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The summer layover ends, and training camp brings the first sign of the 2018 NFL season. After gathering spring reports, we can formulate thoughts on who potentially flashes through August.
Typically high draft picks come into the year with loaded expectations placed on their shoulders. Middle-round rookies, veterans in new places and players coming off injury may creep up on us as summer sleepers.
In these cases, players don’t have a lock on a position. There’s room to expand their roles, but a lackluster training camp could bury them on the depth chart or lead to a meeting with the Turk.
We’ll focus on rookies and veterans who could shake up the pecking order at their positions or push for contributing roles in the upcoming season. Most of the sleepers didn’t find their names in major headlines, but several made good impressions in smaller roles last season or during spring practices.
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Despite losing the majority of the 2017 season to a surgically repaired wrist and an offseason contract dispute, running back David Johnson remains the main guy in the Arizona Cardinals backfield. However, any team with a workhorse tailback should have confidence in their backup to fill in the gaps if the starter goes down.
At 5’9″, 210 pounds, Chase Edmonds doesn’t have the prototypical build to handle Johnson’s workload, but he’s a capable dual threat out of the backfield in doses.
During his junior campaign, he led the FCS with 163.5 rushing yards per game on a whopping 257 carries. A leg injury cost him some time during his senior year, which brings up questions about durability going into the pros.
Nonetheless, Edmonds can catch out of the backfield, and his ability to make defenders miss should keep him fresh in a No. 2 role. The fourth-rounder will battle Elijhaa Penny for leftover touches behind Johnson.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons potentially selected Devonta Freeman’s new tag-team partner in the fourth round of April’s draft. Tevin Coleman goes into a contract year, and he’s expected to seek a pay raise on the open market.
In the meantime, the Falcons have a dynamic backfield with a lead tailback, a versatile complement to the No. 1 ball-carrier and a rookie who brings more of the same. At 5’9″, 195 pounds, Ito Smith can hit a home run off an outside run or stretch a short pass play downfield for a big gain. The Southern Mississippi product’s quick cuts and reliable hands could help him become a favorable target in the slot.
The Falcons can force defenses to pick their poison with a trio of running backs. Smith’s playmaking ability should breed some creativity in formations and personnel usage. More importantly, with comparable capabilities, all three running backs would have fresh legs throughout the season.
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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
The Baltimore Ravens loaded the offense with pass-catchers for quarterback Joe Flacco. They’re essentially asking him to create magic in the pocket with quality ingredients. Michael Crabtree steps into the offense as the projected No. 1 receiver, and Willie Snead and John Brown round out the top three at the position.
While it’s fair to expect contributions from the veteran additions, rookie fourth-rounder Jaleel Scott flashed early potential when the team reconvened for training camp practices, per Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy:
“Jaleel Scott was the best receiver on the field, demonstrating pure and crisp route running and his hands were reliable. Scott could serve as a competent third down and red zone option for the Ravens.”
With wideout Breshad Perriman on the bubble, Scott may see some looks from Flacco in the upcoming season.
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The Buffalo Bills selected their middle linebacker in Tremaine Edmunds with the No. 16 overall pick. Lorenzo Alexander maintains his position on the strong side as a supplement in the pass rush. Head coach Sean McDermott could have a decent cover defender on the second level of the defense in Matt Milano, who started five games last year.
In Week 14 against the Indianapolis Colts, Milano put up his best game on film with 10 total tackles. He also managed to log an interception, broke up two passes and scored a touchdown during his rookie campaign.
Milano’s ability to cover ground and handle short-area coverage responsibilities would put the Bills linebacker corps on the fast track to solidifying the unit. The fifth-rounder should see the field for at least two-thirds of the snaps with Alexander coming off the field on passing downs.
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Tight end Greg Olsen started in every game between the 2012-16 seasons, playing at least 93 percent of the Carolina Panthers’ offensive snaps in each term. A broken foot and further complications with the injury shortened his 2017 campaign to seven regular-season appearances.
As Olsen heads into his age-33 season, the coaching staff may contemplate dialing back on his season snap count, which creates some opportunities for fourth-rounder Ian Thomas.
According to Bill Voth of the team’s official website, the Indiana product made a good first impression during the spring.
“Coaches were pleased by what they saw of Thomas this spring, and they’re hopeful the fourth-round pick will contribute as a rookie,” Voth reported. “But it sure doesn’t seem like Norv Turner has enough firepower at TE2 to make it a legit threat just yet.”
In Turner’s previous offensive coordinator position with the Minnesota Vikings, he utilized 12 personnel, featuring one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers just 14 percent of the time, per Sharp Football Stats. Nevertheless, Thomas could push for more snaps alongside Olsen with a strong showing through training camp.
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There’s reasonable excitement around wideout Allen Robinson’s arrival, Anthony Miller as a rookie slot option in the receiving game and Kevin White’s last chance to show his potential.
Following those intriguing storylines, casual fans may overlook wideout Taylor Gabriel, who came over from Atlanta. When given the opportunity, the receiver delivered in the aerial attack.
As a rookie, he converted 72 targets into 36 receptions for 621 yards. In his third season, the 5’8″, 165-pound pass-catcher recorded 579 yards and six scores on 50 targets. Most importantly, the 27-year-old improved his efficiency over the past two years with catch rates at 70 and 65 percent.
Gabriel won’t lead this wide receiving corps in yards or touchdowns, but he’s able to rack up yardage after the reception. He compared his role in new head coach Matt Nagy’s offense to Tyreek Hill, who lined up all over the field in Nagy’s offense in Kansas City.
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
Running back Joe Mixon will lead the Cincinnati Bengals backfield with Giovani Bernard as a solid complement and exceptional receiver. The front office picked up Mark Walton in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, and he’s capable of pushing this unit into the top 10 among ground attacks.
Walton broke out during his sophomore year at Miami, rushing for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns on 209 carries. An ankle injury derailed his junior campaign, limiting him to five games. In a deep running back class, he inevitably fell to Day 3, but the rookie landed in a situation that can allow him to flash his 2016 form.
The Bengals made an effort to upgrade the offensive line, acquiring left tackle Cordy Glenn via trade and selecting center Billy Price in the first round. If those additions pan out, the trio of running backs could have a huge season.
At 5’10”, 202 pounds, Walton has the physical tools to fill in the gaps on any given down as a ball-carrier. At the collegiate level, he also looked comfortable as a pass-catcher with 56 receptions for 624 yards and two touchdowns in 31 contests.
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Dawgs By Nature constructed a fan poll for the preferred choice to replace Joe Thomas (retired) at left tackle. Shon Coleman and Austin Corbett split the overwhelming votes at 46 percent apiece. Greg Robinson and Spencer Drango earned 2 and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.
Perhaps the 4 percent leaning toward another candidate to win the position see something in Desmond Harrison. He earned JUCO All-American honors at Contra Costa College but didn’t start at Texas before spending two years away from the game. Nonetheless, nine starts at West Georgia helped him earn first-team honors in the All-Gulf South Conference.
Despite Harrison’s junior college and Division II pedigree, he managed to emerge as one of the best at his level. The undrafted rookie faces an uphill battle against third-year veteran Coleman and a high draft pick in Corbett. However, there’s a chance to turn heads and claim a wide-open spot on the blind side.
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The Dallas Cowboys selected tight end Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of April’s draft. He’ll garner the spotlight, along with Geoff Swaim, as Jason Witten’s potential replacement in the starting role. However, the Dallas Morning News‘ Jori Epstein saw an under-the-radar player emerge during spring practices.
“It was Jarwin, not Swaim, making a splash in offseason activities. Dak Prescott regularly targeted Jarwin up the middle, particularly in red-zone situations. Jarwin’s been studying Jason Witten film and Prescott spoke highly of his ability to get open.”
Jarwin caught 41 passes for 616 yards and five touchdowns over three seasons at Oklahoma State but went undrafted in 2017. Now in his second season, with an opportunity to become a threat in the passing attack, Prescott may continue to look for the 6’5″, 260-pound target inside the 20-yard line to close drives. He suited up for just one game last season.
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After fully recovering from a torn ACL, tight end Jake Butt could show off the hands that helped him secure 97 passes for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns between the 2015-16 seasons at Michigan.
The 2017 fifth-rounder tore his ACL twice during his collegiate career, so it’s reasonable the team didn’t want to rush him back to action. Nonetheless, he’s joining the fold at a time the Broncos have loaded their offense with pass-catchers in an attempt to keep quarterback Case Keenum at the top of his game.
The front office drafted two wideouts, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, to go along with veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Troy Fumagalli joins the tight end group as a solid receiver with 93 receptions for 1,127 yards and six scores over the past two seasons at Wisconsin.
With viable options demanding coverage on the perimeter, Butt will have opportunities to stretch the field in the seam. He could put together a huge year as a receiver.
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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
The Detroit Lions quietly fielded one of the top passing offenses in the league last season, ranking No. 6 in yards per game and No. 4 in touchdowns. Wideouts Marvin Jones and Golden Tate each finished with 1,000-plus receiving yards to spearhead the vertical attack.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford may have another big-time playmaker at the position on the rise, but he’s not mentioned in NFL circles yet. So how do we know? Kenny Golladay made his presence felt as a big-play receiver downfield, logging 17 yards per reception as a rookie in 2017.
All eyes will be on new head coach Matt Patricia and the changes to follow under his regime. But offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will have another year to fine-tune the offense with an underrated wide receiver group.
At 6’4″, 213 pounds, Golladay offers size and the physicality on the perimeter to complement the quickness of the other two pass-catchers in three-wide receiver sets. The Northern Illinois product could become a strong red-zone threat as the tight end position sorts itself out.
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The Green Bay Packers triple-dipped at wide receiver during April’s draft, which prompts a strong competition for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
Geronimo Allison remains as a holdover from the previous season, but one rookie wideout stood out among the rest during the spring, per Wisconsin State Journal reporter Jason Wilde:
“Of course, with offseason practices being in helmets and shorts, it’s dangerous to get too excited about anyone in advance of training camp, which kicks off July 26. That said, of the three rookie receivers, Moore was the one who made perhaps the strongest impression.“
Moore stands at 6’3″, 205 pounds and produced back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard seasons at Missouri. Even though he joins the position with a cluster of incoming talent, his collegiate production and early showing put him among the potential sleepers this summer.
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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
The Browns waived Roderick Johnson on June 19, but the Houston Texans claimed him just one day later. The 2017 fifth-rounder landed in an opportune spot to emerge as a starter for Week 1 of the upcoming season.
After starting four games during the previous year, Julie’n Davenport projects as the front-runner to win the left tackle job. However, it’s not a lock, and the right side remains undecided as well. At Florida State, Johnson lined up primarily on the blind side and earned first-team All-ACC honors. With a fair amount of reps, he could establish himself as an anchor for an offensive line in transition.
Rookie third-rounder Martinas Rankin underwent surgery on his foot during the offseason, and it’s unclear when he’ll return to action. As a result, the decision to acquire Johnson makes sense. The second-year pro could rise from obscurity to starter in a month.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Good news concerning the running back position overshadowed what Jordan Wilkins potentially brings to the offense.
Indianapolis Star reporter Zak Keefer‘s glowing report about fourth-rounder Nyheim Hines suggests the Colts have a well-rounded asset who can contribute on offense and special teams. Marlon Mack, the presumptive starter recovering from shoulder surgery, received clearance for training camp.
“Jordan Wilkins, now he is an interesting runner,” Ballard said. “I don’t ever want to put names (on prospects), but his run style reminded me a lot of Matt Forte. We thought he had as good of vision as any back in the draft.”
It’s high praise considering Forte led the league in yards from scrimmage with 14,468 between the 2008-17 seasons. At the moment, Wilkins is included in a running back committee, but early signs at training camp could increase his regular-season role.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins made some adjustments to his off-field approach and logged career-highs in receptions (50) and receiving yards (357) with the New York Jets last year. He also saw a single-season high in targets with 74.
We may have just witnessed the beginning for Seferian-Jenkins as a consistent pass-catching threat. The Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with longtime stalwart Marcedes Lewis after 12 seasons to clear the way for a new starter. The front office also signed Niles Paul at the position, but he’s been nonexistent in the aerial attack since breaking out for 507 yards in 2014.
It’s worth noting that Seferian-Jenkins appeared in more than nine games in a season for the first time last year. A strong training camp—without injuries—should help elevate his profile as a rising tight end in the league.
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Safety Armani Watts flashed his ball-tracking skills at Texas A&M, snatching 10 interceptions and breaking up 17 passes through four seasons. Still, he dropped to Day 3 in April’s draft, though his landing spot could lead to an immediate prominent role.
According to the Kansas City Star‘s Blair Kerkhoff, Watts took first-team reps with an added safety in the package. Next to Eric Berry, there’s room for competition at the position. Leon McQuay, a 2017 sixth-rounder, suited up for just one game last season.
In a revamped secondary, the Chiefs will need to identify their playmakers other than Berry and Kendall Fuller. Watts has an opportunity to start the summer on a strong note in a prominent role. His ability to take the ball away could turn heads in August.
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Chris Carlson/Associated Press
According to Alex Marvez of Sirius XM NFL Radio, Antonio Gates’ agent, Tom Condon, revealed he’s in active negotiations with the Los Angeles Chargers. Still, the 38-year-old saw a steady decline in receptions and yards starting in 2013.
That means eighth-year pro Virgil Green could see a breakthrough as a pass-catcher with quarterback Philip Rivers at the helm.
Between Gates and Hunter Henry, Rivers has heavily utilized the tight end in the aerial attack over the past several years. With Gates on the decline, Green has an opportunity to post his best numbers as a pass-catcher. In his most productive season, he caught 22 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s 22nd-ranked scoring offense during the 2016 campaign.
We’ll likely find out what Gates has left in the tank, but Green could emerge as a solid contributor if Gates looks beyond his playing days in his 16th season.
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Per Kristen Lago of the team’s official site, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips pinpointed linebacker Samson Ebukam as a projected starter, but the defense has multiple question marks at the position—both inside and outside.
With Ebukam on the outside and Mark Barron on the inside, there’s still room for a couple of unknowns to rise through the ranks. Seventh-rounder Justin Lawler took first-team reps through mandatory minicamp. We’ll see if that holds when fifth-rounder Ogbonnia Okoronkwo returns from foot surgery and the competition ramps up.
The SMU product flashed as a penetrator in the backfield during his collegiate seasons with 40.5 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks through his final three years. If he’s lined up behind defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald, Lawler could wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
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Don’t allow cornerback Bobby McCain’s development to distract you from the fact Tony Lippett hopes to mirror a solid 2016 season in which he logged four interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 13 starts before missing the entire 2017 term with a torn Achilles.
In a league that puts significant weight on what you’ve done lately, Lippett must prove himself all over again. The palpable buzz surrounding first-rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick overshadows the return of a potential starter who can match up with receivers on the perimeter.
Lippett could put his name back on the radar with an impressive training camp, but Tankersley would likely have to show enough faults in his game to lose the pole position opposite Xavien Howard.
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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
During spring practices, the Vikings offensive line unit rolled out a different personnel grouping with Mike Remmers at right guard and Rashod Hill on the same side at tackle.
Remmers has started in his last 43 regular-season games at both tackle positions and right guard. He’ll likely continue to start through the upcoming season, so Hill must compete to solidify his role within the front five despite logging seven starts in 2017.
Minnesota selected Brian O’Neil in the second round of the 2018 draft. If he flashes on the practice field, third-year veteran Hill will slip into a reserve role for the upcoming term. A strong season would up the ante on his market value as a restricted free agent next offseason.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
The New England Patriots know how to optimize an undersized slot-type receiver. When looking at Wes Welker (5’9″), Julian Edelman (5’10”) and Danny Amendola (5’11”) over recent seasons, it’s fair to wonder who will be the next receiver standing under 6’0″ to produce. By the way, 5’10” Phillip Dorsett still has a chance to turn things around.
The Patriots selected 5’9″ wideout Braxton Berrios in the sixth round of April’s draft. He didn’t post big numbers through four collegiate seasons at Miami, but he scored nine times and led the program’s receivers with 679 yards last year.
With Edelman set to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and Malcolm Mitchell’s knee questionable, per the Providence Journal‘s Mark Daniels, Berrios could take advantage of early looks in the passing game. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the team is fielding offers for Mitchell.
ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss considers Jordan Matthews a “lock” to make the 53-man roster, but Berrios could establish himself as an option behind Matthews, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan through the first quarter of the season.
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The New Orleans Saints will divvy up Mark Ingram’s carries over the first four games as he serves a suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. Among the potential beneficiaries, running back Jonathan Williams comes into focus as a player to watch at training camp.
The 2016 fifth-rounder didn’t gain traction with the Bills during his rookie season, only taking 27 handoffs for 94 yards and a score. Last year, he spent some time on the Broncos practice squad but didn’t crack the active roster. Now in New Orleans, the third-year ball-carrier has a chance to pair with Alvin Kamara.
The Saints signed Terrance West and Shane Vereen during the offseason. Both running backs bring a veteran presence and pass-catching ability to the position group. At 5’7″, 203 pounds, sixth-rounder Boston Scott profiles as a scatback in the mix.
Williams ran for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns as Arkansas’ lead tailback ahead of Alex Collins in 2014, but he missed the following season with a foot injury. It’s the distant past, but the former Razorback must cash in on the talent that helped put him in the league two years ago.
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Former New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese selected Darian Thompson in the third round of the 2016 draft, and Andrew Adams signed as an undrafted free agent in the same year. Now, they’re competitors for a spot alongside safety Landon Collins.
Adams played well during the 2016 campaign as a fill-in starter, logging five pass breakups and an interception in 14 appearances. Thompson, on the other hand, started all 16 games last season. He’s the front-runner for the starting role in a league that focuses on what you’ve done lately, but new eyes add some uncertainty.
In Arizona, defensive coordinator James Bettcher fielded Tyrann Mathieu at free safety. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll put a high premium on coverage ability or look for versatility alongside Collins. Adams could potentially win the starting role if he’s constantly around the football at training camp. He made a concerted effort to absorb the incoming coaching staff’s schemes through mandatory minicamp.
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Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
When you look at the Jets running back depth chart, Elijah McGuire looks like a second or third option in a committee. But position coach Stump Mitchell sees a lot more in the 2017 sixth-rounder, per the New York Daily News‘ Manish Mehta.
“Eli has the skill set to be a LaDainian Tomlinson if he was given that opportunity,” Mitchell said. “That’s not what presents itself to him at this particular point in time. But skill set, he can do it all. He can catch. He can run. He can run routes as a receiver.”
With Tomlinson’s skill set, we have to acknowledge McGuire’s potential for a breakout year, right? He logged 492 yards from scrimmage in 16 games last season.
The Jets added Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls to the backfield, but Mitchell expects McGuire to handle a third-down role, which puts Bilal Powell’s standing with the team in question.
Other than Crowell on early downs, the Jets running back roles look fluid at this point. However, if you’re buying stock in Mitchell’s words, we could see something special from McGuire in 2018.
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The Oakland Raiders will roll out new primary starters at all three base linebacker positions. Bruce Irvin moves to defensive end, which frees the strong side. NaVorro Bowman remains unsigned. Cory James started the most games (seven) on the weak side for the group last season. Nicholas Morrow made five starts at that spot.
Two linebackers typically take most of the snaps as nickel package use increases. Morrow will likely compete for time on passing downs because of his background as a safety at Greenville University.
Derrick Johnson, an established cover linebacker for the past 13 seasons, took Morrow under his wing, per Raiders.com’s Kyle Martin. The results could lead to a significant improvement in diagnosing plays and covering ground. In addition, the former Chief isn’t a lock to make the roster himself.
At a position going through changes, Morrow could play two-thirds of the team’s defensive snaps.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
When one thinks about the Notre Dame rushing offense that averaged 269.3 yards on the ground last year, offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey come to mind. Josh Adams benefited from taking handoffs behind two top-10 overall draft picks.
Adams signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, who arguably have the league’s best offensive line. The Notre Dame product hasn’t been able to show his talent because of a foot injury. Once he’s back on the field, the undrafted rookie will face steep competition for a roster spot at a crowded position.
Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles project as virtual locks to make the 53-man roster. Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood stand on the roster bubble, however.
The former didn’t draw positive reviews from NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Dave Zangaro recently: “I’m not ready to completely write Pumphrey off, but I also haven’t seen anything that lets me know he can play in the NFL. There’s no sugarcoating it…Pumphrey was terrible last summer and if he’s that bad again this year, the Eagles might have to just give up on him.”
An uninspiring start for any Eagles running back increases Adams’ chances of claiming a roster spot, so the Pumphrey news is in his favor.
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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to fill the inside linebacker spot alongside Vince Williams, who had a breakout eight-sack season in 2017. Preferably, that starter will have the ability to handle short-area pass coverage.
According to Triblive.com’s Joe Rutter, 2015 Chuck Bednarik Award winner—given to college football’s best defensive player—Tyler Matakevich took reps with the first team during spring practices.
He put up gaudy senior numbers at Temple, recording 138 tackles (15.5 resulting in a loss), 4.5 sacks, five interceptions and five pass breakups. In two seasons with the Steelers, he’s played 79 snaps. Coming off shoulder surgery, he’s in line for a shot at Ryan Shazier’s old spot at linebacker.
Of course, first-rounder Terrell Edmunds could see time at linebacker in sub-packages, but Pittsburgh may lean on the third-year veteran who’s familiar with defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s system.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne put his statement game on film in a 25-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 last year, posting four catches for 85 yards. It’s just one standout performance, but the 2017 undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington continued to build a rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo over the offseason.
“I don’t know how many drops he’s had all of OTAs. I don’t want to jinx him, but he’s done a great job for me,” the 26-year-old signal-caller said, per Joe Fann of the team’s official website.
We can lock Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis into the top four wide receiver spots, which gives Bourne a tight window of opportunity. Seventh-rounder Richie James and Aldrick Robinson pose a threat for the fifth spot.
Nonetheless, Garoppolo acknowledged the 22-year-old pass-catcher’s reliable hands. Barring multiple injuries, Bourne isn’t a guy you’ll target in fantasy leagues, but he could mesh with the unit as a low-end contributor.
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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, safety Earl Thomas’ holdout could linger into the regular season as he pushes for a new deal with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s next man up during practices at a position set to field new faces in the three-time All-Pro’s absence.
Tedric Thompson put together a strong senior campaign at Colorado, logging seven interceptions and 16 pass breakups. The fourth-rounder only played eight snaps as a rookie last year, but with Thomas’ holdout and Kam Chancellor out for at least the year because of a neck injury, Thompson is in position to prove himself during training camp.
He lined up with the first-teamers early in the offseason program, which indicates he’s in the mix for a bigger role. If you need a refresher on the former Buffalo’s ball-tracking skills, just watch his tape.
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After offensive tackle Donovan Smith struggled through three seasons and missed portions of the offseason program through June, the Buccaneers took a look at Cole Gardner, who made the most of his time with the starters.
“At left tackle, the Bucs inserted Cole Gardner, an unknown commodity to most outside of One Buccaneer Place, and he really stood out this spring—as much as an offensive lineman without pads can stand out,” Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds wrote.
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter offered praise as well, per the Tampa Bay Times‘ Greg Auman: “Cole Gardner on the other side, since Donovan has been in and out a little bit this spring, that guy is one of the biggest surprises probably of [the] offseason.”
It’s too early to say Gardner will unseat Smith, but the second-year offensive tackle out of Eastern Michigan could make the roster as a viable backup.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans have their 1A and 1B in the backfield—Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis—but it couldn’t hurt to add a dynamic running back to the mix.
Akrum Wadley joined the team as an undrafted free agent and hopes to make an impact behind the featured duo.
“I want to show that I am very capable,” he told Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site. “I am very capable of playing at this level; there’s not a doubt in my mind. And as long as I keep practicing and keep making improvements, I will play.”
Wadley could contribute as a pass-catcher. He logged 64 receptions for 668 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons at Iowa. It’s also worth noting Lewis has handled more than 65 carries once through five active seasons. The third running back may see action in Tennessee.
If he can carve up defenses on the ground and after the catch, the undrafted talent should make the 53-man roster.
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Safety Troy Apke has a background as a receiver at Mount Lebanon High School, and his ability to track the ball as a safety could help the Washington Redskins force more turnovers.
Ideally for Washington, Montae Nicholson will continue to develop, but Apke offers an insurance policy with the upside to grow into a sizable role.
According to NBC Sports Washington’s Rich Tandler, Apke flashed his 4.34-40-yard dash time speed during practices, but he still needs to show a complete skill set to earn time on the field: “Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices, and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL.”
During his senior season, Apke logged one interception and five pass breakups. He’ll have time to develop at a position that has depth. Deshazor Everett started eight games last season, and the team signed Quin Blanding as an undrafted free agent.
Nonetheless, the rookie can shake up the pecking order and push Nicholson with an impressive summer.