With NFL training camp starting, fans will be looking at how the stars and the high draft picks for their favourite team will do this season. What fans often do not look at are potential sleepers that could make a big impact unexpectedly.
Today, we look at the NFC West; a division with both loads of progression and regression.
Taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, guard Dorian Johnson out of Pittsburgh was taken by the Cardinals to add some competition at the guard position.
Johnson provides the Cardinals with immediate impact at the right guard spot. As a former four star recruit, Johnson is an athletic specimen that has upside with his technical skills. Look for Johnson to become a staple player on this offensive line.
Scooby Wright III
Taken in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, linebacker Scooby Wright III out of Arizona is an intriguing player because of his elite instincts, as well as his lingering injury concerns.
Wright III only recorded 2 tackles last season because of injury. In his second year, Wright III will see playing time on special teams, but could see playing time at inside or outside linebacker if injuries occur.
Taken in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, safety Budda Baker out of Washington was taken by Arizona to replace Tony Jefferson who recently departed to Baltimore.
Baker is a stout athlete who can be a centerfielder or an in-the-box safety. His 4.45 4o yard dash time and 15 reps on the bench press shows his all-round athleticism and his leadership is icing on the cake.
Los Angeles Rams
Taken in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper out of South Carolina was taken by the Rams to provide depth at the receiver position.
With Kenny Britt gone to Cleveland, there’s more competition at the wide receiver position. Additions like Cooper Kupp via the draft and Robert Woods via free agency are competition for Cooper, but he’s the only one who has the experience playing within this offense. Look for Cooper to be a bigger part of this Rams offense.
Taken in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, tight end Gerald Everett out of South Alabama was taken by the Rams to compete for the starting tight end role against current starting tight end Tyler Higbee.
Everett is a small school standout who used to be a basketball player, which is turning into a common theme with emerging NFL tight ends. His overall athleticism is elite and his inexperience makes him a raw player his coaches can mould. Watch for Everett to become a reliable target for Jared Goff or Sean Mannion this season.
Formerly of the Buffalo Bills, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman was acquired by the Rams this offseason.
Last season, Robey-Coleman collected 32 tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 7 passes defended. Looking at these stats, Robey-Coleman shows he’s an all-round solid playmaker who can play in the number two or nickel role in any defense. Look for Robey-Coleman to have a bigger role with the Rams this season.
San Francisco 49ers
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, QB C.J. Beathard out of Iowa was taken by San Francisco to compete for the starting QB job.
Many NFL analysts highlight the same pros and cons when it comes to Beathard: he has great athleticism for a quarterback as well as his size, but his decision making and pocket presence must improve in order to succeed at the next level.
With slim competition in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, Beathard can learn from the veterans and eventually succeed them later in this season.
Although I still consider Beathard under the radar for this upcoming season, he is an important part of this team’s future for years to come. Next year’s NFL Draft class is loaded with QB talent, and Beathard’s play will determine whether the 49ers take a QB.
Taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, running back Joe Williams out of Utah was selected by the 49ers to compete for the starting job.
Williams slipped in the draft because of his character concerns and the fact that he retired from college football before coming back shortly after. What makes him an intriguing player to watch this season is his athleticism. In the 40 yard dash, Williams ran an impressive 4.41 and his 14 reps on the bench press show he has some strength to him. Watch for Williams to split carries with Carlos Hyde and eventually start later in the season.
Taken in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the 49ers, linebacker Eli Harold out of Virginia was taken to bolster the pass rush of an aging San Francisco defense. Going into his third season, Harold has the chance to solidify himself as being a premier talent on this defense.
In 2016, Harold started in 13 games and collected 23 tackles, 14 assisted tackles, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Harold took a big leap from becoming a special teamer to a decent contributor to the defense. Look for Harold to have much more production this year.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, wide receiver Amara Darboh out of Michigan was taken by Seattle to add much needed competition at the number two or three position behind Doug Baldwin.
Darboh is a solid overall athlete and has clearly taken the time to perfect his route running and other little nuances in his game. Darboh will compete immediately for meaningful playing time this season.
Going undrafted this year, guard Jordan Roos out of Purdue was acquired by the Seahawks to hopefully add some competition to this shaky offensive line.
Roos is unknown within the football world, but the Seahawks like what they see in him thus far. In an interview with a reporter from USA Today, head coach Pete Carroll said this about Roos:
“Yeah, I really liked Jordan Roos. I thought he looked really good. That was a really important signing for us, we had targeted him through the draft, and we weren’t able to get him, but he looks like he fits right in.”
Look for Roos to make an impact on the interior of this offensive line this upcoming season.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, cornerback Shaquill Griffin out of UCF was selected by the Seahawks to compete for the number two or nickel position behind perennial Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.
Griffin’s elite speed at 4.38 in the 40 yard dash highlight his athleticism, on top of his 17 reps on the bench press. Griffin is a solid tackler who has quality instincts.
Since the departure of Brandon Browner, the Seahawks have yet to fortify the Legion of Boom. Perhaps Griffin can be the piece that makes them an elite unit once again.