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Rookie Buzz: Giants' Sterling Shepard drawing raves

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The attention has been lavished upon the wrong wide receiver at New York Giants headquarters this offseason.

While local and national writers alike document each and every Victor Cruz vow to recapture pre-injury form, second-round rookie Sterling Shepard has stolen the show in OTAs and minicamp.

The 2016 draft class' premier route runner has also been lauded for his hands, speed and explosive athleticism, leading 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham to the conclusion that Shepard can follow in his footsteps.

"I just feel like I really know what he's capable of," Beckham raved this week, "and I'd rather let him just shock the world than spill his secrets. ... He was definitely a steal, a guy that could have gone first round."

Beckham acknowledged that Shepard has committed a few mental errors as the former Oklahoma star learns the Giants' offense. If the pro game slows down for him in training camp, Shepard will be a lock to enter the season as the second fiddle to two-time Pro Bowler Beckham.

At that point, it will be fair to wonder if Eli Manning can challenge for the league lead in passing touchdowns after finishing one score behind Tom Brady's 36 last season.

Which other rookies have been generating buzz as offseason programs wrap up this week? Here is a rundown of 20 first-year players from around the NFL:

1. Shepard isn't the only greenhorn wideout impressing. Although he dropped to the fifth round after a pedestrian performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, former UMass star Tajae Sharpe is drawing semi-daily praise from the Titans coaching staff. Sharpe has already passed Dorial Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter for reps with the first-team offense.

"He's right there right now, he could be our starter, he could be the starting X," receiver coach Bob Bratkowski said this week.

Added coach Mike Mularkey, "He's been the most consistent (receiver), and we're letting guys who have been the most consistent get more reps."

2. Pint-sized Jakeem Grant is another late-round wide receiver flashing in offseason practices, earning praise from teammates, per the Miami Herald.

"He's one of the quickest people I've ever seen," Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. It's fair to question whether the 5-foot-6 kick returner will remain effective once the hitting starts.

3. Expected to step into Marques Colston's old role, second-rounder Michael Thomas is generating future-star buzz in New Orleans. Drew Brees has praised Thomas for his steady route-running progress and ability to make adjustments on the fly.

4. Elsewhere on offense, the high-profile quarterbacks are being brought along at vastly different rates. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff is handling first-team reps with the Rams, as expected. Although the draft's second pick, Carson Wentz, has veteran obstacles in the form of Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, he has earned praise for picking up the offense so quickly.

"I'm not sure I've been around a guy that has as high an aptitude as him at this age," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "It's really, really good and he has the work ethic to go along with it." Quarterbacks coach John DeFelippo added that Wentz has exceeded expectations in his ability to read defenses and see the field.

5. Raiders fourth-round pick Connor Cook closed out the offseason as Derek Carr's backup, climbing past Matt McGloin on the depth chart.

"Obviously he is intelligent. He asks good questions," coach Jack Del Rio said last month. "He's got arm talent. ... I think he's off to a great start."

6. Bills fourth-round pick Cardale Jones' introduction to the NFL hasn't gone quite as smoothly. More of a developmental project, Jones has struggled with the fundamentals of the position since rookie camp. Multiple beat writers have noted that he has yet to grasp the finer points of Greg Roman's offense, which means he's not confident in what he's seeing on the field. In other words, he's a long way from challenging EJ Manuel for the No. 2 spot.

7. 49ers coach Chip Kelly has been impressed with athletic sixth-round quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is also moonlighting on special teams.

8. At running back, the Seahawks still have big plans for third-rounder C.J. Prosise despite a hip flexor injury that has caused him to miss recent practices.

"He is a very natural football player, he is a tremendous athlete, he catches the ball well, he runs good routes, he does a lot of really cool things and we know he is an explosive runner," coach Pete Carroll raved this week. "... We are really excited about it, but we are going to need to have to have a really good camp for him."

9. Second-round power runner Derrick Henry has mixed in with the first-team offense, inspiring a "Thunder and Thunder" moniker for the bruising Titans backfield. The former Alabama star has been much better than advertised as a receiver, but still needs work on the mental aspects of pass protection.

10. On the other side of the ball, the reigning NFC champions expect an immediate impact from a pair of early-round rookies. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler has exhibited an exceptionally quick first step and violent hands, as evidenced in this clip. With Josh Norman absconding to Washington, second-round cornerback James Bradberry has been on the field for the majority of first-team reps.

11. Elsewhere in the NFC South, the Falcons could have three rookie starters on defense. In addition to first-round safety Keanu Neal, second-round middle linebacker Deion Jones and fourth-round weak-side linebacker De'Vondre Campbell have been running with the first team. After blazing a 4.38 forty at his Pro Day and bulking up to 230 pounds to handle the rigors of the NFL, Jones might just emerge as a trendy preseason Defensive Rookie of the Year pick.

12. Speaking of Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates, No. 5 overall pick Jalen Ramsey is already putting his torn meniscus in the rearview mirror.

"I know I'll be 100 percent. I feel one hundred percent now," Ramsey insisted this week, echoing recent comments by general manager David Caldwell.

13. With Clay Matthews moving back outside, fourth-round pick Blake Martinez is taking advantage of an opportunity at inside linebacker.

"He looks very comfortable," coach Mike McCarthy said early this week. "I think he's done a really nice job transitioning from the base defense to the sub defense, his command, the echoing of the calls. He's very bright. Quick. And he definitely is a very instinctive player. He's off to a very good start."

14. Titans third-round pick Kevin Byard, billed as the draft's premier ballhawking free safety by NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, has already shown a "knack" for making big plays.

15. Cyrus Jones, the Patriots' top pick in the draft, has outplayed second-year cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts to earn reps at slot corner, per the Boston Herald. He has a strong chance to open the season as the third cornerback behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.

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