The Brandt Report  

 

Brandin Cooks, Melvin Ingram among training camp risers

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The first few weeks of preseason action are in the books, as is my annual training camp tour -- which means it's time to present this year's list of training camp risers.

Below, you'll find 10 players, arranged in alphabetical order, who have been trending upward through camps and the initial portion of the preseason slate. As with last year's group, these players all either stood out to me in person, on tape or via the heat their names have been gathering. Expect all of these guys to make a significant impact on the 2015 season.

Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Bortles has a new quarterbacks coach in Nathaniel Hackett and a new coordinator in Greg Olson, and his offensive line should provide better play up front, with free agents Stefen Wisniewski and Jermey Parnell coming aboard. Thus far, Bortles looks night-and-day different from what he was as a rookie. He's improved his mechanics and has a much better understanding of NFL coverages and the speed of the game; it looks to me like he's firmed his body up. More than anything, I like the weapons around him. Allen Robinson, whose rookie season ended when he was placed on injured reserve last November, looks like he's in for an excellent campaign.

Armonty Bryant, OLB/DE, Cleveland Browns

The former seventh-round pick played in just five games last season before tearing his ACL in October. I saw a little bit of him at Browns practice, and he was really moving well. Last week against the Bills, he chased down quarterback EJ Manuel from behind for what would have been a sack, had Cleveland cornerback Johnson Bademosi not been flagged for illegal use of the hands. The Browns -- ranked 27th in sacks last season with 31 -- had just one player reach double-digit sacks (Paul Kruger had 11) in 2014 and could use some pass-rushing help. Bryant, who has been prepping for work at outside linebacker, will have a chance to make his mark.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay's defense is complicated and difficult to learn, but Clinton-Dix seemed to really pick it up by the end of his rookie season; you could see that he played so much better as the year wore on. He's a physical player with the size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) you want in a safety and the movement skills to match up with tight ends. He's made several standout plays in the first two weeks of preseason action, and I think he's continued his improvement, just in terms of being around the ball. He looks like the kind of guy who can help direct traffic in the secondary, kind of like Raiders veteran -- and former Packer -- Charles Woodson.

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Cooks was unbelievable against the Patriots last Saturday, racking up 117 yards on four catches, including a 45-yard scoring bomb. Coming off a bright first season that was cut short in November by a broken thumb, Cooks appears to be healthy -- and unstoppable. Coach Sean Payton, who is great at conjuring up ways to showcase his best players, has had the whole offseason to figure out how to get Cooks the ball. With tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Kenny Stills having been traded away, Cooks should be targeted more -- and I expect the explosive receiver to thrive.

Melvin Ingram, OLB, San Diego Chargers

Ingram, who lost 20 pounds this offseason, was probably the best-looking defensive player I saw on my camp tour this year. Many teams want their guys to get bigger all the time, but San Diego wants to be smaller, quicker and faster -- and the difference in movement for Ingram is just remarkable. He's always had a lot of quickness and competitiveness, but now, with the loss of that weight, he has a tremendous amount of flexibility. Ingram's had a rocky start to his career since being made the 18th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, with injuries limiting him to 13 games over the past two seasons, but he's looking good heading into Year 4.

Ja'Wuan James, OT, Miami Dolphins

There was some question as to whether James was a quick enough athlete to play left tackle heading into his rookie season, but he filled in adequately for injured veteran Branden Albert on the left side in the final seven games of 2014. With Albert set to return, James is free to concentrate on his play at right tackle -- where he has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowler. When he was playing right tackle last season, the man he was assigned to block was hardly ever a factor. This preseason, he looks more comfortable back at his natural position. He's very athletic and competitive, and he loves to play football.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Matthews was productive last year, posting 67 catches for 872 yards and eight scores -- and his role should only expand in Year 2 of his career, with veteran Jeremy Maclin having departed for Kansas City this offseason. With his great size (6-3, 212 pounds) and outstanding speed, he's a real matchup problem. He runs hard every play; you'll never know if he's the first, second or third option, because he runs every play like he's the No. 1. His work habits are off the charts, and he has confidence to spare. Heading into last year's draft, he told me that what you end up accomplishing in your career matters much more than where you're picked. Anyone with that kind of attitude has a great chance of being successful.

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders

When I saw Murray at Raiders camp, he looked like a big, fast, strong guy who can run inside and bounce it outside; he possesses good running skills. Of course, that was on display on that 90-yard touchdown run he posted last season. Guard Gabe Jackson -- a strong guy who does as good a job getting to the second level as anyone -- will help Murray excel, as will the presence of rookie receiver Amari Cooper, which should open up some running lanes.

Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree has started 32 games over the past two years, notching 100-plus tackles in each of those seasons, but he's still not talked about like a Pro Bowl cinch. In St. Louis, I saw a guy who has much better recognition skills -- an area in which his game had been lacking -- than ever before. The benefits of the experience he's gotten have shown dramatically in him this preseason.

Ryan Shazier, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Every game, all season

Shazier was on my list of training camp risers last year, but a promising start to his rookie campaign was interrupted by knee and ankle issues; really, after Week 3, when he suffered a knee injury, you didn't see the best of him at all. This preseason, however, Shazier has looked good, especially in the Hall of Fame Game and against the Jaguars in Week 1 (eight tackles). He boasts all the skills you desire: athletic ability, quickness, speed, instincts and top-notch tackling ability. If he stays healthy the whole season, he can make the Pro Bowl and solidify himself as the new face of this Steelers defense.

Also considered: Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers; Quinton Dial, DT, San Francisco 49ers; Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers; Cody Latimer, WR, Denver Broncos; Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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