This 2014 NFL Draft was really deep, and after getting an up-close look at many of the players from that class during my recent NFL training camp tour, there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to see a lot of rookies making big contributions this year.
I kept a close eye on these players as they went from college stars to intriguing prospects, and now, many of them are promising first-year players. Here's a look at 10 takeaways on the rookies I had a chance to see during my camp tour as I visited the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens:
1. Watkins and Evans are living up to the hype
Everyone knew Watkins was explosive, but I think he's surprising some people with the strength of his hands. I saw him make a couple of catches in traffic that were outstanding and was told he's been doing that all camp long. The Bills have been blown away by the seriousness with which he takes his craft. Watkins has been the first one in to work at the start of the day, and he's getting all kinds of extra work in, too.
As for Evans, it's going to be fun to watch how the Bucs use him with Vincent Jackson. A lot of people assumed they would line up on opposite sides of each other, but I saw them in practice lining up on the same side with one of them in the slot, and I think we'll see that a lot during the season. It's going to be a matchup issue for teams. If you put a nickel corner against one of those monsters in the slot, good luck. Evans made some big plays in the red zone. The veteran Jackson is much more polished getting in and out of routes. That's an area where Evans can develop, but he has the perfect teacher in Jackson.
2. Bortles is a gamer
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles isn't going to wow you when you're watching him throwing on air. He doesn't have a huge arm and throws a little bit of a loose ball. He has poise and moxie, though, and you could see that during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. He finds ways to get things done. It's not always the prettiest, but the more the guy gets on the field, the better he gets.
That said, it doesn't look like he's giving Chad Henne a real hard push for the starting job at this point.
3. Mosley looks a lot like former Ravens star
C.J. Mosley has stepped right in for the Ravens, and his athleticism will make a big difference for the defense. He looks like a leaner version of former Ravens and Jets linebacker Bart Scott. Scott was really athletic and played with an edge. Mosley does that, but he has better instincts than Scott did.
4. Better days ahead for Ebron
I visited with Lions assistant head coach/tight ends coach Ron Prince, and he told me the staff is throwing everything at tight end Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick this year. There's been a lot for him to digest early on, and I think that contributed to the little bit of uncertainty I saw from him during practice. He had three drops during the session I attended. To me, they looked like concentration drops. He has a lot of talent and I think eventually they'll pare things down for him. He'll think less and you'll see his performance improve.
5. Giants the perfect fit for Beckham
It's hard to leave somewhere feeling excited about a guy you didn't see practice, but that's the case with Odell Beckham. He was sidelined by a hamstring injury during the practice I attended, and the issue is still nagging him. But from talking to people in the Giants' front office, I know they're feeling good about him. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's scheme was designed with Beckham in mind and it's a perfect fit for his skill set. There are going to be a lot of quick-hitting passes and a lot of opportunities to run after the catch.
6. Trio of rookie WRs could be big factors for Jags
We all know the Jaguars have high hopes for second-round receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Lee was given the day off and Robinson was out with an injury when I visited Jags camp, but the front office feels strongly that they -- along with undrafted rookie Allen Hurns out of Miami (Fla.) -- will be playing big roles this season. Hurns is intriguing -- he was very productive with the Hurricanes and has good size.
7. Eagles' top two picks at opposite ends of spectrum
Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith was just trying to figure out where to line up and what his assignment was during the practice I attended. He was working with the third team, and you could see his raw athleticism when he would drop into coverage. He's going to be a versatile player. He'll give them some scheme-flexibility once he gets acclimated.
On the other hand, second-round WR Jordan Matthews was generating a lot of buzz playing exclusively in the slot. Philadelphia's hope is he'll match up against smaller corners in the slot and be able to outmuscle them. He's not a smooth, pure route runner, but he has a big frame. I think he could have a productive year in Chip Kelly's offense.
8. Jernigan making impression with sheer power
Another Ravens rookie defender really turned heads, too. Unfortunately, Brent Urban suffered an ACL tear and was placed on injured reserve, but I was hearing from the Ravens' front office at camp that Urban was making a case to be considered the most impressive rookie in camp. They're very excited about him long term.