After being largely passed over early in the NFL draft, wide receivers stole the show during the past two weeks of rookie minicamps.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that the minicamp format — with no pads and no hitting — is designed to favor offensive skill players, but several teams nonetheless have reason to feel good about their first-year wideouts.
That’s where we’ll begin our look at 10 early observations about the NFL’s 2019 rookie class, with minicamps out of the way.
The Seahawks may have gotten a steal in D.K. Metcalf.
Metcalf put on a show during Seattle’s rookie minicamp, with the best performance seen there since Russell Wilson in 2012. For three days he caught everything thrown to him, plucking the ball out of the air for several spectacular grabs. On one, he cut short a sideline route and used his 40-and-a-half-inch vertical leap to snatch a throw that would have sailed over nearly any other receiver.
At 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, Metcalf has a size-speed combination that reminds of Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones. And even though he’s considered raw as a route runner, it was clear that his recent work with longtime wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan paid off.
“I know that everybody’s wondering about this route tree thing and all that now,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “I don’t see that being a factor. He looks he’s very well-versed, been coached."
The Seahawks went into the draft looking for a big wide receiver, but took defensive end L.J. Collier and safety Marquise Blair with their first two picks. Carroll said he couldn’t believe Metcalf’s fall to the bottom of the second round, which prompted general manager John Schneider to trade up to the 64th overall pick to get Metcalf. His rookie camp showing gave the Seahawks thoughts that he could start at split end and allow Tyler Lockett to move into the slot role in place of Doug Baldwin, who tweeted a retirement letter Sunday night.
The Steelers couldn’t be more pleased with Devin Bush.
Pittsburgh made the bold move of giving up a second-round pick this year and a third-rounder next year to acquire Bush with the 10th overall pick in the draft, and he didn’t disappoint in rookie camp. He showed off his excellent athleticism and also his leadership ability, coming in so prepared that he was relaying plays to his defensive teammates from his inside linebacker position, something Ryan Shazier used to do so well for this team.
If Mark Barron wins the starting inside linebacker job next to Bush, it’d give the Steelers four former first-round picks at the linebacker spots.
Dwayne Haskins looks the part.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden preached patience at Washington’s rookie camp as it pertains to Haskins, but he also mentioned that the 15th overall pick out of Ohio State threw some passes that caused heads to turn. He also showed good leadership at the line of scrimmage.
Clearly, he has plenty of things to work on before he can beat out Case Keenum and Colt McCoy for the starting job, but early on he showed why the Redskins were smart to wait and snap him up in the first round. For a team put in a challenging spot following Alex Smith’s injury, Haskins could provide a way out.
Deebo Samuel could make an instant impact for 49ers.
Samuel was the second-ranked wide receiver on San Francisco’s draft board, after N’Keal Harry, who went 32nd overall to the Patriots. Instead, the Niners got Samuel early in the second round, and Coach Kyle Shanahan should be able to get instant production out of him.
Shanahan wanted a precise route-runner out of this draft class, and Samuel fits the bill. He’ll fit in well alongside Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, while the Niners can take some time in developing 6-4, 226-pound Jalen Hurd, a third-round pick who was a productive running back at Tennessee before switching to wideout at Baylor.
The Titans have quietly built a strong receiving corps.
Metcalf’s college teammate at Mississippi, A.J. Brown, put on a similarly strong showing over the weekend, hauling in a one-handed grab and spending extra time working with quarterbacks after practice. At 6-foot and 226 pounds with a 4.49 40-yard dash, he caught passes with ease.
Tennessee looks to be pretty deep at receiver. They signed Adam Humphries to play the slot receiver role and now have first-, second- and third-rounders invested in Corey Davis, Brown and Taywan Taylor over the past three drafts. Paired with running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, that’s a pretty good arsenal of weapons for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Cardinals had a really nice draft haul.
Quarterback Kyler Murray made plenty of plays in his rookie camp debut, looking more like he was running a video game offense than one in real-life. He has a pair of intriguing rookie wideouts to work with in Andy Isabella and 6-5 Hakeem Butler.
The defense looks like it might have some impact first-year players as well. General manager Steve Keim said that cornerback Byron Murphy was the fifth overall player on the team’s draft board, and the Cardinals got him at the top of the second round. Keim also said he had a first-round grade on defensive end Zach Allen, whom they picked in the third.
Parris Campbell makes the Colts’ offense even more explosive.
During Indianapolis’ rookie minicamp, Campbell was the best player on the field. He ran just about every route, showcasing his ability to excel on slants and other shorter routes that allow him to produce yards after the catch.
At 6-foot, 205 pounds with 4.31 speed, he gives Andrew Luck a third weapon at the wide receiver position, along with T.Y. Hilton and free agent pickup Devin Funchess. After making it to the conference semifinals, the Colts appear to have gotten better this offseason.
The Packers have their most talented group of pass rushers in years.
One could argue that Green Bay didn’t need to draft Michigan pass rusher Rashan Gary 12th overall after spending a combined $29 million per year in free agency for edge rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, but the team now has four threats to get to the quarterback, once you add in Kyler Fackrell.
Za’Darius Smith can play end in the team’s base 3-4 defense, but move inside on passing downs. This is the most talented group of rushers the Packers have had since the prime years of Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry.
It cost them a lot, but the Falcons appear to have fixed their offensive line.
Atlanta overdid it along the offensive line this offseason, drafting Chris Lindstrom 14th overall and trading back into the first round to take Kaleb McGary 31st overall, after spending $11.5 million combined per year for James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency and giving Ty Sambrailo a $4.75 million extension.
But it was clear during the team’s rookie minicamp that the moves should stabilize things up front. Lindstrom is projected to start at right guard and McGary at right tackle, and they looked good during rookie camp. They will give the line a more physical presence than Atlanta had this year, and that should fit in well with Carpenter at left guard. Quarterback Matt Ryan has to be pleased.
The Jaguars could have two impact rookies.
It’s fitting that the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin’s former team, helped him get a draft class that could return Jacksonville to the playoffs. When Giants general manager Dave Gettleman took quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth pick, edge rusher Josh Allen fell to the Jaguars at No. 6. Then tackle Jawaan Taylor, whom they were considering with their first pick, fell to them in the second round.
Taylor looks like a lock to start at right tackle, but it’s Allen who is generating the most excitement. He showed during minicamp that he has the potential to be moved all around the edges of the defense, with the ability to drop into coverage and also rush off the edge opposite Yannick Ngakoue and alongside defensive tackles Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus. That’s a scary front four.
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