If a player's NFL career can be compared to a love affair, then the rookie minicamp is akin to the first kiss. Regardless of how highly drafted a player might be, a poor first impression upon the coaching staff can lead to trouble in the future. The spark from a positive first test, on the other hand, can be the first hint at a great relationship.
|Hakeem Nicks has Giants coaches optimistic he can make a significant contribution this fall. (US Presswire)|
Based on the electric athleticism and competitiveness they showed in spring minicamps last year, for example, insiders expected an immediate impact out of rookies Chris Johnson, Felix Jones and Jerod Mayo.
The opportunity to impress the coaches isn't limited to the highly drafted prospects, however. Last year, Washington Redskins safety Chris Horton went from a seventh-round pick to starting candidate by the time training camp rolled around based on his eye-popping play during the spring. Horton, a 14-game starter, finished among rookie leaders in tackles (79) and interceptions (3).
After conversations with insiders throughout the league, I've compiled a list of 10 players who made the most impressive and immediate impressions upon coaching staffs through the May rookie minicamps. Some were top 10 selections, but some second-day picks have surprised early (players listed alphabetically).
Deon Butler, WR, Seattle Seahawks: While most of the attention centered on No. 4 overall pick Aaron Curry, the rookie who stood out the most in Seattle's minicamp May 1-3 was the speedy Butler. The 4.28 speed Butler showcased at the scouting combine was on display during practices, providing the Seahawks with an element of big-play potential no other receiver on their roster possesses. Butler's soft hands, sharp route running and intelligence also impressed coaches.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans: Cook and first-round pick Kenny Britt took turns making dazzling plays during the Titans' two-day minicamp May 1-2. Cook was the more consistently impressive of the two, according to those in attendance, routinely snatching the ball out of the air and showcasing the 4.49 speed that led all tight ends tested at the combine. Cook's speed makes him a matchup nightmare for defenders and should help him get on the field as a rookie, especially considering that franchised Bo Scaife and veteran Alge Crumpler are each entering the final year of their contracts.
Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: If Coffee was satisfied with the notion he'll serve only as a part-time back behind star Frank Gore, he certainly hasn't looked like it so far. The rugged running that characterized Coffee's breakout junior campaign for the Crimson Tide has been on display, and coach Mike Singletary has already talked about limiting Gore's workload -- which means more touches for Coffee.
Louis Delmas, S, Detroit Lions: First-round picks Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew might have earned the headlines due to their high draft selections, but the most impressive rookie during Detroit's minicamp May 1-3 was Delmas, according to insiders. The speedy safety impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism and instincts in coverage and ended the three-day camp emphatically, intercepting Stafford's final pass.
Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Chicago Bears: The Bears will be looking for some of their young receivers to step up with Jay Cutler now in the fold, and this former Sooner might have the size, agility and sure hands to make an immediate contribution. Iglesias was the Bears' most impressive rookie at their first minicamp, according to sources, routinely creating separation against Chicago's defenders and snatching the ball out of the air.
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, New Orleans Saints: While many of his fellow Buckeyes could not work out with their new pro teams due to Ohio State's unusually late graduation date, Jenkins, already graduated, proved every bit the standout the Saints had hoped the 14th overall selection would be. Operating strictly at cornerback, Jenkins' physical jam at the line of scrimmage, smooth hips and long arms made him a difficult opponent for even the Saints' explosive offense to exploit.
Stephen McGee, QB, Dallas Cowboys: With only three games in a pro-style offense while at Texas A&M, McGee was expected to need a great deal of work, but insiders say the former Aggie was stunningly refined in his technique throughout Dallas' minicamp May 1-3. Coaches, including quarterback coach Wade Wilson, who played the position for 18 years in the NFL, raved about McGee's poise and accuracy throughout the camp.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants: Perhaps no rookie created more of a buzz during the May minicamps than Nicks did with the Giants. While fellow receiver Ramses Barden, the Giants' third-round pick, also made some impressive plays, Nicks' secure hands and combination of toughness, size and strength when competing for contested passes caused him to stand out during the team's May 8-10 rookie camp. Fantasy football enthusiasts take note: Nicks, not Michael Crabtree, Darrius Heyward-Bey or Jeremy Maclin, will be the most consistently impressive rookie receiver in 2009.
Brian Orakpo, OLB/DE, Washington Redskins: Despite primarily lining up at defensive end throughout his distinguished career with the Longhorns, Orakpo was inserted into the starting lineup at strong-side linebacker in Washington's rookie camp May 1-3. There, his instincts and athleticism were on full display. The Redskins won't rob Orakpo of his greatest asset -- his pass-rush ability -- however. Orakpo consistently swept past Washington tackles when asked to rush the passer on third downs during the camp.
David Veikune, ILB, Cleveland Browns: Like Orakpo, Veikune is making the transition from defensive end to linebacker with Cleveland. Unlike Orakpo, however, Veikune was asked to move to the inside linebacker position -- a transition he showcased surprising comfort with during rookie camp May 1-3. Veikune showed better-than-advertised agility at the position and impressed coaches with his instincts and understanding of the defense in his first days at the position.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.