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Published: July 17, 2014 at 12:34 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2014 at 02:12 p.m.

NFL rookies with most to gain in training camp

Most NFL teams have their scouts attend the first few weeks of training camp before sending them out to visit colleges. The scouting department usually breaks down film of every practice, with each scout grading and writing a report on his assigned position. This is known as self-scouting.

My experience self-scouting taught me that rookies tend to struggle during the early portion of training camp. They don't know where to line up, they forget snap counts and they fail to make the correct pre- and post-snap adjustments. Fortunately for them, they usually get more comfortable later on; they think less, and their ability begins to shine through. The bottom line: Fans and observers shouldn't overreact to a rookie's struggles early in camp. Instead, they should monitor the progress made from the start of camp to the end.

Below you'll find 11 rookies to watch as camps get underway, guys who I expect will make drastic improvements as they learn the NFL ropes.

10 Photos Total

  • 1) Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns 10

    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    1) Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

    Manziel will be the most scrutinized rookie -- if not player -- in the NFL once camp kicks off. Every throw, decision and sideline interaction will be analyzed to death by both local and national media. I'm very interested to see how much he'll be able to improve his footwork. He made impressive strides while at Texas A&M, but he still has a few bad habits that need to be cleaned up; training camp is a great opportunity to do that. It could be the key to him beating out veteran Brian Hoyer for the Browns' starting gig. Draft position: Round 1, No. 22 overall.

  • 2) Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans 9

    Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL

    2) Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans

    Clowney is one of the most talented defensive players to enter the NFL in the past decade, but he has a big challenge ahead of him. He was a "hand-in-the-ground" defensive end at South Carolina, but he'll be asked to stand up and play outside linebacker in Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's scheme. Look for Clowney to get a lot of one-on-one attention from linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Having made the same position switch during his NFL playing career, Vrabel is uniquely qualified to help Clowney. Draft position: Round 1, No. 1 overall.

  • 3) Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons 8

    David Goldman/Associated Press

    3) Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons

    After struggling to run the ball in 2013 and failing miserably to protect quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons made bolstering their offensive line a top priority during the offseason. Matthews is an instant upgrade, but it might take him a few weeks in camp to reacquaint himself at right tackle after playing on the left side during his senior campaign at Texas A&M. With HBO's "Hard Knocks" covering the Falcons this year, we'll all get a chance to monitor Matthews' progress during this transition. Draft position: Round 1, No. 6 overall.

  • 4) Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams 7

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    4) Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams

    Tre Mason came within a few minutes of leading Auburn to a national championship in his final season at the school. He was a workhorse runner who seemed to get stronger with each additional carry, and he also proved capable as a receiver out of the backfield. However, during the limited occasions in which he was asked to pass protect, Mason struggled mightily. Training camp will be a great opportunity for him to load up on pass-pro reps and improve in this critical area. Draft position: Round 3, No. 75 overall.

  • 5) Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers 6

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    5) Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

    For years, the Panthers were criticized for failing to find a Robin to complement wide receiver Steve Smith's Batman. This offseason, of course, not only did they fail to find a Robin in free agency, but they kicked Batman to the curb, too! However, Carolina did ultimately address the position by drafting the 6-foot-5, 240 pound Benjamin. He has a rare blend of size, strength and game speed -- but he's also very raw, having started for just one year at Florida State. He'll need every rep in training camp to improve his route running. Draft position: Round 1, No. 28 overall.

  • 6) Will Sutton, DT, Chicago Bears 5

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    6) Will Sutton, DT, Chicago Bears

    Sutton was dominant during his junior season at Arizona State, showing an explosive first step and wreaking havoc as a pass rusher and a run defender. Unfortunately, he added a bunch of weight prior to his senior campaign and wasn't nearly as disruptive or explosive last fall. The Bears are in need of an interior pass rusher, and if Sutton shows up in top shape, he could fill that void. Draft position: Round 3, No. 82 overall.

  • 7) Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys 4

    James D. Smith/Associated Press

    7) Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys

    Lawrence has the daunting task of replacing one of the best pass rushers in NFL history in DeMarcus Ware, who racked up 117 sacks in nine seasons with the Cowboys before being released this offseason. I don't expect Lawrence to approach those lofty numbers, but given the proper development, he's capable of collecting eight to 10 sacks per year. He has a quick first step, strong hands and a big motor. His technique should improve during camp under the tutelage of Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Draft position: Round 2, No. 34 overall.

  • 8) Eric Ebron, TE, Detriot Lions 3

    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    8) Eric Ebron, TE, Detriot Lions

    New Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi knows how to take advantage of an explosive tight end after coaching with Sean Payton in New Orleans. Ebron might not be quite as big as the Saints' Jimmy Graham, but he's similarly athletic and versatile. He can play in-line, flexed in the slot or out wide -- meaning he'll be challenged to digest a huge portion of the playbook during camp. Draft position: Round 1, No. 10 overall.

  • 9) Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns 2

    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    9) Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns

    It's easy to forget that Manziel wasn't the Browns' first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. After trading down from No. 4 overall, Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer elected to fortify the secondary by selecting the most athletic cornerback available at No. 8. Gilbert put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he had a ton of ball production during his collegiate career. However, he does struggle with eye discipline from off coverage, and he needs to be more physical in press coverage. I expect him to improve in both of these areas during camp, because he'll get to learn from one of the best cornerbacks in the league: Joe Haden. Draft position: Round 1, No. 8 overall.

  • 10, 11) Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars 1

    USA Today Sports

    10, 11) Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars

    While Jags GM David Caldwell is hoping to "redshirt" first-round pick Blake Bortles at quarterback, the two receivers he selected in the second round will see plenty of action as they compete for the starting spot opposite Cecil Shorts. Lee is quicker than Robinson, but the Penn State product is bigger and more reliable as a pass catcher than the former USC Trojan. Both players are excellent after the catch, and it will be fun to watch them compete in training camp. Draft positions: Lee: Round 2, No. 39 overall; Robinson: Round 2, No. 61 overall.

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