For me, the most intriguing part of NFL training camps is when rookies—or other unproven veterans—stand out in the crowd of higher-profile and higher-paid teammates. Of course, generally speaking, these "standouts" often fizzle when the season begins or are never even given a chance.
Every now and then, though, a player lives up to the buzz generated in camp.
Here are 10 such players from this year's training camps.
CB Perrish Cox, San Francisco 49ers
An ideal fit for the 49ers' physical brand of football, Cox is able to jam and reroute receivers on the line and has the speed to keep up on the outside. In one practice alone, he broke up a deep pass to Ted Ginn Jr.—matched him stride for stride—and later landed the hit of the day, knocking the 240-pound Anthony Dixon on his back.
Cox has received the majority of his reps at nickel, and his play has been lauded by those in attendance, including teammates.
“He’s a quick guy, he’s always around the football,” safety Dashon Goldson said of Cox. “We were talking about it today. I think he has a lot of potential. He’ll help this football team. He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s showing up on film. He’s around the ball all the time, getting his hands on balls. That’s a big thing in the secondary.”
WR Diondre Borel, Green Bay Packers
Borel is finally comfortable in his new position. A quarterback at Utah State, Borel converted to wide receiver in the NFL and spent last season on the practice squad. The extra time in the gym, running routes and working hard has paid off.
“Borel is stronger. He did a good job in the weight room,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after a recent practice. “You can see his athletic ability and instincts, which I think is a big strength of his. Diondre is a very instinctive player, a smart player.”
Whether the Packers have room for another receiver, though, is another story.
Rudolph's hands make Tony Robbins' look like mini plantains. Jerry Seinfeld calls them "man hands;" I call them perfect tight end hands. Hands that swallow the ball whole in one gulp. Hands softer than a down comforter yet stronger than steel. Hands made for catching, and that's just what they do—Rudolph dropped just one of the 37 passes thrown to him during his rookie season in 2011.
With a catch radius that has its own zip code, it's no surprise Rudolph is quarterback Christian Ponder's best friend—and his favorite target.
CB Jayron Hosley, New York Giants
The "Green Banana" needs to ripen up in a hurry. Maybe the bright lights of MetLife Stadium will accelerate the process.
Hosley, a third-round pick out of Virginia Tech with top-end speed and hip fluidity, has quickly ascended to the top of the depth chart at nickel. He also returned punts in college—two for touchdowns in three years—and could be in the mix as a return man.
The more reps he gets, the more plays he makes, a trend destined to continue when the regular season kicks off.
RB Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
Ridley shined in limited opportunities last season—BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the starter, and let's face it, the Patriots don't really run the ball much. The then-rookie carried the ball 87 times for 441 yards (5.1 average) and one touchdown. He possesses a quick burst and has the strength and power to run inside.
The threat of his big-play abilities alone—Ridley had five rushes of 20 yards or more—will open up the passing game, and vice versa.
QB Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals
Lindley is exactly what we expected: a raw prospect with rough edges and enormous potential. He stares down receivers and lacks touch, but he has a cannon for an arm and underrated mobility.
So did the quarterback battle in Arizona grow another head?
Not exactly, though Lindley has been perhaps the most impressive of the bunch. However, the call to start, should Kevin Kolb and John Skelton both falter, may come sooner than expected.
RB Bilal Powell, New York Jets
Because, after all, he is a superhero. Quarterback, running back, long snapper, he can do it all—right?
The media and silly fans would have you think so.
OK, that might be a stretch of the imagination. But it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Thankfully, Powell is quietly emerging as an option at running back. The second-year pro now has a firm grasp of the offense and is ready to step in and contribute. He hits the hole hard, has good vision and is a willing blocker in pass-protection—all requirements in a Tony Sparano offense.
LB Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens
You're filling more than just shoes when you replace Terrell Suggs—sidelined with an Achilles injury—in the starting lineup at outside linebacker. You're stepping into a role with very high, All-Pro expectations. Kruger knows that. He also knows he's no Suggs, nor will he attempt to be.
Kruger is an athletic, high-motor linebacker at his best in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. He recorded 5.5 sacks last season as a pass-rush, third-down specialist.
An increase in playing time will mean an increase in production.
WR T.J. Graham, Bills
Graham is currently in the midst of a heated battle with Marcus Easley for the starting gig alongside Steve Johnson. Neither has separated from the other, but Graham had the better preseason opener of the two. The rookie receiver hauled in three receptions for 37 yards; Beasley had one reception for 12 yards.
If Graham continues to impress in practice and preseason, he'll be on the field for that very first offensive snap of the season.
LB/DE Dontay Moch, Cincinnati Bengals
Moch has to serve a four-game suspension, but once he returns, watch out. He will have a clearly defined role that utilizes his strengths—speed and explosiveness off the line—waiting for him. The versatile defender has been getting a lot of looks as a defensive end in nickel packages. His sole responsibility will be to get after the quarterback before you can say "4.44 forty-yard dash."