Ready for Impact

Coming into the NFL as a rookie, much is expected of these young men: to come in and help make a positive impact and a contribution to the team, to learn, in most cases, a new offense or defense, and to familiarize yourself with new coaches and teammates. Not to mention, many are now living on their own for the first time, playing in a city they might have never visited before.  So, it’s no surprise that in the second season of a player’s career is where the biggest improvement can be seen. I've identified six players, entering their second season, that will be expected to make bigger impacts on their respective teams in 2015. Some were held back due to injuries, while others needed some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL. These players not only have the talent to succeed, but are in the right situations with the proper supporting cast to help them. Most, if not all, I feel will one day be playing in the Pro Bowl.   Telvin Smith - Jacksonville Jaguars 6’ 3” 218 lbs. Linebacker 2014 Stats: 104 Combined Tackles, 2 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Interception What I like: A fifth round pick out of Florida State in last year’s draft, Smith came on strong in the second half last season.  Smith racked up 64 tackles (six for loss) in the final six games, with 31 tackles coming in the final two, which led the NFL. Smith’s breakthrough game came in Week 7 versus the Browns, where he intercepted a pass, which led to a touchdown, and also had a key sack strip late in that game earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Smith enters this up-coming season as the starting weak side linebacker for Gus Bradley’s Jaguars defense. With his athleticism and speed, Smith has shown the ability to cover down field, while at the same time being aggressive versus the run. The knock on Smith coming into the draft was his size. He started last season weighing 218 pounds but admitted that he played below that number during the season. The key will be adding good weight to Smith’s frame with hopes that he will be able to survive an entire NFL season. The Jacksonville coaches have been raving about the work Smith has put in this offseason. The expectation entering his second season in this defense, predicated on his speed and aggressiveness, is that Smith will blossom into one of the best linebackers in the league.   Davante Adams – Green Bay Packers 6’ 1” 215 lbs. Wide Receiver 2014 Stats: 38 receptions 446 yards 3 touchdowns What I like: Typically, the wide receiver position sees the biggest jump in production from a player’s rookie season to their second. With more sophisticated NFL offenses and increased game speed, it takes a full season to adjust. Packers' receiver Davante Adams is no exception. As he enters his second season, Adams looks to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers another weapon to go along with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The thought of another toy for Rodgers sends chills down the opposing defensive players' spines. Adams had an inconsistent rookie campaign with his best game coming against the Patriots in week 13 where he had six catches for 121 yards. Adams gave everyone a glimpse of what he can do in the Packers' playoff win versus the Cowboys. In that game, Adams had seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Through the offseason, Adams has been taking snaps with the first team offense due to Jordy Nelson being sidelined with an injury, and he has stood out. Adams has improved his strength and conditioning along with his route running, earning high praise from both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy proclaimed Adams the MVP of their offseason. With improved route running, coupled with Adams ability to go up and make contested catches, topping the 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns are well within his reach.   Crockett Gilmore – Baltimore Ravens 6’6” 251 lbs. Tight End 2014 Stats: 10 receptions 121 yards 1 touchdown What I like: Gilmore is a big tight end with soft hands and, in limited snaps last season, showed the ability to make tough catches. Predominately used as a blocker by former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Gilmore has made it a point of emphasis to work on his route running and his quickness in and out of breaks this offseason. With the need at the position, caused by the departure of Owen Daniels and injury to Dennis Pitta, Gilmore has a great opportunity to open the season as the starter. The Ravens did draft two tight ends in Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle who will compete with Gilmore. The Ravens replaced Kubiak with former Bears Coach Marc Trestman who runs the west coast offense and loves to utilize the tight end. Looking back to last season, the Bears' Martellus Bennett had 90 receptions on 129 targets. Just like Bennett, Gilmore is tall at 6’ 6” and gives the quarterback a big target. Although not blessed with blazing speed, Gilmore did, at times, show the ability to break open down the seam. The tight end will have a big role in the Ravens' offense this season. With Gilmore's size and ability to catch, he could become one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone.   Bene Benwikere – Carolina Panthers 6’0” 195 lbs. Cornerback 2014 Stats: 33 Tackles 1 Forced Fumble 1 Interception What I like: Benwikere, a 5th round pick out of San Jose State, made an impact on the Panthers defense last season. He won the nickel back position coming out of training camp, where he earned the nickname “Big Play Bene”. Benwikere got injured in week 5, and would miss six games because of the ankle injury. When he returned, Benwikere was inserted as the starter at corner, starting six games and helping Carolina make a successful playoff push. What Bene has is great vision and the keen ability to read the offense, which gives him the confidence to jump receiver routes or to stray off his assignment and make a play on the intended target. Panthers' coaches have noticed the improvement in Benwikere this offseason, with a better grasp of the defense now. Instead of thinking out there, he is reacting. Carolina brought in veteran corner Charles Tillman to compete with Benwikere for the starting position. Coach Rivera and Tillman are familiar with each other dating back to when both were with the Bears. Tillman has missed a big chunk of the past two seasons with triceps injuries. So Tillman will not only need to beat out Bene in training camp but also prove he can stay healthy an entire season. Whether starting outside at corner or inside as the nickel back, expectations are that “Big Play Bene” will be out on the field for the Panthers, making plays and solidifying the back half of the defense.   Jason Verrett – San Diego Chargers 5’9” 178 lbs. Cornerback 2014 Stats: 19 Tackles 1 Interception What I like: What Jason Verrett lacks in height and size, he more than makes up for in speed and quickness, not to mention the heart and determination he shows out on the field. Coming into the 2014 draft, many had second to third round grades on Verrett, mostly due to his lack of size. Scouting Verrett last season, he was one of my favorite players to watch on tape. The aforementioned speed and quickness were evident as was the aggression he attacked opposing receivers with and the way he came up to play the run. The San Diego Chargers made him their first round pick and, during training camp, veterans, like safety Eric Weddle, had nothing but praise for the football character and professionalism Verrett displayed. Unfortunately, Verrett's season was limited to just five games as he tore the labrum in his left shoulder making a sensational interception that helped seal the victory versus the Raiders. During his final season at TCU, he had torn the labrum in his right shoulder. Staying healthy is a key factor for Verrett, who currently is listed as the starter opposite Brandon Flowers. Verrett, having rehabbed both shoulder injuries, has spent part of the offseason training with the Saints Brandin Cooks, working on his speed, agility, and quickness. Verrett will always be at a disadvantage when going up against the big tall receivers, but with his 4.38 speed and 39 inch vertical and tenacity, he will make things difficult for receivers. Jason also is explosive out of his back pedal, can open his hips, turn and run with the receiver downfield, and has strong hands allowing him to get physical while also going to make a play on the ball. Verrett also has the ability to move inside and cover the quicker slot receivers when the Chargers go to their nickel defense.  If Verrett can avoid major injuries and stay on the field, he has the ability to be a difference maker for the Chargers' defense.   Brandin Cooks – New Orleans Saints 5’10” 189 lbs. Wide Receiver 2014 Stats: 53 Receptions 550 Yards 3 Touchdowns What I like: Brandin Cooks was well on his way to a terrific rookie season last year before breaking his thumb and missing the final six games. The four games prior to the injury, Cooks was finding his groove within the offense, as he had 18 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks enters this season feeling healthy and confident. With his thumb healed, Cooks is now playing faster than last season. As with most second year players, he is doing less thinking and just playing football. Cooks says he now has a full grasp on the offense, and others agree. After the recently completed minicamp, reports surfaced that Cooks was the best player on offense not named Brees.  Besides knowing the offense, what also is setting up Cooks to have a big year are the trades of tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Gone with those two players are 148 receptions and 209 targets combined. Cooks is destined to be a prime beneficiary of some of those receptions and targets left behind. Plus, head coach Sean Payton has always found a way to get the ball into the hands of fast, quick receivers and backs. Case in point how he utilized both Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles when both players were Saints.  Payton will have the option of utilizing Cooks, not only split wide outside the numbers, but also inside at the slot receiver position and lined up in the backfield. It would not surprise me if Cooks ends up with over 100 receptions and ten or more touchdowns. With Cooks's speed and quickness, coupled with Payton calling the plays and Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints have another playmaker who, when he has the ball in his hands, is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
Danny Shimon
NFPost Scouting 101 & Scouting Seminar Graduate. Bears writer for

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