Oh, the offseason, when everything looks rosy and promising for the new draft class. I’ve already listed the rookies who I think are going to make the biggest mark on the NFL this year, but plenty more first-year players have distinguished themselves in training and minicamps. Here are seven rookies to watch.
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons
Trufant, the University of Washington phenom whose two older brothers are also NFL cornerbacks, might have gotten a bum deal when the Falcons drafted him. On another team, he might have been guaranteed to start, but Atlanta is making him prove he’s better than Robert McClain. So far, reports are optimistic but cautious. Trufant has said that training exercises “humbled me,” and the best praise Julio Jones can offer is that he’s trying hard and has a lot of heart. But many opposing teams don’t have receivers as formidable as Jones, and Trufant is a fast learner.
Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns
Mingo hasn’t settled into training camp as well as some other rookies, but he’s picking up steam. Over the past week, reports have shifted from concern to praise, and it looks more and more like Mingo will live up to his NFL potential. At 237 pounds, he’s slim for a linebacker – compared to his peers, he looks like a beanpole – but he’s working on adapting his physique for professional play. With his smaller size comes athleticism and quickness, qualities the Browns can capitalize on. If Mingo continues to grow, commentators will delight in saying his mellifluous name for years to come.
Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
The only person happy about the Aaron Hernandez debacle is another receiver with the same first name. The Patriots have found their offense disastrously understaffed, and Dobson is likely to emerge as a bright spot as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady rethink where they plan to throw the ball. Famous in college for a tricky backhand catch, Dobson has continued to excel in catching contested passes. At this point, he’s not consistent — overwhelmed, perhaps, or just starstruck around Brady — but his health and dedication are exactly what the troubled Patriots need.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce is part of the Chiefs’ massive rebuilding effort, and more and more, it looks like he’s an integral one. The tight end is faster and more versatile than anyone had expected, racing down the field and making a number of impressive catches in training. Kelce didn’t have the greatest college football experience — he was spread too thin, playing two positions, and never got a chance to shine — but he’s taking to the NFL like it’s where he’s always belonged. In interviews, he’s a bundle of gleeful energy, overjoyed to get his butt kicked by his veteran teammates.
Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, Chicago Bears
The Bears drafted two promising young linebackers this year, hoping that at least one of them would fill the gaping hole left by Bryan Urlacher’s retirement. Both are young and experiencing training camp growing pains, but both are remarkably talented players who didn’t stand out until late in their college careers, suggesting enormous potential for growth. In addition to their athletic ability, both players are earning praise for what they can bring to the team as people. Bostic is a natural leader who’s made a successful effort to fit in and learn from his more experienced teammates, and Greene is helping out local flood victims when he’s not at practice. Those positive attitudes could be as crucial as tackles and sacks.
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
Yet another promising linebacker in a rookie class that seems to be brimming with them, Alonso has found himself with a lot of weight on his shoulders already. While the Bills’ coaching staff haven’t made any firm decisions about Alonso’s role yet, he excelled so much at training camp that he might not only start but call plays. Bills fans and coaches are eager to find a team savior, so we have to take their accolades with a grain of salt, but they’re depicting Alonso as the full package: athletic and instinctive, quick-thinking and versatile. If he crumbles under the pressure, he’ll be remembered as one of 2013′s greatest draft disappointments, but if he thrives, he’s destined for stardom.
You can contact Sarah Rasher on Twitter @pas_dechat