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We’re still a bit slower in the NFL offseason. Teams are wrapping up organized team activities (OTAs) and gearing up for June minicamps, and the real preseason drama won’t heat up until training camp.
However, this doesn’t mean that important things aren’t happening around the NFL. Free-agents and trade additions are getting comfortable with their new teams, while rookies are getting their first tastes of life in the NFL.
OTAs and minicamps are equally important for teams that drafted incoming rookies. They spend months and even years evaluating prospects, but until they get veterans on the practice field, they don’t know what they really are.
Here, we’ll dive into some of the latest offseason buzz around this year’s most notable rookies. We ‘d dive into who is excelling during the early offseason program, who’s disappointing and whether we are buying what is reported. (Remember when 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase struggled with drops during his first offseason?)
Let’s get to it.
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The Indianapolis Colts haven’t had a first-round pick this year because of the ill-fated Carson Wentz trade. However, they may have landed a starting receiver in Round 2 by taking Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce.
The Colts, at least, are hoping that Pierce can get on the field early.
“He’s done a good job, so he’s going to have to compete for every snap, right? It’s a very competitive group, “head coach Frank Reich told reporters.” But yeah, we’re definitely pushing him. We’re definitely pushing him and wanting him to compete in the mix and get on the field. “
The early buzz indicates that Pierce is up to the challenge.
“I haven’t seen Alec Pierce drop a ball this weekend, and we’ve just seen him make two big jump-ball catches in the end zone,” Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star tweeted last month.
The 6’3 “, 211-pound Pierce should really be in the mix for a starting role.
Pierce logged a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine and had 884 yards and eight touchdowns with the Bearcats last season. With Pierce already impressing in the offseason, it would actually be more of a surprise if he did isnt in the starting lineup for Week 1.
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The New Orleans Saints fail to acquire Deshaun Watson in a trade, so they’re running it back with Jameis Winston in 2022. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter went 5-2 last season before suffering a torn ACL, and he still has a chance to establish himself as New Orleans’ long-term quarterback.
It’s already looking like Winston will get a significant boost from rookie first-round receiver Chris Olave. The Ohio State product has impressed Winston during early workouts.
“Smooth as the other side of the pillow,” Winston said, per The Athletic’s Katherine TerrellGeneral Chat Chat Lounge “Just real smooth. He can get in and out of breaks very well. Electric, and smart, man. He’s a guy who’s always asking questions. He’s a guy who wants to know how you want it, and I really respect that.”
While this could An example of a quarterback trying to prop up a rookie pass-catcher, we believe Winston is speaking earnestly. Olave was widely regarded as one of the most polished prospects in the 2022 draft.
“Overall, Olave projects as a Day 1 starter as an inside and out ‘Z’ WR for any NFL offense due to his comfort level concepts and his consistent and consistent play style. His versatile skill set as a receiver can translate. to any offense, “Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote ahead of the draft.
Along with returning receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) and running back Alvin Kamara, who could have his hearing scheduled for Aug. In a felony assault case, Olave should provide Winston with another reliable outlet option in 2022.
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We touched on Ja’Marr Chase’s drops during the 2021 offseason. The Cincinnati Bengals receiver had several of them between the OTAs and the preseason, though the team wasn’t particularly concerned.
“We want him to catch the football, there’s no question about that, but then again, we just want to see progress every day in all areas, and I’ve seen him make progress as a receiver for what we’re looking for,” coach Zac Taylor told reporters (h / t James Rapien of FanNation) last August.
While Chase went on to have 11 drops as a rookie, he also racked up 1,455 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Green Bay Packers rookie wideout Christian Watson may not be as productive this season, but we’re not concerned with his OTA drops being a lasting problem. “
“His hands have definitely been questionable,” Andy Herman of Packer Report tweeted. “I don’t think there’s been a practice yet where he hasn’t dropped at least one pass.”
Herman noted, though, that it probably doesn’t “matter much” in the grand scheme, and it doesn’t. This is Watson’s first exposure to the Packers system, and he’s not even working with quarterback Aaron Rodgers – who hasn’t been at OTAs.
Watson’s drops make for a buzz-worthy observation, but they don’t mean he can’t be as successful as a rookie. Until Watson starts dropping key passes in games that actually matter, Green Bay fans should still be on their team’s second-round choice.
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The Carolina Panthers may not be a clear-cut Week 1 starter at quarterback, as incumbent Sam Darnold and rookie third-round pick Matt Corral continue to vie for the starting job. However, the Panthers may already be closing in on identifying their left tackle.
Carolina used sixth overall pick on NC State lineman Iken Ekwonu. According to Dean Jones of FanSided, the Panthers have tested Ekwonu early and have been impressed.
“The North Carolina State product was extremely closely watched by offensive line coach James Campen, who was able to put a lot on his plate to see how he coped,” Jones wrote. “Simply put, Ekwonu passed this test with flying colors.”
Now, it’s hard to get an accurate read on rookie linemen without pads and without full contact. However, Ekwonu has been viewed as an extremely polished and pro-ready prospect.
Ekwonu was the third-ranked overall prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s big board.
“He has A + physical traits and scouts and coaches to appeal to the white-hot motor at multiple positions,” Brandon Thorn of the B / R Scouting Department wrote. “He has the versatility to be a long-term impact starter at either tackle or guard in any scheme.”
The idea that Ekwonu has passed every test Carolina has thrown his way is completely believable and more than just an optimistic overview. More tests will come in training camp and the preseason, but Ekwonu is equipped to handle them.
The Panthers need a permanent answer at left tackle, and the 21-year-old rookie appears to be it.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers lost longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to retirement this offseason. A couple of months later, they took on Pittsburgh product Kenny Pickett in the first round of the draft.
According to Noah Strackbein of FanNation, though, Pickett has not been part of the battle to replace Roethlisberger – which is headlined by Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky.
“It just seems odd that their first-round pick is throwing passes to the fourth-string receiver while Rudolph and Trubisky are working with the ones,” Strackbein wrote.
Should a team really use a first-round pick on a quarterback and immediately dismiss him from the quarterback competition? If it were any other franchise, we probably wouldn’t buy it.
However, Pittsburgh — which has never had a losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin — expects to compete for each and every season in the playoffs. The Steelers are going to go with the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win now, and that isn’t Pickett.
Rudolph has started 10 games in three seasons for the Steelers, while Trubisky has a winning record with the Chicago Bears. While neither should be seen as a long-term answer in Pittsburgh, both are better suited to start on the unproven Pickett.
Could the dynamic change in training camp and the preseason? Absolutely. However, the Steelers are going to take their time with the rookie and are only likely to give Pickett a crack at the job once he’s proven himself with the second- and third-team offense.
Pickett may be ready to dive into the competition by August, but for now, he’s still getting his feet wet.
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The Washington Commanders may have surprised a few folks when they used the 16th overall pick on Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
Dotson is a polished route-runner with reliable hands, but he’s undersized (5’10 “, 178 lbs) and lacks elite speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash at the combine).
Yet, the early buzz suggests that the 22-year-old is ready to be an immediate star in the Commanders offense.
“He’s done a nice job. He came in, and it looks like it’s not too big for him,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said, per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington. “He’s playing fast, he’s consistently getting separation and he’s catching the ball. … The guys like him. Carson [Wentz] [and] The quarterbacks like throwing the ball to him. “
Here’s the thing to remember, though. Top receiver Terry McLaurin has been absent from OTAs while leveraging a new contract. Washington lacks depth behind McLaurin, so the rookie has every opportunity to serve as the team’s go-to receiver. That will change when and if McLaurin returns to the lineup
We’re also talking about OTAs, where pads and contacts aren’t present. Dotson will have a tougher time creating space on the playing field than passing drills.
This is not to say that Dotson will not be an early contributor. He’s a pro-ready receiver who can complement a quality. However, the Commanders seem to be talking up a more high-end role player than describing an immediate star.
The passing attack may go through Dotson right now, but this is not going to be the case in the fall.
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The New York Giants are widely expected to have Week 1 starters in first-round picks Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux.
According to Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com, the Giants may also be an early starter in rookie fourth-round tight end Daniel Bellinger:
“Thursday, Bellinger got most of the reps with the first-team offense ahead of veterans Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins, and he’s been a favorite target of Jones’ OTAs throughout. Where some rookies have been getting first-team reps in part because of injuries to others — including [safety Dane] Belton — both [Ricky] Seals-Jones and [Jordan] Akins are healthy and practicing. “
It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Bellinger start over Seals-Jones and Akins come Week 1. While the rookie doesn’t benefit from a lofty draft status, he’s not facing elite competition either.
Seals-Jones and Akins have been serviceable pass-catching pros, but neither has topped 425 receiving yards in a season. Both are playing on one-year deals too, which means neither is currently viewed as a long-term piece of offense.
While Bellinger will still have to win the starting job in training camp and the preseason, there is every reason to believe that he’ll be given the opportunity to do so.