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Published: Aug. 7, 2014 at 06:49 p.m.
Updated: Aug. 8, 2014 at 12:08 p.m.

Ten NFL rookies who will exceed expectations in 2014

In the three months since the 2014 NFL Draft, much of the media attention has fallen on the big-name rookies like Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins.

And while we probably still will be talking about those three talented players plenty in the fall, during my NFL camp tour, I observed a number of other rookies who appear poised to steal at least some of the national spotlight.

Below are 10 first-year players I think will exceed expectations in 2014:

10 Photos Total

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 4, No. 103 overall</i><br>
Freeman is an undersized back (5-foot-8, 206 pounds), but he runs very hard and has outstanding short-area quickness and burst. He's also a <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000375976/Renfree-pass-to-Freeman-for-57-yards">valuable asset on throwing downs</a>, as he's a natural pass catcher who can make defenders miss in space. Freeman will play a major role in the Falcons' offense. 10

    John Bazemore

    Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

    Draft position: Round 4, No. 103 overall
    Freeman is an undersized back (5-foot-8, 206 pounds), but he runs very hard and has outstanding short-area quickness and burst. He's also a valuable asset on throwing downs, as he's a natural pass catcher who can make defenders miss in space. Freeman will play a major role in the Falcons' offense.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 3, No. 69 overall</i><br>
Bucs brass was very high on Sims during my training camp visit. He is outstanding in the passing game and has run the ball with more physicality than expected. Tampa already has a top-10 running back in Doug Martin, but I'd look for Sims to earn his way into the rotation this fall. 9

    Chris O'Meara

    Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Draft position: Round 3, No. 69 overall
    Bucs brass was very high on Sims during my training camp visit. He is outstanding in the passing game and has run the ball with more physicality than expected. Tampa already has a top-10 running back in Doug Martin, but I'd look for Sims to earn his way into the rotation this fall.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 2, No. 48 overall</i><br>
The Ravens have a very talented defensive front, but Jernigan is going to force his way onto the field early this season. The 6-2, 299-pounder was a top-20 talent in the draft, and he fell right into the Ravens' lap in the second round. Against the run, he has heavy hands and a powerful base to hold the point of attack. He also has upside as a power pass rusher. Jernigan is a perfect fit to play in the AFC North. 8

    Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

    Timmy Jernigan, DT, Baltimore Ravens

    Draft position: Round 2, No. 48 overall
    The Ravens have a very talented defensive front, but Jernigan is going to force his way onto the field early this season. The 6-2, 299-pounder was a top-20 talent in the draft, and he fell right into the Ravens' lap in the second round. Against the run, he has heavy hands and a powerful base to hold the point of attack. He also has upside as a power pass rusher. Jernigan is a perfect fit to play in the AFC North.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 2, No. 63 overall</i><br>
If not for a poor 40-yard dash (4.77 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine, Landry would've been a first-round pick in May. He is a smooth route runner who has outstanding hands. He thrives in big moments, and I won't be shocked if he ends up as the Dolphins' most dependable weapon this year. 7

    Alan Diaz

    Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins

    Draft position: Round 2, No. 63 overall
    If not for a poor 40-yard dash (4.77 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine, Landry would've been a first-round pick in May. He is a smooth route runner who has outstanding hands. He thrives in big moments, and I won't be shocked if he ends up as the Dolphins' most dependable weapon this year.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 1, No. 20 overall</i><br>
Cooks was the fourth receiver chosen in the 2014 draft, but I like his chances to lead all rookies in catches and yards. He quickly has jelled with Drew Brees and his skill set is <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000376139/Brandin-Cooks-impresses-in-NFL-debut">a perfect match for Sean Payton's offense</a>. The speedster will end up being a steal for the Saints. 6

    Chris Tilley

    Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

    Draft position: Round 1, No. 20 overall
    Cooks was the fourth receiver chosen in the 2014 draft, but I like his chances to lead all rookies in catches and yards. He quickly has jelled with Drew Brees and his skill set is a perfect match for Sean Payton's offense. The speedster will end up being a steal for the Saints.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 7, No. 237 overall</i><br>
Henderson's physical talent has never been questioned, but he struggled to live up to his potential while at the University of Miami. He had numerous off-field issues in college, and his work ethic was a major concern. The Bills took a flier on him in the last round of the draft, and, so far, it's paying off nicely. He has looked polished at left tackle while running with the first-team offense. And with his size (6-7, 331), length and quickness, he could start on either side of the offensive line. 5

    Gary Wiepert

    Seantrel Henderson, OT, Buffalo Bills

    Draft position: Round 7, No. 237 overall
    Henderson's physical talent has never been questioned, but he struggled to live up to his potential while at the University of Miami. He had numerous off-field issues in college, and his work ethic was a major concern. The Bills took a flier on him in the last round of the draft, and, so far, it's paying off nicely. He has looked polished at left tackle while running with the first-team offense. And with his size (6-7, 331), length and quickness, he could start on either side of the offensive line.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 3, No. 91 overall</i><br>
Brown might lack ideal size (5-10) and a big-college pedigree (Pittsburg State), but he has rare explosiveness and top speed (<a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-combine/0ap2000000334101/2014-Combine-workout-John-Brown">see for yourself</a>). He's received <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000370639/article/steve-keim-cardinals-cant-cover-rookie-john-brown">rave reviews</a> during training camp, and he should provide a <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000376331/Palmer-hits-Brown-for-25-yards">big-play element</a> to the Cardinals' passing game. 4

    Matt York

    John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals

    Draft position: Round 3, No. 91 overall
    Brown might lack ideal size (5-10) and a big-college pedigree (Pittsburg State), but he has rare explosiveness and top speed (see for yourself). He's received rave reviews during training camp, and he should provide a big-play element to the Cardinals' passing game.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 4, No. 124 overall</i><br>
The former Oregon back has the <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000375250/Pre-WK-1-Can-t-Miss-Play-Black-Mamba-strikes">explosiveness and versatility</a> to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. And who better than Andy Reid to scheme up creative ways to take advantage of Thomas' unique skill set? I think the fourth-rounder will end up being an incredible bargain for Kansas City. 3

    Charlie Riedel

    De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

    Draft position: Round 4, No. 124 overall
    The former Oregon back has the explosiveness and versatility to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. And who better than Andy Reid to scheme up creative ways to take advantage of Thomas' unique skill set? I think the fourth-rounder will end up being an incredible bargain for Kansas City.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 5, No. 174 overall</i><br>
After bouncing around from position to position during his four years at USC, Kennard's settled in nicely at linebacker for the Giants. Due to some injuries at the position, he's been given a chance to start at strong-side linebacker and has made the most of his opportunities. Kennard has enough speed to cover tight ends, and he's very stout against the run. He'll see plenty of action this fall. 2

    Julie Jacobson

    Devon Kennard, LB, New York Giants

    Draft position: Round 5, No. 174 overall
    After bouncing around from position to position during his four years at USC, Kennard's settled in nicely at linebacker for the Giants. Due to some injuries at the position, he's been given a chance to start at strong-side linebacker and has made the most of his opportunities. Kennard has enough speed to cover tight ends, and he's very stout against the run. He'll see plenty of action this fall.

  • <i><b>Draft position:</b> Round 1, No. 8 overall</i><br>
This probably looks odd. How can the eighth overall pick be a pleasant surprise? My answer: He's the least talked about top-10 pick in NFL history. The media is consumed with minute-by-minute updates of Johnny Manziel's play, which has allowed Gilbert to slide under the radar. He's the most talented cornerback from the 2014 class, and I believe he'll post big numbers this season, playing opposite Joe Haden. 1

    Tony Dejak

    Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns

    Draft position: Round 1, No. 8 overall
    This probably looks odd. How can the eighth overall pick be a pleasant surprise? My answer: He's the least talked about top-10 pick in NFL history. The media is consumed with minute-by-minute updates of Johnny Manziel's play, which has allowed Gilbert to slide under the radar. He's the most talented cornerback from the 2014 class, and I believe he'll post big numbers this season, playing opposite Joe Haden.

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