One of the best parts of any new NFL season is watching unheralded rookies beat the odds to become integral players for their new teams.
Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris was one of the most productive running backs in the league last season for the Washington Redskins. Scouts weren't overly impressed by his measurables heading into the draft, and Mike Shanahan turned him into a star.
As the 2013 season approaches, it's impossible to predict with 100-percent accuracy which rookies will become household names by season's end.
However, there are a few players that have caught my eye as worthy candidates.
Though they weren't considered top prospects during the draft process, these players are showing themselves to be rising stars capable of taking the NFL by storm.
Quinton Patton, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Fourth-Round Pick)
Patton missed most of training camp with a broken finger while the 49ers went through wide receivers like a grizzly bear goes through salmon during spawning season. While last year's first-round pick A.J. Jenkins floundered, eventually getting traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for Jon Baldwin, Patton was biding his time, getting as many mental reps in as possible.
He's been described as "just a kid with a bunch of energy," by veteran Anquan Boldin, as noted by Taylor Price of 49ers.com. Boldin went on to say, "Every day he always comes in with a smile on his face. He always comes in with high energy, willing to learn.”
When Patton finally got his chance to play in the team's Week 3 preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, the rookie looked like a seasoned pro. He caught four passes for 35 yards and an impressive touchdown grab from Colin Kaepernick, who appeared to be quite comfortable with him.
Playing for Louisiana Tech, Patton flew under the national radar for most of his college career, even though he caught 183 passes for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in two seasons.
The small-school receiver appears ready to become a key weapon for the 49ers this season.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots (Undrafted)
The Patriots enter the 2013 season without all five top receivers from a year ago.
Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, so you know the passing game isn't going to be shelved.
With that in mind, the Patriots needed to find some fresh talent this season.
Enter Kenbrell Thompkins.
The undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati has been the leading receiver through three preseason games for the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 116 yards in the team's third preseason game and was Brady's top target in that game.
Based on what we've seen in the preseason, Thompkins is going to be a big part of the team's plans this year. He and Brady appear to be on the same page, which bodes well for the rookie nobody thought was good enough to draft.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys (Fifth-Round Pick)
DeMarco Murray has been handed the starting running back position in Dallas, but forgive me if I don't believe he'll hang on to it for long.
As the team's featured back last year, his production waned under the burden of the increased workload. After averaging 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie, he only managed 4.1 yards per carry last year.
Murray has also struggled to stay on the field, and injuries kept him out of six games last season.
It appears the Cowboys haven't been blind to this fact, because Joseph Randle has been getting a long look this preseason. In total, Randle has rushed for 168 yards on 45 carries and has scored a touchdown.
His yards-per-carry average of 3.7 could be viewed as troublesome, but he's gotten a lot of carries behind backup offensive linemen. A workhorse at Oklahoma State in his final two seasons, Randle finished his career averaging 5.5 yards per carry and showed a nose for the end zone with 40 rushing touchdowns.
At some point this season, Randle will get his chance to start. When he does, he won't relinquish the role.
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