Hottest Rookie Storylines During NFL Offseason Workouts
First impressions can be lasting. For an NFL rookie, they can set the tone regarding the player's attitude, approach and work ethic.
Before anyone brings their jump-to-conclusions mat out of storage, though, this year's rookie class is still in its infancy, and its potential is yet to be tapped. However, plenty can still be learned even during a handful of non-padded practices. Coaches finally get to size up their new draft-day gifts.
A player's potential impact within the lineup, where he fits on the roster, his future usage and how he'll transition to the NFL can all be gleaned from these initial workouts.
But it's crucial for everything to be placed into context as each draftee takes his first steps toward learning a playbook and asserting himself while avoiding being overwhelmed.
Many camp superstars faded once the lights shone brightest. It's a delicate balance to understand the differences between what can be viewed as foundation-building potential and offseason platitudes.
With rookie camps now out of the way, multiple interesting storylines came to the forefront.
Chicago Bears' Mitchell Trubisky Looks the Part of Franchise Quarterback
Since the Chicago Bears traded up one pick to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 overall, questions have been raised regarding whether it was the right move. Some argue the post-draft spin is out of control. Others believe it was the right deal at right time for the right signal-caller.
CSN Chicago's John Mullin reported two AFC scouts graded Trubisky higher than any other quarterback prospect over the last six years—which includes Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
"Trubisky is an almost perfect quarterback prospect," an NFC regional scout told Mullin.
The quarterback's inexperience (13 starts) prevented him from being a legitimate contender for the No. 1 overall pick with the uber-talented Myles Garrett available.
As naturally gifted as Trubisky is, his skill set needs to transition to the pro game as he learns a new offense under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
Bears head coach John Fox stated his rookie signal-caller had a "great camp," per the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley. But there is certainly room to grow.
"You've got to get him up to speed in your offense," Fox said. "So I think a guy, regardless of position, has to get comfortable and know what to do—and how to do it—and then just really cut loose and play."
Loggains provided a slightly more loaded statement.
"The expectations for him is to come in and develop as fast as possible," the coordinator said, per Mullin. "He gets a great opportunity to sit behind Mike Glennon; the guy’s a pro. [Trubisky] gets a chance to learn and grow in the system. Those are the only expectations, that he gets better every day."
The organization has been adamant in naming Glennon its starter. What happens if Trubisky appears to be ahead of schedule and one great camp turns into two and then continues into the summer? Answer: Trubisky will be the starter sooner rather than later.
Fourth-Round Running Back, Not Leonard Fournette, Draws Most Praise
The Jacksonville Jaguars used the fourth overall pick in this year's draft to select LSU's Leonard Fournette, yet he's not the rookie running back generating the most buzz at the onset of his professional career. The Washington Redskins' Samaje Perine is.
"You see him out there running around—were you impressed?" Washington head coach Jay Gruden asked after Saturday's practice, per the Washington Times' Nora Princiotti. "Yeah, so was I. I like guys who come in here and love football, and he does. ... You can tell that he's going to be a very hard worker and, of course, he runs hard."
Washington used the 114th overall pick in the fourth round to acquire the 235-pound back. Perine is already projected as the team's starter, per ESPN.com's John Keim. Such projections make sense on a couple of levels.
First, Perine is a talented runner. During his collegiate career, the Oklahoma product ran for 4,122 yards, including the FBS single-game record with 427 yards against Kansas in 2014.
The 21-year-old runner split carries with Joe Mixon as part of the Sooners backfield, and he'll continue to do so with the Washington backs. But Robert Kelley and Matt Jones aren't as talented as Mixon. The franchise attempted to trade Jones during the draft, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Kelley, on the other hand, isn't an explosive back, and he struggles to make an impact in the red zone.
A clear path exists for Perine to become the Washington's top back.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars organization won't guarantee Fournette a starting spot, despite its recent investment in the running back.
"Obviously he's shown that ability [to be a workhorse], but at the same sense, when you have the team, the one thing about a team is you have to earn that," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco. "So he's going to have to go and show that he has to do that."
Certain expectations involve the draft's top back, but there is always another who surprises after being a mid- to late-round selection. Fournette and Perine should both be lead backs early in their careers.
Unheralded Rookies Will Push Carlos Hyde to Become 49ers' Top Back
Kyle Shanahan doesn't need a highly touted runner in his backfield to produce an effective rushing attack. Carlos Hyde seems like the logical fit to lead the team's running back stable, but multiple backs will push him.
The head coach said he would be sick if the team didn't land Utah running back Joe Williams in the fourth round of the NFL draft, per The MMQB's Peter King. Shanahan wasn't the only one lobbying general manager John Lynch on Williams' behalf.
"Respected running backs coach Bobby Turner kept in touch with Williams even when he was not on the 49ers' draft board," CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reported. "Coach Kyle Shanahan desperately wanted Williams and convinced general manager John Lynch to reconsider Williams' exclusion from the team's draft plan."
With that kind of organizational support, Williams has shown there's a special quality about him the team plans to embrace.
Hyde ran for a career-high 988 yards in 2016, but he's not an ideal fit for Shanahan's zone-stretch scheme. The 235-pound back is better running between the tackles than trying to getting outside of them.
Williams' 4.41-second 40-yard-dash speed provides an ability to turn the corner, as does fellow rookie Matt Breida's quickness. The Georgia Southern product ran a 4.39-second 40-yard-dash at his pro day, per NFL Draft Scout.
"One 49ers assistant told me the best rookie on the field during minicamp was actually Matt Breida," KNBR's Kevin Jones tweeted. "Not ready to crown Joe Williams yet."
Just because the staff isn't ready to crown Williams yet doesn't mean it won't do so. Breida, Hyde or Kapri Bibbs can develop into solid complementary pieces.
Cam Robinson to Play Left Tackle, Possibly Start for Jacksonville Jaguars
Cam Robinson needed to prove at the NFL combine he can play left tackle in the NFL. Two-plus months later, and he's the favorite to protect Blake Bortles' blind side as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We feel the guy can be the eventual starting tackle for us, considering the grades we had on him," general manager David Caldwell said, per the Florida Times-Union's John Reid. "Anytime you have competition, that's a good thing. I think we will leave him at tackle for the time being; never say never. He's got the skill set to move inside."
The fact the Jaguars are committed to Robinson playing left tackle is significant, since veteran blocker Branden Albert exiled himself after a trade from Miami sent him to Jacksonville. Although, the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran reported the sides finally opened lines of communication this week.
Doug Marrone's squad is inherently better with both Albert and Robinson starting along the offensive front. If Albert doesn't report, Robinson can take over as the team's left tackle.
For three seasons, the 6'6", 322-pound blocker started on the blind side and dominated against the best college football had to offer. He was the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's best interior lineman. He's a brute in the run game, even if he has to improve his overall technique.
Once the Jaguars brass saw him move effortlessly about the field at the combine, he became a highly regarded prospect on the team's draft board before being selected 34th overall.
"Sometimes when you're watching film, you just want to go get a better look in person without other people around," Marrone said, per Reid. "I wanted to go and get a good feel for his footwork and how well he can move. I was impressed."
With or without Albert, the Jaguars should be just fine at left tackle.
Seattle Seahawks' Jordan Roos Goes from Undrafted to Potential Starter
The Seattle Seahawks organization promotes a different type of culture than other franchises. Head coach Pete Carroll uses competition at every position to breed success. While most coaches say they do the same thing, the Seahawks don't let an individual's draft standing get in the way if a guy can play.
Thus, an undrafted rookie, whom the head coach already targeted as a potential starter, isn't just a throwaway player. Jordan Roos didn't hear his named called during the NFL's three-day draft event, yet he could push more highly regarded names off the roster if he continues to perform like he did in minicamp.
"He looks like he fits right in," Carroll said of Roos, per the Tacoma News Tribune's Todd Miles. "I was really, really happy about that, because we're trying to keep that whole position as competitive as possible.
"[Roos] looks like he'll be able to battle, and I'm talking with the guys who are going to be playing."
Carroll provided a major vote of confidence for the undrafted player. The Seahawks used a pair of picks to acquire Ethan Pocic and Justin Senior as talented blockers to improve a porous offensive front. But there is plenty of room for a player like Roos to make his mark.
"Jordan Roos can battle, a very important signing for us," Carroll added, per Three Step Drop's Coleman Crawford. "Excellent first impression"
The 6'3", 302-pound blocker is a natural right guard, who started three straight seasons for the Purdue Boilermakers. His natural aggressiveness and stellar pass-protection skills should help push players like Pocic and Germain Ifedi, who are expected to compete for starting positions along the strong side.
Every year, undrafted free agents make rosters and eventually earn starting spots. Roos may have made the best first impression among this season's lot.
Can Cooper Kupp Develop into Rams' Top Wide Receiver?
Cooper Kupp must have came out of the womb being able to catch a football. He's just a natural.
After all, Kupp holds the FCS trifecta for most career receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73).
Yet he still fell to the third round, where the Los Angeles Rams selected him with the 69th overall pick. The reason is simple: Kupp is a 6'2" receiver with 4.62-second 40-yard dash speed, who will likely need to operate out of the slot to be effective.
The Eastern Washington product will never be the biggest, fastest or quickest receiver, but all he does is get open and catch the ball. He continued to do so during his first NFL minicamp.
"He's still being Coop," former collegiate and current teammate Samson Ebukam said, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein. "Catching balls and making people look silly."
While the Rams search for a legitimate No. 1 receiver, Kupp made his presence known to the coaching staff.
"I think the first thing you know about Cooper is he's a pro and you can see that," Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said, per the Spokesman-Review's Jim Allen. "He came in here not like most rookies do. … You can tell he works at his craft each and every day. He does a great job."
The fact Kupp walked into the Rams facility and looked like he can be a reliable—maybe even the top—target for quarterback Jared Goff speaks a lot about the rookie's preparedness and natural ability despite any perceived limitations.
Just throw Kupp the damn ball. He'll catch it.
Myles Garrett Receives Hall of Fame Help to Realize Full Potential
All eyes will be on Myles Garrett after the Cleveland Browns used the No. 1 overall pick to select the defensive end. His performance will be constantly compared to the signal-callers the quarterback-needy Browns bypassed to acquire the draft's top talent.
Despite that lofty status, Garrett wasn't without his detractors. For example, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp said the Texas A&M product wasn't worthy of being selected first overall, because he "absolutely disappears" during games, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Bruce Smith offered to serve as Garrett's mentor and immediately addressed a potential problem area. The NFL's all-time leading sack artist told him something the young man didn't expect to hear.
"That I was slow off the ball," Garrett said at Browns minicamp, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon. "... Every now and then, a couple plays. He was just like, 'Yeah, you need to be faster.'"
Smith's advice wasn't meant to serve as an indictment of the pass-rusher's natural ability. Instead, he keyed on an area where the 21-year-old defensive end can be consistently better.
"To that end, where I tried to give him meaningful advice, I said he was slow off the ball at times, and what I meant by that term is you have to come off that edge in simultaneous movement with the ball," Smith explained to SB Nation's Thomas George. "The word slow is not as important as saying he is a little late, a little hesitant at times at the snap."
To realize his massive potential, Garrett will face the NFL's best left tackle and another future Hall of Fame inductee in Joe Thomas on a daily basis.
"He's shown an interest in learning, and I'm a player that really likes to try to help teach and impart any wisdom that I've gotten over the ages on some of those young guys," Thomas said, per Cleveland.com's Dan Labbe, "so it will be fun for me, too, to be able to try to help as best as I can and try to get him to think like an offensive tackle and hopefully turn him into the great player I think he can be."
With Smith and Thomas providing tips and tutelage, Garrett's immense talent can take over and make everyone forget the Browns chose him instead of a quarterback atop the 2017 NFL draft.
Caleb Brantley's Chance to Redeem Himself as Part of Browns D-Line
Myles Garrett isn't the only Cleveland Browns rookie defensive lineman in the headlines.
According to the Tampa Bay Times' Matt Baker, the Florida State Attorney's Office dismissed a battery case stemming from an April incident that included accusations of Caleb Brantley striking a woman and knocking her unconscious. Investigators cited insufficient evidence as a reason not to prosecute.
With his name cleared, Brantley must now make up for the fact he slid to the sixth round where the Browns used the 185th overall pick to select the Florida product.
"He's a talented young man with a great opportunity in front of him," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said as part of a team statement. "Caleb must grow as a person from this situation. He is now able to move forward and focus on earning a spot on this roster."
The last portion of Brown's statement shouldn't be overlooked. Brantley displayed early-round potential as a draft prospect. His first-step quickness and ability to be a disruptive force can't be denied. But concerns existed about his inconsistency and work ethic long before any off-field accusations came to light.
"Everyone thinks I don't play hard every play, which I agree with," he said at the combine, per Saturday Down South's Zach Abolverdi. "I could have definitely improved on that this year, but that's probably my biggest knock right now."
Brantley's admission isn't even the biggest concern. The fact he played fewer than 50 percent of Florida's snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus, and still took plays off, is.
The 307-pound defensive tackle is an ideal 3-technique in Gregg Williams' defensive scheme. He'll compete with veterans Desmond Bryant, Xavier Cooper and fellow rookie Larry Ogunjobi to earn a roster spot and playing time. Now that Brantley has been cleared, he only has to concentrate on giving it his all to achieve those goals.