The surprise offseason standout for all 32 teams

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Friday, June 14, 2019

The NFL is officially on vacation and that means school's out for summer. Pencils down, we've learned all we can from organized team activities and mandatory minicamps, which came to an end this week. We won't get another live look at teams until training camps open around the league at the end of July.

We've heard plenty from big names such asOdell Beckham Jr. and Tom Brady, but what about the less-heralded players?

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to pick out a surprise standout from each of the 32 teams and here's what they said:


AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC North: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC South: HOU | IND | JAX | TEN

AFC West: DEN | KC | LAC | OAK


NFC North: CHI | DET| GB | MIN

NFC South: ATL | CAR| NO | TB



Buffalo Bills

CB Kevin Johnson

The No. 16 overall pick in 2015 was a disappointment in Houston, missing 29 games because of injury over his final three seasons (2016-18). The Bills signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal in March. He has participated in OTAs with the second-team defense but is expected to compete with Levi Wallace and E.J. Gaines for a starting role. Johnson had an interception in an OTA open to reporters and has impressed coach Sean McDermott. "He's gotten his hands on some footballs this spring to this point, which is important for us in terms of taking the ball away," McDermott said. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

WR DeVante Parker

He has regularly looked like the Dolphins' best offensive player this spring, making highlight grabs along the sideline and consistently being a threat in the red zone and in the middle of the field. This isn't the first time Parker has opened eyes in the spring (only to disappoint in the fall), but it's a good sign after how bad 2018 went for him. In a surprise, the Dolphins brought back Parker this offseason on a one-year deal with hopes that a fresh start under a new coaching staff and a new quarterback (right now, Ryan Fitzpatrick) that seems to appreciate him more will help. He will have a chance to earn a starting role in 2019 alongside Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson (when healthy) if he keeps up this play. He's also being pushed by promising undrafted free agent Preston Williams, who has flashed throughout the spring. -- Cameron Wolfe

New England Patriots

LB Jamie Collins

Signed to a modest one-year deal in May, Collins flashed speed and playmaking ability on defense while being inserted into a top spot on the punt-protection unit. The initial projection was that Collins would add depth on defense and potentially have to fight for a roster spot based on the way his first stint in New England ended in 2016, but now he looks as if he will be a key cog alongside returning off-the-line linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

TE Daniel Brown

Known as a blocking tight end and special-teams player, Brown has impressed with his ability as a receiver. No one expected much from him in the passing game because he played only 23 offensive snaps last season with the Bears (221 on special teams), but he has displayed more downfield speed than anticipated. This is important to note because starting tight end Chris Herndon is facing the likelihood of a two-game suspension for pleading guilty in January to driving while intoxicated. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

S DeShon Elliott

The 2018 sixth-round pick made the play of the offseason when he raced nearly halfway across the field to make a diving interception and then added another pick during mandatory minicamp. Baltimore has a loaded secondary, but it looks as if the Ravens are going to need to find a way to get Elliott on the field this season. After missing all of last season because of a fractured forearm, he has shown a knack for being around the ball. "He's going to make a mark," coach John Harbaugh said. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

CB B.W. Webb

Webb was presumed to take over Darqueze Dennard's slot corner spot when Dennard remained unsigned earlier in the offseason, then appeared to go back to the No. 2 spot once Dennard's deal was done. Now that's not quite so clear. Dennard has been sidelined from practice during OTAs and the first part of minicamp, and coach Zac Taylor specifically pointed out Webb as one of the offseason standouts so far. This could come down to a competition for the starting spot during training camp. -- Katherine Terrell

Cleveland Browns

RB Dontrell Hilliard

With Duke Johnson Jr. still asking to be traded, Hilliard has made the most of his opportunities at running back this offseason behind Nick Chubb. Hilliard's capability out of the backfield as a receiver and in the return game could translate into a pivotal role for the former undrafted free agent, especially until Kareem Hunt returns from suspension. -- Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

RB Trey Edmunds

The Steelers' tailback room is full with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and draft pick Benny Snell Jr., but Edmunds has been hard to miss during offseason work. He won several drills against linebackers in the open field and looks comfortable in the system as a two-year NFL veteran who also has played for New Orleans. The big brother of Steelers safetyTerrell Edmundswill be difficult to cut. Other candidates are rookie receiver Diontae Johnson -- quarterback Mason Rudolph says Johnson has caught every ball Rudolph has thrown -- former CFL star receiver Diontae Spencer and maligned cornerback Artie Burns. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans

RB D'Onta Foreman

The 2017 third-round pick had a disappointing 2018 season after missing the majority of it while rehabbing an Achilles injury. Foreman said after last year that he feels as if he's "basically starting all over" and "coming in with something to prove to everybody." The coaching staff told Foreman to "have a great offseason," and coach Bill O'Brien said he thought the running back did just that. "I think he's had a really good time away from us," O'Brien said, "and that has parlayed into a good spring." -- Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

TE Mo Alie-Cox

The former college basketball player at VCU has taken advantage of Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, the team's top two tight ends, being out or limited this offseason while rehabbing injuries. Alie-Cox, who arguably had the catch of the year at Oakland last season, has made himself the front-runner as the team's third tight end next season. He had seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. "I really think he is really starting to develop as a route runner," coach Frank Reich said. "I mean we know he has got good hands, but last year I thought he struggled a little bit in his route running and he was just very average. I have already seen ... some really key indicators to me. I mean, very tangible indicators that he can develop into a very good route runner as well. He is so long and big and they don't want to tackle him." -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

WR Chris Conley

He might turn out to be one of the best under-the-radar free-agent signings this year. Signing QB Nick Foles was obviously big, but the Jaguars added Conley three days later and he has been the best receiver during OTAs and minicamp. He has previously been teammates with Foles, who made a brief stop in Kansas City, and Foles is very comfortable with Conley. The Jaguars don't have a clear No. 1 receiver, but with Marqise Lee not expected to return from a knee injury until several weeks into training camp it could be Conley. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

WR Tajae Sharpe

Sharpe welcomes the competition from free agent Adam Humphries and second-round pick A.J. Brown. He continues to exhibit precise route-running skills, leading to frequent targets from Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. Sharpe has hauled in pretty much everything thrown his way. The fifth-year veteran stood out especially in red zone 7-on-7 periods. Sharpe figures to be in the mix for the No. 3 wideout spot and is showing his versatility by lining up in multiple WR spots. -- Turron Davenport


Denver Broncos

TE Troy Fumagalli

"Surprise" might not be the best word, but Fumagalli, a second-year player who spent last season on injured reserve while recovering from sports hernia surgery, has certainly waited for his chance. He was a fifth-round pick by the Broncos in the 2018 draft and is one of four tight ends the team has selected in the last five drafts combined, including Noah Fant with the team's No. 1 pick this year. It figures to be a hotly-contested position in training camp. Fumagalli consistently made plays in OTAs and minicamp, showing two-way blocker/receiver potential. The Broncos figure to use their share of two-tight-end sets in their new-look offense, so there is room for several to have a role in the offense, and Fumagalli has given the new coaching staff a quality glimpse of his potential. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

WR Byron Pringle

He was on the verge of making the team last year as an undrafted rookie before an injury in the final preseason game ended his season. Pringle continued to make plays after returning this offseason. The fact that he played well at camp and in the preseason last year is an indication Pringle isn't just an offseason phenomenon but indeed has staying power. -- Adam Teicher

Los Angeles Chargers

CB Trevor Williams

Hampered by a nagging knee injury, the Penn State product lost his starting job to Michael Davis last season after starting 15 games in 2017. Now healthy, Williams is moving like his old self and is battling Davis to win his starting job back. "He's earned that opportunity," Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "It'll be a great, competitive situation come training camp." Williams' reemergence is an important development for the Chargers, who are looking to build more depth in the secondary. -- Eric D. Williams

Oakland Raiders

TE Darren Waller

He joined the Raiders as a late-November signee after serving a pair of NFL-mandated suspensions with the Ravens, missing four games in 2016 and the entire 2017 season, for violating the league's substance abuse policy. And after Oakland allowed Jared Cook to leave in free agency, Waller finds himself as Oakland's TE1. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder with all of 18 career catches for 178 yards and two TDs has done more than flash in the offseason program with several sideline grabs as well as catches in traffic. Waller said "staying clean" was his No. 1 objective this offseason. "I feel like people have always had faith in me, but it was like I didn't really have faith in myself," he said. "... Now it's like I wake up and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in my life and representing my family in a positive way." -- Paul Gutierrez


Dallas Cowboys

WR Randall Cobb

Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver. If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants

WR Darius Slayton

The fifth-round pick's first impression was downright scary. He had the yips on the first day of rookie minicamp, dropping five passes. But he did more than bounce back. He impressed greatly, especially with his ability to get open and make plays downfield. It seemed as if Slayton was catching a deep ball every day when practicing with the veterans. It prompted coach Pat Shurmur to call Slayton the "most improved" player he saw this spring. Slayton has a chance to make an impact this season. The Giants are looking for a down-the-field threat to complement Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. -- Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marken Michel

The brother of Patriots RB Sony Michel, Marken, a former CFL player, has managed to snag some spotlight in a talent-rich environment by coming up with a handful of impressive downfield catches. He has gotten some work with the first team and has had pretty good chemistry with quarterbackCarson Wentz. It'll be an uphill climb for Michel with the likes of DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside leading a deep receivers group, but he's putting his best foot forward heading into training camp. -- Tim McManus

Washington Redskins

CB Jimmy Moreland

Moreland intercepted five passes during spring workouts, a result that stems from his instincts and knowing where to be and when. Moreland, a seventh-round pick in April, will be a player to watch this summer as a slot corner. He's quick and tough but will have to show he can handle all the responsibilities in the slot -- including playing the run. There's a lot to learn. For now he's someone who should make the roster and could develop into a solid starter at some point. But for a late-round pick from a smaller school (James Madison), he's off to a terrific start. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

TE Bradley Sowell

Formerly an offensive tackle, Sowell converted to tight end in the offseason to improve the Bears' depth. Despite being listed at 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, Sowell is a fairly agile route runner with above-average hands. Sowell caught a 2-yard touchdown last year on a trick play, but the big man is expected to be utilized much more in 2019. This is not a gimmick. Sowell is a legitimate contender for playing time on offense. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

WR Chris Lacy

The Lions have a hole at wide receiver -- or at least had a bigger one before signing Jermaine Kearse last week -- and Lacy seemed to make plays almost every practice during the open spring workouts. It might be a tough way to a roster spot for the second-year pro out of Oklahoma State, but he has a size/speed component that most of Detroit's receivers don't. He beat the Lions' secondary multiple times on deep passes. Detroit knows its starting receiver group -- Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola -- but Lacy could end up finding his way onto the roster as a depth receiver. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

WRs Jake Kumerow and Marquez Valdes-Scantling

OK, that's two, but it's hard to differentiate between them. Not when you see Kumerow with touchdown after touchdown from Aaron Rodgers, and Valdes-Scantling quickly climbing the depth chart into the top three. It has helped that Packers GM Brian Gutekunst didn't add a receiver in free agency -- where he lost slot man Randall Cobb -- or via the draft. Most important for Kumerow is that he has earned the trust of Rodgers, who recently listed off all the things he likes about Kumerow and then added, "Obviously, I'm a big fan of him. I could keep going." And of Valdes-Scantling, Rodgers said: "MVS is playing a lot closer to his 40 time speed, which is saying a lot because he's pretty damned fast." -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

WR Chad Beebe

All aboard the Chad Beebe express. Beebe's "Little Engine That Could" tale -- from winning a spot with the Vikings via a rookie tryout to being elevated to the 53-man roster midway through the 2018 season -- is inspiring. He has gone from an unknown player -- commonly referred to simply as "Don Beebe's son" -- to a possible front-runner for the Vikings' No. 3 receiver position. "I think he's proven, he's played in some games and then you see him out here making some plays," offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. "I think he's making a name for himself and I think he's doing a nice job." If Beebe can stay healthy and string together a handful of good preseason performances, he might be able to carve out a role for himself in an offense that wants to spread the ball around. -- Courtney Cronin


Atlanta Falcons

WR Russell Gage

The second-year wide receiver has received more practice reps at the X receiver spot this offseason with Julio Jones (foot) observing. Gage, a potential special-teams ace, looks comfortable running routes and has shown nice concentration on catches. "He can play more than one spot," coach Dan Quinn said. "He can now add into some of those roles as Julio's backup. He can play X and inside. He's got movement for a slot. ... Once you can learn more than one position, obviously the more opps you can [get] to go play." -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

WR Curtis Samuel

Injuries have slowed him his first two seasons out of Ohio State, and the arrival of 2018 first-round pick DJ Moore has made Samuel an afterthought among the receivers. Not to mention he plays a lot of slot, where Christian McCaffrey often lines up. But Samuel is healthy, making moves and catches in practice that even he says he couldn't have a year ago. Now, as the No. 2 receiver, he has a solid chance to top the 54 catches he has combined for in his first two seasons. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

The rookie fourth-round pick has made a quick impression this spring. Not only has he made a few flash plays in both rookie camp and OTAs, but the Saints clearly like his versatility as both a safety and slot corner in the nickel. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder from Florida has mixed in at times with the first-string nickel defense -- and coach Sean Payton mentioned him as being in that mix for playing time with veteran nickel backs such asPatrick Robinson and P.J. Williams. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs rookie DBs

The Bucs used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and third-round picks on cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards, and all three players have notched interceptions against first-teamers in workouts. These three are handling the transition from college to the pros very well. "I don't give a s--- if they're rookies, these guys can play. They're getting their hands on a lot of balls. They're doing things that veterans do, because they listen and they're smart," coach Bruce Arians said. The team actually feels that cornerback is now a position of depth, which it has not had in a very long time. "I don't worry about our young corners," Arians said. "Somebody asked me about Julio Jones -- well, they have to cover Mike Evans every day. That's a pretty good charge. If they can cover him a little bit, we'll be OK." -- Jenna Laine


Arizona Cardinals

WR Kevin White

The seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft has been looking more like the receiver that Kliff Kingsbury coached against in the Big 12 than the one who has played in only 14 games over four pro seasons. White has been given a chance by Kingsbury to resurrect a disappointing career and is taking advantage of it in a crowded wide receiver room. He has plenty to prove and has started the process of doing just that through OTAs and minicamp. "He's big, fast, you can see all the attributes that made him a top-10 pick," Kingsbury said. "[He] had some unfortunate injuries there in Chicago and [he's] trying to kind of reestablish himself. [This is] really kind of like his rookie year."-- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

TE Gerald Everett

A second-round pick in 2017, Everett has had a few standout moments in his young career, including a 39-yard catch in the NFC Championship Game, but he has not been consistently called upon in coach Sean McVay's offense. Through the offseason program, Everett was a clear standout as a target for quarterback Jared Goff. "The game is slowing down for him," McVay said. "He's just continuing to progress and take steps." Everett will compete in a group that also includes fourth-year tight end Tyler Higbee. -- Lindsey Thiry

San Francisco 49ers

WR Trent Taylor

Maybe it shouldn't be thought of as a surprise considering the success Taylor had with QB Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of 2017, when he caught 17 of the final 20 passes thrown his way. But a back injury slowed Taylor in 2018 and his production was cut in half. Now he's another year removed from the back issue and looks healthy, but he faces more competition for the slot receiver job. With new receivers coach Wes Welker showing him the ropes, don't be surprised if Taylor regains his rookie form and takes a step forward into an expanded role in 2019. -- Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

LB Cody Barton

The rookie third-round pick from Utah has benefited from Bobby Wagner's contract situation. Wagner has been present for offseason work but isn't practicing, which has allowed Barton to take valuable first-team reps while also soaking up information from an All-Pro. The book on Barton is that he has a high football IQ and he has been showing it. Veteran K.J. Wright said he hasn't seen rookie linebackers get up to speed in Seattle's defense as quickly as Barton and fifth-round pick Ben Burr-Kirven have. -- Brady Henderson

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