The attention has been lavished upon the wrong wide receiver at New York Giants headquarters this offseason.
"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.
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:
- 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."
- Pint-sized Jakeem Grant is another late-round wide receiver flashing in offseason practices, earning praise from teammates, per the Miami Herald.
- 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.
"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."
- 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.
"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."
- 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.
- 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.
"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.
"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."