A new class of 10 rookie draft picks will arrive at Winter Park Friday morning for the start of a three-day rookie mini-camp. We’ll start the process of guessing which ones will be good, which ones will be bad and which ones we won’t remember in five years.
Funny thing is, we have this new crop to analyze and we aren’t finished with last year’s 10-player draft class. So far, we have:
The long-term keepers: Four of them — Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon and surprise seventh-round DT Shamar Stephen – are the top-of-their-class keepers. They played between 341 and 813 snaps on offense or defense. Two of them — Barr and McKinnon — ended the year on IR, but we’ll trust for now that their injuries were nothing long-term.
The instant exit: One of them — sixth-round cornerback Kendall James — didn’t make the team and spent last season bouncing around three teams and not seeing any game action.
The ‘pretty-sure-he’ll-stick’ pick: One of them — seventh-round cornerback Jabari Price — played well enough and often enough on special teams while filling a hard-to-fill defensive role — No. 2 slot corner in the nickel. He saw 47 defensive snaps and has an attitude of confidence and toughness that stands out. If he lasts, he and Stephen will be remembered as one heck of a seventh-round duo.
The incompletes: The other four — Scott Crichton, David Yankey, Brandon Watts and Antone Exum Jr. — we’ll just have to wait and see. Exum saw the most action on special teams, but made a lot of mistakes. He’s also the preferred candidate to start at strong safety, but I’ve heard that one before (see: Raymond, Mistral). Not saying he won’t start. Just saying let’s look before we’re told to leap.
Watts, a seventh-round linebacker, is the most likely to be the next casualty of the 2014 draft. He spent last season in coach Mike Zimmer’s doghouse because of poor conditioning that led to chronic hamstring issues. He played six snaps and has a lot of young competition to overcome at linebacker.
Yankey has been discussed at length, but there’s still zero feeling about him since he didn’t play a down on game days last year. He could be the next starter at left guard or the next Jeff Baca.
Crichton, who played only 16 snaps last year, is the biggest concern among outsiders who aren’t privy to behind-the-scenes player development. More is expected of him because he’s a third-round pick. At this point, more is needed from him as well because he’s the No. 2 left end behind 32-year-old starter Brian Robison. The team didn’t re-sign Corey Wootton, didn’t replace him in free agency and came out of the draft with a raw defensive end — third-rounder Danielle Hunter — whose skill set suits the right end position.
Barr also can play left end in passing situations, so there is some added flexibility there. But General Manager Rick Spielman likes how Crichton has approached the offseason.
“The way Scott has worked and came in in shape, playing left end, and also being able to potentially move inside and do some inside nickel rush,” Spielman said. “All that will be determined as our coaches put these guys through different scenarios and find out what their strengths are.”
Spielman isn’t ruling out Hunter being able to play left end, so Crichton can’t assume that he won’t be challenged as the eventual successor to Robison. Asked if Hunter can play left end, Spielman said:
“Maybe. You just can’t predict what’s going to happen. All I know is, like I said, we are trying to gather the best football players we can, guys with a lot of potential and upside. As we go through the process, all of these guys, what their role and they carve out as rookies will be determined as we go forward.”