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Eight young NFL players already shining at training camp

Training camps around the NFL often provide the setting for the breakout stars of tomorrow to impress their coaching staffs and teammates and turn heads among the onlookers in the media.

With a week of training camp in the books for most teams, several names are starting to make some significant noise. These young players could have a significant impact on the 2016 NFL season and influence theNFL playoff and Super Bowl lines.

Here are eight young players who are already shining:

LB Dante Fowler, Jacksonville Jaguars 

The third overall pick in 2015, Fowler is essentially getting a mulligan on his rookie year after tearing his ACL on the first day of minicamp last May. The Jaguars already like what they see from their now healthy first-round pick.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Jacksonville coaches believe Fowler—who has been “embarrassing” the team’s offensive linemen early in camp—is on track to becoming a “star.”

The scary part? Fowler doesn’t even consider himself all the way back in terms of his explosiveness. That hasn’t stopped his teammates from marveling at his athletic abilities.

“Dante sticks out just because how explosive he is,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said, via WJXT-4 in Jacksonville. “People say that across the board for football players, you know, ‘he’s got explosive moves’ or ‘he’s explosive off the ball.’ You hear that all the time but Dante is really explosive.”

WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

There’s been nothing but rave reviews coming in on Thomas from White Sulfur Springs, the West Virginia home of Saints training camp. Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate called Thomas “easily the best player in camp so far,” while backup quarterback Josh McCown has already fallen in love with the rookie receiver.

“Listen, I love that kid. I love that kid,” McCown said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN. “He has a nose for the football, and he’s got this kind of … golly, just this want to get the ball, no matter where it’s at. And that’s what you want in a receiver: a guy that just wants the ball to be in his ZIP code, and he’s going to find a way to come down with it, whether there’s somebody hanging on him or not.”

Even at age 21, Thomas could be in line for a huge role in the Saints offense—especially if Drew Brees gets in on the love affair with the second-rounder.

CB Bashaud Breeland, Washington Redskins

Despite All-Pro Josh Norman landing in Washington this offseason, Breeland has been the cornerback turning heads at Redskins camp. Maybe the young, emerging defensive back needed the push from a player of Norman’s caliber.

“Bree is a competitor and Josh is a competitor,” secondary coach Perry Fewell said, via John Keim of ESPN. “He needed someone like Josh to make him compete and make him take it to another level. He’s taken it to another level. I’m ecstatic.”

Veteran safety David Bruton is another new arrival in Washington, but he’s been equally impressed with No. 26.

“I’ve seen film on him from last year and throughout OTAs making spectacular catches,” safety Bruton said, via the team’s official site. “Heck, he just strung together three great practices this past week and he capped it off with a big time interception the other day, so it’s amazing to see the skill set we have in the secondary this year.”

WR Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers

The absence of Martavis Bryant (year-long suspension) has opened the door for Coates, and the second-year receiver is taking full advantage of his huge opportunity in camp.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Coates has earned first-team reps opposite Antonio Brown, thanks largely to a “work ethic” that has helped him earn the “trust” and “respect” of his coaches and teammates. A starting job in the Steelers offense will mean plenty of chances for a player that has clearly taken huge steps forward in his second season.

“He was a guy that really embraced the day to day work and challenge against the first-team defense, and he gained a lot of respect from his peers and got better in the process,” head coach Mike Tomlin told Don Banks of Sports Illustrated. “He’s taken a significant step, but I don’t think any of us are surprised by it because we’ve seen the maturation process over the course of 12 months.”

Coates caught just one regular-season pass last season. He’s going to catch a bunch more in 2016.

QB Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos

Lynch might find himself behind Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian on the depth chart, but the Broncos first-round pick is starting to trend in the right direction during training camp.

“No. 12 (Lynch) is really, really stepping up,” coach Gary Kubiak said, via team’s official site. “He’s making some progress here.”

Lynch impressed again at Thursday’s practice, showing off his decision making and scramble ability during 11-on-11 drills.

As is the case for most rookie quarterbacks, the next step for Lynch is gaining consistency. It’s often the hardest step for a first-year player, especially early in camp. Lynch is off to an encouraging start.

WR Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers

Dubbed “the star of OTAs,” Funchess has continued his encouraging progression during the early portion of camp. And his head coach has taken notice.

“He’s becoming such a good young pro and understanding what it takes to be successful,” coach Ron Rivera said, per Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “And when he’s not doing things right he really gets on himself, so I’m glad to see that maturation that he’s going through.”

Funchess is only building on a rookie season that saw the 22-year-old receiver catch all five of his touchdown passes and 24 of his 31 receptions over the final nine games. He caught a sixth touchdown during Carolina’s run to the Super Bowl.

The Panthers are welcoming back No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin from a missed 2015 season, but it might Funchess—the maturing breakout candidate—who is establishing himself as the one to watch for 2016.

WR Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

The Giants are throwing Shepard right into the fire, and the second-round receiver hasn’t looked overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a starter in an offense that finished sixth in points scored last season.

“The second-round pick keeps making play after play — and with the first team,” wrote ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. “It’s clear he’s going to be a big part of this offense with his ability to make tough, contested catches.”

Starting opposite Odell Beckham Jr. could mean a bunch of targets from Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning. Head coach Ben McAdoo has no problems with that reality.

RB Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have former 1,000-yard rusher Justin Forsett and two draft picks (Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon) at running back, but West is still making a push to see significant playing time in 2016.

“Still No. 3 on the Ravens’ depth chart, West has been the No. 1 playmaker for the Baltimore offense so far this training camp,” wrote Jamison Hensley of ESPN. “He’s hitting holes, making cuts to elude tackles and producing big gains consistently.”

According to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore SunWest—a former third-round pick—has been “the most explosive offensive player”at Ravens camp.

“I just think he looks good as a football player,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told Zrebiec. “I think ‘urgency’ is a good word from a physical perspective. His running is urgent. He’s making cuts. He’s making really good reads. He’s quick through the hole, he’s quick into the hole. There’s no hesitation. Also in pass protection, he’s stuck it up in there and he’s popping people in pass protection. He’s doing really well. He had a really good night tonight.”

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