Which NFL Rookies Are Already Turning Heads This Offseason?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 31, 2017

Which NFL Rookies Are Already Turning Heads This Offseason?

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    In May and June, NFL rookies have their first chances to convince coaches that they deserve to play when the pads come on in July, August and September.  

    Yes, it is early. But you know what they say about first impressions.

    A lot can and will change between now and then, but here's a look at eight rookies who have left strong marks on their new teams in minicamps and organized team activities. 

Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Jamaal Charles is gone, but because the Kansas City Chiefs spent so much time without Charles the last few years, they have a slew of running backs who can compete to replace the veteran star. The powerful Spencer Ware and the versatile Charcandrick West are back after combining for 1,849 yards from scrimmage last year, and they've added former Buffalo Bills first-round pick C.J. Spiller as well as rookie third-rounder Kareem Hunt to that mix.

    Hunt is already standing out in the offseason program.

    Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star reported last week that the 21-year-old Toledo product "has already impressed with his short-area burst and balance." ESPN.com's Adam Teicher predicts that Hunt will lead the team in rushing while catching more passes than any back on the roster in 2017. 

    Coming off a college career during which he accumulated 5,550 yards from scrimmage over four years in the MAC (including 1,878 as a senior), the kid might be ready to make a large impression beyond the early parts of OTAs. 

Rams WR Cooper Kupp

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams need quarterback Jared Goff to take major steps forward this season after struggling as a rookie in 2016. That'll come easier if the former No. 1 overall pick's top weapons also improve.

    Rookie third-round pick Cooper Kupp appears to be doing exactly that. 

    The versatile Eastern Washington product dominated the competition in the Football Championship Subdivision, catching 428 passes for 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns during his four years in the Big Sky Conference. Though that competition wasn't as strong as what's in the FBS, talent is talent. And Rich Hammond of the Los Angeles Daily News called Kupp "the star of this month's Rams rookie minicamp."

    If Kupp continues to shine with the vets, he could have a chance to push presumed starters Robert Woods and Tavon Austin. Right now, he's at least looking like a No. 3 receiver in L.A.

Browns QB DeShone Kizer

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns are holding yet another competition for their starting quarterback job, with 2016 third-round pick Cody Kessler battling 2016 fifth-rounder Kevin Hogan, veteran Brock Osweiler and rookie second-round selection DeShone Kizer for the right to lead their revamped offense in 2017. 

    Although he entered his first offseason in Cleveland as somewhat of a raw product with just two years under his belt at Notre Dame, Kizer might already be leading the field. 

    On Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com suggested Kizer could be "on the fast track" to winning the starting job, noting that Browns head coach Hue Jackson "has found Kizer to be a quick study."

    "There's a lot thrown at him now, but he's doing a good job," Jackson said, per Cabot. "He's been better than some guys I have been around [while working against] our defense and all of the different things our defense does, which is only going to make our guys better."

    In Cleveland, that might be enough to beat out Hogan and Osweiler and supplant Kessler before Week 1 arrives.

Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin

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    Superstar Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson will get the lion's share of the attention from the media and their quarterback this season, and tight end O.J. Howard will probably generate the most rookie buzz.

    But don't overlook rookie third-round pick Chris Godwin. 

    The speedy Penn State product scored 16 touchdowns over his last two seasons in the Big Ten, and Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter is encouraged by what he's seeing from Godwin in the offseason program.

    "Yeah, Chris is off to a fast start," Koetter said last week, per Pewter Report's Eric Horchy. "Like I said the other day, Chris and O.J. [Howard] are both doing fine. O.J. has showed up probably a little more as a blocker than a receiver the first couple days, but Chris—a couple small mental blipsbut the physical stuff is there for sure."

    If he keeps it up, Godwin could win the No. 3 receiver job before Week 1 arrives.

Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette

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    Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette turns heads naturally, so it would be more surprising if he weren't giving onlookers whiplash during offseason workouts. But it's even more encouraging that the No. 4 overall pick appears to be flashing outside of his comfort zone early in OTAs. 

    According to Hays Carlyon of 1010 AM in Jacksonville, Jags head coach Doug Marrone is "happy with how Fournette is catching the ball" in practices. 

    Marrone noted Fournette can't show off his power-running skills in these types of workouts, but his work as a receiver is encouraging. The former consensus All-American caught only 41 passes for 526 yards and scored just one receiving touchdowns across his three seasons at LSU. 

    Will he become a better all-around back in a new environment? So far, so good. 

Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was the top offensive selection in the 2017 NFL draft, but the Dallas Cowboys think they might have something special in Trubisky's favorite target at North Carolina. That would be wide receiver Ryan Switzer, whom Dallas selected in the fourth round after he caught 96 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns as a senior with the Tar Heels. 

    The 5'8" slot receiver and return specialisthe took seven punts back for touchdowns during his four years at North Carolinaexcelled while taking first-team reps with veteran Cole Beasley sidelined by an injury last week. He "made some impressive catches" during the portion of Wednesday's practice that was open to media, according to Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News, and he earned praise from his quarterback.

    "He's got something special to him," Dak Prescott said of his new weapon, per Hairopoulos.

    Switzer will work behind Beasley once the regular season begins, but that strong start gives him a chance to make a major impact early in his career. In fact, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told Jon Machota of the Morning News that Switzer's "role is significant" already.

Raiders RB Elijah Hood

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Switzer isn't the only rookie out of North Carolina turning heads with his new team this offseason. In fact, those are the exact words Albert Breer of The MMQB used to describe the impact seventh-round UNC product Elijah Hood is making with the Oakland Raiders. 

    "Want a sleeper coming out of last weekend's rookie minicamps?" Breer wrote in mid-May. "Keep an eye on Oakland's seventh-round pick Elijah Hood, a 232-pound hammer of a tailback who turned the heads of the offensive staff."

    Even with Latavius Murray gone, the Raiders have a crowded backfield. Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement to lace 'em up for his hometown team, and Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington both had strong seasons behind Murray in 2016. But Hood averaged 6.4 yards per carry during his final two seasons in the ACC, and he has the power and build to play a Lynch-like role if he has the chance. 

    If he keeps turning heads, that chance will eventually come. 

Redskins RB Samaje Perine

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins' depth chart at running back was complicated even before they selected Oklahoma product Samaje Perine in the fourth round in April. 

    There's Rob Kelley, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry and went over 700 yards while starting nine games last season. There's Chris Thompson, who led the team with a 5.2 yards-per-attempt average while catching 49 passes for 349 yards as a passing-down back in 2016. And there's Matt Jones, a third-round pick in 2015 who averaged 4.6 yards per carry in seven early-season starts last year but became a regular healthy scratch as the 2016 campaign wore on. 

    But then there's Perine, who Redskins head coach Jay Gruden praised following the team's rookie minicamp. 

    "You see him out there running aroundwere you impressed?" Gruden asked the media, per Nora Princiotti of the Washington Times. "Yeah, so was I. I like guys who come in here and love football and he does. He's a very smart guy. You can tell that he's going to be a very hard worker and, of course, he runs hard. You can't see that in shorts, obviously, but you could see that his pad level is always down, he's got good vision, he's got good feet in the hole and he caught the ball well."

    Even before Gruden complimented his new offensive weapon, ESPN.com's John Keim predicted Kelley would merely "be a complementary piece to Perine" in 2017. 

    In other words, Perine might be on the verge of making that running back depth chart far less complicated. 


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