Ten Rookies to Watch in NFL Offseason Workouts
One of the advantages of holding the NFL draft a few weeks later is that we get to see the rookies in action almost immediately after the draft.
The incoming rookie class barely got a chance to celebrate before rookie camps started rolling around. As we go from rookie camps to offseason workouts in general, these rookies will get a chance to strut their stuff against the veteran competition.
Let's take a look at some of the more intriguing rookies heading into offseason workouts. Many rookies will have starting gigs waiting for them, but not these guys. How they do in rookie camps will go a long way toward how much they will see the field in 2014.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Quarterback of the future? Sure.
Blake Bortles was taken third-overall to be the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville. Whether he becomes the quarterback of the present is another matter, however.
The Jaguars have publicly stated they would like Chad Henne to start in 2014, perhaps for the entire season. That would be a bit of a letdown given how much Jacksonville invested in the former UCF quarterback.
Not only did Jacksonville take him No. 3 overall, but Bortles was taken well before the other quarterbacks in the class—Johnny Manziel was the next one taken at No. 22.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Bortles adjusts to the next level and whether Jacksonville's caution is truly warranted. The big quarterback wasn't exactly polished coming out of college but a good offseason could have him closer to a starting gig than the Jaguars have planned.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers stole receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth round of the draft. That is, of course, if he can deliver on his potential.
Bryant is a 6'4", 210-pound receiver with 4.4-second speed—a fantastic combination of size and athleticism all-around. Of course, we have seen our share of big, athletic receivers fail to fulfill dreams.
Bryant's rookie camp will go a long way toward building a foundation for a successful career. Much of his potential is raw because of a relative lack of playing time due to talented receivers ahead of him on the depth chart at Clemson.
DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins were pretty good, after all.
Bryant's perceived immaturity was also a factor, though, something the Steelers organization should and could weed out starting now.
Storm Johnson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
How often does a seventh-round pick do anything as a rookie? Running back Storm Johnson might get a serious shot at doing just that for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The former Knight is already a contender to be the primary backup for Toby Gerhart. Jordan Todman is probably that guy right now. But what would a strong offseason do for Johnson?
So far, so good for the big running back, per Paul Tenofrio of The Orlando Sentinel:
Johnson looked like his normal explosive self over the first two days of public practice at rookie minicamp in Jacksonville. With 6,214 fans in attendance on Saturday, Johnson broke off one or two nice runs, showing off his speed and ability to shake defenders, albeit against a defense that was not wearing any pads.
Through the first week of rookie minicamp, Johnson drew praise from Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who said Johnson "flashed" on his first couple days with the team. The key, Bradley said, was pushing Johnson to maintain that level from one day to the next.
"I think for him the challenge is the consistency," Bradley said. "Had a good day yesterday; now come back and have another good day. Just build them up. I think there's times where that's really the message we're sending to him: that consistent play by him."
Finding consistency could find him playing time come the regular season.
Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Will Paul Richardson make a difference in Seattle?
The Seahawks lost their top receiver, Golden Tate, to free agency. We don't know how big of an impact that loss will be given Seattle's offense is predicated on the run, but nabbing Richardson in the second round should help mitigate that loss.
Richardson isn't nearly the same kind of player Tate is, but he brings his own particular set of skills to the next level. Namely, Richardson is fast.
Of course, he will have to be much more than that to make an impact in the NFL, especially as a rookie. Blowing the top off defenses is great, in theory, but there have been plenty of fast receivers who have quickly washed out of the NFL.
Richardson has a chance to show he is more than a one-trick pony during Seahawks the offseason, a name to watch in the coming week.
Jaylen Watkins, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles boasted the league's worst pass defense last season, so it has been a bit of a surprise to see them sit on their hands when it comes to addressing the secondary this offseason.
Well, for the most part.
Head coach Chip Kelly drafted safety Ed Reynolds and defensive back Jaylen Watkins, presumably to help out in that maligned secondary. Watkins, in particular, is an intriguing addition for the Eagles.
The former Gator is a versatile player, having played both cornerback and safety in college. Kelly seems to like that versatility, per Jeff McLane of Philly.com:
But Watkins is versatile. He also played in the slot in college and hardly missed a beat moving to safety for his final six games at Florida.
Kelly spoke about projecting Watkins as an NFL safety immediately after his selection, but that was before Reynolds was chosen a round later.
"We're going to play this coverage vs. this look, this coverage vs. this look, and it's up to the safety to make that decision," Kelly said. "So you have to have a high football intelligence, and that's where Jaylen fits in."
Whether he climbs the depth chart as a rookie at either position will be interesting to see. Watkins has Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin standing in his way at cornerback, and Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Wolff, Nate Allen and possibly Reynolds ahead of him at safety.
Seems daunting, doesn't it? A solid rookie camp could set him on a path up that ladder, though.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
Jace Amaro is an ambitious fellow.
"Eventually, I'd like to do that on a consistent basis, be a tight end that catches 100 balls a year," the big tight end said last week, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini.
That's a tall order considering there have been three 100-reception seasons by a tight end in the history of the NFL. There is little chance that the Jets will be passing the ball 55 times a game like Amaro's college offense did at Texas Tech.
First thing's first—Amaro needs to beat out Jeff Cumberland for the starting gig. It started at Jets rookie camp. Can Amaro build a case to start in the coming months?
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have been planning for Frank Gore's replacement for years now. They may have finally struck gold with Carlos Hyde.
The big running back out of Ohio State fell to San Francisco in the second round of the draft, and he is arguably the most talented of the bunch the 49ers have drafted in recent years—namely Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore.
If Hyde gets off to a hot start, though, he might have a leg up on the competition in the Bay Area.
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
It will be interesting to see how the Green Bay Packers deal with the loss of receiver James Jones. Drafting Davante Adams in the second round was an excellent start.
If he impresses right out of the gate, however, Adams has a serious shot at landing a starting gig opposite Nelson on the outside. It will be interesting to see how Adams looks early here this offseason.
Yawin Smallwood, LB, Atlanta Falcons
Prince Shembo had arguably the coolest name in the draft, but the newly minted Atlanta Falcon is going to have a hard time keeping Yawin Smallwood off his tail in rookie camp.
Smallwood was once considered a day-two pick, but he could have been the steal of the draft after he fell all the way to the seventh round of the draft.
The linebacker out of UConn was dogged by injury concerns during draft season, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure:
Hank Hughes, Smallwood's former defensive coordinator at UConn, had empathy for his former player.
"He's a good football player and can play with the best of them," Hughes said. "Guys that are great players go late some time and other guys jump up that are not. You can never tell.
"Certainly measurables are a big deal. And with him having a bad 40-yard dash and pulling up at the combine, that hurt him."
Hughes was referring to the hamstring injury Smallwood suffered doing a different drill at the February combine, an injury that led to him posting a 5.01-second 40 time. His draft status obviously plummeted due to the misfortune.
Smallwood is part of a small army of rookie linebackers the Falcons picked up, but he could well be the best one. A healthy start to his NFL career this offseason could see him rocket up the depth chart.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded back into the first round to nab quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. For all the knocks against him, he was the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect in the draft.
He might have the best shot to start right away out of anyone in this year's quarterback class, but he has plenty of competition to beat out for the job right away.
Last year's starters—Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder—are still around, and the Vikings may not want to push Bridgewater into the fire as a rookie. If he impresses early, though, they may not be able to resist.
To wit, he has already looked good in rookie camp, as head coach Mike Zimmer put it, per Vikings.com:
One of things I noticed about him even when we were out there with the rookies after the Phase II, they would call a play and they were just running one route and he would recall the whole play to himself, basically. Just so he gets all of the terminology so he would get the terminology down, the whole thing. I was impressed with that part of what he did, just how bad he wants to learn. It’s not like, “Hey, I’m throwing an out now.” He would say the whole formation, the whole play, what it’s on and just repeat it as he goes. That was impressive, but other than that not really.
Bridgewater is off to a good start, it seems. Can he keep it up?
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