Fifteen players who could be this NFL season's hidden rookie gems
It's the NFL first-rounders who grab draft-day headlines. But often times late-round picks and undrafted free agents make the biggest impact down the road.
A year ago at this time, few people knew Collie. Just a few months later, the fourth-round pick was starting in the Super Bowl for the Colts, snatching passes out of the air from
So who's it going to be this year?
Carroll is the epitome of a hidden gem, starting just five games his entire career at Maryland and never scratching his potential. It was mostly because of injury, including breaking his leg in the second game of the 2009 season. But Carroll possesses unreal athletic ability and finally thrived once he got healthy and earned an opportunity.
Carroll ran a 4.3 in his pro day at Maryland, turning heads within the Dolphins' front office. Once he's gotten into uniform, Carroll has only continued to impress, to the point he likely will be the Dolphins' featured kick returner and will press for reps in the secondary.
Millions of people tuned in to watch DeGeare's debut with the Vikings' first-team offense. OK, maybe
DeGeare, a rookie out of Wake Forest, has turned heads from the moment he stepped into uniform. He is not intimidated by the big stage and stepped into a nice role among the offensive linemen. He's worked at left guard and earned reps with the starting unit. His stock is rising and he could be a fixture in the Vikes' offensive line for years.
With the addition of
The answer is, Shipley already might have the most reliable hands on the squad. That's not to say he is the most explosive, but it's clear already that when
Year-in, year-out, the Colts manage to find players otherwise forgotten, thrown to the scrap heap or pigeonholed as an unlikely NFL contributor because of size or some other factor. Moore was all of that. On the Carolina and Seattle practice squads last year, Moore has found a home in his hometown of Indianapolis.
At 5-9, Moore's size limited prospects, then an inability to make plays despite great speed left his career hanging in the balance. But in the Colts' system, Moore has excelled, returning a punt 49 yards, totaling 32 yards on four kickoff returns and showing flashes of breakaway ability in a preseason game against the Bills.
While second-round picks aren't normally considered a reach, when the Browns selected Ward, the consensus was that they overvalued the athletic safety. Sure, his measurables were strong, but the Browns passed on
Ward is hardly intimidated by the bright lights. He's making plays in coverage and in run-support, and already has recorded some highlight-reel pops on receivers. Once known to take occasional plays off, Ward seems to be a changed man and could become a staple in the Browns' secondary.
How do you say "Gonzalez" in Tongan? OK, maybe that's a stretch. There never will be another
Injuries have been the story of Moeaki's career -- foot, ankle, elbow, hand. It's why he dropped to the third-round of the draft. Still, when healthy, Moeaki has been a standout for the Chiefs offense. He was wowing everyone who saw him during OTAs and early in camp. If he can get healthy, the job likely will be his and he may well star. He's THAT talented.
It's never a good thing when apologists say a player is "misunderstood."
That's the company line on the super-talented Williams, who dropped to the fourth round after plenty of academic and behavior issues at Syracuse. Clearly, Williams could be the steal of the entire NFL draft. His talent is ridiculous. His hands and play-making ability are unquestioned. He's been the story of Bucs camp, making play after play.
But the questions will hound him until he proves otherwise. He got caught cheating on a test at Syracuse. He was suspended from the team after being involved in a car accident after curfew, returning from a trip to a casino. He quit the team. It's up to him to mature and become a professional.
Can a player go from the next great sensation to yesterday's news in the span of a week? Welcome to New York, Victor.
Cruz was the back-page feel good story of the Big Apple in the preseason opener, shredding
Still, Cruz will be a contributor on a contender, having showed smarts, elusiveness and playmaking ability. He could be the perfect complementary change-of-pace player for the Giants.
Once mentioned in the same breath as power backs
When a draftable player earns a reputation -- good or bad -- it can be almost impossible to keep the story from spreading out of control. You have to wonder if that's what happened in the case of Hardy, an immensely talented end considered a top-10 pick before his senior season.
Somehow, a couple of injuries and reports of a bad attitude turned the entire league on Hardy, whose physical skills (6-4, 280) could not be more impressive. His stock dropped like a rock. Ever since, he's been dropping quarterbacks much the same way, and behavior or effort have not been a problem.
Hardy had two sacks, two tackles for loss and tied for the team lead in tackles with five in his preseason debut. Of late, he's been working with the first team at defensive end. It could be a big, big year for the former Ole Miss Rebel.
Even before a shoulder injury sidelined
He also has great size (6-1, 220) and decent speed, although being tackled shy of a touchdown by
There's no one more unheralded than a punter, is there? But often times, there's no one more important. At the University of Michigan, Mesko was called, in beautiful redundant fashion, the "Space Emperor Of Space." Of Romanian descent, the Space Emperor speaks five languages, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees and was dubbed the most interesting man in the NFL by the
Still, it comes down to talent and Mesko has it. With a huge leg and accuracy, Mesko is the only punter in Patriots camp and could prove to be huge in the ever-important field-position battles of blustery fall afternoons.
It's amazing that in a league that values tackles more than just about any other position on the field, the mammoth and quick Howard (6-7, 335 pounds) went undrafted. The Eagles have found a gem, all right, in this first season with
Howard, who played tight end his first two seasons at Division I-AA Northern Iowa, won't be in the starting lineup to open the season, but rest assured he'll get there. He's stepped in and been physical, quick and shown good hands in every practice and preseason game.
Cox was something of a problem child at Oklahoma State, so much so that when the Broncos took a chance on him, coach
He has. He was the other big star at OSU next to
No one's crazy about starting a pair of rookies defensively for a team that fancies itself a playoff contender (first-round CB Kareem Jackson is the other), but the former Miami Hurricane has stepped in and impressed, making the most of an unlikely opportunity. Also, presumed backups
Sharpton has responded by impressing during the offseason and making big plays in the Texans' first preseason game, before an uneven effort in the second. He's got the eye of coaches, though, no doubt.