NFL OTAs give teams a first glimpse at their newly drafted (or signed) rookies. Which players have stood out so far?
The NFL is entrenched in its grain-of-salt period right now—the time when every team loves its draft picks and thinks that it has struck gold with its undrafted free-agent additions. While the ongoing or completed minicamps are brief, pad-less and often missing many of the impact veterans a team has on its roster, these early practices still are of vital importance for the newcomers. Here are a few who have stood out so far:
If a team uses the No. 1 pick on a quarterback, it wants him to carry the baton from day one. That's exactly what Winston did at rookie camp, and while mid-May success is a long trek from being ready for the regular season, Tampa Bay's new quarterback appears to be ahead of the curve.
"I told my wife, Blair, 'I gave him an A,''' GM Jason Licht said of Winston's practice debut, via USA Today. "He knew the offense already. He wasn't overwhelmed. ... He was even a little ahead of the game. He was already trying to change protections. The coaches were like, 'Wait up. Hold on. You're right. But the other guys aren't there yet.'"
Winston reportedly arrived early on the first day of camp, so he could welcome his new teammates when they walked off the bus.
"That’s what makes him special," coach Lovie Smith said in a post-practice press conference, as transcribed on the team's website. "You know, most of the stuff that Jameis does is unscripted. No one told him to greet his teammates. It’s kind of who he is a little bit. He’s a positive guy. ... That is part of what we like about him, but there’s just so much more we like too."
For the other top quarterback in the draft, Ken Whisenhunt and the Titans' staff were satisfied with Marcus Mariota's first foray into NFL camp, too—if a bit more reserved than the Bucs were about Winston. "[Mariota] did a lot of the things that we thought he would do very well," Whisenhunt told WGFX radio in Tennessee.
"There were some points where he struggles terminology-wise just because of the volume of it. He threw the ball well, he moved in the pocket very well, he took snaps with no problems. There were a lot of things that he did really well and there were a lot of things that a lot of young players struggle with in a first minicamp. So overall, I would say we’re very excited about what he did."
There may not have been a more unexpected round 1 pick this year than the Colts picking Dorsett. "But it was hard not to be impressed by the rookie out of Miami," the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder wrote following one of the Colts' workouts last week, before noting that Dorsett "seamlessly worked his way into the lineup—and then some."
"[The situation is] definitely not too big for him," Andrew Luck said, per Holder. Coach Chuck Pagano parroted that assessment during his media session: "He looks really good. He's really fast. He's got really good hands. He's really smart. He's picked things up.''
The scouting community was a house divided on Flowers, with some viewing him as more of a long-term project or a candidate to shift to guard. Thanks to Will Beatty's unfortunate pectoral injury, which is expected to sideline him for the first two months of the regular season, the Giants no longer have the luxury of exploring either of those options—Flowers has to start early, possibly in Beatty's vacated left tackle position.
The positive news is that Flowers left a solid first impression. NJ.com's Jordan Raanan highlighted Flowers as a rookie-camp standout, reporting that the rookie actually lined up on the left side throughout camp.
Atlanta spent the No. 8 pick on dynamic Clemson pass rusher Vic Beasley. Thirty-six picks later, the Saints took Hau'oli Kikaha, who led the NCAA in sacks last year with 19.0. How each player fares this season in aiding his respective team's sluggish pass rush could loom large in the NFC South race.
New Orleans has liked the (very) early returns on Kikaha. "Hau has been highly productive," Payton said at a press conference last week. "You get a crystal clear vision right away, you know exactly what you’re getting with the player, he’s smart, he’s tough, there’s a passion to how he plays, you see it out here."
Payton also confirmed that Kikaha has been seeing reps at the Sam linebacker spot, as expected, and that he is a large part of the plans on passing downs.
Pete Carroll already has the No. 69 pick penciled in as his lead kickoff returner for 2015. "I would imagine [Lockett] catches the first kickoff of the season," Carroll said, according to the Associated Press. "He will be back there doing it—he will compete to prove that—but it is hard to imagine anyone can outdo him back there."
The Seahawks will have to find work for Lockett within the offensive game plan, as well, based on what the ex-Kansas State Wildcat showed in minicamp. Seattle Times beat writer Jayson Jenks tabbed Lockett as the most impressive player during the week, and he was not alone in being wowed by the rookie receiver.
Third-round pick Tyler Lockett had another standout day, including a long TD pass from Archer in a team session.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) May 10, 2015
Comparisons between recent drafts picks and established NFL veterans tend to be a bit hyperbolic. Nevertheless, the name that new Washington GM (and former Seattle personnel man) Scot McLoughan dropped when discussing Jones with ESPN 980 is quite noteworthy.
"Matt Jones reminds me a lot—a lot—of Marshawn [Lynch] from the standpoint that he’s north-south, he’s downhill and he’s not afraid of contact," McLoughan said.
McLoughan liked Jones enough to spend a top-100 pick on him (No. 95), and the 230-pound running back could cut into Alfred Morris's carries come the regular season. At the very least, Jones gives coach Jay Gruden another option on third downs. It's been all systems go thus far.
SI's own Doug Farrar singled out Vigil as his "draft crush" and I pegged Luc as a draft backup plan for any team that felt like it missed out on Denzel Perryman. That pair is competing with Hewitt, the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, and Hull, the latest from Penn State's linebacker pedigree, to crack the Miami roster.
All four held up well at rookie camp, according to various reports—an alignment of Vigil at middle linebacker, Hull on the weak side and Luc on the strong side saw extended time, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Miami without question could use more depth across its linebacking corps, so there is hope for one or two of this quartet to continue building a case.
Taylor Heinecke, QB, Vikings
Another quarterback cracks the list, and it is a bit of a surprising name. Heinecke, out of Old Dominion, signed on with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent. His skill set—namely, how he can thrive on short and intermediate routes—makes him an intriguing fit for offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme. There may be room for him as the No. 3 quarterback or as a practice-squad player, behind Teddy Bridgewater and veteran Shaun Hill.
Could the third-round pick head into camp as a projected starter up front?
"Oh, no question. No question," Rex Ryan told WGR 550 when asked that very question. "He might be the opening guy there. He's been very impressive."
The opportunity should be there at guard, as evidenced by Buffalo's offseason addition of Richie Incognito, who has not played a down since being suspended during the 2013 season. "He has really been impressive," Ryan added about Miller. "For a kid you just took out of college, and he jumps right in, he doesn’t make mistakes."
The 5'9", former FCS receiver of the year flashed so much potential during Baltimore's minicamp that ESPN.com beat writer Jamison Hensley actually saved a spot for him last week when projecting the Ravens' final 53-man roster. That's on a team that already has Steve Smith and used both a first-round (Breshad Perriman) and sixth-round pick (Darren Waller) on receivers.
"He's done a really nice job as a receiver and he's looked good as a punt returner," coach John Harbaugh said of Carter last week, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The Ravens return game slipped a bit in 2014—Jacoby Jones averaged 9.2 yards per attempt, down from 12.5 a year earlier. Jones signed with the Chargers as a free agent, so the competition to replace him should be wide open.