10 Biggest Surprises from NFL Rookie Camps

Dan HopeContributor IIIMay 13, 2013

10 Biggest Surprises from NFL Rookie Camps

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    More than two weeks removed from the 2013 NFL draft, rookie minicamps for all 32 NFL teams are in the books.

    Those rookies will now be joined by veterans as the schedule shifts to organized team activities (OTAs). Before the veterans come back to prove their own worth for starting and roster spots, the young players each had their chance to make a strong first impression.

    Some unexpected players made coaches and observers take notice during their team's minicamps. Conversely, some draft picks failed to live up to higher expectations.

    The following 10 observations, highlights and quotes from around the league stood out among the most unexpected and noteworthy from the rookie camp season.

Ray Ray Armstrong Lining Up at Linebacker for Rams

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    Pundits viewed physical, hard-hitting strong safety Ray Ray Armstrong as a potential high draft pick entering his junior season at Miami in 2011. His career fell apart quickly, however, when he was suspended a total of five games that season for accepting improper benefits, then dismissed prior to the 2012 season.

    The St. Louis Rams are giving Armstrong a second chance, but not as a safety. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Armstrong is moving to outside linebacker, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    Coming off a questionable past and now having to learn a new position following a full year out of football, his odds of making the Rams appear long.

    Armstrong has good athleticism and striking ability for the position. However, he must learn how to take on blockers at the line of scrimmage, continue to bulk up (though he is now at 227 pounds, per the Post-Dispatch) and be a quick learner.

    The Rams drafted one converted safety in Round 1 when they selected Georgia's Alec Ogletree at No. 30 overall. Ogletree is expected to make an immediate impact at weak-side linebacker. Armstrong could be a good fit as his backup, but he will have to make a quick impression.

Luke Willson: From College Backup to Seahawks Minicamp Standout

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    It's certainly unusual for a backup tight end from Rice to be drafted, but that's what happened for Luke Willson. Willson had just nine receptions in his senior season at Rice, but the Seattle Seahawks still drafted him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft (No. 158 overall selection).

    Willson is an athletic tight end who has displayed the flashes of becoming a playmaker at the position. However, he was inconsistent at Rice and is coming off of an injury-plagued senior season.

    Surprisingly, Willson stood out in the Seahawks' rookie camp, according to The Seattle TimesJayson Jenks. Willson "displayed an ability to get behind the defense" during the minicamp, Jenks said.

    Considering Willson ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at Rice's pro day, according to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, that revelation should not come as a major surprise. That said, it is impressive that Willson is making a big impression so quickly after an unspectacular career at a mid-major university.

    Willson should have a shot to compete with Anthony McCoy for the No. 2 spot on the Seahawks' tight end depth chart.

Angelo Pease Stands Out Among Packers Running Backs

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    The Green Bay Packers selected two of the draft's most highly rated running backs in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, but it was an undrafted free agent who drew the most praise from Packers coach Mike McCarthy during rookie camp.

    Kansas State running back Angelo Pease was not even on the radar to be drafted. He was a backup running back for the Wildcats who finished his collegiate career with just 96 carries for 477 yards and two touchdowns.

    McCarthy said Pease "had a very good weekend" at minicamp, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also said Pease is with the Packers "for a reason."

    It is highly unlikely that Pease will beat out second-round pick Lacy, fourth-round pick Franklin or returning veteran DuJuan Harris on the Packers depth chart. However, his surprising emergence puts the roster spots of fellow running backs Alex Green and James Starks in serious jeopardy.

Tyler Wilson Throwing Like a Starting QB for Raiders

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    If Tyler Wilson wins the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback job, it wouldn't be the first time a mid-round rookie named Wilson beats out Matt Flynn. After a strong rookie minicamp, that may be looking like a realistic possibility.

    Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times said Wilson "displayed the poise and skills of a seasoned veteran" at Oakland's minicamp. Corkran added that Wilson "showed off a strong arm, placing balls right on target time and again."

    It's important not to overreact to how well Wilson throws in shorts at a rookie camp. That said, his strong performance should help him at least have a shot to compete with Flynn and Terrelle Pryor.

    Neither Pryor nor Flynn is a proven starter, and Wilson may have the most pocket-passing ability out of any of them. It is rare for a fourth-round pick to be a rookie starting quarterback, but Wilson has the skill set to beat the odds.

Indianapolis Colts Dump One Kansas State CB for Another

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    Nigel Malone was Kansas State's No. 1 cornerback over the past two seasons. A fast ball hawk with slot cornerback potential, Malone had 12 interceptions and 29 total pass defenses in that two-year span.

    On the other hand, Malone is an undersized cornerback who is not particularly strong or physical, which led to him being undrafted. But it still came as a surprise when the Colts waived Malone in favor of Kansas State's other former starting cornerback, Allen Chapman, on Sunday.

    While Malone was the standout between the two, Chapman apparently impressed the Colts more. Invited to the Colts minicamp on a tryout basis, Chapman's spot on the 90-man roster came at the expense of his more heralded college teammate.

    Malone was a long shot to make the final roster, and Chapman is too. Malone was the more productive playmaker and consistent cover corner of the two for the Wildcats.

Exonerated Prisoner Brian Banks Ran Defense at Falcons Camp

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    Exonerated in 2012 after being wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 2002, former high school football star Brian Banks is attempting an incredible comeback with the Atlanta Falcons. He is off to a good start in minicamp, according to Jay Adams of the Falcons' official website.

    Adams reported that Banks lined up at middle linebacker and ran the defense during minicamp. Taking on a leadership role of a defense, even in a rookie camp, is quite remarkable for someone who never played college football and has not played in a football game for more than 10 years.

    The 6'2", 250-pound linebacker still has a long way to go to making the Falcons roster, but he has certainly overcome major obstacles before. By showing he can run a defense from the middle linebacker spot, he has proven he is a natural leader and quick learner after so much time away from the game.

49ers WR Quinton Patton 'Nowhere Close to Being Ready'

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    Many have heaped praise upon the San Francisco 49ers' selections in the 2013 NFL draft, including their value choice of Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth round (No. 128 overall selection).

    Analysts viewed Patton as one of the draft's most NFL-ready receivers with many strengths, including his route running. According to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, however, Patton ran poor routes in rookie camp and is "nowhere close to being ready."

    This comes as a surprising revelation for Patton, whose body control, hands and quickness give him starter potential.

    One of the last things 49ers fans want to read about is another wide receiver not being NFL-ready. The team's 2012 first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, never proved to be ready in his rookie season. He had zero receptions in three games played.

    Patton was expected to compete for the 49ers' No. 3 receiver spot, but a disappointing rookie camp makes that seem less likely.

Sheldon Richardson Lining Up at Nose Tackle for Jets

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    With terrific explosion and inside pass-rushing ability, Sheldon Richardson projects ideally for playing 5-technique defensive end in the New York Jets' 3-4 scheme. In a surprising twist, the Missouri defensive tackle lined up at nose tackle during part of the Jets minicamp, according to the New York Daily News.

    While Richardson is a great talent, the nose tackle position does not fit his game well. He is ideally suited at a spot where his pass-rushing ability can be better utilized. He is also undersized for the nose tackle position, weighing in at 6'2", 294 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Playing nose tackle in rookie camp does not indicate that Richardson will continue to play that position, but it indicates that the Jets are at least considering playing him there.

    While he is a solid run-stopper with some positional versatility, the Jets should focus on bringing the No. 13 overall selection up to speed as an interior pass-rushing defensive end.

Cowboys SS J.J. Wilcox Is 'Light Years' Away from Potential

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    The perception of the Dallas Cowboys' 2013 NFL draft was already bad. Their selections of Wisconsin interior offensive lineman Travis Frederick and San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar were two of the most questionable picks in the draft.

    That perception certainly won't improve after comments from Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson during the team's minicamp. Henderson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that third-round pick J.J. Wilcox remains "light years" away from reaching his potential.

    Wilcox has the size, athleticism, ball skills and hard hitting to develop into a very good strong safety. That said, he was expected to be one of the early-impact players in an otherwise unspectacular draft class, and Henderson's comments cast a shadow of doubt on that.

    A converted running back, Wilcox comes from the FCS level (Georgia Southern) with only one year of experience playing defense. As a result, his game remains raw. The Cowboys, however, are weak at the safety position, so they will be counting on him to develop quickly.

Tyler Eifert: Slot Receiver for the Bengals?

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    Notre Dame product Tyler Eifert is an athletic tight end who can really stretch the field and be a big downfield receiving target. But although Eifert could be a big receiving playmaker in the Cincinnati Bengals offense, the 6'6", 251-pound player projects as an in-line tight end, not as a wideout.

    That said, the Bengals may be compelled to find creative ways to use Eifert, what with another talented in-line receiving tight end in Jermaine Gresham on the roster. In a surprising twist, Eifert lined up on some snaps at slot receiver during the Bengals' rookie camp, according to the Associated Press.

    Eifert could certainly be a mismatch in the slot with his size. He has the movement skills and route-running ability to flex out and make plays in the open field.

    But he does not fit the typical description of a slot receiver. He is a big tight end not known for lateral agility. That said, he is a very gifted playmaker whom the Bengals should find creative ways to use in their offense.

    Whether he is lined up in-line or flexed out as a receiver, Eifert has the talent to be an immediate impact player.

     

    Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist at Bleacher Report.