The NFL season is almost here! Buffalo has kicked off their training camp, with the rest of the NFL franchises to follow suit. It’s an exciting time for fans, who’ve been eagerly anticipating football action since the Superbowl in February, and devour every word the beat writers provide about each camp session. However, let’s cast our minds back to May, where 256 young players were drafted into the NFL. These young men have been studying playbooks since the Draft, and I’ve picked out ten to keep your eye on as training camps progress through to the preseason (and fantasy drafts).
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans - He was the first overall pick, and Mayock dubbed him the most talented defensive lineman on the planet. Since the draft, new information has come to light about Clowney’s health, putting him at risk of missing training camp. The latest report is that post-surgery Clowney will ‘try’ to play during training camp. When Clowney gets on the field, paired up with JJ Watt - he’s a definite chance to put up double-digit sacks in his first year.
2. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints - Of all the rookies this year, Brandin Cooks is to me the most intriguing. Pre-draft the tape on him showed a dynamic, big-play receiver, and I was thrilled to see Cooks go to a team with a higher-echelon passing game. Cooks could be the rookie Tavon Austin was meant to be. Comments from Saints teammates have been all about his top-tier speed, and it’s easy to think Cooks has a really good chance at offensive rookie of the year.
3. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions - The first tight end (sorry, pass-catcher) selected in the draft, Ebron has loads of talent, but his selection by the Lions was slightly puzzling. Detroit have plenty of weapons, and there is a chance Ebron loses snaps to the likes of Pettigrew and Fauria. However, Ebron is versatile and can line up anywhere on the field, which should help him attract the attentions of Stafford. With the volume of passing in Detroit, Ebron could be at the level of Jordan Cameron or Heath Miller in year one.
4. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers - It might be ridiculous to suggest that a 49er rookie will have any impact at all in his first year. But Hyde, among the first few backs selected in the draft, has a few things going his way. He’s exactly the pounding runner that Harbaugh likes, he reportedly had a good offseason, and second-year back Marcus Lattimore is still injured. Will this finally be the year that Frank Gore concedes some carries? It’s completely up to Hyde to deliver when they give him the opportunity.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders - Touted by Mike Mayock as better than Clowney, Mack went fifth overall to the Raiders. Coach Dennis Allen admitted Mack’s head is spinning from the transition to the NFL game, but he seems like a pretty smart guy that everything will come together for. High draft picks at his position haven’t always worked out (see Dion Jordan) so it’ll be interesting to see if Mack can live up to his draft status and make something happen for the Raiders.
6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns - Manziel is at the centre of the biggest storyline of the NFL, not just the rookies. His name is everywhere, except at the top of the quarterback depth chart in Cleveland. Johnny “Football” was electric in college, but concerns over his reckless playing style and perhaps similarly reckless lifestyle cast a doubt over his NFL career. The battle for the Brown’s starting role probably will result in Manziel being named the starter, and anything is possible with him at the helm.
7. Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles - Second-round choice Matthews is in a really good spot with the Eagles. The team under Chip Kelly look to be on the up, and Nick Foles is one of the league’s rising stars. Following the trade of Desean Jackson, who’s better placed to capitalise than Matthews, when the team has no clear-cut number one receiver? Reports from the Eagles suggest that Matthews is in the mix and could possibly start, depending on a strong training camp.
8. Calvin Pryor, S, New York Jets - Coach Rex Ryan has been on the hot seat for a couple of years, but it seems that none of the GMs he works with shares his defensive philosophy. Finally, this year Idzik took the hard-hitting ‘Louisville Slugger’ in Calvin Pryor, exactly what Ryan would have wanted. He was working with the first team defense in OTAs, and it’ll be interesting to see if Pryor can take this momentum to be a starter (and impact player) in the 2014 season. There’s certainly a lot of hype surrounding Pryor.
9. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers first-round pick has all the physical attributes of a modern-day linebacker - he’s fast (4.36 40), can jump (42 inch vertical leap) and can play inside and outside (has even covered Antonio Brown in offseason practices). The word on Shazier is that defensive coordinator LeBeau loves him, and that puts Shazier in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. It’ll be fascinating to see how they’ll use him in training camp.
10. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills - He cost the Bills two first-round picks, but so far Watkins has shown the work ethic and skills that you’d expect from such an investment. He’s been mentioned as the most talented receiver since Calvin Johnson, and all reports are positive, which is a nice change for Bills fans. It’s very rare for rookie receivers to reach the 1,000-yard mark straight out of the gate, but I see Watkins eclipsing this landmark.