Rookie Camp: Early Signs Of Successful Draft

At first glance, evaluating players in their helmets and shorts might seem a bit futile. In fact, most football writers will scoff at the notion that you can tell anything about a player from watching drills at rookie camp. But sometimes, all it takes is knowing what you need to look for.

If each position didn't have a few specific attributes that could be used to measure a player's ability, then there wouldn't be a need for the NFL combine. Speed, leverage, instincts and coordination are evident in every player regardless of whether he's wearing pads or not. Fortunately for Chiefs fans, there were plenty of rookies this year that graded high in a lot of those areas.

The Evaluations

DE Tamba Hali – Tamba Hali had a sensational weekend of practices and he "looked the part" for a first-round pick. His film doesn't do him justice and he's better than advertised when you see him in person.

Right now the strongest part of Hali's game is his initial burst. In fact, he appears to have the quickest first step of all the Chiefs defensive linemen, including Jared Allen and Carlos Hall. This was encouraging to see up close, because sometimes it's difficult to judge "takeoff" from video.

Hali's amazing balance, his ability to use his hands to defeat blocks, and of course his relentless motor also stood out. Outside of Bernard Pollard, Hali was clearly in a class of his own when compared to the other rookies.

Hali's willingness to take on a leadership role with the defensive linemen was just as impressive as his physical skills. It's not good enough for Hali to elevate his own game. He wants the players around him to elevate their games as well. He could often be heard encouraging his teammates through drills as if he were a coach.

"Keep working Alex, keep going Alex, come on, keep working Alex," he shouted to teammate Alex Guerrero during pass rush drills. Even the veterans weren't immune to Hali's involvement. "Widen your stance Junior, you're too narrow" he yelled out to Junior Siavii during a drill on Friday.

This type of vocal leadership is something I've never seen out of anyone on the Chiefs roster, let alone a rookie. The only other player I know of in the entire NFL that does this sort of thing is Ray Lewis, and the Chiefs have been in dire need of this sort of player for a very long time.

S Bernard Pollard – Out of all the players at mini-camp, no one surprised me more than second-round pick Bernard Pollard. It wasn't that I thought Pollard couldn't play safety. I just didn't expect him to flash coverage skills.

Pollard can hit and tackle. That's something you'll never have to worry about with this kid. Like most large strong safeties, however, you would expect Pollard to be a liability in coverage. From what I saw out of him this weekend, that's not the case.

I saw him tested on the corner route, the deep out, the post and a few more downfield routes. Each time, Pollard maintained position and made the play. If he can do the same thing against the veterans next weekend, he'll have a serious chance of pushing his way into the starting lineup by the middle of training camp.

QB Brodie Croyle– Although it was only mini-camp, Croyle still impressed over weekend. He had a nice blend of touch and power with command over all the throws the coaches asked him to make.

His mechanics are solid and he appears to be making the correlation between the playbook at Alabama and the playbook in Kansas City.

Things will be more challenging for Croyle once the Chiefs start OTAs, but he looks better than any of the quarterbacks in mini-camp last year.

G Tre Stallings – Stallings was another mini-camp surprise, and for a player that went as late as he did in the draft he could turn out to be quite a find.

Although he played tackle in college, the Chiefs have moved him inside to right guard. His stances, footwork and pad height were all impressive, and he has the requisite downfield quickness the Chiefs look for.

Without full pads and contact it is hard to judge a lineman any further, but on more than one occasion he made me say "wow, who's that guy?" as I reached for my roster.

S Jarrad Page – Page started mini-camp a little slow, but by Saturday's afternoon practice he was turning heads. His instincts were what I would call above average and he can open his hips exceptionally well for a second-day draft pick.

Like his teammate Pollard, Page was surprisingly adept in his coverage ability. Although the Chiefs kept it simple by only running three different coverages, both safeties exceeded my expectations.

CB Marcus Maxey – Maxey didn't perform quite as well as I expected him to. He struggled in a variety of drills. A lot of what the Chiefs were asking him to do may have been a bit foreign to him. This surprised me for a kid who came out of Miami.

With that said, I'm not going to pass final judgment on him. The vast majority of rookies find themselves in the same situation. Usually there is a learning curve, and this is a new job for all of these rookies.

Maxey came across in conversation as a dedicated player who is willing to work hard to become better. If that holds true, I would expect him to be competing for a roster spot by the time training camp ends.

DT Alex Guerrero – Guerrero was the easiest player to spot on the defensive line. He's almost as wide as he is tall. At 6'1" he has the height I like in a defensive tackle, because you never have to worry about him playing too high. He has a thick lower body with powerful legs and quick feet.

Guerrero also displayed tremendous balance and agility for a 300-pound player. It's unusual to find an un-drafted defensive tackle with his skillset.

As with Tre Stallings above, this is about as far as I can grade him without seeing him in pads, but I really like what I've seen so far. Kris Griffin was last year's sleeper on defense. This year it's Guerrero.

RB Derrick Ross – Most of the media at practice had no idea who #39 was. The Chiefs' PR staff could only identify him as a "tryout player." They are not allowed to provide the names of players without contracts, so no one knew who Derrick Ross was for the first day and a half.

No other running back showed as much explosion or elusiveness as Ross. His ability to run outside and then cut it back up to the open spot reminded me a little of Priest Holmes, but he looked faster than Holmes.

From an athletic standpoint, Ross looks like he has a lot of big-play potential. He's someone I'll be watching very closely when the rookies practice with the rest of the team at the end of the week.

WR Jeff Webb – Webb was a pass-catching machine for most of the weekend, and was well worth the sixth-round selection the Chiefs used on him.

I was continually impressed by how fluid Webb was for a player his size. Most players with his frame run a little choppy.

Webb also did a nice job of catching the ball with his hands instead of his body. He and second-year receiver Craphonso Thorpe displayed this ability repeatedly. If he can keep building on what he did this weekend he has a very solid chance of sticking on the 53-man roster.

Linebackers William Kershaw, Nick Reid, and Brandon Gullory – Going into camp I thought Nick Reid would be the dominant player at his position and emerge as the clear leader for a shot at a roster spot. As it turns out, Kershaw and Gullory are a lot better than I expected, so if the Chiefs carry another linebacker it may come down to a tough decision. All three linebackers did pretty well but no one set himself apart.

FB Jake Slaughter – I liked Slaughter a lot at Auburn, but the fullback position is impossible to grade without pads on. We'll have to revisit him in August.

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