Top 10 things we learned from OTAs: Mariota, Winston are for real

Minicamps and organized team activities concluded late last week in the NFL, allowing an entire league of players the opportunity to scatter around the country for vacation and rest.

In most cases, the work players were asked to do during practices wasn't all that physically strenuous, as the players negotiated for minimal contact in offseason work (and less practice time overall) during their 2011 collective bargaining agreement with owners.

As a result of there being less contact, coaches had to stress the mental parts of the game over the physical, meaning that time spent in meeting rooms learning schemes was just as important was work being done on the field.

Here are the top 10 things we learned from the offseason workouts:

1. Marcus Mariota has exceeded expectations for the Tennessee Titans.

"He's probably further along at this point than we thought he would be, maybe," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Credit Mariota for earning the praise. Since January, Mariota has worked on his footwork, spending many hours taking snaps from center and executing throws from three-, five- and seven-step drops. Spread quarterbacks don't do that. He has gotten more comfortable running a huddle -- another thing he didn't do in college. His Tennessee teammates have praised his accuracy, a sign that his improved footwork is paying off. Whisenhunt also likes the way Mariota is processing the plays. Expect him to start Week 1.

2. Jameis Winston is the real deal for Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Winston has already picked up the Buccaneers' offense, which isn't a surprise. He's bright. He understands offenses. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have fit in with the veterans around him. And even though he spent some time behind Mike Glennon in team drills, you can see how the Bucs are already preparing to build the offense around him. They've moved Mike Evans to split end and are using Vincent Jackson more in the slot, which will create some easier throws for him, and coaches are trying to make Winston more comfortable in an uptempo offense. He should take over the starting job during training camp.

3. The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles left with more QB questions than expected.

Some of the NFL's "open" quarterback jobs appear to be settled. Brian Hoyer has the lead over Ryan Mallett in Houston. Josh McCown is No. 1 for the Cleveland Browns. Geno Smith remains the starter with the New York Jets. Things aren't as certain with the Bills and Eagles. It's hard to pick a winner in the Bills' three-way battle between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor. It's a little surprising that Cassel didn't separate himself, given his experience; he has been up-and-down in practice. Manuel remains inconsistent. Taylor has done enough to put his name into the competition, but his NFL experience is as a backup. In Philadelphia, Sam Bradford has to wait until training camp to advance to 11-on-11 drills coming off his ACL surgery before he can get into a full competition with Mark Sanchez.

4. The rookie running back class is already impressing.

Melvin Gordon has looked great for the San Diego Chargers. Ameer Abdullah is drawing rave reviews for the Detroit Lions. Duke Johnson has been the best back this spring for the Browns. T.J. Yeldon has done well enough to have people thinking he will be the starting halfback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Draft experts considered this year's running back class as the best in a decade, and we're already seeing signs that it'll have an impact right away.

5. For the second consecutive year, the rookie receiver class looks good.

Oakland Raiders first-round pick Amari Cooper appears to be the most impressive rookie pass-catcher coming out of OTAs and minicamp, but he has some competition. The Eagles' Nelson Agholor and Indianapolis Colts' Phillip Dorsett were stars in their team's offseason programs. Tyler Lockett showed at Seattle Seahawks practice he will be a big factor in the return game, and he adds really good quickness to the receiving corps. Despite some drops, Breshad Perriman impressed his Baltimore Ravens coaches. The only disappointments were Miami Dolphins first-rounder DeVante Parker needing another foot surgery, which will sideline him until the start of the regular season, and Kevin White not being able to practice much for the Chicago Bears at minicamp -- although he did look good at the rookie minicamp.

6. Some veteran running backs are starting to look like valuable offseason pickups.

Chip Kelly believes he has the most talented backfield in the NFL after signing DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to pair with Darren Sproles. C.J. Spiller has generated excitement in the New Orleans Saints' offense. Rex Ryan is ready to ground and pound with LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. Shane Vereen is carving out a significant role in the New York Giants' offense.

7. Adrian Peterson's return has the Minnesota Vikings thinking playoffs.

Peterson put his trade demands behind him and reported to OTAs. Somehow the Vikings won seven games last year without Peterson and with a rookie quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and injured offensive line, all while adjusting to a new defense. Now, the team is healthy, and they have loaded up with good young draft choices on both sides of the ball -- particularly Bridgewater. In his second year as head coach, Mike Zimmer has a chance to make a run at the playoffs.

8. Even though Haloti Ngata is now in Detroit, opposing offensive linemen aren't going to like playing the AFC North teams.

Browns first-round choice Danny Shelton looks like the next Haloti Ngata. He dominated in two minicamp days last week, and what's most impressive is how he doesn't make mental mistakes. The most exciting news out of Cincinnati Bengals camp is that Geno Atkins, who wasn't the same last season coming off his 2013 ACL injury, is again starting to looking like a dominating 3-technique defensive tackle.

9. The Bears' Jared Allen tries to prove that old dogs can learn new tricks.

Allen, who is 33, has so far made a smooth transition to outside linebacker, even though he has played his entire career at defensive end. The switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in Chicago is one of the most interesting scheme changes in the league. The Bears have been a Cover 2 team (utilizing the 4-3 scheme) for more than a decade. Helping the transition process is second-round rookie Eddie Goldman, who is working at the nose tackle position, but the Bears would really benefit if Allen can make an impact. This won't be an easy conversion for the team.

10. Giants take a gamble with Eli Manning's blindside.

With Will Beatty out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle, the Giants are hoping first-round pick Ereck Flowers can handle the left tackle position for most of the season. Unfortunately, with no live pass rushes and minimal contact in practices, the Giants will have to wait until training camp and preseason games before seeing whether Flowers can protect Manning's blind side.