Which Rookies Are Shining in OTAs?
When NFL rookies are first introduced to the way their respective teams practice, it’s typically at rookie minicamp. But there are a few limitations during that weekend.
The workouts are only for and against other rookies or practice squad players from the previous years. While more is expected from them compared to college practices, there aren’t any veterans around.
The sessions are usually only for a few days and are not padded practices. These rookies are given their first taste of team practice in just helmets and shorts.
The workouts and installations are rather vanilla. There aren’t many rookies who attend rookie minicamp that don’t comment about their heads spinning.
All of these limitations make it difficult to gauge true talent levels.
But when Organized Team Activities (OTAs) roll around, the entire team can be present and more of the playbook can be explored. OTAs are a much better group of practices to use when judging where a rookie stands in the pecking order.
Here are 10 rookies who are shining in OTAs.
D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers
Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the first round with the No. 11 pick in the draft. San Diego’s offensive line situation was instantly upgraded.
Fluker is a huge specimen with power to help open running lanes and a wide base that’s next to immovable when defensive linemen or linebackers try to rush him.
Extra notes about OTA’s: Manti Te’o and DJ Fluker both practiced with the starters. According to Coach McCoy both did a fantastic job and held their own. “DJ Fluker is a big guy he is physical and loves it he will get better when he gets the pads.” said Rivers.
Hearing that Fluker is adapting well and already entrenched with the starters is good news for San Diego’s mess of an offensive line.
Matt Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles
Did the Philadelphia Eagles get one of the steals of the draft with quarterback Matt Barkley in the fourth round?
That’s a question everyone is anxious to find out. It’s not the only answer people are searching for—Eagles faithful as well as the media still want to know what Chip Kelly's offensive scheme will look like—but it’s high on the list.
Barkley has already been praised as being a hard worker. The “first person in the building” cliché seems to fit the rookie, as do the common superlatives “fantastic work ethic” and “willing to do what it takes."
But what does Barkley have when it comes to on-the-field skills?
"From the very first day we stepped on the field, he's shown that he's accurate," said Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor as reported by the team's official website. "He can throw on the run really well. He makes good decisions. He can, for the first time being in an NFL pocket, make decisions. He looks like he's done it before. It doesn't look like it's his first time and he carries himself the way you want a quarterback to carry himself."
There is still loads of time before anyone has an idea of what the depth chart looks like in Philadelphia, but it appears Barkley has taken an important first step.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
For years, the Houston Texans have been looking for a wide receiver to place on the opposite side of Andre Johnson to take some pressure off of the All-Pro wideout.
The Texans may have found their man in first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub already gushed over the former Clemson star to Drew Dougherty of the team’s official website.
Schaub was impressed with Hopkins’ work ethic and attitude and believes Hopkins just may be able to open up Houston’s offense. “He’s such a dynamic player,” Schaub said. “He’s just going to bring an added dimension to our offense.”
Hopkins is finding ways to get open and pull down passes all over the field. That’s definitely music to the ears of Johnson.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin “the most explosive player in the draft.”
Why not? Austin did everything for the Mountaineers. He caught 114 passes, rushed the football 72 times and even returned kicks on special teams.
The St. Louis Rams traded up to draft Austin in the first round with the eighth overall pick in the draft so that quarterback Sam Bradford could finally have a target on the outside to feature. While Austin should be that guy—just like he was at West Virginia—he may be so much more.
Joe Lyons of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Austin was taking handoffs in the backfield at the Rams’ May 24 OTA session:
Now, at 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, Austin isn't likely to see a ton of time in the backfield at the NFL level. But with his versatility and explosiveness, he's clearly someone that opposing defensive coordinators will have to account for.
Bacarri Rambo, Washington Redskins
Any time a sixth-round draft pick can come in and instantly compete for playing time, that’s a sign of the scouting department doing a fantastic job of draft prep.
Redskins Insider Tarik El-Bashir from Comcast SportsNet Washington thinks the former Georgia safety will “compete for significant playing time.”
Rambo, taken in the sixth round at pick No. 191 overall, picked off 16 passes while playing for Georgia and has already made his mark coming up with footballs in OTAs.
Redskins backup quarterback Rex Grossman overthrew his receiver at Washington’s May 23 OTA session, and Rambo made a nice hands play to pick the ball off, according to Rich Tandler of CSN Washington:
Rambo lined up at free safety almost exclusively and Thomas was mostly at strong. This continues what we saw a rookie camp a few weeks ago. I think that eventually they’ll both learn both spots but for now they’re specializing.
Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders
When the Oakland Raiders used their third-round pick on Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock raved about Moore’s ability to play all over the field and excel in multiple facets of the game:
Coaches love that he'll line up on the slot, inside and cover man to man. He came from nowhere, but because of his work ethic, he's now a third-round pick. With the Raiders, this is a solid double.
Now that Moore has had a few sessions with the Raiders to get acclimated, he’s proving Mayock 100 percent accurate.
Chris McClain of the S&B Report reported that Moore has been doing a little bit of everything in OTAs:
Rookie linebacker Sio Moore was once again moved around on the field. He seems to be every bit as versatile as advertised, with the ability to drop back in coverage and stay with his assignment, as well as getting on the line of scrimmage and getting to the quarterback.
Paul Gutierrez of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area called Moore “the most stunning sight at the Raiders’ open rookie camp practice” on May 16.
All signs point to Moore being well worth the third-round pick.
Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
You can hate what the Dallas Cowboys did in the first round all you want. Whether you completely disagree with the team taking a center in the first round, whether you think it was just a slight reach or whether you dislike Frederick as a player, you’d better put all that rage or disappointment behind you.
Frederick is opening eyes at OTAs.
Scout Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys’ official team website reported that Frederick took the majority of the first-team snaps at center and showed marked improvement:
Frederick was much better in this practice handling the twist stunts in the blitz period than he was at the rookie mini-camp. Where Frederick had his struggles was sitting down on rushers like that used power against him.
It's good to hear that he's making strides. But he’s also still being bullied at times by guys like Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee, and Frederick is having trouble finishing blocks.
The progression from college to rookie minicamp to OTAs, and then onto training camp, the preseason games and the regular season is a rocky road sometimes. But if Frederick can show improvement at each step, he may do fine.
He’s already with the starters, and it’s just OTAs.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
When Theo Riddick was at Notre Dame, he started his career as a kick-return specialist and then moved on to wide receiver and eventually running back.
The Detroit Lions used their second sixth-round pick (No. 199 overall) to take Riddick, and he’s already showing that same versatility at the professional level.
Detroit running backs coach Curtis Modkins told Tara Altman of the Detroit Lions' official website that Riddick was living up to every expectation the team had when it drafted him, saying, "Every day he’s improving his knowledge of the playbook for when he’ll be able to go out and play with that versatility. I’ve been pleased with him so far."
Detroit’s backfield is pretty packed with Reggie Bush, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, but showing versatility and eye-opening skills to the coaching staff early will do wonders for Riddick’s chances of making the final roster.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round with the No. 21 pick overall, the front office was basically telling quarterback Andy Dalton that he needed another weapon to get over the wild-card hump.
Adding Eifert should help open up the offense, and it surely will give Dalton another top-notch target.
The Bengals already had Jermaine Gresham on the roster at tight end, so Cincinnati is going to install a lot of two tight end sets for the 2013 season.
WKEF-TV in Cincinnati reported from OTAs on May 23 that “new wrinkles” were being installed to bring Eifert along because he is “expected to contribute right away.”
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
Inside linebacker Kiko Alonso was taken with the Buffalo Bills’ second-round pick (No. 46 overall) in the 2013 draft and lauded as a guy who could play in any system (4-3 or 3-4 scheme) and at any spot (inside or outside linebacker).
Alonso has only been focusing on one spot thus far in OTAs, but he’s progressing quite well, according to Chris Brown of the Buffalo Bills’ official team website.
After taking second-team reps at middle linebacker for the week of OTAs, Alonso was promoted to the first team and took middle linebacker reps alongside Bryan Scott in a 3-4 look. Per Brown:
Alonso has been given the responsibility of calling the defense from the time he’s been practicing at One Bills Drive. Head coach Doug Marrone feels his rookie linebacker has had no issues handling the added responsibility.