew Luck doesn't repeat mistakes. From St. Louis days, QB Sam Bradford had misreads that Luck doesn't," King said (h/t Phillip Wilson, The Indianapolis Star).
Even though the Colts lost a Hall of Fame quarterback in Manning, they seem to be in good hands going forward with their newest rising star at the helm.
As I mentioned yesterday, Stephon Gilmore's ascension into the spotlight has been rapid—to say the least.
His junior season at South Carolina was filled with so many highlight plays that it made every NFL personnel man take notice. He finished the season with 46 tackles, seven passes defended, four interceptions and one forced fumble.
On more than one occasion, draft evaluators uttered that they didn't think he could ever be a No. 1 corner. Most thought he would be a good No. 2 or nickel corner. Well, Buffalo felt differently, as they drafted him at No. 10 to be their No. 1.
Head coach Chan Gailey has already entrenched him into the starting lineup and had high praise of him after last Tuesday's practice (via BuffaloRumblings.com).
"The thing about Stephon I've found is he is very consistent; there is no up and down in the guy," Gailey said. "What you see everyday is what you get everyday. And that has been a pleasant surprise."
Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson knows good cornerback play, as he's has had some pretty intense battles with divisional rival Darrelle Revis. But to say Gilmore is Buffalo's Revis might be a bit much, right?
I guess not; take a look at what Johnson was quoted as saying to Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter:
Everything I see in Revis, I see in Gilmore; of course, Revis does a few things better, and I think Gilmore has a few things that may be better than Revis. I can't say too much like that, because I don't want to put too much out there. But he's definitely going to be a shutdown corner. You definitely can tell.
No pressure, rook. If Gilmore's play from training camp transitions into the regular season, he can say hello to superstardom.