By Matt Bowen, National Football Post
As camps begin to open around the league, here are ten rookies I am looking at in terms of their development, skill set and role in the game plan early this season.
1. CB Morris Claiborne, Cowboys: With the pressure style defense the Cowboys want to play under Rob Ryan, reps in practice and throughout the preseason schedule are vital to Claiborne’s development. Whether in a press or off-man position, the rookie from LSU needs to get beat in camp and make the necessary technique adjustments that will allow Ryan to send six or seven man pressure during the regular season.
2. TE Coby Fleener, Colts: Run the inside option route, the dig (square-in), the 7 (corner) route in the red zone, etc. And don’t forget about alignments where the Colts can remove Fleener from the core of the formation. With rookie Andrew Luck at QB, Fleener can be a top target in the intermediate passing game and when drawing a favorable matchup vs. a SS or LB.
3. DE Shea McClellin, Bears: I will be at Bears camp over the weekend when Lovie Smith’s club puts the pads on and I’m very curious to watch McClellin in one-on-one pass rush. As I wrote in the Chicago Tribune, speed is one thing rushing off the edge in the NFL, but developing counter moves is crucial to having early success at the DE position.
4. SS Mark Barron, Bucs: I don’t doubt Barron’s ability to align in the box, get off the numbers in Cover 2, fill on the run and play a physical brand of football. However, where is Barron at with his coverage skills? Looking at the TEs in the NFC South (with the Saints Jimmy Graham at the top of the list), Barron has some tough matchups on the schedule. I’m excited to watch him play.
5. WR Stephen Hill, Jets: We all know the Georgia Tech product can run and fill a void on the Jets roster as a vertical player (think top of the route tree: fade, post, 7). But there is much more than running a 9 (fade) route in the NFL. Every rookie WR needs work vs. press-coverage vs. veteran DBs. Think release, stem and speed out of the break at the top of the route. This takes time.
6. QB Brandon Weeden, Browns: Unlike Luck or RG3, Weeden isn’t the No.1 yet in Cleveland, but we all know the franchise is leaning that way. I do see Weeden as an upgrade over veteran Colt McCoy, but we have to remember this is still a young and unproven group at WR in Cleveland. That’s something to think about here with Weeden under center.
7. DE Bruce Irvin, Seahawks: Irvin was labeled as a “situational” rusher after the draft and I understand that. Think defensive sub packages (nickel, dime) and the ability to turn the corner vs. OTs. However, no different than talking about McLellin above, Irvin isn’t going to beat every tackle this season with the speed rush. This is a rookie I want to watch in live game action this August.
8. OLB Nick Perry, Packers: Opposing offensive lines will slant their protection schemes vs. LB Clay Matthews. But that’s why the Packers drafted another rush backer opposite the Pro Bowl talent. I love watching Dom Capers’ defense on tape because of the multiple looks—and schemes—they run. Now we get to find out how Perry fits in the mix up north.
9. WR Brian Quick, Rams: Does Quick have the separation speed to get down the field and win in the vertical game? I don’t know that yet. Maybe we are looking at what I call a “leverage” player (use size, release to win) at the WR position. I was impressed with Quick back at the Senior Bowl and QB Sam Bradford needs a target in the passing game. Keep an eye on the WR’s development throughout camp.
10. DT Dontari Poe, Chiefs: Does the Combine workout translate to the field. That should be on everyone’s mind when we talk about Poe. Big numbers and a buzz coming out of Indy this past February after the 40 time and the workouts. Now, we will find out if Poe is a top talent when he puts the pads on and starts to compete. Can he get to the QB? Is he consistent? A lot of questions.
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