Second Year Spotlight: NFC West

Troy Niklas – TE – Arizona Cardinals There were many at Notre Dame who were upset that Troy Niklas entered the draft with a year of college eligibility remaining. Their reasoning was that, while he was physically ready to make the jump to the NFL, he wasn’t mentally ready. Niklas enrolled at Notre Dame as defensive lineman, was switched to linebacker, and then switched again to tight end. He played offensive and defensive tackle in high school. When he entered the draft, he had only played two seasons at the tight end position and was a starter for only one year. His inexperience as well as injury slowed him during rookie year, and basically, it became a redshirt year. He finished the season disappointingly, with only one reception. This year, Niklas will be given every chance to produce, and he has to. With Arizona playing a number of two tight end formations, the opportunity for Niklas to earn a lot of play time is there. During OTA’s, he has had work with the first offense and has flashed. With his size, speed, and overall athleticism, he can become a very good NFL tight end. He is one of a few players that has the size, strength, and power to play in tight and be a top blocker as well as flex out and be a receiver. Tracking Niklas’ progress this summer, once camp opens, will be interesting. Carlos Hyde – RB – San Francisco 49ers With Frank Gore off to the Indianapolis Colts, now is the time for Carlos Hyde to shine. Hyde was the 49ers second round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he played fairly well behind Gore a year ago. He finished the season with 333 yards on 83 carries and four touchdowns. He also had 12 receptions for 68 yards. Many felt Hyde was the best running back in the 2014 Draft. He has excellent size (6’ – 235) to go along with very good speed, balance, and change of direction. He is a powerful runner, and his style is similar to Gore’s, only he is much bigger and a step faster. He has shown he can pass block, and he is a very reliable receiver out of the backfield. The 49ers signed Reggie Bush during the off season, but at 30 years of age, he is more of a role player who is capable of some big plays, but he’s not an every down bell cow. If Hyde and Bush can complement each other in a rotation, San Francisco won’t miss Gore at all. Greg Robinson – OT – St. Louis Rams As the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, great things were expected from tackle Greg Robinson. What some people seem to forget, is that as good as Robinson was at Auburn, he only played for two years and still had two years of eligibility remaining. Robinson was physically ready to play the NFL game but he wasn’t mentally. Auburn's offense is not very complex, and the offensive line protections are elementary compared with NFL protection schemes. Robinson didn't play up to speed because he was slow in feeling comfortable with the system. At the beginning of the season, Robinson was not a starter. When one of the starters went down with an injury, Robinson was put at guard where he finished the season. Last year’s starter Jake Long is no longer with the club and Robinson is at his natural left tackle spot, and a year of experience in the system under his belt. Robinson has all the physical traits to be a great NFL offensive lineman. He has excellent size, length, athleticism and power. He just needed to be confident with his assignments. Now that he is, I look for Robinson’s career to take off. He will be one of the more dominant left tackles in the league in the not too distant future. Paul Richardson – WR – Seattle Seahawks As a rookie, last year’s second round draft pick wide receiver Paul Richardson did not do what was expected. Richardson is a speed receiver who was supposed to be the deep threat Seattle didn’t have. While he did have 29 receptions for 271 yards, he only scored one touchdown and his average per catch was only 9.3 yards. In the playoffs, he was not a factor with only one reception. In year two, Richardson’s career is already at a crossroads. The Seahawks drafted Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett to be their third receiver and undrafted Chris Matthews played exceptionally well in the playoffs. If Richardson doesn’t show well in the preseason, his Seattle career could very well be a short one. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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