Rookie vs. Rookie Position Battles to Watch in NFL OTAs
As organized team activities get underway, we examine five rookie competitions that could realistically end up surprising a lot of people, including the coaches who drafted these guys.
Usually when a team has a significant weakness on the roster after free agency, they tend to draft a couple of players to ensure at least one of those guys will pan out immediately.
Although most of the time the job goes to the player who was drafted higher, that is not always the case. Some franchises have the wherewithal to allow for fair competition among rookies and disregard when a guy was drafted or how much money he makes.
Marqise Lee vs. Allen Robinson
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Obviously, the guy drafted higher will be given every opportunity in reps and coaching to place higher on the depth chart. That means Marqise Lee should be the front-runner for a bigger role than Allen Robinson in the offense initially.
But keep an eye on Robinson as training camp and the season progress. He has all the makings of a future No. 1 receiver with his combination of size (6'2", 220 lbs) and highly underrated athletic ability.
Lee is a dynamic playmaker with an uncanny knack for making defenders miss after the catch, but his overall size and speed combo will not help him to dominate against NFL defenders. He also has a tendency to drop balls and seems to lack the proper technique for using his hands.
Regardless, the Jaguars are desperately in need of offensive firepower, especially with the inevitable departure of Justin Blackmon.
Whoever ends up winning out for the bigger role, the tandem of Lee and Robinson should be a formidable one, especially with Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders already on the roster.
Eventually, Robinson will become the go-to receiver for the Jaguars.
So, will Blake Bortles or Chad Henne throw the passes in 2014? That's a subject for another article.
Tyler Starr vs. Prince Shembo
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Position: Outside Linebacker
The Atlanta Falcons are making the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and are in need of some difference-makers on the outside. As it stands, they elected to wait until the fourth round to address this need by drafting Prince Shembo of Notre Dame. They then dipped into that well a second time with their final pick, grabbing South Dakota project Tyler Starr.
Starr is nowhere near a household name, but his physical tools may surprise you. In a system that combines every physical attribute that a player brings to the table over the last three draft classes, he ranks 54th out of nearly 600 prospects.
Shembo has an NFL frame and plays with the intensity you look for at the position, but questions abound about whether or not he has a quick enough first step to be an effective pass-rusher.
With Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Osi Umenyiora and Stansly Maponga on the roster, it seems as though the true battle between the two rookies here will be for a roster spot rather than significant playing time. If this is indeed the reality, fourth-round draft picks are rarely released.
Expect Starr to be a long shot to be an active member of the 53-man roster for the Falcons.
Cyrus Kouandjio vs. Seantrel Henderson
Team: Buffalo Bills
Position: Offensive Tackle
Cordy Glenn seems to have locked down the left tackle spot. He has emerged as one of the bright young stars of the NFL. So the competition between Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson is likely to focus on the right tackle position, which could use an upgrade.
Chris Hairston missed 2013 with an injury and has history of missing games.
The Bills invested a second-round pick on Kouandjio and expect him to be a legitimate contender for the starting right tackle position.
Erik Pears started at right tackle in 2013, but Kouandjio and Henderson could surpass the former starter on the depth chart.
Henderson is not your normal seventh-round draft pick. This is a guy with a prototypical build for offensive tackle and the game tape that would suggest a first-round-caliber prospect. But his long list of character concerns caused him to nearly go undrafted. If he can work hard, remain focused and stay out of trouble, don’t be surprised if he gives Kouandjio a legitimate run for his money.
According to the Prospect Risk Analysis Metric, these two players are ranked neck-in-neck at No. 129 and No. 131 overall. Both players had high elements of risk, with Kouandjio dealing with chronic knee problems and Henderson having strong character red flags.
When you judge them just by tape, Henderson is actually the more impressive football player, but his work ethic and maturity will determine whether or not he finishes ahead of Kouandjio.
Jordan Matthews vs. Josh Huff
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
When the Philadelphia Eagles let DeSean Jackson go this offseason, they made a position of need even more pressing. Everyone expected Chip Kelly and the Eagles to draft at least one receiver this year, but few knew they would grab them back-to-back in Rounds 2 and 3.
Jordan Matthews was the first of the two wideouts to be taken. His size (6'3", 212 lbs) and production at Vanderbilt were impressive and certainly aided in his early-round draft value. Josh Huff is coming off a highly productive 2013 campaign as well and is a player Kelly is very familiar with, having coached him while at Oregon.
Expect Matthews to become the third wideout for the Eagles this season.
Ja’Wuan James vs. Billy Turner
Team: Miami Dolphins
Position: Offensive Tackle
The Miami Dolphins allowed more sacks than any other team in the NFL last year, and although some of the blame rest on the quarterback and play-caller, this offense could use an upgrade in the trenches.
Ja’Wuan James might have been a surprise first-round selection for some out there, but those in the know understand what he brings to the table. He is absolutely a first-round talent and has a great chance to be the most dominant offensive tackle in this class.
With that said, watch out for Billy Turner as well. He plays the offensive line position exactly the way I’d want in a prospect—physical, aggressive, mean and nasty are the adjectives to describe him.
He is a sleeper prospect and a great value for the Dolphins in the third round.
As poorly as Miami drafted overall in 2014, I love what the team did on the offensive line specifically.
Turner, a small-school kid with big upside, is expected to be the immediate backup to newly acquired free agent Branden Albert and first-round pick James. However, at some point James is going to have to see the field. He is simply too good to be wasted on the bench. The Dolphins might have to consider moving him inside to play one of the two guard spots.
High-priced free agents and first-round draft picks don’t lose their jobs to mid-round rookies, but Turner is going to make that decision a lot tougher than expected.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.