Hottest Rookie Storylines During NFL Offseason Workouts
Soon after the NFL draft, teams ask their rookies to get to work.
Most clubs have their rookie minicamps just a few days after the draft. They are looking to check out their selections and undrafted free-agent signings to get a feel for the players they just invested in.
While some struggle to adjust to the NFL game early on, a handful already have begun to wow and ease teams’ minds about their draft-day selections.
These eight players have done that so far, and while much could change once training camp comes around, these guys have started their NFL careers off well.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Despite being viewed by many as the top quarterback in the 2014 draft, Teddy Bridgewater was passed over 31 times in Round 1 and was only drafted in the first round thanks to a Minnesota Vikings trade-up. Now looking to prove people wrong, he has already begun to impress in minicamp.
Here’s what head coach Mike Zimmer had to say about Bridgewater during rookie minicamp, according to the Star Tribune's Matt Vensel:
He’s throwing the ball good. I think he’s got a good presence, a good command of the way he’s taking things. It was good for him to be out here with the veteran quarterbacks a little bit last week for a few days.
Based on his performance thus far, Bridgewater has looked to earn first-team reps when training camp comes around. While this may be a slight surprise to Minnesota, those who appreciated his abilities at Louisville are likely nodding their heads in approval.
Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs focused on offense more than expected in the 2014 draft. After grabbing two long receiving threats with their first two picks—Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins—they selected running back Charles Sims in the third round. Based on the current depth chart, he’ll be battling with Mike James and Bobby Rainey for Doug Martin’s backup role.
However, if rookie minicamp is any indication, Sims may have the inside track. According to Fox Sports’ Ross Jones, head coach Lovie Smith said that Sims has "excellent hands, great quickness, different dimension, has a little bit more size and little bit more height than some of our guys."
Sims has a playing style very similar to Matt Forte of the Bears, Lovie Smith’s former stomping grounds as a head coach. The Bucs offense has quickly mimicked the Bears offense of two years ago, with physical outside receivers, a strong-armed quarterback and versatility and depth at the running back position. Sims may quickly become a key part of this transitioning offense.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
After giving up a 2015 first- and fourth-rounder to move up five spots in the 2014 draft to secure him, the Bills have high expectations for Sammy Watkins in their offense. While he didn’t have EJ Manuel throwing him passes during camp, he’s made enough of an impression so far that the coaching staff can begin their sighs of relief after making the aggressive draft-day trade.
According to John Clayton of ESPN.com, Watkins was "catching everything at the Buffalo Bills’ rookie minicamp," which shouldn’t be too surprising based on his talent displayed at Clemson. The explosive receiver also told Clayton that he appreciated the fact that Buffalo moved up to take him despite the pressure it puts on him and the coaching staff.
If the Bills' front office and coaching staff want to keep their jobs after this season, Watkins needs to transfer his minicamp flashes into training camp and eventually through the season.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins
LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry’s lackluster 4.77 40 time at the NFL combine became a red flag for teams despite his Anquan Boldin-esque talent during his college career. Rumors persisted that he’d slip in the draft, potentially to Day 3. However, the Dolphins scooped him up late in the second round, and so far he’s proven that 40 times are just one part, and maybe a small part, of receiver evaluations.
Here’s what Miami general manager Dennis Hickey had to say about Landry during rookie minicamp, per Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald:
He always made plays, got separation, got open and made great catches, and that’s what he’s been doing for us the last two weeks. … It’s not a number on a stopwatch, it’s how fast they play with a helmet, shoulder pads and other guys trying to cover him.
After Mike Wallace’s struggles last year and no other long-term answers at receiver besides Brian Hartline, receiver was a sneaky need for the Dolphins in the 2014 draft. But after taking Landry, they may have solidified the position before it became an issue, giving Ryan Tannehill a much-needed weapon.
Ryan Grant, WR, Washington Redskins
With veterans like Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss on the roster and recent signings DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts added to the mix, it appears that any rookie would have an uphill battle making the Washington roster. However, the team still chose to invest a fifth-rounder in the position, grabbing Ryan Grant of Tulane, and it may end up being a great pick.
Here’s what new head coach Jay Gruden had to say about the rookie during minicamp, according to Ross Jones of Fox Sports:
He plays like a 10-year veteran already. He’s very smooth. He understands route concepts. He understands depths and how important they are and how to set people up. … Easy in and out of breaks, effortlessly. He had a couple drops, (but he was) a little nervous I’m sure. Very, very excited to have Ryan (with) that ability, and like I said, when we drafted him, the ability to be able to move him around outside and inside I think is a huge benefit for us and him. He’s going to be a very good football player.
How exactly he will get his touches is unclear, but as I said in my previous article on potential surprise rookies, Grant is decisive as a short- and mid-area route-runner, which is something unique to this current Redskins' depth chart. He could quickly become Robert Griffin III’s favorite mid-range target.
John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Despite being a Division II receiver from Pittsburg State, the Cardinals chose to draft John Brown in the third round over many other more highly touted options. However, for any evaluator that had the opportunity to watch him as a senior and at the East-West Shrine Game, the dynamic ability and route development Brown displayed reeked of NFL receiver, especially in the slot.
According to John Clayton of ESPN.com, Brown has been one of the more impressive rookie receivers in the NFL right now. Clayton went as far as to say he "might be the Cardinals' best deep threat, an important weapon in Bruce Arians’ offense."
Finding a high-impact vertical threat is crucial in Arians' offense. When Arians was in Indianapolis, he advocated for two vertical pass-catchers to be drafted (LaVon Brazill and T.Y. Hilton), and now he’s gotten his young speedster in Arizona.
He’ll be battling with Ted Ginn Jr. for the slot role inside Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but Brown may be a more decisive route-runner and have more upside at this stage of his career over Ginn.
Ego Ferguson, DT, Chicago Bears
The Bears clearly entered the 2014 draft with bolstering their defense in mind. They drafted four defenders in the first four rounds, including two on the defensive line. One of those defensive tackles, Ego Ferguson of LSU, has already begun to impress the coaching staff.
According to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said the following about Ferguson:
He’s got excellent size. He’s athletic. He’s light on his feet. He’s got a strong punch and a good anchor, really good balance and body control. He’s got some juice. He can explode and close in a short area, and he’s shown he’s got some pass-rush ability as well. There’s tremendous upside. I think with good coaching, determination and grit and persistence on his part, I think he can reach his full potential.
Concerns at LSU stemmed from his lack of development, often being washed away by lesser blockers in games and never dominating as much as he seemingly should have as just a one-year starter. However, the Bears have quickly become fans of his game, and he’s been impressive thus far with the organization.
He’ll have time for development behind Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea as a rookie, so there’s no rush, but the future looks bright for the 6’3”, 315-pound interior defender.
Calvin Pryor, S, New York Jets
The Jets needed to add to their offense in the 2014 draft but chose instead to select another high-impact defender in the first round. However, waiting on offense and scooping up Calvin Pryor with pick No. 18 may end up paying dividends.
Head coach Rex Ryan said that he was "good, very impressive" in rookie minicamp. Ryan also said the team has been "really impressed with him mentally. That’s all we’ve really had, but mentally, sharp. He’s into it."
Pryor is known to be a bit of a headhunter, but with instability at the cornerback position, he may have to change his style a bit and be more proactive with his ball skills and attack receivers rather than just make the big hit. The team was in need of a center-field force, and it found its answer in Pryor.