Every NFL Team's Most Impressive Player at OTAs
The NFL's organized team activities—or OTAs—have officially begun, and as some players report to their respective teams, a number of others have already impressed during workouts.
With the season still a few months away, OTAs are a good time for seasoned players to get accustomed to their new teams and for rookies to get acclimated to the NFL. The practices aren't intense, but they're a good way for players to get back into the swing of things before training camp.
Still, just because these practices are less physical than training camp doesn't mean injuries don't occur. In fact, according to Todd Archer from ESPN Dallas, the Cowboys already lost middle linebacker Sean Lee to a torn ACL.
It's difficult to determine too much from OTAs, but some players have already been noticed by teammates, coaches, executives or even members of the media for what they've done either on or off the field.
We'll take a look at one player in particular for each team.
Baltimore Ravens: Kelechi Osemele
After missing the last nine games of the 2013 season, Kelechi Osemele finally looks healthy—good news for Baltimore's offensive line.
Osemele's season was cut short due to a herniated disk, but before the injury he had proven himself effective at both right tackle and left guard. Bo Smolka from CSN Baltimore wrote that head coach John Harbaugh is very impressed with how Osemele has looked so far in OTAs.
"[He] jumped out at me," Harbaugh said of Osemele. "K.O. was really practicing fast, sprinting back to the huddle or back to the line when he was done after every single play, almost making a point to condition himself during practice. He's in really exceptional condition."
Regardless of where he plays this season, Osemele's presence should help the Ravens improve upon last year's average of just 83 rushing yards per game.
Cleveland Browns: Brian Hoyer
Heading into Cleveland Browns OTAs, all the hype has been about rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
However, so far it is Brian Hoyer that has impressed.
The Browns have made it clear that Manziel is going to back up Hoyer, at least for now. According to Pat McManamon from ESPN.com, Hoyer deserves the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at the moment:
Ray Farmer's statement that Brian Hoyer is the best quarterback on the Browns "by a substantial margin" should be taken seriously. Hoyer is better right now. He throws better, looks more confident, throws more accurately and seems more like the guy who has been around longer and in the offense longer. If the opener were in a week, Hoyer would start.
Before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5 last year, Hoyer looked like the go-to option at QB for the Browns after taking the starting job. He led the team to two wins, throwing five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Hoyer will be the top guy on the depth chart for now, but as the offseason continues and Manziel learns the offense, the competition could start to heat up.
Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Jones
A.J. Green may be the top wide receiver on the Cincinnati Bengals' depth chart, but the coaching staff is hoping Marvin Jones can stir up some competition at OTAs.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was asked about what he expects from Jones after the receiver caught 10 touchdown passes last season, and he is hoping the 24-year-old will challenge Green for the No. 1 spot, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
"Marvin Jones came on like gangbusters [last year] and he's got to go chase A.J. [Green]," Jackson said. "Why not knock A.J. off the pedestal? When you have the friendly competition among your teammates, that’s when things get really, really good, in my opinion."
It's not likely that Jones will take the No. 1 spot, but if he can improve upon last year, quarterback Andy Dalton will have an exciting one-two punch at receiver.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Mitchell
With Ryan Clark now on the Washington Redskins, the Pittsburgh Steelers found another hard-hitting safety in Mike Mitchell this offseason to go along with Troy Polamalu.
The 26-year-old Mitchell, who spent last season with the Carolina Panthers, is apparently already coming to practices with an aggressive mindset. Alan Robinson from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote that it's been hard to ignore Mitchell's competitiveness already—the defensive back is tracking interceptions and deep passes completed.
Mitchell was part of the dominant Panthers defense last season, but hard hits have led to multiple fines over his career. Still, with Mitchell and Polamalu at safety, opposing offenses will think twice before throwing the ball deep down the field.
Houston Texans: Tom Savage
The Houston Texans didn't take a quarterback until the fourth round of this year's NFL draft, selecting Tom Savage out of Pittsburgh. He'll be fighting for the starting job in Houston, and apparently he already looks sharp despite limited time with his teammates.
Savage has so far impressed a number of people, including former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware. Per John Harris of HoustonTexans.com, none of Savage's throws hit the ground during Day 2 of OTAs. He also wrote that Ware noticed the rookie looking very comfortable while going through his progressions.
He's only throwing against air, but a rookie quarterback looking as confident as Savage does this early in the offseason is a good sign for the Texans.
Indianapolis Colts: Dwayne Allen
Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had to make adjustments this past season, as he planned on having an exciting tight end duo in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Fleener had a solid sophomore season, but Allen missed the entire year after a hip injury in Week 1.
Now, Allen is back, and his teammates are impressed.
"You can tell he’s back," linebacker Erik Walden said of Allen, according to Kevin Bowen from Colts.com. "He looked fluid, still has his speed and his burst."
Allen had a promising rookie campaign, and Colts fans will be hoping he can stay healthy so that he can have another big year in 2014.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Denard Robinson
One of the more interesting rookies from last season was former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who was taken in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and listed on their roster as an offensive weapon. He didn't see the field a lot in 2013, but if he continues to look as good as he did in the first week of OTAs, the Jaguars will have to find ways to get him involved offensively.
According to ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, Robinson didn't drop—or even bobble—a single pass during the first week of practices after he struggled to catch the ball last year.
The Jaguars drafted two more receivers this year in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, but they don't have a ton of options at running back, where Denard Robinson will have a chance to see the field more often. He'll have to work on blocking, but his improvement is a good sign.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker
Jake Locker played in only seven games last season before he suffered a season-ending foot injury in November, so his teammates probably wouldn't have been too upset if his comeback was on the slow side.
That's apparently not Locker's style.
As soon as OTAs started, Locker was already running with the first team, and his teammates were happy to have him back. Incoming wide receiver Dexter McCluster liked what he saw, according to Titans Online's Craig Peters, saying:
It starts with him. He's the leader. You saw a guy that knows what he's doing, that threw the ball well. That's big-time when you have the starter out there. You have the guy that's going to take that huddle every time, call the plays and be that leader, so having him here is a plus for us.
It impresses me a lot. It helps the whole team out. It helps him out, so it's kudos to him for working hard and getting back. He's definitely hungry. He worked hard to get back on the field, and I think he's going to work hard to stay on the field.
Locker is in the final year of his contract, and he has yet to play more than 11 games in a season. If he can't prove that he's the team's franchise quarterback this season, he may very well be gone.
It appears Locker understands that.
Buffalo Bills: Chris Hogan
Quarterback EJ Manuel is going to have plenty of options this season with names like Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham in the fold, but it's Chris Hogan who's been impressing at Buffalo Bills OTAs.
Since Woods has been recovering from ankle surgery, Hogan has had a chance to get plenty of reps, and according to Chris Brown from BuffaloBills.com, the 25-year-old has made the most of his opportunities.
Brown noted that Hogan looks faster on the field and has made big plays at practice every day.
Hogan will have a lot of work to do if he wants to make the final roster at a position filled with talent, but so far it looks like he's on the right track.
Miami Dolphins: Dion Jordan
Dion Jordan has created quite a stir, and while he hasn't done much on the field, he's been the most impressive player for the Miami Dolphins because of how much bigger he's gotten.
According to ESPN.com's James Walker, the 24-year-old defensive end finally looks the part at 265 pounds (a gain of 17 pounds). Walker wrote that Jordan was focused on getting stronger so he can become more of an every-down player, with Jordan saying:
I needed it. I was too light to be out there trying to go against some of those offensive tackles. For me, it wasn't mainly the weight, it was about getting stronger. I'm still young. I'm sure the weight is going to come. But in this league, it's a grown man's league. So I have to make sure I'm strong enough.
After being drafted No. 3 overall in 2013, Jordan had just two sacks last season, but he's hoping that this added weight will help him become the big-time pass-rusher the Dolphins are counting on him to be.
New England Patriots: Steve Beauharnais
Seventh-round picks don't often act like leaders on either side of the ball, but former Rutgers linebacker Steve Beauharnais is looking to be more vocal on defense in his second year in the league.
ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss wrote that one of the biggest things that stood out for him was watching Beauharnais lead 11-on-11 drills, saying:
I watched him put his hands on a teammate after barking out the play-call in a take-charge type of manner. Beauharnais, the seventh-round pick from Rutgers, is a candidate to elevate into a Dane Fletcher-type reserve role in 2014.
The New England Patriots already have some solid starters at linebacker, but if he continues to take charge like he has, Beauharnais could be a No. 2 guy on the depth chart.
New York Jets: Ras-I Dowling
The New York Jets signed Ras-I Dowling—the Patriots' second-round pick in 2011—to their practice squad last season, and the move appears to be paying off.
The New York Post's Brian Costello pointed out that Dowling was all over the field Wednesday, making plenty of plays. Dowling has always been a talented player, but his health troubles have kept him from becoming a legitimate contributor in the NFL.
If Dowling is able to stay healthy this season, he could be a solid depth player at cornerback. The Jets are pretty thin at the position, and that gives a player like him a chance to see the field.
Denver Broncos: DeMarcus Ware
The Denver Broncos added a number of exciting free agents this offseason as they attempt to make a Super Bowl run, and 31-year-old DeMarcus Ware has already begun to stand out with his new team.
During the first practice of OTAs Wednesday, Ware didn't waste time showing he's still a dominant pass-rusher. Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com pointed out that Ware had no problem exploding off the edge and disrupting a number of pass plays.
Ware missed the first three games of his career last season and came up with a career-low six sacks. However, now that he's healthy and lining up with guys like Von Miller, he should be able to return to form.
Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe hasn't been the same wide receiver that we saw in 2010 and 2011, catching just eight touchdowns in the past two seasons. However, if the start of OTAs is any indication, he might be ready to turn things around.
After signing his big contract, Bowe had just 673 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year, so he'll need to bring those numbers up if he wants to live up to his contract.
Oakland Raiders: D.J. Hayden
Many were surprised when the Oakland Raiders selected D.J. Hayden with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and the former Houston cornerback struggled to adjust in his rookie year, grabbing just one interception all season.
Apparently, Hayden now looks comfortable with the team.
ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez pointed out Tuesday that Hayden looks like a completely different player—and that it looks like he might be in the running to start opposite Tarell Brown once the season begins.
Hayden nearly died on the field in college after tearing his inferior vena cava, but he was able to fully recover. He had some complications with the injury last season, but if he's able to stay healthy, the Raiders are very excited to see what he can do.
San Diego Chargers: Eddie Royal
A fantasy football stud at the start of the season, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal was slowed down for the rest of the year after a toe injury in October. Now that he's healthy, he is off to a nice start.
Royal has come into OTAs and looked like the receiver who scored five touchdowns in the first two weeks of last season. Tom Krasovic from The San Diego Union-Tribune noticed that Royal and quarterback Philip Rivers had good chemistry in his first practice since injuring his toe last season.
Granted, Royal still played throughout the year, but getting back into a practice setting over seven months later and looking as sharp as he did is a promising sign. Rivers is coming off a terrific season, and having a healthy Royal should help him continue to play at a high level.
Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin
The Chicago Bears are focused on mixing things up defensively after having the worst run defense in the league last year, and one of those changes has involved former first-round pick Shea McClellin switching positions.
McClellin was supposed to be an exciting pass-rusher at defensive end, but he's racked up just 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Due to his struggles at the position, the Bears have moved him to linebacker, and according to ESPN's Michael C. Wright, he's doing a pretty solid job so far:
We finally caught a glimpse of Shea McClellin playing linebacker, and he didn't look bad at all. In fact he looked pretty natural scraping against the run and dropping back into coverage on passes. McClellin drew plenty of compliments from the coaching staff during Tuesday's practice.
With quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and now Teddy Bridgewater in the division, the Bears need to find ways to get to the quarterback, and they're hoping McClellin will be able to do so at linebacker.
Detroit Lions: Darius Slay
The expectations for Darius Slay are high after the second-round pick struggled in his rookie season. The Detroit Lions don't have a lot of secondary depth, and they'll need Slay to contribute.
So far, Slay has done exactly that. Michael Rothstein from ESPN even went as far as to say that Slay was the most impressive player at Wednesday's practice, showing that he can recover more effectively when burned as well as overall better coverage skills.
In 13 games last season, Slay didn't record a single interception, and that needs to change this year if the Lions want to find a way to finally win the NFC North title.
Green Bay Packers: Julius Peppers
The Green Bay Packers aren't known for bringing in big names via free agency, but general manager Ted Thompson made an exception with Julius Peppers this offseason.
The 34-year-old has quickly made a positive impact on his new team despite playing for the rival Bears over the past few seasons. Head coach Mike McCarthy has been happy with Peppers so far, according to Lori Nickel from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Julius is such an impressive person from all angles. Very professional approach, takes great care of himself. You can see that in phase one to phase two workouts, just the way he moves. He looks awesome in 56. I was worried we were not going to be able to find a shirt that would fit him. He looks very natural at the outside linebacker position.
Even though Thompson doesn't always bring in big names, they tend to work out when he does. Those names include Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, so Peppers is in good company heading into his first season with the Packers.
Minnesota Vikings: Greg Jennings
The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of youth at wide receiver, but veteran Greg Jennings leads the pack and hopes to give whoever starts at quarterback a reliable option on the outside this season.
According to Mike Wobschall from Vikings.com, Jennings was "catching everything in sight" on the first day of OTAs on Wednesday, regardless of which quarterback was throwing him the ball. The 30-year-old receiver even caught a 50-yard bomb from Bridgewater, who was throwing as he escaped the pocket.
Even though he wasn't as productive as he's been before in his first season with the Vikings, Jennings expects to be the go-to option at receiver, and younger players will continue to rely on his experience as the season approaches.
Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews
One of the biggest needs for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason was on the offensive line, as quarterback Matt Ryan was knocked around constantly in 2013. The Falcons made sure to address that need in the draft, as they selected Jake Matthews with their first pick.
Many scouts believed that Matthews was the most pro-ready offensive lineman in this draft and possibly the most pro-ready prospect overall. So far, Matthews has proven those scouts right, as ESPN's Vaughn McClure mentioned on Wednesday that Matthews looked more like a veteran than a rookie when out with the rest of the starting offensive line, showing off plenty of quickness.
New Orleans Saints: Champ Bailey
Even as he prepares to turn 36 years old in June, Champ Bailey continues to show that he can play at a high level in the NFL, even with a new team in the New Orleans Saints.
Bailey has quickly grown on his teammates, as some even grew up watching him play for the Broncos. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has loved what he's seen from Bailey so far, according to Brett Martel from the Associated Press:
He looks fantastic. You look out there and you think he’s one of those young guys running around. But he’s bringing excitement to our defense and knowledge and it’s awesome to add a great player like him.
The Saints have a revamped secondary thanks to additions like Bailey, Jairus Byrd and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Suddenly, a defense that was historically awful two seasons ago looks like it could be one of the best in the NFC. Even if Bailey isn't as good as he once was, he'll still be able to provide guidance for the younger cornerbacks.
Carolina Panthers: Bene Benwikere
After such a rough offseason in which a number of key players left, the Carolina Panthers are going to need as much help as they can get from this year's draft class. Fortunately, even some of the later picks look good so far, as fifth-round cornerback Bene Benwikere has gotten some love in OTAs.
During practice on Thursday, Benwikere saw a lot of time at nickel, coming up with one interception and almost a second one, according to ESPN's David Newton. When Newton asked head coach Ron Rivera who has surprised him, Benwikere was apparently the first guy Rivera mentioned.
With Captain Munnerlyn gone, the competition is opening up at corner, and Benwikere will be right in the thick of the battle with Charles Godfrey for the nickel corner spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnthan Banks
It was a really rough rookie season for Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Banks had the third-worst pass coverage grade among all cornerbacks who played in at least 25 percent of the team's snaps.
Banks may have struggled, but he still has a ton of potential given his 6'2'' frame and long arms. So far, new head coach Lovie Smith seems to love the young corner, according to Roy Cummings from The Tampa Tribune, saying, "Banks is a great fit for our scheme. I like what he did last year as a young player, and he’s a coachable guy who has talent. I’m excited about coaching him."
Even with Alterraun Verner on the roster, Banks is going to be on the field quite a bit this season, so the expectations are higher as he starts his second year.
Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Weeden
Even the craziest Dallas Cowboys fans probably didn't expect this.
During Wednesday's practice, Tony Romo was limited and Kyle Orton wasn't there, giving quarterback Brandon Weeden the chance to work with the first team. Surprisingly, the Browns' former first-round pick was quite solid with the first unit, even impressing tight end Jason Witten.
According to Carlos Mendez from the Star-Telegram, Witten had this to say about Weeden:
To hop in there and do as well as he did, I’ve been impressed. You can tell he’s an older guy, very mature, strong arm. Picked up on the offense really quickly. Kind of took charge of the group in there, called the plays. That’s hard to do on your first day, especially when guys are used to one man’s cadence and his voice. Thought he did a really good job.
Don't expect Weeden to be the starter or anything, but with Orton reportedly leaning toward retirement, a strong practice like this one should make the Cowboys feel confident about their backup behind Romo.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr.
The New York Giants are expecting big things from first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr., and while the young receiver hasn't gotten a ton of time with the team due to the NFLPA rookie event, he's already turned some heads.
Dan Salomone from Giants.com noted that Beckham already looks like an NFL receiver, showing off his quickness and athleticism while keeping up with the veterans during drills.
Coming out of LSU, Beckham's speed was the big reason he was a first-round pick (4.43 second 40-yard dash at the combine), and he'll give quarterback Eli Manning an exciting new weapon to go along with receiver Victor Cruz.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jeremy Maclin
The Philadelphia Eagles could have been even more deadly last season had Jeremy Maclin been playing in head coach Chip Kelly's offense, but an early ACL tear kept him out for the entire year.
Now, Maclin is back, and he's ready to go.
According to ESPN's Andy Jasner, Maclin is at full go for OTAs, and Kelly is thrilled to have him back, saying:
And Mac's doing a really good job, just getting back familiar with it. I was really excited about how he would fit into what we do because of what he can do. And then to lose him that early in camp was disappointing. You got a taste of him. But having him out there full speed running out there right now, he's doing a really good job.
Washington Redskins: Keenan Robinson
Injuries have kept Washington Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson from reaching his potential the past couple of seasons, putting him on injured reserve in each of his two NFL campaigns. However, when healthy, the coaching staff has loved what he's done.
That's the case once again at OTAs this year, as head coach Jay Gruden has been impressed with how Robinson has looked during practice. He had this to say about Robinson on Friday, according to ESPN's John Keim:
Mentally he’s in good shape. Physically he looks excellent to me. He’s running, he’s long and he can run sideline to sideline in pass coverage. He’s disruptive. He gets into zones and is a big guy to throw over. He can cover tight ends, he can cover backs. We have high hopes for Keenan and love the progress he’s making.
Robinson has had two torn pectoral muscles already in his career, but if healthy, it looks like he'll be in the running to start at inside linebacker.
Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd
Michael Floyd showed off his true potential for the Arizona Cardinals last season, putting up 1,041 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Now, with OTAs underway, his own quarterback is expecting big things from him heading into the coming campaign.
"The way Mike Floyd is playing just jumped out at me," Carson Palmer said of Floyd at OTAs per Darren Urban from AZCardinals.com. "I have very high expectations for Mike this year."
Having Floyd on the other side of the offense is taking a lot of pressure off fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It'll be hard for the Cardinals to make a push for the NFC West title given the other teams in the division, but look for Floyd to have a breakout year in Arizona.
St. Louis Rams: Aaron Donald*
The St. Louis Rams won't actually start OTAs until June 3, so instead of a player that's most impressive, let's take a look at a player to watch for.
That player will be Aaron Donald, the exciting pass-rushing defensive tackle from Pittsburgh. He's not a big defensive lineman at 6'1'' and 285 pounds, but he's a disruptive pass-rusher who is explosive off the snap. Donald will likely turn some heads at OTAs with his speed, and adding him alongside Chris Long and Robert Quinn will give the Rams a frightening defensive line this season.
San Francisco 49ers: Brandon Lloyd
It's been quite some time since we've seen a dominant season from Brandon Lloyd, the wide receiver who caught 11 touchdowns and had 1,448 yards in 2010 with the Broncos. Now, after a year out of the league, he is looking to return to form.
For someone who hasn't played since the 2012 season, Lloyd has looked sharp with the San Francisco 49ers. He had the play of the day on Wednesday, according to Taylor Price from 49ers.com, coming up with an impressive touchdown in the red zone.
“I’m seeing really good things,” Harbaugh said of Lloyd. “I’m seeing a surge off the line of scrimmage, and he has the ability to burst off the top of his routes. He runs excellent routes. He does not seem like a guy who’s had a layoff from football for a year."
Lloyd will have some work to do if he wants to make the final 53-man roster, but so far, his return to the NFL is off to a strong start.
Seattle Seahawks: Doug Baldwin
The Seattle Seahawks are looking to win a second straight Super Bowl, and with Golden Tate gone, Doug Baldwin will have to be an even more productive receiver in 2014 to help his team make another deep run.
Baldwin and Percy Harvin will likely be the top two receivers, and so far the 25-year-old has looked sharp, according to ESPN's Terry Blount. In the first day of practices, Baldwin caught three deep throws, including an impressive one-handed catch over Richard Sherman.
That quick start to OTAs might have helped Baldwin more than he expected, as the Seahawks officially signed him to a two-year extension worth $11 million, as reported by Ryan Wilson from CBS Sports. With a new extension, Baldwin will be looking to live up to the deal with a breakout season.