NFL Training Camp 2014: Top Rookies to Key on as Summer Activities Begin

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2014

Carolina Panthers' Kelvin Benjamin (13) smiles after making a catch at NFL football rookie minicamp in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, May 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Keane)
CHRIS KEANE/Associated Press

Rookies think they understand what lies behind the door they walk through in the infancy of their inaugural NFL training camp, but they truly have no idea.

Sure, they have been pampered and coached by some of the best in the world in order to prepare for this midsummer preparation in the oft-sweltering heat, but the reality is that most are completely unaware that they are suddenly no longer the top dog on the field, but rather a puppy in the midst of the best.

Ditto for the media attention and fan expectation that breathes down their neck at every corner.

It culminates into a neat package for fans around the globe, as the trials and tribulations faced by each rookie speaks volumes about their career trajectory, not to mention the obvious implications on the franchise that brought them on board.

Below is a look at some of the most important names to monitor as the process begins.

Teddy Bridgewater's Shot at No. 1

Jim Mone/Associated Press

The most interesting quarterback battle of all this preseason includes a high-profile rookie in Minnesota, who tumbled down the board to the final pick of the first round, to the surprise of some.

Bridgewater was an elite player at Louisville and perhaps the most cerebral amongst the crop of rookie signal-callers (he completed 64.5 percent of his passes or better in each of his three years with the Cardinals).

This was a no-brainer as new coach Mike Zimmer ushers in his new era, although the idea of him beating out two veterans for the starting gig is difficult to see, even if their numbers a year ago were tragic considering weapons such as Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph—and that guy named AP in the backfield:

PlayerCompAtt% YdsTDInt
Matt Cassel15325460.21807119
Christian Ponder15223963.6164879

One can presume that is a pretty good nurturing environment for a brainy rookie, and as Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle points out, it helps he also has great coaching in place:

"I think he probably should've gone in the first 10 picks," Turner said, per the team Vikings' website, via's Chris Wesseling . "He probably should've gone at least in the first half of the first round, and then we're sitting there with an opportunity to get him when we did, it was a bonus to me."

The hype around Bridgewater coming out of the organization is all too real, and now it's his job to match it in order to steal the starting gig.

If he can't, the season might just go down as another waste of Adrian Peterson's prime.

Eric Ebron and the Battle to Become Relevant

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

While he was the No. 10 overall pick, 21-year-old Eric Ebron's status with the Detroit Lions is very much a serious topic of discussion, at least in regards to his usage next season.

At 6'4" and 250 pounds at the combine, he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash coming off a collegiate career in which he caught 112 balls for 1,805 yards and eight touchdowns, but he's still getting a bit lost in the shuffle.

That's rather easy to do in Detroit, where Calvin Johnson reigns supreme and Golden Tate—coming off a season in which he dropped just three passes and amassed the second-best total of 7.9 yards per catch after reception, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—is suddenly a very legitimate No. 2.

As if his standing in the offensive hierarchy isn't bad enough, even the Madden developers have not exactly thrown a ton of support behind the former North Carolina star, as illustrated by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:

There is always pressure on a top-10 pick to perform, but Ebron seems to have an inordinate amount on his shoulders as he is asked to line up on the line and split out wide to create mismatches.

His physical prowess suggests he'll be able to do just that, but how fluid the transition proves to be will speak volumes about his status heading into the season.

Kelvin Benjamin and Doubters

As the only viable target on an offense that has lacked aerial weapons on the outside for years, Florida State product and No. 28 overall pick Kelvin Benjamin has a lot of work to do this preseason.

A monster at 6'5" and 240 pounds, physically it is not ridiculous to compare him to Megatron. That comparison can run a bit deeper, though, as they shared another common trait, this one at the collegiate level—they were both downright awful at catching the football.

Joe Redemann of Number Fire provides the details:

Now, is it possible that Kelvin Benjamin will turn his catching woes around? Certainly. Is it likely? A 4.07% chance seems to say otherwise, especially when most of the receivers who did correct their catching problems are considered the best in the game (including the likes of Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas, and DeSean Jackson). Folks, Benjamin’s college career catch rate was a paltry 59.6%. Calvin Johnson had a 48.1% catch rate, but he is the exception to all rules. The only other near-great receiver who was worse in college was Julio Jones (51.8%).

Even worse, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network points out that Benjamin only has one year of work to go off of at the collegiate level, which places him with bust-worthy names like Stephen Hill, Greg Little and more.

To his credit, Benjamin has been putting in the necessary work even before training camp, as the Panthers pointed out on Twitter: 

Can Benjamin buck history in a major way as a rookie? It's impossible to say, so his early training camp journey is a critical element to monitor, especially if the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton plan to remain competitive.

A repeat of last year's offense simply isn't going to cut it, so Benjamin has to prove up to the task by the start of the season.

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