With OTAs into their second week now, some players have started standing out from the rest of the pack. A number of rookies have been among the players already impressing during these workouts.
Some of these players were expected to impress while others are a bit of a surprise. Let's take a brief look at how some of these players have been faring.
Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans
As expected, Clowney has already been impressing the coaching staff with his athleticism. The major question about Clowney leading into the draft was his motivation. This seems to be something he has put to rest, according to Texans linebacker coach Mike Vrabel, who told ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli:
I think his attitude, much like all of our guys, their attitude has been great. They've come in, they've tried to be vocal in the meeting rooms, not always right, but at least they have the confidence to try to make the calls, make the adjustments and make the corrections while we're in there. He's somebody that we're excited about because he has the natural ability, but he also has the attitude to want to learn. He doesn't think he has it all figured out.
There is more expected of Clowney than of any other first overall pick—more than Peyton Manning, more than Andrew Luck. He is expected to live up to the billing of physically being the best pass-rusher ever.
The day he was drafted, Mike Mayock of NFL Network said, "When he woke up this morning, he was the most talented (defensive) lineman on the planet." It appears Clowney is off to a good start for living up to these expectations.
Bene Benwikere, CB, Carolina Panthers
Benwikere has been the biggest rookie surprise so far in OTAs. Unlike Clowney, the fifth-round pick out of San Jose State had very little expectations. Brian Beversluis of Cat Scratch Reader (an SB Nation Panthers community) broke down Benwikere's game tape and came to the conclusion that "it's highly possible the Panthers don't plan on him seeing the field much if at all on defense."
Instead, Benwikere now finds himself on the verge of starting, playing well enough to challenge Charles Godfrey, a former safety who converted to corner, for the starting role. Benwikere has seriously impressed coaches by showing off his ball skills, bringing in one interception and nearly another, according to David Newton of ESPN.com.
Last year, Melvin White, an undrafted rookie, was a surprise contributor on a sixth-ranked Panthers pass defense. It looks like Benwikere may follow in White's footsteps this year.
Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
There was a ton of pre-draft hype surrounding the Falcons possibly trading up to grab Clowney. Draft day came, and the Falcons stayed put and selected Matthews to protect Matt Ryan. It wasn't the sexiest pick, but it already seems to be paying dividends.
He has so far been living up to the hype of being the most technically sound and most NFL-ready tackle in the draft. Per sportingnews.com's Craig Sager Jr., head coach Mike Smith said Matthews "is everything we anticipated he's going to be. Jake is very mature not only physically but mentally in terms of understanding what it takes to be an NFL player and I like the way he moved today."
Vaugh McClure of ESPN.com mentioned Matthews when breaking down 10 observations from the Falcons' OTAs: "Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews showed great quickness throughout the day and looked more like a veteran next to the other four offensive linemen."
This is excellent news for a team whose offensive line graded out as the third worst in the league last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Ryan Shazier, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Shazier was a bit of a surprise pick for the Steelers, with most draft pundits expecting them to pick a wide receiver or defensive back. What added to the shock of the pick was the fact Shazier played in a 4-3 defense at Ohio State, and the Steelers have fielded one of the most successful 3-4 defenses of the past decade.
Shazier is now in line to be the starting inside linebacker, next to Lawrence Timmons. If he ends up starting, he will be the first defensive rookie to start the season for the Steelers since Kendrell Bell in 2001.
His speed has been a big reason why he has been impressing so far in OTAs. Mike Prisuta on Steelers.com Live referred to his speed as "mistake speed," saying:
You know, I've heard this term "mistake speed" in reference to defensive backs before. I can't remember if it was Keith Butler or Dick LeBeau who said that Ryan Shazier has mistake speed. What they meant was he can make a mistake, diagnose the fact he's made a mistake, and run like heck and get to where he was supposed to be in the first place in time to still make the play. That's one of the things that separates this guy.
Shazier made quite a first impression with Steelers All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey as well. In a one-on-one blocking drill with Pouncey, Shazier not only beat Pouncey's block but put him on his butt. Shazier is starting to prove himself already in the quest to be the next great Pittsburgh linebacker.
All in all, these rookies have started off on the right foot in their young NFL careers. It isn't a guarantee that all of them will be day-one starters, but they have proved themselves to be worth consideration so far. They still have a long road ahead of them through training camp and the preseason, but the fact that they're impressing already bodes very well for them.
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