Searching for hidden rookie gems as team training camps open
Colts' Pro Bowl defensive end
The list is a long one. Impact players, stars and superstars can be found where you least expect it in NFL draft. It happens every year. So, where are the hidden gems this year? We're not promising any future Hall of Famers or Pro Bowl locks. But here's one writer's team-by-team look at non-first round impact rookies as we head into training camps:
The Falcons are pretty set along the defensive line, but when Sidbury fell to them in the fourth round, it was impossible not to take him. It may be equally impossible to keep him off the field.
Though he hails from Division I-AA Richmond and is undersized, Sidbury already is turning heads with consistent playmaking skills. He's always around the ball and in the backfield disrupting things. He never quits and when he gets to the ball-carrier, he's a sure tackler. He may not start, but it will be impossible for the Falcons not to use him.
It's impossible not to like Johnson's work ethic and dedication. All his life, he's been proving he's better than some give him credit for, having turned down several other scholarship offers to walk on at Alabama, where he became an All-American.
His knowledge of the game is superb, he puts in the time and is more professional than a lot of players in the league right now. Some already are quietly comparing Johnson to
There simply may not be a better story of perseverance on the field and off. Kruger nearly died in January, 2008, when he and three friends were attacked by 15-20 gang members while leaving a party in Salt Lake City.
Kruger was stabbed at least twice in the abdomen, lost a severe amount of blood and suffered severe internal injuries. Ultimately, 50-staples were required to close the wound and surgical incisions. Kruger recovered fully, but lost 20-pounds and much strength. He ultimately returned and became a beast of a defensive end. Ravens coaches love his maturity, aggressiveness and willingness to pick up the system. It will be impossible, ultimately, to keep him off the field.
All the attributes that made Byrd a huge impact player at Oregon are translating well thus far to the bigger stage. He has proved to be one of those rare instinctive players who just always manages to get his hands on the football (17 career interceptions for the Ducks).
He will play and he will find a way to be around the ball. With good size at 210-pounds and the bloodlines to match (father,
Goodson was quite the tease at Texas A&M. One moment he would show brilliant game-breaking ability, the next he would look lost on the field and, worse, disinterested.
Thus far, however, the Panthers have been nothing but pleased with Goodson's work ethic and performance on the field. He's a game-breaker cut in the mold of another A&M-ex,
Clocked at 4.34 during the draft combine, Knox's speed has translated well. He made play after play during the spring, flashing good hands, as well. There's no doubt he could become a contributor in the slot, if not a game-breaker in special teams.
Scott has been arrested five times and was kicked out of the University of Central Arkansas for allegedly punching a coach. Sounds like a match made in heaven for the strife-riddled Bengals, right?
Actually, this could become one of the more compelling NFL stories if Scott truly has matured and straightened out his life as he claims. Scott has first-round talent -- an amazing set of skills and instincts. But he's been a first-rate knucklehead.
His NFL future is a clean slate right now; what he does with it is entirely up to him.
It's a long way from the sunny shores of Hawaii to the bitter howling winds of Cleveland, but Veikune has made a habit of adjusting nicely to change.
A college defensive end, Veikune has a lot coming at him as he is making the switch to inside linebacker. So far, so good. Even without a firm grasp on NFL linebacking schemes and the demands of the job, Veikune has shown nice, instinctive playmaking ability. He's another one of those high-octane players always looking for contact, which should play well in Cleveland.
David Buehler's day off (sorry, had to do it) will come when the Cowboys face teams that do not possess dangerous return men. Buehler is the ultimate in specialty players. He will be called upon for kickoffs, and unless
That alone makes Buehler special and valuable, though. His leg is possibly the strongest in the league already. Forty-eight of his 88 kickoffs at USC were touchbacks. But Buehler is rare in another way, too: He runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and has played numerous roles in special teams, including covering and rushing kicks. The Cowboys have told him they will try to find ways to use him in special teams, as well.
Where have Broncos heard this before? Schlueter is an athletic, but somewhat short offensive lineman with a motor that won't stop and toughness that literally knocks opponents to (if not at) their knees.
Don't be surprised if Schlueter works his way to a productive 12- or 15-year career despite being taken so low in the draft. He ran an almost unheard-of 4.8-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. Thus far in Denver, coaches love every part of Schlueter's game.
All right, so the first pick of the second-round pick wouldn't exactly be considered a "sleeper."
But keep in mind, the Lions have notoriously blown second-round picks. And we're talking BLOWN -- anyone remember
Just three of the 13 second-round picks the Lions have had since 2000 figure to be starters in 2009. Delmas will get there, too. He is brash, skilled, a good study and by all accounts has looked great, not good, thus far.
Lang already has quarterback
There is so much for Lang still to learn. The shoulder pads are just coming on. But at 6-4, 316-pounds, Lang has the footwork and power skills that could carry him a long way. Already, Packers coaches consider Lang a lock for significant playing time, if not a starting role.
The Texans have been looking for depth and help on the defensive side of the ball since their 2008 campaign ended. Certainly first-rounder
Quin also could play safety and excel on special teams with his physical nature. As a fourth-rounder, there frankly wasn't better value out there for a team.
The Colts desperately need an impact defensive tackle. Moala fills the need, in more ways than one.
He has better size than the Colts are accustomed to using in their gap-penetration scheme. That signals a change in philosophy. The Colts often were manhandled at the point of attack.
That the Colts were willing to trade two picks in order to move up five spots and get Moala tells you just how highly they think of him, and the kind of impact this physical, quick, nasty tackle can have.
Jaguars fans have had more than their share of headaches with receivers under-achieving, getting in trouble or both.
Dillard is a high-class, high-character playmaker who could erase a lot of bad memories. Dropping to the fifth round was predictable for a kid coming out of Rice, with "measurables" that don't quite measure up (5-10, 191 pounds). Dillard should get some time opposite
It's going to be tough breaking in and becoming a regular NFL contributor. But he can get there.
Lawrence certainly can contribute on special teams and should find playing time at receiver eventually, with speed and after-the-catch elusiveness. The Chiefs have been in need of help at receiver, and they may have just found it.
He won't be a starter this season, but Clemons has a knack for the ball and versatility that should keep him in the league for a long time.
During OTAs and off-season drills, Dolphins coach
Clemons also has that streak of nastiness that, coupled with good size (6-foot, 208 pounds), could eventually make him much more than a special-teams player and situational contributor.
Loadholt isn't much of a sleeper pick, per se. But he is expected to start on Opening Day.
That's asking a lot. This mammoth young man, however, already has matched his impressive size (6-foot-8, 332 pounds), with an impressive array of skills during off-season and OTA activities.
Vikings right tackle
Why in the world would the Patriots be interested in
OK, so that may be a stretch, but among rookies coming into camp you would have been hard-pressed to find any Patriot who made a bigger impression.
A record-setting quarterback at Kent State, Edelman has been converted to a receiver and figures to gradually work his way into a significant role. He could be a "Wildcat"-type player immediately.
The Saints were the oldest team in the NFL last year and in desperate need of some young blood and attitude -- especially on the defensive end.
Vaughn is older than most rookies (23), but he fulfills a big need in youth and approach.
Sure, the Saints have proven experience at safety. But at 6-1, 221 pounds and having been clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, Vaughn is a tremendous specimen with obvious upside.
That's Barden (6-6, 229 pounds). It won't come overnight, but expect Barden to make all the right adjustments to the NFL, adjust to the speed and size of the league and then start making plays. He is raw, but has very good hands and, with his size, he could become a favorite of
The Raiders passed on several offensive linemen that could have helped the offense in order to get Murphy. He has not disappointed with great study habits and a knack for making plays and big catches.
He also is cut from the classic Raiders mold, with superb speed and size (6-2, 203 pounds).
While there are questions on just how effective
Fans may be clamoring for the club to find an experienced backup, but McCoy has the front office confident he will be in the mix and able to contribute. The fourth all-time leading rusher in Pitt's history, McCoy has done nothing but impress coaches, fans and, especially, quarterback
He won't be in the rotation to start the year, but Lewis will get every chance. In Pittsburgh, it's all about making plays, which is Lewis' strong suit. Another of his strengths is one that cannot be taught: size (6-foot, 208 pounds). He already has drawn comparisons to current Steelers corner
Versatility is the key if you are an NFL interior defensive lineman and Scott has got it. He can play gaps, a 4-3 or 3-4. He's strong enough to take on two blockers and clog running lanes.
The one thing that slowed Scott from shooting up the draft board was a knee injury his senior season that limited production. He came along late in the year for Clemson, though, and the Rams feel they finally have found a guy who can step right into the rotation, stop the run and put pressure on quarterbacks.
The Chargers have not given the starting right guard position to Vasquez just yet, but they're dropping a lot of hints that Vasquez is everything and more than they imagined he'd be.
He'll battle it out with former Pro Bowler
Coffee clearly does not read press clippings -- especially those that said the 49ers drafted him to be a slow-to-develop, little-used backup to
Make no mistake, Gore is the man. And Coffee has some skills that need polishing -- namely footwork, cutting and vision in traffic.
But Niners coach
He's tough, willing to put his head down and scratch out every inch of turf. In space, he's proved capable of going the distance. He also is a high-character player.
While No. 4 overall pick and monster talent
It may be awhile before Butler becomes a starter, but his skills are too explosive to keep off the field. The Seahawks have been in need of a big-play receiver. If he puts in the work on his route-running and adapts to the NFL game, they've found their guy.
Perhaps the longest of shots to make it big, don't bet against Stroughter. Already in drills and minicamp, Stroughter has showed polished pass-catching ability.
He has hands, speed, instincts and the ability to make plays. If it translates when the pads come on and the games are real, Stroughter could be the perfect slot complement to
The only thing he does not have is size (5-9, 189 pounds), but he has long arms for his height, and with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons at Oregon State, he proved he's unafraid to go over the middle.
No one should be happier about the production Cook could bring than quarterback
Cook is that guy, and the opportunity is there. The Titans often use two-tight-end sets and, though
Barnes wowed coaches during OTAs. Yeah, it's a whole different world come Sundays in the fall, but Barnes should threaten for playing time in Nickel packages, certainly, and maybe more. He also has the size to compete with the NFC East's bigger receivers.