While the prolonged holdout of top pick Bryant McKinnie has far and away been the biggest disappointment thus far, this year's rookie crop as a whole looks pretty good based on the early returns. Every draft pick could stick with the club one way or another, and there might be as many as six undrafted free agents that will make it.
OT Bryant McKinnie (D1) — Hasn't busted a grape yet, but once the contract squabble ends he will quickly become a fixture at left tackle. Be patient. Leave the business stuff to the bean counters and enjoy the players that are on the field. (Just make sure you have a current program, because roughly 50 percent of the roster is new faces since last season.)
LB Raonall Smith (D2) — Everyone knew he was a tremendous physical specimen. The surprise has been his ability to pick things up so quickly. His instincts and reactions for the pro game have come along much quicker than anyone expected. Penciled in as the opening-day starter at weakside linebacker, head coach Mike Tice has already called him the best linebacker on the team. Now if he can just avoid the injuries that limited his playing time thus far.
SS Willie Offord (D3) — He is still learning the system and where he needs to be on the field, but he has wonderful tools to work with, and has shown enough to be the first among the rookies to formally move into a starting job.
OG Ed Ta'amu (D4a) — Still needs some refinement and has been held back some by injuries, but he's a big, tough, strong, physical mauler who looks like the eventual successor to Dave Dixon at right guard.
CB Brian Williams (D4b) — Stood out early, then was slowed by a hamstring injury. Came back strong and really stood out in his first extensive preseason action. Leveled off a bit when pitted against first-team competition but looks and plays like a veteran on the field and figures to earn a role in the rotation even as a rookie. Long term, he could still end up inside at free safety, but he's a good fit for Willie Shaw's defensive scheme as a corner.
LB Nick Rogers (D6) — Another promising prospect with a very good run-hit ratio. He's been very productive, despite making a difficult transition from defensive end in college to middle linebacker in the pros. Will help on special teams and push for playing time as a rookie. In the long run, he has the look of a starting-caliber player.
OL Chad Beasley (D7) — Drafted as a defensive tackle, he was switched to the offensive line midway through training camp when it became clear he would not make it on defense. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tom Beasley, he knows what it takes to play in this league. He could be back as a member of the practice squad.
QB Shaun Hill (FA) — Has had his ups and downs during late-game preseason action but has shown enough for Tice to let both Spergon Wynn and Romaro Miller go. Has above-average physical tools and, of course, a terrific college pedigree.
RB Jeremy Allen (FA) — Looked strong early on but might be squeezed by the numbers game when it comes to the final cut. A former track guy who shows a lot of potential as a size-speed guy and short-yardage back who can do a little bit of everything. A recent shoulder injury might allow for a year on injured reserve to continue his development.
WR Kelly Campbell (FA) — Appears in competition with veteran Sean Dawkins for the No. 5 receiver spot because of injuries to Cedric James and Kenny Clark. If they opt for more experience with Dawkins, Campbell is a very strong practice squad candidate. If they fear losing him through waivers and are comfortable with the veteran presence provided by Randy Moss, Derrick Alexander, D'Wayne Bates and Chris Walsh, he could make the opening-day roster. Campbell is on the small side, but he's a fairly polished and productive receiver with good quickness, speed and some big-play ability.
FS Jack Brewer (FA) — Has really come on the past couple weeks. His continued progress and improvement has moved him from being a practice squad candidate to an opening-day roster occupant. Brewer is a spirited, heady, physical, productive, all-around player whom they paid extra bucks in signing bonus money to bring in as an undrafted free agent. It now appears he was worth it.
FS Kyries Hebert (FA) — The early-camp sensation, Hebert has really leveled off since putting full pads on and seeing live game action. However, he still possesses a lot of upside potential and could earn a spot on the practice squad.
KR-PR-WR Nick Davis (FA) — Tice said last week that Davis was "separating" himself from David Allen in the battle for the punt- and kick-return duties. If he hangs on to win that battle he will also assume the No. 6 receiver spot. Davis is tough, productive and explosive as a return guy and also looks like he will pay the price on kick coverage, as well.
In all, the team's first six picks will make the team, with all showing long-range potential to become starters. In fact, Tice himself is on record saying that he expects five rookies from this year's crop to be starting by season's end. It also looks like they've landed another half-dozen or so keepers among their pool of undrafted rookie free agents this year.
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