8 Biggest Surprises from NFL Rookie Camps
Rookie minicamps generally begin immediately following the NFL draft and are designed for teams to have a quick first look at their incoming rookies as they begin to plan for training camp. For undrafted players, it’s a fight to stay relevant. For draftees, it’s a get-to-know-you event, with teams hoping they don’t immediately see issues with one of their draft selections.
For some rookies, especially ones drafted after the first few rounds, it can be the coming-out party that gets teams extra excited for training camp. A team's draft is given praise based upon its early picks, but it becomes defined by the ability to hit on later selections.
During rookie minicamps, these prospects significantly exceeded expectations, giving teams more reason for hope as these players seek to build upon their great first impression.
Aaron Murray, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Aaron Murray in the fifth round, and all indications were that he’d be slowly developed in his first season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his senior season at Georgia. However, Murray got the chance to work out during the team’s rookie minicamp and so far hasn’t shown any negative effects from his surgery.
Head coach Andy Reid said that Murray has “done everything up to this point – he went through today’s work and he’ll keep getting stronger as he goes," according to Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.
Murray himself that he thinks his knee is great and feels awesome, saying, “there’s no ‘be careful of the knee, don’t step into the throw’.” If Murray is confident in his knee and the team is willing to let him throw and work out as a quarterback in camp, he could immediately begin to regain the luster his pre-injury form showcased.
Step one is getting recovered, which he’s well on his way to doing. Is step two setting his sights on the team’s starting job?
Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Entering his junior season at Ole Miss, the expectations were high for Donte Moncrief. But the 6’2”, 221-pound physical receiver didn’t produce as highly as evaluators had hoped. Still, his immense talent, clear length and matchup ability were too great for him to slip far in the draft, and he landed with the Indianapolis Colts in the latter part of the third round.
Despite inconsistencies in his final college season, Moncrief has quickly emerged as an offensive weapon to watch in Indianapolis, impressing thus far in rookie minicamp. According to Colts.com writer Kevin Bowen, head coach Chuck Pagano said that Moncrief “catches the ball well, picks things up mentally really good. So, we are happy.”
The 20-year-old rookie still has a lot to learn about the nuances of the position and may be viewed as more of a project player than one from whom the team should expect immediate dividends. But with Reggie Wayne getting up there in years and only Hakeem Nicks and T.Y. Hilton guaranteed to have long-term impacts on the team, Moncrief could see ample targets during his rookie season, especially if he carries over a surprisingly impressive rookie minicamp into a strong preseason and beyond.
John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
In what was considered one of the deepest receiver classes in recent memory, receivers all over the board had a chance to surprisingly impress. Despite being a third-round pick, an immediate contribution from Division II receiver John Brown was not something most would’ve expected.
However, John Clayton of ESPN.com said that, among rookie receivers that stood out across the league, John Brown was certainly toward the top of the list. Clayton said that Brown “might be the Cardinals best deep threat” despite the team already boasting Ted Ginn Jr. in its receiving corps.
He’ll need to transfer over his rookie minicamp success to training camp to earn that praise, but there’s a strong chance Brown will be the team’s slot receiver early in the season, if not Week 1. With his quickness, vertical speed and decisive route running, don’t dismiss the Pittsburg State product as a project yet.
Kevin Norwood, WR, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks needed to upgrade their receiving corps in the 2014 NFL draft, and after drafting Paul Richardson in the second round, they targeted Kevin Norwood in the fourth. The Alabama product isn't a burner like Richardson, but the two could have a bright future in Seattle.
Norwood has impressed Seattle thus far, according to The News Tribune’s Christian Caple. His strong hands and ability to finish in traffic were his main strengths coming out of Alabama, and thus far, Norwood has put those two key areas to good use in rookie minicamp.
With the Seahawks relying on their receivers to win in the short area to give Russell Wilson some safety-valve options, there’s a real chance that the fourth-rounder could work his way into the top-three rotation of receivers in the Seahawks lineup.
Cassius Marsh, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Kevin Norwood hasn’t been the only Day 3 pick impressing in Seattle. Cassius Marsh had some concerns about his positional fit at the next level, but playing in the Seattle hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense couldn’t have been a better scenario.
Thus far, he’s adjusted well to the defense, based on his statements to ESPN.com’s Terry Blount, and has already taken advantage of his opportunity despite being drafted a bit higher than expected. According to Blount, he’s been “the most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball” in the early stages of rookie minicamp.
While he looks like a lock to make the final roster, he’ll battle for a starting job and key snaps throughout the next four years. He may be impressing now, but earning a position in the Seahawks lineup won't be easy. However, based on his play so far, Marsh could be on the fast track to becoming a future Day 3 pick-turned-starter.
Tyler Starr, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons struck it rich when undrafted free agent Paul Worrilow of Delaware emerged as a legitimate starter for the struggling defense. However, with defensive needs still yet to be addressed and the team switching to a more 3-4 focused defensive, the Falcons drafted Tyler Starr in the seventh round (their third linebacker drafted this year) to bolster the position’s depth.
According to Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com, Starr “stole a lot of attention during rookie minicamp.” He reportedly displayed a tremendous motor, versatility in the team’s 3-4 defense and impressive explosion off the ball.
Starr hails from FCS South Dakota, so there will likely be some adjustment to the NFL-level. However, his explosion and pass-rushing skills were clear on film, and so far, it looks like he’s making the most of his opportunity. While the team also drafted Prince Shembo in the fourth round as an outside linebacker, don’t be surprised if Starr plays more snaps during the 2014 season.
Daniel Sorensen, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Coming into the 2014 draft, Daniel Sorensen of BYU had a great chance to make a roster thanks to his versatility and special-teams ability. And thus far while in Kansas City, the undrafted free agent has proved both of those skill sets are at an NFL level, which could help him play key snaps faster than many would’ve anticipated.
Sorensen appears to have a very strong chance to make the team despite going undrafted, as he's the only player the Chiefs added during the draft process to address their needs at safety. And according to Herbie Teope of ChiefsSpin.com, Sorensen has consistently made plays in the secondary, especially utilizing his plus ball skills.
He won’t be thrust into the starting lineup anytime soon, but his versatility at the position and impressive play in rookie minicamp could lead the undrafted free agent into a potential key rotational role in the struggling Chiefs secondary in 2014.
Craig Loston, S, Jacksonville Jaguars
LSU safety Craig Loston was expected to be firmly in the Day 2 mix coming into his senior season, but things went downhill quickly for the aggressive yet undisciplined safety. Despite having plus-size and physical play, Loston’s performance as a senior led him to fall out of the draft, causing him to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.
However, falling out of the draft and landing in a defense that covets aggressiveness and can work with players who are a bit positionless like the Jaguars may have been the best option for Loston.
Per Jaguars.com reporter John Oehser, head coach Gus Bradley said “there were a couple of times where we thought [Loston] got on course and would’ve had some nice plays in the field, but obviously we’re not in pads.” That comment suggests Loston’s aggressiveness hasn’t faded and could help him work toward a highly impressive training camp at the safety position.