Ranking the Most Impressive Rookies so Far in Team Training Camps
Training camps are in full swing and this means NFL rookies are working to impress their coaching staff. Not everyone is making headlines or turning heads after the first week of camp. However, there are some that are showing why they were so highly coveted by their team.
I want to point out that there are some top-notch rookies missing from this list. This article is intended to outline those rookies who've had noteworthy performances. So, the fact that Trent Richardson didn't make this list doesn't mean he won't have a terrific rookie season.
No. 16 Keshawn Martin, Houston Texans
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Nick Scurfield, of the Houston Texans' team page noted that Keshawn Martin has received some work with Houston's first-team offense. It appears that Houston sees Martin as a legitimate option to open the season as the top slot receiver. He still needs to beat out Lester Jean for the job, but he has put himself in good position.
The Texans need someone to step up and provide some explosiveness to the passing game. At this point, Andre Johnson is their only major threat. Johnson's effectiveness over the years has been limited because of injuries. This season hasn't started off any better, as Johnson has been slowed by a groin injury.
Martin won't be able to replace an injured Johnson, but he can help move the chains. Because of his route-running ability and quickness, Martin does a good job creating in space. He is someone that can work out of the slot and make something out of nothing.
No. 15 Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
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Ryan Tannehill isn't ready to step on the field and immediately start for the Miami Dolphins. However, his natural abilities have been on display early in training camp. Head coach Joe Philbin had this to say about Tannehill:
It doesn't look too big for him here in the stadium and with coaches on the side and plays coming down from the coordinators upstairs and through that whole communication process. I was yelling on the touchdown pass, `Run, run, run,' and then he threw a touchdown.
There's little doubt that Tannehill is the most physically gifted quarterback on the roster. However, he'll need to show the coaches he can make proper reads before they insert him into the starting lineup. Philbin's comments show that Tannehill is moving in the right direction.
For the Dolphins, any positive reviews surrounding Tannehill is a reason for optimism.
No. 14 Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers
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The San Diego Chargers knew that they were getting a player with a ton of upside when they drafted Melvin Ingram. Throughout the early part of training camp, Ingram has flashed top-level play-making ability. Head coach Norv Turner had this to say about Ingram:
I think he's going to be really special, he's got a very physical presence. You look at those outside linebackers that have had great success in this league, and they have a physical presence.
Don't look for Ingram to open the season as a starter. However, he's too talented to keep on the sideline. The Chargers will work him into the rotation and allow him to get after the quarterback in passing situations.
Ingram's versatility will also help him make an early impact. During his college career, he lined up both at linebacker and along the defensive line. This means there's a chance San Diego features a package where Ingram lines up at defensive end or tackle.
No. 13 Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia Eagles
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Jeff McLane of Philly.com is reporting that Andy Reid has already named Mychal Kendricks the starting SAM linebacker. The Philadelphia Eagles recognized their lack of talent at the linebacker position, and this is why they decided to bring Kendricks into the mix.
Because of his explosiveness, Kendricks is going to make plays from sideline to sideline. That explosiveness will also help him make plays behind the line of scrimmage and rush the quarterback. Philly's addition of DeMeco Ryans gives Kendricks a mentor, and someone he can develop alongside.
There's a great chance that Kendricks finishes the season second on the team in tackles, while also tallying a handful of sacks and a few interceptions. This is a player that will have a major impact on the effectiveness of the defense.
No. 12 Kendall Reyes, San Diego Chargers
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ESPN's Bill Williamson points to Kendall Reyes as a potential draft-day steal for the San Diego Chargers. He stated the following about Reyes' impressive first week of training camp:
He has a combination of pass-rushing and run-stuffing ability that gives him the chance to be a complete player for a long time. While he has yet to prove anything, I think the Chargers feel comfortable playing him right away.
Heading into the draft, I had Reyes rated as a first-round prospect. He's still a little raw, but is the type of player that responds to coaching. He'll benefit from being able to spend the majority of this time working to perfect his craft.
It's also important that Reyes will have a more defined role with the Chargers. During his college career, he was asked to play multiple spots along the defensive and fill various roles. San Diego plans on lining him up at the five-technique position where he'll have a more defined job.
No. 11 Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
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It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the Cleveland Browns named Brandon Weeden their starting quarterback. The Browns' comfort level with Weeden's readiness is one of the main reasons they made him their second first-round pick. Because of his age (28 years old), Weeden needed to see the field early in his career to have first-round value.
Outperforming Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace shouldn't be hard for Weeden. He has a stronger arm and better size. Weeden's ability to make all the throws is what likely resulted in him earning the starting job so quickly.
It's obvious, the Browns are going to make Trent Richardson the focal point of the offense. It's his presence in the backfield that makes Cleveland's decision to start Weeden less worrisome. Young quarterbacks tend to have a easier transition when they have a strong running game to lean on.
No. 10 Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
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Throughout his college career, Alshon Jeffery showed that he had the ability to dominate the competition. His combination of size and leaping ability makes him a difficult matchup for any defensive back. Jay Cutler recently said that he "can see him being just a dominant force out there".
The biggest thing for Jeffery is to remain engaged in the game plan. It's important that the Bears find a way to get him involved. The most likely scenario is to develop a red-zone package that takes advantage of Jeffery's size.
Chicago's entire offense will benefit from the presence of Brandon Marshall, including Jeffery. Because of their similar skill set, it makes sense for Jeffery to use Marshall as a mentor. With the right development, Jeffery could develop into a similar playmaker.
No. 9 Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
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The Arizona Cardinals brought in Michael Floyd to add another playmaker to the offense. The idea was to help draw coverage away from Larry Fitzgerald. According to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, Floyd is showing his big-play ability and impressing the coaching staff.
It's going to be important for both Floyd and Fitzgerald to have a major impact. Because of the Cardinals' poor quarterback situation, it's up to the wide receivers to ensure the passing game is productive. Floyd's size and speed combination will absolutely help him overcome inconsistent quarterback play.
At this point, Floyd has yet to earn a starting job. However, it's only a matter of time before he seizes the spot opposite Fitzgerald. The Cardinals can't afford to bring Floyd along slowly if they hope to contend for a playoff spot.
No. 8 Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
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The Indianapolis Colts selected Coby Fleener because of his pass-catching ability. However, he is showing some potential as a blocker. A tight end who can both open running lanes and make plays in the passing game is a real versatile weapon. Fleener is exactly the type of player that is going to help ease Andrew Luck's transition into the NFL.
Bruce Arians and the Colts' offensive coaching staff are committed to making Fleener and the other tight ends a major part of the offense. Because of his size and quickness, Fleener is a major matchup problem. He's too big for defensive backs to handle, and too quick for most linebackers to cover.
Fleener will never be an elite blocking tight end, but as long has he gives good effort he'll be effective. He has the potential to really impact the overall efficiency of the offense.
No. 7 Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots
According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe, Dont'a Hightower is seeing a lot of first-team reps at the strong-side linebacker position. He also mentioned that he's the primary backup at the middle linebacker spot. This is more evidence that Hightower's versatility will play a key role in his ability to make an early impact.
I've mention in several previous articles that Bill Belichick and company will use Hightower as a pass-rusher. During his college career, Hightower often lined up at defensive end. He has a wide-array of pass-rush moves and the initial burst to attack the edge.
The New England Patriots don't have a lot of pass-rush options, which is why I expect to see Hightower used in that role. Look for the defensive staff to move him around the field and utilize him on blitz packages. Don't be surprised if you see both Hightower and Chandler Jones lined up at defensive end in passing situations.
No. 6 David Wilson, New York Giants
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The New York Giants let Brandon Jacobs leave via free agency during the offseason, and filled his spot with first-round pick David Wilson. All the reports coming out of Giants camp have pointed to Wilson making a strong impression. Jacobs had a decent career with the Giants, but Wilson is a better overall playmaker.
Wilson's explosiveness is something the Giants can't afford to have on the sidelines. His ability to pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air means New York can utilize him in different scenarios.
Increasing Wilson's chance of making an early impact is the injury history of starter Ahmad Bradshaw. During the course of his career, Bradshaw has only played a full 16-game schedule once. Nevermind the fact that Wilson is extremely talented, there's a great chance he gets a lot of touches this year just based on Bradshaw's injury history.
No. 5 Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
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According to Greg Bedard of Boston.com, Chandler Jones has already established himself as starter on the New England Patriots' defense. Bedard also points out that Jones is looking stronger than expected against the run. The Patriots need Jones to be a major contributor this season or their defense could produce equally terrible numbers as last season.
Generating a pass rush is the most important task Jones must accomplish. New England is looking to him to replace the sacks lost when they decided not to bring back both Mark Anderson and Andre Carter.
Jones' combination of explosiveness and high motor is what makes him such a dangerous pass-rusher. He'll be able to register several sacks based on his effort alone. However, it's that initial burst that will allow him to turn the corner and generate pressure.
I was encouraged to read Bedard's positive review of Jones' run defense. He has more work to do in this area, but already showing some improvement is a key to him becoming a great all-around player.
No. 4 Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers selected Luke Kuechly partly because of his NFL-ready skill set. However, most people overlook the fact that he also has tremendous upside. He may be ready to make an instant impact, but his best football is still ahead of him. Early reports out of the Panthers' training camp point to Kuechly as one of the standouts.
He has impressed coaches and teammates alike, with Jordan Gross stating:
He’s been as advertised, he’s got a nose for the ball and he throws his body around, and that’s what you want out of a linebacker. One thing that stands out is that when he blitzes, he rushes the passer, he doesn’t just blitz and stop if a lineman picks him up. He’s got moves, and his effort is good. If you get your hands on him, he wants to get off there and make a play. He doesn’t really act like a rookie at all.
Kuechly will register a lot of tackles this season, but it appears that he's going to provide more game-changing plays than expected. He's a real impact player that will instantly improve the effectiveness of the Panthers' defense.
No. 3 Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second first-round pick, Doug Martin, is receiving more media attention than Mark Barron. There's a ton of hype surrounding Martin, and most of it is because of his impressive play during the early part of training camp. It's clear that Martin is the most talented running back on the roster, and he's being given every chance to win the starting job.
Martin does a good job both breaking tackles and exploding through the hole. His low center of gravity and strong lower half is what allows him to run through arm tackles. However, it's his ability to quickly press the line that separates him form LeGarrette Blount.
It's also important to point out that Martin does a good job in the passing game. He's a committed pass blocker who possesses reliable hands and is explosive enough to create in space.
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills
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Stevie Johnson has some really high praise for Stephon Gilmore stating "everything I see in Revis, I see in Gilmore. ... He's definitely going to be a shut-down corner. You definitely can tell." This quote is just one of the many positive reviews coming out of the Buffalo Bills' camp regarding Gilmore.
His addition is equally as important as the big free-agent signing of Mario Williams. They must complement each other to ensure the defense reaches its potential. For Williams to have the time needed to generate pressure, he needs Gilmore to provide solid coverage. Conversely, Gilmore could produce some takeaways because of the poor decisions created by Williams' pressure.
One of the things I noticed while scouting Gilmore for the draft is that he does a good job avoiding mistakes. This is one of the main reasons why he'll have such a good rookie season. It won't take long for the league to recognize the type of upside Gilmore possesses.
Because of the pass-oriented offenses in the NFL, finding a shut-down corner is becoming a more important task.
No. 1 Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
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According to Tom James of the Tribune-Star, Andrew Luck completed over 70 percent of his passes through the first week of training camp. Practice isn't the same as real-game situations, but that fact that he's showing good timing and accuracy this early in camp is promising.
Luck isn't only catching the eye of the media, as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had this to say:
It’s just ‘wow’ every day. I’ve never been around a guy who can learn that fast. I’ve been around guys who are extremely smart, worked extremely hard at it, but he just gets it. It’s kind of scary that he can. I have to watch that he and I don’t get ahead of everybody else, because his learning curve is so quick.
Based on these early reviews, it's safe to say that Luck is going to have a successful rookie season. At this point, the only question is the extent of his success. I've made several comments that Luck has a chance to lead the Colts to a seven- or eight-win season.
Looking at the Colts' roster it's hard to ignore the talent. The offense has solid playmakers like Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Coby Fleener. A change in the offensive philosophy should also result in more production from Donald Brown and the running game.
Bringing in Chuck Pagano should increase the effectiveness of the defense. This is a unit that will play a more aggressive brand of football.
All this equates to Luck not having to immediately reach Peyton Manning-like numbers.