Every NFL Team’s Most Intriguing Project Player

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Every NFL Team’s Most Intriguing Project Player

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Some players waste no time making waves in the NFL. They burst through holes from the moment they hit the field, like Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, or immediately make an impact on defense like Marshon Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints.

    However, other players take time to adjust. For every Lattimore who shines early at cornerback, there are 10 who don’t. Others are at positions with steep learning curves, are later-round developmental picks or enter the league without clearly defined roles.

    Welcome to life as a project player.

    There’s the quarterback who needs seasoning if he’s going to succeed. The edge-rusher from a tiny college who’s making a huge jump in the caliber of opposition. The outside linebacker who’s attempting to do something unprecedented in the modern NFL.

    Some might play substantial snaps in 2018. Others might even start. And odds are good that not all of the players listed in this piece will realize the potential that make them such interesting prospects to begin with.

    But every team has a project player worth watching as we move into exhibition season.

       

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    You might have expected to see Josh Rosen here. But it’s no more surprising to see him do well early in camp than it will be when Sam Bradford inevitably gets hurt. Rosen’s going to play as a rookie. That’s not in question.

    What has been since 2016 is whether the Cardinals have anything in defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.

    When the esteemed Mike Tanier penned this piece a year ago at Bleacher Report, he picked Nkemdiche for the Cards. The immensely talented defensive lineman just hadn’t been able to put it together on the field.

    Eleven tackles and no sacks (in 12 games) later, here we are again.

    Hope springs eternal in the desert, and when the Cardinals announced Al Holcomb as their new defensive coordinator in January, Holcomb told Bob McManaman of AZ Central that he thinks he can coax Nkemdiche’s gifts onto the playing field.

    “From the little bit of film I’ve observed and watched, he obviously at times jumps off the tape,” he said. “He’s got some ability. … And as a coaching staff, we have to try to do the best thing that we can to get the most out of him and continue to develop his talents and get him on the field. That’s why we’re here.”

    Two years into his NFL career, Nkemdiche, who’s entering his age-24 season, has 12 combined tackles and zero sacks.

    That’s not much of a return for the 29th overall pick.

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Calling Atlanta Falcons edge-rusher Takkarist McKinley a “project” might be pushing it. The 2017 first-round pick had six sacks as a rookie.

    But in many respects, all edge-rushers are works in progress early in their careers. Most were just faster and stronger than the offensive linemen they faced in college. Once they hit the pros, the learning curve steepens. Technique isn’t a luxury…it’s a requirement.

    Willie McGinest of NFL.com even tabbed McKinley as a potential breakout star in 2018—provided the athletic wonder improves his repertoire of pass-rushing moves.

    “If he does incorporate new moves to his game, which already includes impressive explosiveness and effort, McKinley could be one of the best pass-rushers in the league,” McGinest wrote.

    A Falcons team with dreams of a hometown Super Bowl appearance needs McKinley to make that Year 2 jump and be a second consistent threat off the edge opposite Vic Beasley Jr.

    Unfortunately, a training camp injury isn’t making it easier for McKinley to get his develop on.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    No one is questioning that Baltimore Ravens rookie Lamar Jackson is a talented player. The 21-year-old quarterback has a skill set that evokes comparisons to Michael Vick: elusiveness to spare and a cannon for an arm.

    But Jackson’s still a project player. Touch throws, reading defenses and working through his progressions are all concepts he needs to work on if he’s to build on the success he had at the University of Louisville.

    However, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told David Ginsburg of the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports) that Jackson has been impressive in the early going.

    “I’ll tell you what, Lamar’s done just an outstanding job,” Mornhinweg said recently. “Everybody in this league has some uncommon tools, and he certainly does. You can see on the practice field. He’s way ahead of the curve now.”

    The Ravens are taking on the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday evening at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, and Jackson is likely to see significant playing time. It won’t take long to get a feel for where he is in his development.

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    “Thank heavens for Nathan Peterman” is not a sentence one expects to type, well, ever.

    But as Peterman has shone in his second NFL offseason, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, it has taken some pressure off rookie Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.

    Once training camp got underway last week, however, it was Allen’s turn to show what he had. And per Justin DiLoro of USA Today‘s Bills Wire, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll likes what he’s seen so far.

    “[Allen’s] just a hardworking guy like I’ve talked about in the spring. He’s professional, he learns every day, he does his best not to make the same mistake twice. He’s got a good rapport with the players, and that’s what you need to have at quarterback,” Daboll said.

    The Bills will be doing something of a tightwire act this year. Allen had some accuracy issues at the University of Wyoming, and with Peterman and AJ McCarron in town, Buffalo doesn’t need to rush the rookie into action.

    On the other hand, the team didn’t trade up to select Allen seventh overall to sit him if he’s ready. He’s the future under center for the Bills.

    They hope.

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    At the University of Tennessee, Rashaan Gaulden was mainly a nickel cornerback. But from the moment the Carolina Panthers took him with the 85th overall pick in the 2018 draft, they’ve made no secret of their desire to move the 6’0″, 200-pounder to safety.

    Per Stephen Igoe of 247Sports, head coach Ron Rivera is pleased with the transition so far.

    “Gaulden has been great,” Rivera said Sunday. “He started a little bit slow during OTAs and minicamp, but probably the last five practices—the last two OTAs and the three minicamps—he just really stepped up and flashed. Every day he made a play that made you go: ‘He’s getting it. He’s learning it.'”

    There have been bumps in the road (laying out teammate Jarius Wright on the practice field, per Igoe, is a big-time no-no), but given the state of the Panthers’ safeties, if Gaulden continues to be a quick study, he could be much more than just a project making a position switch.

    He could be a first-year starter.

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    Nam Huh/Associated Press

    Adam Shaheen is a big-time talent from a tiny school—the massive 6’5″, 270-pound tight end played college ball at Ashland University.

    The Chicago Bears selected Shaheen in the second round in 2017, and while he found the end zone three times as a rookie, he had a relatively quiet season—just 12 catches for 127 yards in 13 games.

    Given the steep jump in talent from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (seriously) to the NFC North, it’s hardly surprising that Shaheen struggled to put up big numbers. But general manager Ryan Pace told Chris Emma of 670 The Score that he expects a big jump in production in 2018.

    “Just his size, his route running for a guy that’s that big, his catching radius, his ability to go up and get the ball in tight coverage—those are all attractive traits,” Pace said. “Again, he’s still a young player from a relatively small school we still feel has upside and is still growing.”

    Trey Burton is the starter at tight end in Chicago, but second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could surely use a huge target in the red zone.

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is straddling the line between project and reject at this point.

    In 2016, the Bengals tried flipping him to right tackle. It was a disaster, and Ogbuehi said his turnstile impression was due to the left side being his natural position (he played there at Texas A&M).

    After Andrew Whitworth left in free agency last year, the Bengals tried moving Ogbuehi back to Andy Dalton‘s blind side. He was once again a matador.

    Now, headed into his contract year after Cincinnati declined his fifth-year option, Ogbuehi is shifting to right tackle under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. The 26-year-old told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that Pollack’s techniques might make the right side a better fit.

    “With this technique, the right side is kind of better for me, using the hands more,” Ogbuehi said. “With the old technique, I think the left was a little bit [better].”

    What would be better: not to see Dalton running for his life four nanoseconds after snapping the ball.

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    John Cordes/Associated Press

    You might be expecting to see quarterback Baker Mayfield here. But even if it’s fair to call Mayfield a “project,” there’s a 2017 first-round pick who is even more interesting.

    Or depressing—whatever.

    A year ago, safety Jabrill Peppers, now 22, didn’t have a set position. Would the Browns put him at linebacker? Move him all over the formation?

    Eventually, the team settled on lining him up at free safety. In his own words, here’s how that went, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:

    “My mindset is I don’t know that [version of myself] last year. I can hardly watch tape of myself from last year. So this year, I don’t care what I’ve got to do, I’m proving to everybody, especially to myself, what I’ve got to offer and what I can do ’cause last year that’s not what I did. So especially after my performance last year, no way I came into it thinking they were just about to say, ‘Here [is your starting job].'”

    Now, Peppers finds himself locked in a battle with Derrick Kindred to start at strong safety, per Ulrich. And while it’s still early, his career is at a crossroads.

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    This one was a tough call. The Dallas Cowboys have at least one interesting project player on each side of the ball.

    But with all due respect to the recently reinstated Randy Gregory, he wasn’t an eighth overall pick.

    He also hasn’t earned over $35 million during his career.

    Tavon Austin has. What the 28-year-old hasn’t done is come close to realizing the potential the then-St. Louis Rams saw in him in 2013. He hasn’t had any 1,000-yard receiving seasons—or even a year with 1,000 total yards.

    Now, Austin is trying to resurrect his career. The Cowboys experimented with him in the backfield in OTAs, but he told the Dallas Morning News he’s back at receiver in training camp.

    “To be honest,” Austin said, “coach’s been figuring out some ways to get me the ball. I’m going back to receiver again, so that’s the good thing.”

    The Cowboys desperately need a receiver to make a mark in 2018, and to be fair, Austin’s occasionally shown he can be dangerous in the open field.

    He just hasn’t been able to do damage consistently.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos quarterback Chad Kelly is perhaps the most relevant “Mr. Irrelevant” in recent memory—a star quarterback at Ole Miss whose draft stock was torpedoed by injuries and off-field missteps.

    Now, as Kelly enters his second season, he’s battling Paxton Lynch for the right to back up Case Keenum. The 24-year-old told Rod Mackey of 9News in Denver that he’s doing everything in his power to give Lynch (a 2016 first-round pick) a run for his money.

    “I’m focused on myself trying to get better,” Kelly said. “That’s just leading my team down the field every single day. Even in the classroom, you have to get better. It’s not just on the football field. You have to know your reads inside and out and come to work every day prepared.”

    Per Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan, Kelly hasn’t gotten many (if any) second-team reps in training camp. But with Lynch making the same mistakes that have plagued his career to date, the door is cracked for Kelly to slide past him in the preseason.

    That would leave the last pick in the 2017 draft one injury from starting under center.

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    In the NFL, some projects (and position switches) are more involved than others.

    Moving from, say, cornerback to safety is one thing. Moving from linebacker to fullback is another.

    Journeyman Nick Bellore is attempting to pull off the latter with the Detroit Lions. He spoke with Chris Burke of The Athletic about its challenges.

    “It’s not the easiest transition,” Bellore said. “I’m learning, day by day, offensive terminology and all that stuff, so it takes time. But I’ve got great coaches, and they’re kind of teaching me and helping me along the way.”

    However, this isn’t the first time a player has attempted this switch. In 2011, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained why moving a linebacker to fullback isn’t as strange as it sounds, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:

    “It’s different, but similar to linebackers. Linebackers, you kind of have to see the hole, like a [running] back does. You don’t want to fill where your guys are, you want to fill where they’re not and fill in the space, and that’s the same space that running back’s seeing. When you get on the other side of the ball and you’re a running back, you’re sort of seeing that same space that you would see as a linebacker—that’s where you want to go.”

    Anything to get Detroit’s league-worst running game in 2017 out of the basement.     

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Before the 2018 draft, here’s what Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had to say about Kendall Donnerson, a gifted but equally raw linebacker from Southeast Missouri State.

    “Donnerson’s tape is nowhere near draftable in terms of his skill set,” Zierlein wrote, “but from an athletic standpoint, his testing numbers are beyond rare for his size. … At 250 pounds, he posted a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical, 10’11” broad jump and 7.03 three-cone [drill].”

    Those testing numbers alone make Donnerson an interesting project—enough that the Packers rolled the dice on him late on Day 3.

    But recent events in Titletown ramped up the intrigue.

    With starting inside linebacker Jake Ryan out for the season with a torn ACL, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Packers have a hole in the middle of the defense. And Donnerson, along with fellow rookie Oren Burks, could see a lot more playing time earlier than many expected—assuming that the seventh-rounder is the quickest study in training camp.

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    Yes, despite eight seasons and over 100 starts as a better-than-average cornerback, Kareem Jackson is a project.

    You see, he isn’t a cornerback anymore. With starter Andre Hal out indefinitely while he receives treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma, Jackson is making the switch to safety for the Houston Texans in 2018.

    According to Larry Ramirez of KSAT, Jackson said he’s up to the challenge:

    “It’s a challenge, but for me, I like to think of myself as being a smart player. Instead of getting calls, you have to give the calls. You have to get guys lined up. You have to give the calls to the corner, the linebacker, whoever’s on your side of the field. You have to get the guys lined up. Just seeing, being there, being able to see the whole field, the whole formation and stuff like that. That’s definitely one of the biggest changes.”

    Early returns have been promising, per Ramirez, but with rookie Justin Reid nipping at his heels, Jackson has a legitimate camp battle on his hands if he wants the top spot at his new position.

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    It hasn’t been long since reports were circulating that John Simon could be on the roster bubble for the Indianapolis Colts. It’s not that he can’t play—he was one of the better performers on a bad Colts defense in 2017.

    But after Simon spent five seasons for three teams as an outside linebacker, Indianapolis is tasking him with something he hasn’t done since his days at Ohio State: playing defensive end.

    Reports of OTA struggles turned a bit once the pads went on at training camp. According to Kevin Hickey of USA Today‘s Colts Wire, new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus likes what he’s seen so far.

    “With the limited time I’ve seen [Simon] with the pads on, his effort is really good, and I think he’s a smart player,” Eberflus said Saturday. “So I think that’s a good foundation to start.”

    Per Michael Marot of the Associated Press (via the Virginian-Pilot), Simon said playing up front is coming back to him.

    “When you’re at linebacker, you think a lot more,” Simon said. “You have to communicate a lot more, and your vision has to open up a little bit. Here, with your hand in the dirt, it’s a little more attack-oriented. Don’t worry so much about what they’re doing, just get upfield and be disruptive.”

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Jacksonville Jaguars possess arguably the NFL’s best defense. Their unit is stacked with talent at all three levels.

    And yet, as Mike Kaye reported for First Coast News, the Jaguars have a seventh-round rookie starting at strong-side linebacker in training camp.

    That player is Leon Jacobs.

    His pedigree isn’t in question—he started at the same “Sam” position in 2017 for the University of Wisconsin, a school that’s been known to occasionally crank out NFL talent at linebacker.

    Jacobs’ athleticism also isn’t up for debate. He tested well at the scouting combine, displaying the strength to fight through blocks with 26 bench-press reps and showing off 4.48-second wheels in the 40-yard dash.

    However, his instincts, technique and pursuit angles are…let’s go with unrefined. All the speed in the world does little good if a linebacker runs past the action or gets caught out of position in coverage with regularity.

    That Jacobs is already running with the starters, though, speaks to how much potential the 22-year-old rookie has.

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    There’s a saying in the NFL: “You can’t coach speed.”

    As Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub told the team’s website (via Kirk Larrabee of 247Sports), sixth-round rookie cornerback Tremon Smith has boatloads of it:

    “He’s got great speed. He’s a 4.3 guy, legit. He’s fast. He’s not as fast as Tyreek [Hill]—that’s a whole other level. But he’s very, very fast—he’s probably our second-fastest player. You see some talent. He didn’t do it a lot in college, but you see bursts. You don’t have to see a lot of clips to see talent. We noticed that, and the scouts did a good job of evaluating this guy and bringing him in. We’re glad we got him in the sixth round.”

    Smith has drawn rave reviews in training camp for those wheels, especially in the return game. But the 6’0″, 190-pounder could be much more for a team that’s as unsettled as any at cornerback.

    It’s going to be a tall task, though. Defending receivers in the Southland Conference and taking on Los Angeles Chargers wideout Keenan Allen and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas is a bit different.

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Third-year tight end Braedon Bowman has already earned the title of journeyman. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, he has also seen time with the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Chargers.

    The 6’3″, 240-pounder from the University of South Alabama hasn’t caught a pass in an NFL game that counts. In fact, he hasn’t played in a regular-season game since that first season in the Big Apple.

    That could change in 2018, as injuries have already hit the Chargers hard at his position. Per the team’s website, tight ends coach Rip Scherer thinks Bowman can rise to the occasion if called upon:

    “There’s not much tape on Braedon, but I know that people at other places he has been have thought highly of him and his potential. But, he did show flashes this spring of being a guy who can potentially contribute and be someone we can rely on in the passing game. Also, someone who can be effective in the run game because you can’t just be a one-dimensional player at this position in our offense. You have to be able to block. You have to be able to protect. You have to be able to be a pass receiver.”

    The Chargers desperately (to put it mildly) need one of their tight ends to answer the bell. And this is probably Bowman’s best chance at meaningful playing time in the NFL.

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    On some level, it might seem wrong to call Cory Littleton a “project.” He’s seen playing time in all 32 regular-season games of his NFL career and even made four starts for the NFC West champions in 2017.

    But Littleton is making a huge switch in 2018. He will no longer be depth at the linebacker position and a core special teams contributor. The 24-year-old is the leading contender to open the season as the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive play-caller.

    Over the past two seasons, Littleton has done what every project player needs in order to succeed: He’s steadily improved. According to Lindsey Thiry of ESPN, Littleton’s work ethic is what put him in position to assume such an important role.

    “Cory has unbelievable awareness and instincts,” linebackers coach Joe Barry said. “The things that Cory has been able to work on, and as a coach you can coach a player into doing things better, you can get him to use his hands better, you can get him to get in the weight room and get bigger, fast and stronger … he’s worked on those things.”

    An undrafted free agent leading a star-studded Rams defense should serve as an example of what project players can accomplish when it all comes together.

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    It’s easy to see why Quentin Poling wasn’t selected until the final round of the 2018 NFL draft. He’s a short linebacker from a smaller school.

    But there are also a couple of reasons the 6’1″ Ohio University alum’s new home in Miami is cause for optimism.

    For starters, there’s Poling’s athletic potential. He might not have been invited to Indianapolis, but as Lance Zierlein reported for NFL.com, his testing numbers dropped jaws regardless of venue.

    “[Poling] posted elite athletic testing numbers on par with the best LB testing at the combine,” Zierlein wrote. “[He] ran a 4.58 with a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot-7 broad jump.”

    There’s also the matter of an unsettled linebacker corps in Miami. Raekwon McMillan is coming off a serious knee injury, Jerome Baker’s a rookie himself and Kiko Alonso is, well, Kiko Alonso.

    If Poling can put that athletic skill together with the instincts he showed in Athens, Miami’s linebackers might be stronger than first thought.

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Sometimes, “project” players are intriguing because of unrealized talent.

    That’s the case with Minnesota Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell. In 2016, Treadwell was the fourth and final receiver taken in the first round—a lanky, 6’2″, 215-pounder the Vikings hoped would become their primary outside threat.

    Instead, Treadwell’s done next to nothing—grabbing 21 catches for 215 yards. His next NFL touchdown will be his first. And Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have emerged as the no-doubt top two in the Twin Cities.

    However, per the team’s Twitter feed, new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t ready to join those labeling Treadwell a bust.

    “He had a great OTAs and minicamp, and he’s off to a great start at training camp,” Cousins said. “I’m excited to see what he grows into this year. He’s getting a lot of reps and a lot of looks.”

    The Vikings don’t “need” another passing-game weapon.

    But it wouldn’t hurt.

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    Even if Derek Rivers didn’t tear his ACL in training camp last year, the 24-year-old edge-rusher likely wouldn’t have made a huge rookie dent. That’s hard to do for a player at his position—doubly so for edge-rushers who played at an FCS school such as Youngstown State.

    But there’s a reason Rivers was a third-round pick by the (then) Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. And a reason head coach Bill Belichick talked up Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. during a recent interview with SiriusXM Radio.

    “Nobody works harder than Deatrich and Derek,” Belichick said (via Doug Kyed of NESN.com). “Those two kids are here all the time. They’re the first ones in and the last ones out. They’re extremely diligent, hard workers in the weight room, in the classroom (and) on the field. I think they’ll both make a good jump this year.”

    Rivers has all the physical tools NFL teams look for in pass-rushers—whether it’s the strength to fight through blocks or the agility to get around them.

    If he’s healthy and takes the step forward Darth Hoodie expects, big things could be in store in 2018.

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    It’s not often a playoff team trades up in the first round of the NFL draft to select a player who likely won’t see a ton of playing time as a rookie.

    But that’s exactly what the New Orleans Saints did when they dealt two first-rounders for the right to take small-school edge-rusher Marcus Davenport from the University of Texas-San Antonio.

    To his credit, Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen told Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune that Davenport’s been a quick study.

    “He’s a quick learner, and he’s picking it up,” Nielsen said.

    But young players often struggle at edge-rusher. Many feature one move that worked in college that doesn’t in the pros. They need time to refine their technique and repertoire. And there’s a bit of a jump in competition between Conference USA and the NFC South.

    In Alex Okafor, the Saints have a short-term fix opposite Cameron Jordan, so there’s no need to rush Davenport.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Cody Latimer’s just about out of time as a project in the NFL.

    A favorite of the draft community and second-round pick in 2014, Latimer struggled through four forgettable seasons with the Denver Broncos while putting up 35 catches for 445 yards and three touchdowns.

    Total.

    However, the mixture of speed and size that made the 6’2″, 215-pound Latimer a draftnik’s favorite is still there. And per Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, Latimer’s been putting it to good use at New York Giants training camp:

    “Throughout the spring, Latimer showed off consistently reliable hands, with enough speed to potentially blow the cover off a defense. Already a special teams standout, Latimer has a chance to be a steady contributor on offense, particularly in three wide receiver sets with Odell Beckham, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard all on the field together.”

    Much has been made of Beckham’s return to the Giants, but he needs help outside to thrive.

    Latimer could be that help.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    In a perfect world, the New York Jets would have a young edge-rusher who oozes potential—a source of hope that the team’s pass rush isn’t the yawner it appears to be.

    However, this is not a perfect world. If that player’s on New York’s roster, then he doesn’t jump out.

    But the Jets have a young cornerback who might be able to spare the team the weekly misery that is Buster Skrine’s torching in the slot.

    Mind you, it’s not a sure bet that sixth-round rookie Parry Nickerson has the chops to beat the veteran—in camp or later this season. At 5’10” and 182 pounds, he’s undersized, and like most young defensive backs, his footwork and technique in coverage can be inconsistent.

    But Nickerson’s a hard-nosed player with speed to burn (4.32 40 at the combine). He has upside Skrine can’t match.

    It’s just a matter of realizing it.

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Marcell Ateman looks the part of an NFL receiver at 6’4″ and 216 pounds. He was productive a year ago at Oklahoma State, hauling in 59 passes for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns. And while Ateman’s 4.62 40 time at the combine didn’t show it, tape of his flying past cornerbacks on go routes denotes his speed isn’t an issue.

    What is an issue, and the reason Ateman lasted into the seventh round of this year’s draft, is go routes were just about it for him in college. He took off in a straight line and then went up for the football.

    The NFL is a little more complicated.

    Still, the Oakland Raiders depth chart at wide receiver gets unsettled quickly. There’s Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant and…question marks galore.

    And that’s if Bryant isn’t suspended again.

    There’s opportunity for Ateman to carve out an early receiving role—but he’ll have to show he can do more than run in a straight line to seize it.

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    Jordan Mailata is a big man. At 6’8″ and 346 pounds, he’s the largest player on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp roster.

    However, Mailata is also admittedly the longest of long shots. You see, his experience playing American football is…well, he didn’t have any until recently.

    Selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft, Mailata made a name for himself as a key contributor for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

    Unless you’re a fan of the National Rugby League in Austraila, that probably doesn’t ring a bell.

    The Eagles are attempting to convert Mailata to offensive tackle, but he admitted to Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia shortly after camp started that it’s been an uphill climb.

    “It’s way different than OTAs,” Mailata said. “There’s more intensity here; the intensity has risen so much, especially with the heat in our faces all the time.”

    Odds are good it won’t work out, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless.

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    There was little question that 20-year-old linebacker Tremaine Edmunds would be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft. But eyebrows went up when the Pittsburgh Steelers made his older brother, Terrell, 21, the 28th pick.

    The Steelers have Super Bowl aspirations and a pair of veteran safeties in Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis. However, they also have a massive hole at linebacker because of Ryan Shazier’s absence—a hole some have speculated Edmunds could be asked to fill…at least in sub-packages.

    As Joe Rutter reported for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Edmunds is ready to do whatever his team needs.

    “Wherever they throw me, that’s where I’m going to end up,” Edmunds said. “Throughout camp, we’ll figure out what is going on. In college, that’s how it was, trying to learn everything and being out there more. If you know what everybody else has been doing, it helps everything else go smoothly.”

    Of course, there’s “ready” to play in the NFL and ready to play in the NFL.

    And as we’ve seen time and again, a Round 1 draft slot doesn’t guarantee the latter.

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, Tarvarius Moore’s measurables were as good as any safety’s in this year’s class. Moore ran a verified 4.32-second 40-yard dash twice at his pro day at 6’2″ and 190 pounds with a 38.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump. He also possesses 33-inch arms.

    All the better to high-point the football with.

    That Moore wasn’t invited to the scouting combine was a mystery. Why he fell to Round 3? Not so much. With just one full year as a starter at Southern Miss, he’s long on potential but short on experience.

    That said, the window’s open for Moore to make a quick impression on his new team. Free safety is arguably the weakest spot on the San Francisco 49ers defense, and second-year pro Adrian Colbert’s grip on the starting role is far from ironclad.

    Colbert’s a fine player, but Moore’s got a much higher athletic ceiling. How quickly he realizes that ceiling (assuming he does) will determine when the project becomes a producer.

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Like there was any chance Shaquem Griffin wouldn’t be on this list.

    Griffin was an accomplished outside linebacker for an undefeated UCF team in 2017. He was also the star of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, putting on a show that included a 4.38-second 40-yard dash—the fastest by a linebacker since 2003.

    Given that, some might be surprised Griffin is a “project” player. Like all young linebackers, Griffin has a lot to learn as he makes the jump to the NFL. After all, getting caught out of position in college isn’t a big deal for someone as quick as Griffin. But even with his wheels, if he misses his spot in the NFL, it’s over. The offensive player is past him. Per Zierlein, broken tackles were an issue last year as well.

    Griffin is not only the most intriguing player in Seahawks camp because of his talent, but he’s also trying do something that’s never been done: play linebacker at the game’s highest level with one hand after losing his right one at age four because of amniotic band syndrome.

    Griffin was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year as a redshirt junior in 2016. In his final collegiate game, he was named the Peach Bowl’s defensive MVP in UCF’s upset of Auburn.

    Now the fifth-round pick is attempting to make an impact at football’s highest level. Show that he belongs on the field with the likes of KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner. Perhaps even make one of those veterans expendable for a Seahawks team that is transitioning on defense.

    Per the Associated Press (via USA Today), all Griffin wants is a chance.

    “It’s not a disability until you make it one,” he said.

    There’s still a ways to go, but so far, Griffin’s making the most of that chance in camp.

    Apparently, the young man has a knack for creating turnoverswith regularity.

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Alex Cappa was a Day 2 pick in the 2018 NFL draft in no small part because he’s a 6’6″, 305-pound mauler capable of playing up and down the offensive line and was dominant in college.

    There’s one caveat, though. It’s a whopper, too: Cappa was dominant at Humboldt State against Division II opponents.

    To say he’ll face an uptick in competition is an understatement, but that didn’t stop Casey Phillips of the team’s website from singling him out as a player to watch in training camp.

    “Cappa’s college film shows him absolutely manhandling defensive linemen,” he wrote. “We will get to see him against a completely rebuilt NFL defensive line and test his football IQ as he tries to learn multiple positions in a new, bigger playbook.”

    If Cappa can improve his technique while keeping his mean streak, he has the potential to be at least a “chesspiece” capable of filling in at multiple spots—if not a surprise starter.

    A middle-of-the-pack Tampa Bay Buccaneers O-line could use either. Both, even.

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    As John Glennon reported for the Tennessee Titans’ official site, second-year tight end Jonnu Smith was quick to offer high praise for veteran teammate Delanie Walker.

    “I think I was in middle school or something like that when (Walker) came into the league,” Smith said. “But Father Time ain’t catching up to him. You’ve got to give it to him. He takes care of his body. Not only that, he’s performing at a high level.”

    The Titans apparently agree with him, since they just extended Walker’s contract for two seasons.

    But simply because the team committed more cabbage to the 33-year-old Walker doesn’t mean Smith’s necessarily fallen out of favor.

    Tennessee’s playing the long game.

    Smith’s the sort of field-stretching vertical threat at tight end that NFL franchises love. But he’s not close to being a finished product—as a route-runner or a blocker.

    The talent’s there. Old Man Delanie just affords the Titans the luxury of waiting for Smith’s technique to catch up.

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Admittedly, Josh Doctson wasn’t the most polished wide receiver when he came out of TCU in 2016. But by the beginning of his third NFL season, the Washington Redskins likely expected the 6’2″, 202-pounder to be their No. 1 target.

    Instead, they’ve received a rookie year lost to injuries and 37 total catches.

    According to Matthew Paras of the Washington Times, Doctson’s turned heads with regularity in training camp. Head coach Jay Gruden also defended Doctson’s pedestrian NFL production:

    “He’s been a great option for us; we just haven’t gotten many opportunities to him for whatever reason, you know, so it’s not totally his fault that he hasn’t been as productive as people anticipate. Play-calling, sometimes the quarterback went elsewhere. It just so happens that that’s what the play design was. But we’re hoping that he does get more opportunities, that’s the big thing.”

    The Redskins need a wide receiver to become their top threat outside and a complement to Jamison Crowder. They need Doctson to fulfill his potential.

    What the team does not need is the shoulder injury that Doctson suffered Thursday.

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