10 Biggest Standouts from Rookie Camp
Did you hear the one about the NFL rookie who looked great in minicamp?
We often talk about the filter we should put on team info before the draft—the smokescreens, the misinformation, the outright lying.
However, what about the filter post-draft?
Do we really need to take every single factoid at face value? Every single team has players in its recent history that had "great" minicamps according to its coaches, maybe even a good preseason, yet never took a regular-season snap.
Since these practices are usually closed to fans, we have to rely on nuggets from coaches and teammates. Some teams allow media in for a portion of the workouts so if we can trust the scouting eye of a particular beat reporter, that's even better.
Most importantly, we have to remember that these are phenomenal athletes working out in shirts and shorts. They're going to look good. Ultimately, they'll have to do the same with pads on and a guy like San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis or Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch coming at them.
With all that in mind, I've combed through 32 rosters filled with silver linings and have come away with 10 players who look ahead of the curve as of rookie camp.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston Texans)
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I wanted to crowd-source a few of these selections, and DeAndre Hopkins was pointed out by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle—although it wouldn't have taken long to find word that he had a great weekend:
“Obviously, he’s got great ball skills and he works hard,” Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. “We’re putting a lot on these guys and he’s working at it. He has good size, good ball skills and he’s getting better.”
That link from the Texans' official website has quotes from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to go alongside Dennison's. The Texans have been looking for a No. 2 wideout for a while, and it's clear they believe they have their man.
Mike Gillislee (RB, Miami Dolphins)
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As pointed out by B/R's Thomas Galicia, Mike Gillislee has a real outside shot to come into the 2013 season as the Dolphins' "starter" at running back.
Regardless of who is first on the depth chart, the entire stable in Miami is going to get some carries. The team is high on backs like Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller or it wouldn't have allowed Reggie Bush to jump ship so easily.
However, if Gillslee can digest the playbook and show he's a solid option at both running the ball and doing other things like receiving and pass-blocking, the Dolphins could end up making him that much more important to the game plan.
“It looks like he had some good burst out there,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin told the Miami Herald. “He has picked up the offense relatively well so far. He did a good job.”
Tyler Wilson (QB, Oakland Raiders)
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Tyler Wilson was one of my favorite quarterbacks in this year's class, and he has a real chance to beat out recent quarterback acquisition Matt Flynn as well as college superstar Terrelle Pryor.
Wilson has the best arm from a tools standpoint. He just has to prove that he gives the Raiders the best chance to win.
From Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times:
Wilson arrived as a fourth-round draft pick out of Arkansas, with a reputation for being a bright guy, confident in his abilities and ready to take on any challenge. It’s not a stretch to envision Wilson playing well enough to surge past presumptive starter Matt Flynn and third-year player Terrelle Pryor at some point, even if he downplays the situation.
Last year, Flynn was ostensibly brought in by the Seattle Seahawks to start at quarterback, but lost out to rookie Russell Wilson when Pete Carroll made it an open competition regardless of salary or draft slot.
If the Raiders truly want to play the best man available, there's a chance Tyler Wilson is able to recreate a little of the same magic.
Brian Banks (LB, Atlanta Falcons)
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There may not be a better story in football this season than Brian Banks.
Once a star prospect headed to Southern Cal, Banks was wrongly accused of rape and convinced to plead no contest even though there was no evidence against him. Years later, the alleged victim recanted her story and Banks secretly recorded her apology to clear his name.
He spent parts of last season with the Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, but he was signed to compete for the linebacker-needy Falcons this offseason.
From Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com:
There doesn’t appear to be any kind of physical or learning curve that Banks will experience with his fellow rookies, many of whom are fresh off their final plays of their college careers. Banks, who spent time with the Seahawks in camp last year, said he felt comfortable Saturday despite the lack of on-field time.
Although he's not technically a "rookie" like this year's draftees, it's refreshing to see a roster shot go to one who so clearly deserves it.
Do not be surprised if Banks ends up earning some real significant playing time on both defense and special teams this year.
Sheldon Richardson (DL, New York Jets)
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
One of the real big questions from the draft is how Sheldon Richardson would be used by the Jets.
They already had defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples—both recent draft picks that have excelled. With Coples moving to linebacker, it appears as if Richardson has a real shot to start at defensive end in the Jets' 3-4 defensive scheme.
Head coach Rex Ryan told The Associated Press after Richardson's first practice (via CBS Sports):
On defense, it's pretty obvious who popped out there. I mean, Sheldon Richardson was good. I don't want to put expectations too high, but, yeah, he was impressive to say the least.
The biggest question for Richardon is his size, as pointed out by New York area NFL beat writer Bart Hubbuch:
Jets camp observation: I know Sheldon Richardson is explosive, but he sure looks undersized for an NFL defensive tackle or 3-4 end.— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) May 11, 2013
Ezekiel Ansah (DE, Detroit Lions)
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Ezekiel Ansah fell into the perfect situation in Detroit.
As a defensive end with speed to burn, the Lions' Wide Nine scheme is perfect for Ansah's skill set and will take some pressure off of him to play the run or ever have to be in coverage.
At that point, the only question Ansah needs to answer is if he can get off the snap and past linemen from the nine-technique position.
From Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com:
Ansah's quickness and the burst in which he gets out of his three-point stance was most impressive. He gets to the point of attack so quickly, there were multiple times he simply blew past blockers before they could react to him.
I'd say that's an affirmative.
Now, was that Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil or Green Bay Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga he was blowing past?
Ansah is supposedly a starting end for the Lions and will almost certainly see better competition than that of a rookie camp, but as of right now, it looks like Ansah is in position to shine from Day 1 with his new team.
Justin Pugh (OT, New York Giants)
At the very top of the 2013 NFL draft, teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles bucked trends not only by selecting offensive tackles so high, but also by making selections in Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson who will play right tackle this season.
Because of that, teams toward the bottom half of the first round needed to reach a little bit for linemen, and that's just what the Giants did when they picked up Syracuse lineman Justin Pugh.
Pugh was a good fit for their blocking scheme, however, and can play both guard and tackle.
The thing I liked was Pugh showed some aggressiveness and competitiveness," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "One of those guys kind of like a Rich Seubert. ... That one last shove they’ve got to get in there.
"So you saw a kid that had good feet and then you also saw a guy that maybe had the right make up as well."
Any Seubert reference is pretty high praise in terms of effort. Seubert was an undrafted free agent who later worked his way into the starting lineup and won a Super Bowl at left guard for the Giants.
Vance McDonald (TE, San Francisco 49ers)
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When the Niners lost tight end Delanie Walker to the Tennessee Titans, they needed to find a replacement weapon. Although they have Vernon Davis at the same position, Walker and Davis played distinctly separate roles.
The biggest knock against Walker was that he dropped too many passes, his replacement, Vance McDonald, may not have that problem.
From Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat:
During one-on-one drills, he went against Michael Thomas and beat him to the outside on an intermediate route. Daniels underthrew the pass – it was going right to Thomas. McDonald stopped, reached back over Thomas’ head and snatched the ball away from Thomas’ hands. Later, McDonald went against Eric Reid one-on-one. McDonald ran up the seam, faked a cut to the outside and cut back inside, completely fooling Reid. Daniels easily hit McDonald for the completion.
If McDonald can consistently catch passes past the first-down marker and create mismatches for defenses, he'll become a valuable piece to the Niners' championship puzzle.
Jon Bostic (LB, Chicago Bears)
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It was questioned whether Jon Bostic would be seen as the "replacement" for linebacker Brian Urlacher who left the Bears this offseason and will one day be enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
That question seems to be answered as Bostic is taking his snaps in the middle as opposed to at outside linebacker.
From Kevin Seifert of ESPN's NFC North Blog:
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called Bostic "a smart guy" and a "take-control guy," describing the natural attributes of a middle linebacker, but he also added: "It's a case-by-case deal. You just have to wait and see. Our job is to get the best players on the field, so we'll see how it shakes out. But you never want to paint a guy into a box. It's open competition across the board in our system, but obviously we are not going to pre-determine what a guy can or cannot do early. So we'll just see."
From a rookie, that's really all you need. Bostic doesn't need to be Urlacher this season; he needs to be trustworthy enough to run the defense and create plays.
If he can do that, he might actually be an improvement on Urlacher—certainly not the Hall of Fame version, but perhaps Bostic can be better than an aged Urlacher who was seemingly always injured and had clearly lost a step.
Tyler Eifert (TE, Cincinnati Bengals)
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I've referenced Tyler Eifert a few times as one of my favorite draft picks. He also has my preseason vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
His ability to create matchup problems and secure the football in traffic will make things awfully easy for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to get Eifert the football early and often.
Head coach Marvin Lewis told Cincinnati.com after practice:
(Eifert) is as advertised. What I was most impressed with is how he did a great job in the running game and the techniques he’s being taught. I know he can run and catch, and turn get-back shoulder plays and all those kinds of things that you have to do in tight spots in the NFL. I know he can do all that. But the other stuff was impressive today.
Eifert should be an integral piece to the Bengals' offense and a huge boost to their playoff chances.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.