Surprise players you should know from NFL minicamps for all 32 teams

Dan Marino discusses Tua Tagovailoa's development (1:37)

Cameron Wolfe speaks to Dan Marino, who gives insight into Tua Tagovailoa's development as he heads into his second season. (1:37)

Unlike last year, this offseason looked more like what we're used to with an in-person NFL draft, OTAs at team facilities and the return of minicamps for most clubs. But now that it's all behind us, we won't get another live look at players until training camps open around the league at the end of July.

So who took the bull by the horns this offseason to make their mark?

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to pick out a surprise standout from each of the 32 teams. Here's what they told us:

Jump to:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF


Buffalo Bills

WR Isaiah Hodgins

Hodgins was a standout during the first few days of last year's training camp, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for the entire season. With a clean bill of health, he stood out once again in OTAs and minicamp, even shedding the red noncontact jersey before the team broke for the summer. Hodgins still has an uphill battle in a crowded Buffalo receiver room, but he has received praise from both coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

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Miami Dolphins

CB Trill Williams

Williams, an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse, is already showing his range, versatility and potential to make a roster-spot push despite a deep Dolphins defensive-back room. He nabbed an impressive interception off Tua Tagovailoa and a couple of pass breakups, and generally looks like he belongs. The true test will be when the pads come on, but Williams is definitely worth keeping an eye on. -- Cameron Wolfe

New England Patriots

LB Josh Uche

The 2020 second-round pick from Michigan played 17% of the defensive snaps as a rookie but looks primed for a significant jump this season. It was notable to see him paired with top linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Matt Judon, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Kyle Van Noy, and his speed, suddenness and potential as a disruptive pass-rusher were on display in multiple drills. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

LB C.J. Mosley

Mosley, who opted out last season and played only two partial games in 2019 due to injuries, is poised to have a bounce-back year. He looked slimmer and quicker in offseason practices, which should help the transition to a 4-3 scheme. One of the league's best off-ball linebackers before signing with the Jets in 2019, Mosley now must prove in training camp that he can chip off two years' worth of rust. If he can, it will be huge for the defense. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

WR Sammy Watkins

Coming off the worst season of his seven-year career, Watkins was the Ravens' best receiver at minicamp. He made several contested grabs and delivered the best catch of the offseason, getting separation from Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey along the sideline for a long touchdown reception. This represented a big first step between Watkins and Lamar Jackson in terms of chemistry. "I'm not going to lie to you; it is fun," Jackson said of Watkins. "A big receiver, nice target, fast guy. Sammy is going to make our job a lot easier." -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

WR Tee Higgins

It's not often you see the team's leading receiver from the previous season go relatively unnoticed during the offseason. But with the addition of Ja'Marr Chase, Higgins hasn't been in the limelight as much this offseason. Still, coaches and teammates have noticed Higgins' physical development, which was expected after he declared for the NFL early. The former Clemson standout seems poised for a big season. -- Ben Baby

Cleveland Browns

DT Tommy Togiai

The fourth-round pick out of Ohio State has made a splash during both OTAs and minicamp. The combination of power and quickness is there. Considering one of Cleveland's projected starting defensive tackles has an injury history (Malik Jackson) and the other (Andrew Billings) didn't play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, Togiai could become an important piece up front for the Browns. -- Jake Trotter

Pittsburgh Steelers

CB James Pierre

The offseason departures of Mike Hilton and Steve Nelson created a few open jobs in the secondary, and Pierre is fighting hard for one. He is jockeying for time on the field -- likely on the outside -- and doing it with standout plays in mandatory minicamp. The second-year undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic picked Ben Roethlisberger off twice in Wednesday's practice, including one interception in the end zone during a two-minute drill. Pierre played just 27 defensive snaps last season but was a key special-teamer with 227 snaps. The Steelers have mined undrafted free-agent gems in the past with guys like Hilton, and Pierre's offseason workouts show he's a solid candidate to be the next. -- Brooke Pryor


Houston Texans

DL Charles Omenihu

We haven't seen a lot of the Texans this spring -- just three practices because the team canceled minicamp. One player the Texans hope they see stand out this season is Omenihu. Without J.J. Watt, Houston needs to find other players to get to the quarterback, and defensive line coach Bobby King said he thinks Omenihu's versatility gives him a lot of potential to make an impact. "You can play him at a lot of positions and he can affect the quarterback in a lot of different ways," King said. "... We expect big things from Chuck this year." -- Sarah Barshop

Indianapolis Colts

QB Carson Wentz

How Wentz looked on the field wasn't the only important part of the offseason equation for the Colts' new starting quarterback. The other part was how he would fit in with his teammates after reportedly not having a great relationship with his teammates while with the Philadelphia Eagles. The transition, according to those inside the organization, has been a smooth one. "He comes in and asks about my family, my sister and things like that," running back Nyheim Hines said. "As a new guy, it's pretty cool. It shows that he's caring and trying to take care of us." And Wentz on the field? He has turned a lot of heads so far. "He has a really pretty deep ball," Hines said. "I've liked everything I've seen from him so far." -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

WR Laviska Shenault Jr.

Shenault has arguably been the Jaguars' best offensive player throughout OTAs and minicamp. He's not exactly an under-the-radar guy, but with the addition of Marvin Jones Jr. and a rejuvenated DJ Chark Jr. and draft pick Travis Etienne getting reps at receiver, had Shenault not had a good offseason, he ran the risk of getting left behind in terms of touches. The Jags are keeping him at receiver instead of trying to use him in the backfield at times, and his development has been one of the highlights of the spring. -- Michael DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

QB DeShone Kizer

The backup QB position is like insurance. You don't realize how important it is until you need to use it. Kizer has looked good in OTAs and minicamp, especially when ripping throws on midrange routes across the middle. He spent most of his time with the Titans last year as a "quarantine QB" working only with QB coach Pat O'Hara. His quick decision-making in OTAs and minicamp is evidence that he has gained a strong grasp of the playbook. Kizer's skill set is very similar to Ryan Tannehill's in that he can make most of the throws and is adept at making plays on the move. The fifth-year veteran is ready to compete with incumbent backup Logan Woodside. -- Turron Davenport


Denver Broncos

WR Kendall Hinton

The last time most saw Hinton, he was the guy saddled with the most unenviable of tasks when he lined up at quarterback, on 24 hours' notice, for much of the Broncos' 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But when coach Vic Fangio was asked this past week if there was a player who had stood out in offseason workouts, it was Hinton. There is no question Hinton, a former Wake Forest quarterback/wide receiver, still faces enormous odds in a crowded depth chart at receiver, but he has shown plenty of improvement this spring. Added quarterback Drew Lock: "He's super-aggressive to the ball. You feel like you can throw him a ball one-on-one and he's going to go get it." -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

TE Noah Gray

The fifth-round draft pick has impressed the Chiefs with his smarts, pass catching and route running. With the Chiefs looking to keep Travis Kelce fresh over the course of a 17-game schedule, it's easy to see how Gray could get a significant amount of playing time, both in occasionally replacing Kelce and as part of multiple-tight-end formations. -- Adam Teicher

Las Vegas Raiders

CB Nate Hobbs

The fifth-round pick from Illinois got plenty of reps at slot corner in OTAs and minicamp and was lauded by both third-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley said Hobbs, who called himself the "best underdog" the Raiders had ever drafted on draft night, was "ahead of the curve" at the position, where he was competing with second-year nickelback Amik Robertson and veteran Nevin Lawson. -- Paul Gutierrez

Los Angeles Chargers

WR Tyron Johnson

"T-Billy," as he is known at the facility, is a legit 4.3 guy who made the most of his 20 receptions last year for 398 yards. He is really fun to watch running routes. In minicamp, he was a blur, and coaches talked him up big-time. He's a qualified third receiver (behind Mike Williams and Keenan Allen) and should open things up for Justin Herbert. -- Shelley Smith


Dallas Cowboys

CB Nahshon Wright

Wright was something of a surprise pick in the third round, but his size (6-foot-4, 183 pounds) made him a perfect match for what coordinator Dan Quinn wants in a cornerback. Through the rookie minicamp and into the organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, Wright has been around the ball a ton. He had multiple interceptions and a handful of pass breakups. It hasn't always been clean and he has a long way to go, but the Cowboys might have hit on a less-than-known pick. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants

CB Madre Harper

The second-year cornerback opened some eyes this spring. He came in bulked-up and in great shape, and took advantage of a mostly vacant defensive backfield during OTAs when most of the Giants' cornerbacks didn't attend. That created an opportunity Harper took advantage of this spring. After being signed off the Raiders' practice squad early last season, Harper is one to watch this year. He has the size and skill set this coaching staff will find ways to use. -- Jordan Raanan

Philadelphia Eagles

OT Andre Dillard

The former first-round pick says he has a fire in him like never before after missing the entire 2020 season with a biceps injury. He ditched social media to eliminate distractions and hit the weight room hard over the past year, setting a number of personal records. He is stronger and more confident, and has drawn praise from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for his on-field work. He'll battle it out with former rugby player Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle spot during training camp. -- Tim McManus

Washington Football Team

CB Benjamin St-Juste

The third-round rookie was drafted this high for a reason, but he also showed that he might be ready to help sooner than anticipated. St-Juste showed excellent eye discipline and awareness, especially when in zone and passing off receivers leaving his area while picking up others entering. He showed that he was always ready to react, which resulted in numerous plays on the ball. While there were times he was beat, it's not as if he looked lost or out of place. St-Juste's length will help diversify Washington's coverage -- it can match bigger receivers now with two taller corners, St-Juste and William Jackson III. He has to prove he can play press at an NFL level to get more time, but St-Juste got off to a strong start. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

WR Marquise Goodwin

The 30-year-old veteran signed just a one-year deal with only $350,000 in guaranteed money, but Goodwin still has elite speed. On multiple occasions in Chicago's offseason program, Goodwin took the top off the Bears' defense and hauled in what would have been long touchdown receptions. Along with second-year wideout Darnell Mooney, Goodwin might give the Bears another legitimate deep threat for quarterbacks Andy Dalton or Justin Fields, both of whom have displayed nice touches on long passes during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

LB Jahlani Tavai

The third-year linebacker is ready to break out this year after cutting nearly 20 pounds in the offseason. He played at nearly 270 pounds last year but is now close to 250. Detroit's front office is excited about his slender frame, which allows him to move better on the field and could produce better results. Initially his role was uncertain under the new regime, but he has proved he's reliable with his dedication to his craft and could fulfill a much-needed role on a defense that ranked among the worst in the league last year. -- Eric Woodyard

Green Bay Packers

WR Juwann Winfree

The former sixth-round pick of the Broncos in 2019 has played in five career NFL games (three for Denver, two for Green Bay last year as a practice-squad elevation) but has never caught a pass. He caught plenty of them throughout OTAs and minicamp this spring, and while the Packers' top four receivers appear set -- Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and rookie Amari Rodgers -- Winfree looks like he'll make a strong run at a spot in the rotation. Also, keep an eye on another practice-squad member from last year, offensive lineman Ben Braden, who's gotten some work with the No. 1 O-line at tackle with David Bakhtiari still recovering from ACL surgery. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

CB Harrison Hand

With Jeff Gladney absent amid legal issues and Cameron Dantzler sidelined with an apparent injury, Hand, a former fifth-round pick, got a lot of reps with the first-team defense in OTAs and minicamp. He came away with a couple of interceptions. The Vikings moved Hand around as an outside corner and even lined him up in the slot, which should help his chances for making the roster this fall. The secondary looks a lot different this year. While Dantzler (if healthy), Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland will be the front-runners to earn starting jobs, Hand's strong spring showing could put him in line to duke it out with Kris Boyd for one of the final spots on the depth chart. -- Courtney Cronin


Atlanta Falcons

RB Qadree Ollison

Take all of this with the proper caveat -- the Falcons had players missing and first-year head coach Arthur Smith largely had his players not going full speed. But with Mike Davis not in attendance, Ollison seems like he could be creating a spot for himself in the Atlanta offense. A third-year pro out of Pittsburgh, he has 23 career carries for 53 yards and four touchdowns. But with a new scheme, perhaps Smith finds a larger role for him than he had under Dirk Koetter. He looked sharp and was used often throughout Atlanta's workouts. -- Michael Rothstein

Carolina Panthers

OT Dennis Daley

The temptation here is to say TE Ian Thomas, because coach Matt Rhule said the fourth-year player had a "tremendous offseason'' after having a mediocre 2020 season. But Thomas always seems to look good in practice and it seldom translates to games. Daley is listed as a guard, but practiced so well at left tackle with Cam Erving and Trent Scott missing time with injuries that Rhule isn't ready to hand over the starting spot to anybody just yet. At worst Daley gives the Panthers another option at a key position. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

TE Adam Trautman

Trautman's biggest leap came via the Saints' offseason transactions. They parted ways with veteran Jared Cook and Josh Hill, leaving the second-year pro as their projected No. 1 tight end as both a pass-catcher and standout blocker. But Trautman also has talked about how much he has grown after a strong finish to last season and now experiencing his first true NFL offseason. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WR Jaelon Darden

Darden missed some of minicamp due to a tweaked hamstring, but the fourth-round draft pick who runs a 4.46 (he's 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds) looked very explosive, even drawing comparisons to Emmanuel Sanders and John Brown from coach Bruce Arians. "He's super quick and fast," Arians said. "He's a little thicker than I thought he was going to be when I watched him. He catches punts very easily and catches the football extremely easily. He can be very explosive." Arians also praised his fearlessness over the middle. Darden will compete with Jaydon Mickens for the punt and kick return job. Competition will be fierce in what's already a very crowded room of receivers, but the fact that Tom Brady had a say in drafting Darden should tell you all you need to know. -- Jenna Laine


Arizona Cardinals

WR Rondale Moore

A couple of important caveats: The Cardinals had a shortened offseason program compared to normal, so choosing a standout is largely guesswork. Also, Moore probably wouldn't be considered a surprise since he was a second-round pick, but it's easy for him to get lost in the shuffle with the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on the roster. But Moore had coach Kliff Kingsbury excited about the multiple ways he can deploy the rookie after the full-squad minicamp. "He's very good in the open field, making the first guy miss," Kingsbury said. "He has a knack at some of those plays, so, yeah, he's going to be a guy that's going to be fun to try to draw stuff up for, and see how many times we can get it to him." -- Nick Wagoner

Los Angeles Rams

TE Jacob Harris

Tyler Higbee was sidelined for the offseason program, which allowed Harris, a fourth-round pick from Central Florida, to take significant reps throughout voluntary and minicamp practices. "Jacob Harris is a guy who has definitely stood out," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "Just his overall speed, athleticism, you kind of feel him on the field." McVay cautioned that Harris, who is 6-foot-5, 211 pounds and played receiver in college, must be evaluated outside of 7-on-7 play, but also commended his improvement since arriving in L.A. Harris will compete with second-year pro Brycen Hopkins and Johnny Mundt for playing time behind Higbee. -- Lindsey Thiry

San Francisco 49ers

RB Trey Sermon

Sermon was drafted to provide depth behind veterans Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. with an eye toward a bigger role in the future. But that future might arrive sooner than later as Wilson is out four to six months following meniscus surgery and as Mostert deals with some lesser knee issues. Sermon made a strong first impression, particularly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and he looks poised to make an impact as a rookie so long as it carries over to training camp and the start of the season. -- Nick Wagoner

Seattle Seahawks

RB Alex Collins

With Chris Carson (personal matter), Rashaad Penny (knee surgery) and Travis Homer (calf) not practicing of late, Collins has appeared to receive the most reps of any Seattle running back. He looks trimmer and faster than he did in his first Seahawks stint. Collins is fighting for a roster spot on a minimum-salary deal that includes no guaranteed money. -- Brady Henderson