Predicting Winners of NFL OTAs
The NFL draft is behind us. Free agency isn't even a blip in the rearview mirror anymore. It's time to start looking ahead to organized team activities.
While players might still be in shorts, OTAs give us our first glimpse at NFL action for the 2014 season. Which players might be making some noise or generally benefitting the most from this year's workouts?
Click through to find out.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Green Bay Packers
Not everyone gets a second chance. You can imagine how lucky Colt Lyerla must feel.
Despite loads of talent, the former Oregon tight end scarcely got any attention as an undrafted free agent when nobody took a chance on him in the draft. That's because he had several run-ins with the law in college, including an arrest for cocaine possession.
He also quit the team in October. The red flags added up, and Lyerla's draft stock tanked.
Lyerla got his shot with the Green Bay Packers, one of the best teams with which he could have landed. The Packers have strong leadership, not to mention a powerful offense in need of a quality tight end.
The talented rookie is on his last chance. If he is going to put his past behind him for good, it has already begun. And if he has decided to turn things around, he is going to turn heads sooner rather than later.
Sooner is now, as Lyerla hits OTAs with a chance to win that starting job.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Everything is coming up Ryan Tannehill in Miami.
The Dolphins quarterback had a rough go of it in 2013. He sustained a team-record 58 sacks and faltered down the stretch when Miami was still in the playoff hunt.
This offseason has Tannehill under the tutelage of a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, who helped guide Nick Foles into an offensive monster last season.
Tannehill should reap the benefits of not having Mike Sherman at the controls right away. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald recently reported Lazor has brought an uptempo feel similar to Philadelphia's. It might be a bit premature to say this, but just about anyone will be better than Sherman.
More importantly, Tannehill can breathe easier this summer knowing his offensive line has been overhauled. The Dolphins signed Branden Albert, Jason Fox and Shelley Smith and drafted Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner, which should drastically improve the situation.
How Tannehill performs is irrelevant to the conversation; he is already a winner.
Max Bullough, LB, Houston Texans
Once considered a mid-round prospect, linebacker Max Bullough wound up falling all the way out of the draft. Perhaps it was due to his Rose Bowl suspension, a situation he has been unwilling to discuss since it happened, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com.
His loss was Houston's gain, and the Texans got themselves a potential stud in undrafted free agency. Bullough was a three-year starter at Michigan State, a productive linebacker with good size.
I’m in this position now because of whatever I did in the past, or what I didn’t do in the past whether it be good or bad, but at the end of the day we are all here doing the same thing, we are in the same meeting rooms, and we are trying to become Houston Texans come fall.
While Bullough will have a chance to impress at OTAs, what will really allow him to shine is his capability to lead. Before his suspension, Bullough was a team captain for the Spartans.
Granted, rookies rarely lead, but it's difficult to think a guy with his pedigree will make the same mistake twice, whatever the reason for his suspension may have been.
Bullough must know he has a shot to crack the starting lineup alongside Brian Cushing. It's a long shot, but it's more than most undrafted free agents have heading into OTAs.
Look for Bullough to make the most of his opportunity.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel isn't having the best start to his career with the Cleveland Browns.
It's not his performance that has been disappointing—Manziel has scarcely broken a sweat in workouts thus far—but he is being given no preferential treatment as yet. He enters offseason workouts as the third-string quarterback behind Brian Hoyer and Tyler Thigpen, as The Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot tweeted.
It's likely the Browns are trying to keep Manziel's ego in check more than anything. There is good reason to have Hoyer start this season, as it would give Manziel time to gain some experience before he's thrown into the fire.
They may not be able to quell the buzz Manziel produces with a strong offseason, though. Even if they can keep things quiet, Manziel is one of those electrifying players who can't be bubble-wrapped for long.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
It's been a rough few years for Raiders running back Darren McFadden. Injury-plagued throughout his career, the veteran has been disappointing for other reasons.
McFadden has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry the past couple of seasons, a mark that is exacerbated by the fact Rashad Jennings was able to average 4.5 last season.
That didn't go unnoticed in Oakland.
The Raiders let Jennings go, but they got some veteran help in Maurice Jones-Drew, the longtime starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Oakland signed him after retaining McFadden's services, though DMC only signed on for one year.
McFadden might have gotten a multiyear deal elsewhere, but he chose to take a gamble on himself by signing that one-year, $1.65 million deal to stay in the Bay Area.
With the addition of MJD to lighten the load and provide a change of pace, plus the investment the front office made on the offensive line this year (signed Austin Howard, drafted Gabe Jackson), chances are McFadden is going to hit the ground running this offseason.
Christian Jones, LB, Chicago Bears
Florida State linebacker Christian Jones is an excellent fit in Chicago.
An unfortunate disclosure that he failed a drug test may have sunk his draft stock, however, and Jones fell out of the draft altogether.
He landed with the Bears in undrafted free agency, and he was reportedly impressive enough in rookie minicamp to have the Bears bring him on for a "more solid next-step basis," per CSNChicago.com's John Mullin.
Jones has a chance to win playing time early, given the state of the linebacker corps in Chicago. D.J. Williams is a 31-year-old coming back from a ruptured pectoral, and Jon Bostic was underwhelming as a rookie. Lance Briggs is entering the twilight of his career, and Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to that first-round status yet.
If Jones can parlay a strong rookie cap into a solid OTA period, he could find himself fighting for a rotational role. That would make him a big winner this summer.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns
As talent goes, Isaiah Crowell might be the best of the bunch at running back in Cleveland. Rookie Scouting Portfolio writer Matt Waldman goes so far as to say that Crowell may have been the most talented back in the entire 2014 draft. The problem isn't on the field for the rookie out of Alabama State, however.
Crowell fell all the way out of the draft thanks to character concerns stemming from getting kicked off the Georgia football team. His college career got off to a promising start there before a weapons charge got him dismissed.
He was able to strut his stuff with Alabama State over the past couple of seasons, though.
Ben Tate and fellow rookie Terrance West are at the top of the depth chart, but Crowell is arguably more talented than both. Of course, that could also be a misconception—we'll find out soon enough.
The rookie will get a chance to strut his stuff early in OTAs, perhaps with an opportunity to win a backup role. If he lets his talent speak this spring, it will be deafening.
Austin Pettis, WR, St. Louis Rams
There has been a bit of tumult in the St. Louis wide receiver corps this offseason. The Rams decided to take a shot on troubled Kenny Britt, who wasn't the receiver suspended for the first four games of the year.
That would be second-year man Stedman Bailey, who saw increased playing time toward the end of the 2013 season.
All this leaves a starting gig ripe for the picking in St. Louis.
Austin Pettis was all but forgotten on that roster, what with all the moves the Rams have made over the past two years. On top of Britt's arrival in free agency, Brian Quick and Chris Givens were taken in the 2012 draft, and the Rams moved up to take Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall last year.
Quick and Givens have faltered, and Austin has a particular set of skills. With Bailey out of the picture for the first four games of the season, the Rams might be looking for some stability at the position.
That's where Pettis comes in. The fourth-year veteran has a chance to grab his team's attention again, perhaps snagging a starting gig with a strong offseason.