The first weekend after the draft is one of the most anticipated events of the offseason for NFL scouts and coaches because the majority of teams host a minicamp for their rookies over a three-day period.
Although this series of practices represent only a small portion of the offseason workouts, it is significant in the minds of evaluators because it is the first time they get to see their draftees and rookie free agents on the field against pro competition.
Regardless of whether the camp features only rookies or has the full squad in attendance, the recent draftees provide a glimpse of their potential and create a buzz that reverberates across the league.
Let's take a look at some of the rookies that have created quite a stir with their performances at minicamps last weekend:
The Jeff Ireland interview controversy put the spotlight squarely on Dez Bryant, but the rookie WR garnered heavy attention for his scintillating play over the weekend. He showed outstanding ball skills and body control while repeatedly coming down with the difficult grabs in a crowd. Though he faced only rookie competition during the weekend, Bryant's superior talent stands out and makes it a real possibility that he will play a significant role during his rookie season.
With Bryant stealing most of the spotlight from the rest of the Cowboys' 2010 class, it would be easy to forget about the rookie most likely to become a starter. Although Sean Lee lasted until the second round, it is quite possible he would have been the Cowboys' pick in the opening round, if not for Bryant's fall down the board.
Lee is a natural fit as an inside linebacker in the Cowboys' scheme; his outstanding instincts allow him to play at a tempo few can match. Throw in his excellent awareness, and there is not much to dislike about his game. Although he didn't get a chance to really display his skills during the rookie camp (he was the only linebacker present), Lee has quickly digested most of the Cowboys' system and figures to be a big part of their defensive plan once he displays his wares in a full-squad setting.
Pete Carroll has re-energized the team's loyal fan base with his enthusiasm, and based on the performance of his draft class at minicamp, Seattle may be on the way back to regaining its first-place status in the NFC West. The Seahawks' top three picks stood out, and the team's scouts are raving about their promise.
Russell Okung looked like a natural fit in Walter Jones' old spot with his outstanding footwork and technical skills. Though he has imposing size, he impressed scouts with his nimble athleticism and movement skills. With the practices consisting of drill work in only shorts and shirts, Okung's ability to mirror and slide indicates that he has the potential to protect Matt Hasselbeck without issue.
Former Texas safety Earl Thomas also garnered rave reviews for his initial workouts with the team. He exhibited all of the athleticism and cover skills that had Texas contemplating moving him to cornerback, if he had returned for his redshirt junior season. Additionally, Thomas played with such ferocity in practice that scouts envision him being an enforcer in the back end, despite his small stature.
Team insiders suggest that WR Golden Tate is the kind of playmaker that could make a significant impact as a change-of-pace player. He has outstanding running skills when he has the ball in his hands, but scouts were more impressed with his ability to attack the ball in the air. Tate routinely won jump-ball situations against bigger defenders, and his remarkable hand-eye coordination allows him to make jaw-dropping grabs on a daily basis. He still needs to work on his route-running skills, but he has the ability to help invigorate the Seahawks' passing game.
New York Jets
The Jets had only four draft picks, but at least three of those players should provide a big return.
Kyle Wilson stood out in the mind of Jets' coaches after repeatedly blanketing receivers throughout the camp. He routinely kept tight coverage on receivers in one-on-one and team drills, and displayed outstanding explosiveness while closing on receivers out of the break. Though Wilson only faced rookie competition in camp, his ability to defend in one-on-one situations is so impressive that he may give the Jets the flexibility to vary their coverage matchups based on the opponent's personnel.
The release of Alan Faneca on draft day thrust Vladimir Ducasse into the spotlight as a potential rookie starter at left guard, but he appears to have the moxie to handle the responsibility of replacing a Pro Bowl player in his first season. Coaches were pleasantly surprised by his strong punch and flexibility. His ability to drop his weight with good knee bend indicates that he could be a powerful pile pusher in the running game. Additionally, the team placed him at left guard, which puts him beside two Pro Bowlers, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, to limit his exposure in pass protection until he is ready for a bigger role.
Running back Joe McKnight started off slowly during camp while adjusting to the rapid pace and tempo of the Jets' practices, but coaches came away impressed with his natural talent. He has outstanding hands and natural running skills that may rate superior to the recently departed Leon Washington. Though he needs to quickly acclimate to the pro game, he is quietly factoring into the Jets' offensive plans this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik are ushering in a youth movement in Tampa, but the results may turn out better than most anticipate after hearing reports of their rookies' solid showings.
With the non-contact nature of the minicamp limiting what can be forecasted for team's top two picks (DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price), the attention naturally turned to the Bucs' new receiving duo (Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams), and the dynamic tandem didn't disappoint. Both caught the ball well and displayed the playmaking skills needed to maximize Josh Freeman's talent.
Williams, in particular, has earned high marks for his outstanding hands and big-play ability. He is set to line up at split end (Benn will start at flanker), and could give the Bucs an explosive weapon in the mold of a Larry Fitzgerald. Williams was a dominant player in the Big East when he was on the field for Syracuse, and his talents may allow him to outshine his counterpart when the season begins.