Biggest Questions That Can Be Answered Right Away in Rookie Camps
The NFL doesn't provide rest for the weary. Rookie minicamps are next on the docket.
For many of the recent draftees, they've been going nonstop since August.
Fall camp led to the regular season and into bowl games. Once the on-field portion of the process ended, many went straight into training for the NFL combine. Some enjoyed the awards circuit, Shrine Game and/or Senior Bowl. More training ensued after the combine to prepare for pro days. Then, each of the 32 teams invited multiple prospects for personal workouts or private visits.
All of this leads up to the draft and leaves prospects with their heads spinning.
Even after experiencing the unbridled joy of being drafted and realizing part of their dreams, incoming rookies must now prepare for the real world. Multiple rookie camps open May 5, just six days after the draft ended. All of them will be in full swing by May 12, per NFL.com.
Positive or negative impressions will be made during these initial practices. Prospects will flash and look to provide answers for their team's biggest problem areas. Ten specific issues found around the league will garner the most interest.
Which Quarterbacks Appear Ready to Lead an NFL Offense?
Much debate ensued regarding this year's quarterback class. Large variances existed. Depending on who discussed the group, it was either seen as poor or filled with potential. It almost took on a punk edge by those who wanted to rail against the general narrative, which was that this year's draft lacked an elite prospect.
What can be safely said is these quarterback prospects are developmental talents. Three were eventually drafted among the top 12 selections. The top four off the board came into the league as underclassmen, who played in different spread systems.
A rookie minicamp shouldn't serve as a barometer for how quickly a young quarterback is adjusting to the pro game, though. Instead, the practices are an opportunity to see how these signal-callers interact and lead their new teammates. Do they take take charge of the situation?
How these rookies react to a new atmosphere is important for teams like the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans, since each has major concerns at the game's most important position.
More pressure may be on the Texans' Deshaun Watson than any other rookie to show he's ready to take over an NFL team.
"I saw just tremendous poise and confidence in him," Texans general manager Rick Smith told The MMQB's Albert Breer. "And obviously he went and performed in one of the all-time great games you’ll ever see. He functioned in a very competitive and highly charged environment with a lot of poise and execution."
Finding out if Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer are alpha males is an important step. Their comfort level within the offense will come naturally over time.
Where Does Solomon Thomas Fit Along 49ers Defensive Front?
The San Francisco 49ers selected a defensive lineman in the first round of three consecutive drafts. The team is also undergoing a scheme change under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
This year, the organization chose Stanford's Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick, and team's brass liked that his his skill set doesn't replicate what's already on the roster.
"We see a special football player and a disruptive football player who has tremendous versatility," general manager John Lynch said after Thomas' selection, per Joe Fann of the 49ers' official site. "He's a little different than the guys we have right now. When I think of Solomon, I think of speed and quickness and disruption."
Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner are built differently than Thomas. The Oregon products both stand 6'7" and weigh at or near 300 pounds. Coming out of college, both played in a three-man front and did so under previous 49ers leadership. Each projects to defensive tackle in Saleh's scheme.
At 6'3" and 273 pounds, Thomas is a more explosive upfield performer. He will provide scheme flexibility, too.
"I talked about that with the defensive line coach [Jeff Zgonina] at the combine," Thomas said, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner. "Kind of lining up in the end position and stuff so I can move down to that 3-tech and be able to rush with DeForest or Arik in there."
Once Thomas steps onto the field Friday, he'll be expected to line up at base end before Saleh and his staff begin to move him around to see where he can be most effective on a down-by-down basis.
Can Jamal Adams Take Over the Jets D Immediately?
When the New York Jets selected Jamal Adams with the sixth overall selection in the 2017 NFL draft, the organization didn't just land one of the class' premier talents. The front office believed it added the type of leader its locker room needed.
Of course, the old NFL adage exists, "Rookies are better seen and not heard."
Adams doesn't need to be a boisterous presence to assert himself as a dominant personality. He can do so with his approach from Day 1 at rookie minicamp.
"He starts jumping like he has too much energy," former LSU head coach Les Miles said, per the Times-Picayune's Jim Kleinpeter. "... That was Jamal Adams: great energy and great leadership. He brought every practice up several notches."
On the field, Adams is a complete safety with the instincts and physicality to blow up running plays. He also has the speed to play the deep third if needed.
The Advocate's Scott Rabalais covered Adams during his time with the Tigers and spoke glowingly about the safety's attitude, per Ethan Greenberg of the Jets' official site.
"One thing that stands out to me is his personality and leadership skills," Rabalais said. "He's just a very positive young man, a leader on the team. I think he's someone who will fit in well in the Jets locker room and be a positive force."
The young safety should immediately demand respect once veterans see his work ethic, attention to his craft and overall performance. He was already held in the highest regard coming out of LSU's football factory.
"The people who have been at that program the longest think he might be the best leader LSU has had in years," an AFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein prior to the draft.
Are Top Prospects Ready to Return from Injuries?
Two of the top 15 players drafted didn't even work out for NFL teams prior to the event. Their current statuses remain up in the air.
The Tennessee Titans used the fifth overall pick to select Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. Davis injured his ankle during a predraft workout, which prevented him from taking part in the combine or any team workouts.
"I'll be good by minicamp," Davis said at the combine, per the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett, "so that's really what matters."
He also expected to participate in an individual pro day prior to the draft. It never happened. Davis became the first wide receiver selected in this year's class despite his lingering injury. Everything now comes down to when he can get on the field again.
Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts chose Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with the 15th overall pick. Once considered a top-five talent, injury concerns helped push the All-American defensive back down the board.
Hooker suffered a torn labrum and sports hernia late in the 2016 campaign that required offseason surgery. The ball hawk expected to be ready for minicamp, per Patrick Maks of the Browns' official site.
Since neither provided an update since the draft, news should come at the start of minicamp. It'll be obvious where both stand if they're not on the field practicing due to their injuries—which will create a renewed sense of concern.
How Will the Cleveland Browns Use Jabrill Peppers?
As the draft approached, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers became the man without a position, and it had a negative effect on his value. Would he play safety, linebacker, cornerback or even running back?
Peppers couldn't have landed in a better situation. The Cleveland Browns traded down to the 25th overall pick before selecting the talented athlete.
"That's a big one," Browns staffers exclaimed after the Peppers selection, per the team's official site.
The Heisman Trophy finalist shouldn't be pigeonholed. His value lies in his versatility, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will exploit his ability to play multiple roles.
"Then, I think Jabrill brings perhaps a dynamic play style and athletic ability that probably Gregg hasn't had in that position and the other guys he's actually turned into Pro Bowlers," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. "That was really exciting for us to be able to add Jabrill and give him to Gregg, who has got experience in knowing exactly how to use that player."
Williams boasts a massive playbook. Peppers won't even be asked to learn a fraction of it during the Browns' first rookie minicamp. However, he'll likely line up as a true strong safety, in the box, over the slot and maybe even as a nickel linebacker during his initial practices.
Peppers will be listed as a safety, but his flexibility with the scheme may be more crucial to the Browns' defensive success than this year's No. 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. We'll get a first glimpse of how they'll use him soon.
What Are the Panthers' Plans for Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel?
Aside from quarterback Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers lacked a true difference-maker on the offensive side of the ball last year. This was evident even during the 2015 campaign when the franchise made its second Super Bowl appearance.
General manager Dave Gettleman prioritized speed and an ability to create chunk plays during this year's NFL draft. With this approach in mind, the Panthers chose Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State's Curtis Samuel in the first and second rounds, respectively.
These two dynamic runners belie position stereotypes. They're weapons to be used in multiple ways.
McCaffrey may be listed as a running back, yet he's an exceptional receiver. On the other hand, Samuel could be designated as a wide receiver, yet his 4.31-second 40-yard speed out of the backfield has the potential to put defenses on their heels.
"This is a matchup league," Gettleman said, per the Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue. "Is my guy better than your guy? These two guys can give us matchup advantages from a variety (of) positions, and that ain't bad."
Friday's rookie minicamp will provide the first taste of these two on the field together to show just a portion of what they're capable of. Like kids with new toys on Christmas, Carolina's coaching staff will get to unwrap their gifts and play with them a little. Multiple different formations should be unveiled.
It will also be the last time both will be on the field until June. Due to an NFL rule, McCaffrey won't be able to rejoin the team until after Stanford's quarter ends, since he's still a student.
Thus, this weekend's workouts will provide an initial taste of what both these dynamic runners can do together until June's mandatory minicamp.
Where Will Top Interior Blockers Line Up?
If this year's quarterback class was considered poor, the offensive line class must have been putrid. After all, the recent draft became the first in the Super Bowl era where teams failed to select a single offensive lineman among the first 15 picks, per Sports Illustrated's Mitch Goldich.
Yet certain teams are banking on interior prospects to bolster sagging offensive fronts. The Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks each invested in versatile blockers who may not line up at their natural positions during minicamp.
Many considered Forrest Lamp the finest available offensive line prospect. The Chargers selected him with the 38th overall pick. The collegiate left tackle is projected to play along the interior, because he lacks the length many teams want in their offensive tackle.
"We'll get them on the field for minicamps, and then training camp, and see who can earn a role and win a job," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said during an interview on NFL Live, per ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams.
Lamp appears to be a natural fit at guard, but he's also spent the offseason practicing snaps in case the Chargers envision him as a center. He and fellow Chargers draftee Dan Feeney will get early looks along the interior during their initial practices.
The Seahawks took an opposite approach. Seattle chose LSU's Ethan Pocic with the 58th overall pick. Pocic was considered the second-best center prospect in this year's class. However, his NFL future may be at right tackle.
Last year, Seattle spent a first-round pick on Germain Ifedi with the intention of starting him at right tackle. Instead, all 15 of his starts came at right guard. The Seahawks staff may move him to tackle this fall with Pocic waiting to play whatever position Ifedi doesn't.
Later-round picks like the Cincinnati Bengals' J.J. Dielman and Washington Redskins' Chase Roullier each present system flexibility, but they're not expected to make immediate pushes for starting roles.
Can Zay Jones Take Over as Buffalo Bills' Top Receiver?
Zay Jones was the fourth wide receiver selected in this year's NFL draft. After the top three prospects all landed in the top 10, the Buffalo Bills waited until the 37th overall pick to land the FBS' all-time leader with 399 receptions.
Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross were certainly bigger names among the available wide receivers, yet Jones may have landed in the most favorable situation to take over as his team's top target.
The Bills lost three of their top four wide receivers from last season. The organization also appears to have lost confidence in former fourth overall pick Sammy Watkins after it announced it wouldn't pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
This franchise is in upheaval. One day after the draft ended, the organization fired general manager Doug Whaley and the majority of the scouting staff. This presents opportunities for incumbent players to assume new roles.
Jones has an inside track on becoming the Bills' top target since his former collegiate position coach, Phil McGeoghan, is now his NFL position coach. McGeoghan helped develop Jones into a top prospect.
"I don't think I'd be standing at this podium if it wasn't for Coach Phil and the things that's taught me and the way he's translated me into being pro-ready," Jones said during his post-draft press conference, per Chris Brown of the Bills' official site.
A year ago, Jones set an NCAA record with 158 receptions, which resulted in 1,746 yards. Collegiate production doesn't always translate to the NFL, but the work ethic and skill set that made Zones so productive under McGeoghan's supervision does.
How he's utilized and treated during the Bills' upcoming minicamp should provide a glimpse into his upcoming usage during training camp and the regular season.
Did Rams Acquire Necessary Talent to Help Jared Goff?
Draft classes interlink over a period of years. While each class is often viewed in a vacuum, teams are putting multiple classes together to build the best possible roster.
A year ago, the Los Angeles Rams traded up in the draft to select quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick. After his first season, the deal doesn't look favorable. Yet the organization didn't put the young signal-caller in a position to succeed at the onset of his career.
The acquisitions made in this year's draft appear to provide Goff with a better surrounding cast. The Rams front office used three of its first four selections to supplement the team's skill positions.
Tight end Gerald Everett and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds have the potential to make the Rams offense more explosive. Everett is an undersized (6'3", 239 lbs) yet athletic target in the same mold as Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed (6'2", 246 lbs). Kupp is a reliable target out of the slot, while Reynolds brings a much-needed vertical threat.
"The theme is you want to find as many playmakers that can create with the ball in their hands," head coach Sean McVay said, per ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez.
The addition of the draft's top fullback prospect, Sam Rogers, shouldn't be overlooked since he brings more versatility. Rogers can line up as a lead blocker, on the wing or in the slot and serve as a blocker or extra option in the passing game.
These targets will be flying around the field during minicamp as McVay starts to implement the Rams' new offense.
Were these acquisitions enough to make the unit more potent and Goff better? The team's first minicamp will provide a glimpse of all the new weapons the quarterback has at his disposal.
Is Joe Mixon Worth the Backlash?
An overlying theme to this year's draft class involved the selection of players with alleged histories of violence against women.
Joe Mixon's 2014 incident—which was caught on surveillance video—headlined this discussion for two reasons. First, he was considered a first-round talent if not for off-field concerns. Second, his particular case became the most well-known among the prospects who fell into this category.
Mixon reached a civil suit settlement with the victim, Mia Molitor, prior to this year's draft, and they released a joint statement, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter.
It then fell on each franchise to decide whether Mixon's history would affect its decision to draft him. The Cincinnati Bengals used the 48th overall pick to select the running back.
"Joe's situation kind of came to a settlement in all ways this week, which also led us to feel better about the opportunity here and to move forward," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell. "We've done all of our due diligence we can do, time spent interviewing people, everybody around him, everybody around his background, people that have coached at Oklahoma for insight regarding him and how he has carried himself since that day."
Athletes with suspect backgrounds often receive second and third chances because they're talented. That's just reality. Mixon is a gifted runner. Once he takes the field Friday, many will quickly realize why the Bengals decided to select the Oklahoma product even with his previous history.
Mixon displays an uncanny ability to create in space as a runner, receiver and returner. He's a natural on the field and someone trying to improve himself off of it.
"People try to perpetrate me as some type of bad guy, some monster for one mistake I made three years ago," Mixon said, per ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill. "I want people to get around me, to come talk to me, to be comfortable. I'm not trying to really prove anything."