Training camps around the league will soon be open, and NFL fans, as well as players, are gearing up for the 2018 season.
Part of what makes training camp great is the positional battles that take place, with fans getting a front-row view of the action. Watching the recently-drafted players practice with their new teams is also quite entertaining, especially those that stand out among the rest of the class to excite fans. Here is one rookie to keep an eye on for each NFL team.
Arizona Cardinals — UCLA QB Josh Rosen — Round 1, Pick 10
With long-time Cardinals QB Carson Palmer retired from the NFL, Quarterbacks Coach Byron Leftwich has his work cut out for him with newcomer Josh Rosen. On the offensive side, a tennis-turned-football athlete, Rosen won’t face his rookie season alone as RB David Johnson and WRs Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson return this season. Those weapons should make Rosen’s first year as a Cardinals QB rather easier in a defense-packed NFC West. Competition as the starting Cardinals quarterback shouldn’t be stiff, either. Mike Glennon’s best days are in the rearview mirror, but his experience will tell a tale.
Atlanta Falcons — Alabama WR Calvin Ridley — Round 1, Pick 26
Sure, the primary receiver slot in Atlanta belongs solely to Julio Jones, but that’s as long as Jones stays healthy. Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu also made a campaign for himself last season, so the competition at receiver is surely bountiful for Alabama product Calvin Ridley. Even ex-Colts WR Reggie Wayne compared Ridley to former teammate Marvin Harrison. Ridley has the purebred talent and vertical speed that make him a possible wingman to Jones.
Baltimore Ravens — Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews — Round 1, Pick 22
Not a lot of options will be on the table for any of the Ravens quarterbacks. That’s unless, of course, one of their rookies, like TE Mark Andrews, steps up to the plate this offseason. Andrews proved to be one of Baker Mayfield’s go-to guys for the higher-difficulty catches, and that’s acceptable for someone who’s 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds. Those numbers are nearly identical to Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, but he doesn’t have a Tom Brady-like QB throwing to him, so that may decrease Andrews’ value. Overall, though, Andrews is one of the number-one priorities in the Ravens’ preseason plan.
Buffalo Bills —Wyoming QB Josh Allen — Round 1, Pick 7
For any Bills fan out there, there was not much motivation at QB – that is until the organization drafted one of the top rookies in the class, QB Josh Allen. Over his last two seasons at Wyoming, Allen basically turned nothing into something – back-to-back eight-win seasons, which hasn’t been accomplished since…well, ever. Now he has the opportunity to do the same favor for Buffalo, who started to turn itself around in the Tyrod Taylor era. Unfortunately, Taylor’s no longer with the team, so that gives Allen some much-needed repetitions.
Carolina Panthers — Maryland WR D.J. Moore — Round 1, Pick 24
In a collegiate conference that’s dominated by Ohio State, it’s hard to digest an NFL rookie that could make a lot of noise, a rookie that isn’t in any way affiliated with Ohio State. Maryland’s D.J. Moore is coming off a superb senior season – 80 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns. And, quite frankly, he’s arguably one of the best receivers to walk out of the Big Ten. Moore will have some competition with another Big Ten alum, Devin Funchess, who led the Panthers in receiving touchdowns (8) last season. Though the Panthers were defined by their rushing game from Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart, Stewart’s exit from the team might make Newton and Co. ponder making more plays through the air.
Chicago Bears — Georgia LB Roquan Smith — Round 1, Pick 8
Led by seven-year veteran LB Danny Trevathan, the Bears’ young linebacking corps will get some treatment by one of the SEC’s best linebackers, Georgia’s Roquan Smith. If there’s anything the Bears are lacking defensively, it’s the presence of an unforgiving SEC wrecking ball that’ll disrupt the flow of offenses in the NFC. In 2017, Smith recorded 137 tackles, more than the Bears’ top two team leaders (120 – Trevathan, Fuller).
Cincinnati Bengals — Texas LB Malik Jefferson — Round 3, Pick 14
Cincinnati is the perfect breeding ground for Texas LB Malik Jefferson because he has the opportunity to learn from one of the NFL’s best in LB Vontaze Burfict. In an organization that needs some uplifting spirits, Jefferson has never shied away from improvement. He might be 236 pounds, but that anchor doesn’t weigh him down, since he’s so nimble and responsive to changes in play. Even if he’s left to feed off the scraps on special teams, the Bengals should be thankful that he’s willing to be versatile.
Cleveland Browns — Georgia RB Nick Chubb — Round 2, Pick 3
Baker Mayfield isn’t the only big man on-campus in the Browns’ pool of rookies heading into training camp. Prized for his ability to scramble, Mayfield has some friendly competition in the backfield with Chubb, whose timing is nothing short of appropriate in Cleveland. For one, RB Isaiah Crowell is no longer with the team, and ex-Miami Hurricanes RB Duke Johnson carried a fraction of Crowell’s workload, along with DeShone Kizer, who is also gone.With all that news hitting the Browns, Chubb could alleviate the growing pains this season.
Dallas Cowboys — Colorado State WR Michael Gallup — Round 3, Pick 17
With the departure of WR Dez Bryant, QB Dak Prescott may have to rely on some new weapons, in addition to WR Cole Beasley. One possible solution is to introduce Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, who consistently ranked up there among the Pac-12’s best receivers. Furthermore, Gallup doesn’t disappoint by living up to his surname. Breaking tackles, an attribute of his, will be needed in a conference which features some of the fiercest cornerbacks in the game. It’s not a question of whether or not Gallup will see snaps, but how many.
Denver Broncos — Oregon RB Royce Freema — Round 3, Pick 7
Oregon might as well be known as Running Back U of the West. Year-in and year-out, the university churns out some of the strongest legs, including Royce Freeman’s. Now with the Broncos, a running back factory in their own right, he’s a prolific runner who can carry the team on his quadriceps, regardless of occasion. Freeman brings with him an exceptional eye for detail, reading the gaps of various defenses, and he can improvise very well. Since RB C.J. Anderson is no longer in Denver, that leaves it up to a very inexperienced backfield for Case Keenum and running backs coach Curtis Modkins.
Detroit Lions — Arkansas C Frank Ragnow — Round 1, Pick 20
Over the past two seasons at Arkansas, Ragnow pretty much paved the way among every centerman in D-I college football. He’s dynamic in both protecting the run and the pass – two traits Lions QB Matthew Stafford didn’t have with Wesley Johnson in front of him. If the Lions want someone to build their offensive line around, then there’s reason to have hope with Ragnow, who made Arkansas QB Austin Allen’s 2017 season a noteworthy one.
Green Bay Packers — Iowa CB Josh Jackson — Round 2, Pick 13
The first rule of the Josh Jackson Club: Don’t throw in Josh Jackson’s direction. Jackson quietly strung together a very well-oiled 2017 season with the Iowa Hawkeyes (18 passes defended, seven INTs). Due to his high volume of interceptions, that indicates that Jackson sticks to his opponents like Gorilla Glue. Though he’s anticipated to have his share of speed bumps, Josh Jackson has some key players, like S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (2017: six passes defended, three INTs), to learn from.
Houston Texans — Stanford S Justin Reid — Round 3, Pick 4
Athleticism is embedded in Justin Reid’s DNA, and he’ll have an opportunity to strut that in the preseason with the Texans, who lack a presence among effective safeties. Also, a gift of Reid’s is his intelligence as a safety, from reading play calls, to re-positioning his feet, to track down an opposing receiver. Led by fifth-year S Andre Hal, the Texans have a chance to mature Reid beyond his nature of play, and that could pivot him into Pro Bowl status in the not-too-far future.
Indianapolis Colts — Clemson WR Deon Cain — Round 6, Pick 11
Deon Cain has a history of dropping passes, but the Colts need all the help they can get from a receiver. He’s a featherweight for being 6-foot-2 — at 203 pounds — which makes air time that much more attainable, and he can really fly. As one of the league’s bottom feeders, the Colts are in desperate need of a jolt to get QB Andrew Luck back in throwing form. With the addition of Cain, that may happen, but he must be given a good number of reps in training camp to be a productive member of the Colts’ receiving corps.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Nebraska QB Tanner Lee — Round 6, Pick 29
Jacksonville didn’t necessarily have the most impressive draft class. One of their picks, Nebraska QB Tanner Lee, is equally a toss-up, but he’ll be able to showcase more than just football. He may not have the college stats that make scouts salivate, but he has an inner-drive that could help him compete against teammates Cody Kessler and Blake Bortles. Lee has a lot of growing room left, but he should use his time in training camp as a learning aid to prosper in a weak conference.
Kansas City Chiefs — Texas A&M DB Armani Watts — Round 4, Pick 24
It sure looked as if Armani Watts deserved to be picked a lot sooner than Round 4 of the draft. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s a philosophy the Chiefs plan to capitalize on. Watts is a search-and-destroy type of defensive back who had multi-interception seasons with the Aggies. Even if Watts has an impressive offseason, but doesn’t end up as a starter, then at least he has some solid veterans to take advice from, such as Eric Berry.
Los Angeles Chargers — Florida State S Derwin James — Round 1, Pick 17
An NFL rookie who’s serious about making an impact on the field will get to work shortly after the draft, and that’s exactly what Derwin James is doing. Aside from his problems with pre-snap reads, and chasing down opponents, James is a natural-born leader, and that’s important in locker rooms. He may approach training camp with caution, since he’s still nursing a knee injury that he suffered last season, but that won’t be a defining handicap.
Los Angeles Rams — University of Virginia LB Micah Kiser — Round 5, Pick 10
Micah Kiser is a draft pick that you may roll your eyes at, but that gives him more inspiration and an opportunity to gain self-awareness in a renovated Rams organization. With the Virginia Cavaliers, Kiser had no problem stacking up tackles each season he was there, and his physical toughness overpowers brittle opponents. Along with Mark Barron, Aqib Talib and Lamarcus Joyner handling most of the coverage assignments, Kiser can potentially fit the bill with the Rams. Out of this list of 32 rookies to pay attention to this offseason, Kiser needs the most help. Linebackers coach Joe Barry will have to address and expose Kiser’s mobility and tackling accuracy issues, but he’ll be fun to watch in the meantime.
Miami Dolphins —Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick — Round 1, Pick 11
Don’t be surprised if Minkah Fitzpatrick makes next year’s Pro Bowl. He’s a physical trailblazer, and if he keeps himself in tempo with his opponents, then there’s only one way out of the situation: a pick-six. Joining Fitzpatrick among the Dolphin safeties is Reshad Jones, who has 18 career interceptions, and has defended 45 passes since 2010. The addition of Fitzpatrick not only adds some spice to the Dolphins defense, which ranked in the middle of nearly every category, but an attitude adjustment via Fitzpatrick’s leadership skills.
Minnesota Vikings —Auburn K Daniel Carlson — Round 5, Pick 30
Daniel Carlson finished his collegiate career as one of Auburn’s best kickers in school history. Despite the dips in accuracy, Carlson still managed to make 100 percent of the team’s extra points over the course of four years. Carlson accounted for 16 points in a November match-up with Georgia last season, and he has the potential to unseat Kai Forbath as the starting kicker.
New England Patriots –University of Georgia RB Sony Michel — Round 1, Pick 31
Though he entered the 2017 season with Georgia as Nick Chubb’s back-up, Sony Michel looked ahead and helped out the Bulldogs when and where ever he could. That type of attitude saw him produce an 181-yard effort against Oklahoma in the 2018 Rose Bowl. That makes the running back dilemma even more difficult for the Patriots. Currently, their backfield includes Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill and James White. If Michel wants to distance himself from that pack, then he has to tune into how he earned reps in the Georgia backfield.
New Orleans Saints — University of Texas at San Antonio DE Marcus Davenport — Round 1, Pick 14
Saints DEs Alex Okafor and Cameron Jordan will have some company in rookie Marcus Davenport, a stout pass-rusher whose physical traits make him a high-ceiling player.
Davenport isn’t shy in aggressively pursuing quarterbacks, and doesn’t back away from demonstrating his high football IQ. One of his his best assets, though, comes from his lower half. Davenport likes to explode off the line as if his feet were set on fire. There may be no such thing as a good thing, but Davenport will be chasing excellence with the Saints. Watch for him to not only excel in preseason, but in the postseason as well.
N.Y. Giants —Penn State RB Saquon Barkley — Round 1, Pick 2
Undoubtedly the best rookie in this year’s class, Saquon Barkley will likely have the most to prove, aside from Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. Like the other top-tier rookies, Barkley will be scrutinized in how he copes with the pressure of being a first-year starter on an offense that’s on life support. Of all the 2018 NFL rookies, Barkley has to do the least relocating, which could be beneficial to him on a mental level. With Barkley in the backfield, the Giants are likely to see more than three wins this season.
N.Y. Jets — USC QB Sam Darnold — Round 1, Pick 3
Sam Darnold is more than just a thick head of hair. Under his mane, Darnold has a mental toughness that could make him very favorable in crunch time or on a much-needed fourth-down conversion. He’ll have to earn the job, though, as veteran quarterback Josh McCown is still putting up numbers. As a 38-year-old, McCown put up the second-best quarterback rating of his career last year (94.5), second to his rating of 109 in the 2013 season. With McCown’s age not yet a liability, Darnold needs to take his cannon and flaunt it for Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who also manages the team’s quarterbacks.
Oakland Raiders — UCLA OT Kolton Miller — Round 1, Pick 15
On the edge of the offensive line, Kolton Miller had a big responsibility in protecting UCLA QB Josh Rosen, the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. That’ll likely continue with the Oakland Raiders, who desperately need a pass protector. One ingredient of Miller’s is his long wingspan, which allows him to slow down opposing pass-rushers. It’s important to note that Miller’s wide stance will be tested in Oakland, and that the team will depend on him to act as a shield of armor for Derek Carr and Marshawn Lynch.
Philadelphia Eagles — Florida State DE Josh Sweat — Round 4, Pick 30
The reigning Super Bowl champions need champion-like caliber to transfer their February momentum into the 2018 NFL regular season. The Eagles did just that by adding Michael Bennett to strike fear in opposing quarterbacks. Josh Sweat should also benefit by having the veteran pass-rusher as a teammate, assuming Bennett takes him under his wing. Something to keep tabs on, though, is Sweat’s medical history, which goes back to 2014, when he suffered a gruesome leg injury. Since then, that injury has been curtailing his off-the-snap speed here and there. Still, Sweat, when healthy, has a knack for getting to the quarterback (as does Bennett).
Pittsburgh Steelers — Oklahoma State WR James Washington — Round 2, Pick 28
The Steelers offense is primarily defined by RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, but WR James Washington could cause some additional nightmares for opposing defenses. Sure, he ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, but once Washington finds real estate, he’s difficult to catch. Although, it should be noted that he’s coming from a collegiate conference that is certainly not known for its strong defensive play. Regardless, Washington has enough of “the right stuff” that could make him into a future playmaker for the Steelers.
San Francisco 49ers — University of Washington WR Dante Pettis — Round 2, Pick 12
Jimmy Garoppolo might’ve found his new partner-in-crime in Washington’s Dante Pettis. In the past, the 49ers had some issues with drama involving their front office and coaching staff, but, thankfully, Pettis doesn’t tolerate shenanigans. He’s a hard worker who runs his routes with the utmost urgency, and mastery of the fundamentals. Add that together and you’ve got a dynamic receiver that is fun to watch. In reality, Pettis should be one of the breakout rookies this year. He’ll be behind WR Marquise Goodwin on the depth chart to start, but Pettis has the hunger to make his transition into the NFL a meaningful one.
Seattle Seahawks — Oklahoma State S Tre Flowers — Round 5, Pick 9
Football runs deep in the blood of relatives Tre and Dimitri Flowers, both of whom were selected in this year’s draft. Coming from the Big 12, which lacks defensive prowess, Tre Flowers has a lot to learn from Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (assuming he isn’t traded). One disadvantage of Tre’s is that he lacks size, at 6-foot-3 and only 202 pounds. While Tre won’t be added into the Legion of Boom anytime soon, it’s important that he sees some playing time this offseason to make himself a viable name on an NFL defense that was once one of the league’s best.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — University of Southern California RB Ronald Jones II — Round 2, Pick 6
With the re-signing of Peyton Barber, the Buccaneers hope to gain additional strength in the backfield with USC standout RB Ronald Jones II. Barber’s a bit stockier than Jones, but it shouldn’t make a difference in a rush offense that placed near the bottom percentile in 2017. Jones should get a lot of snaps in training camp, since both he and Barber will battle it out for the role of featured running back.
Tennessee Titans — Alabama LB Rashaan Evans — Round 1, Pick 22
In terms of size, Rashaan Evans will fit in well with the other Titans linebackers. At 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, Evans is coming from some very strong roots as a linebacker at one of the premiere college football programs in the nation. While at Alabama, Evans has had the pleasure of working alongside some of the country’s best defensive linemen, such as Raekwon Davis and Jonathan Allen. The Titans can’t really offer that luxury, but it gives Evans a chance to work on coming up to stop the run, one of the only knocks on him.
Washington Redskins — Virginia Tech DT Tim Settle — Round 5, Pick 26
One of the most promising defensive players in this year’s draft is DT Tim Settle, a Virginia Tech product. Settle’s tape shows that, for his stature he moves around without much restriction. At the time of the 2018 NFL Draft, Settle weighed in at 329 pounds. For comparison purposes, the average NFL defensive lineman weighs roughly 305 pounds, and the heaviest defensive lineman on the Redskins – Stacy McGee – weighs 339. Settle will need to shed a few pounds for endurance purposes, but he’s shown in the past that the added weight doesn’t affect his maneuverability, which projects well for him. He’s extremely strong, and Settle also does a great job of taking up space to render holes for opposing running backs quite small.