NFC Stars of the Week: Seven WRs singled out

The Sports Xchange

June 05, 2017 at 3:59 pm.

May 16, 2017; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Chad Williams during team OTA workouts at the Cardinals Training Facility. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

May 16, 2017; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Chad Williams during team OTA workouts at the Cardinals Training Facility. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL offseason work is winding down with most of the activities ending next week.

The Arizona Cardinals are an anomaly in the NFC after having their first OTA sessions a week before most other teams. That has resulted in the Cardinals staging their mandatory three-day minicamp this week, a get-together that conclude their offseason work.

The remaining 15 NFC teams all have OTAs this week and minicamps next week.

All teams have players that stand out, which gives us the opportunity to evaluate some of the stars of last week’s OTA work. Wide receivers always are popular choices, and that is the ace in the NFC with seven stars being pass-catchers.

Additionally, there are four rookies in the NFC group.


–WR Chad Williams: The team’s third-round pick out of Grambling has been turning heads through three weeks of OTAs and even drew this comparison from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald: “He reminds me of Anquan Boldin in terms of the strength of his hands. Once it touches his hands, it just doesn’t move. He’s got unbelievable strong hands.” Head coach Bruce Arians also has praised Williams and it won’t be a surprise if the 6-foot-1 wideout pushes his way up the depth chart and sees a fair amount of playing time as a rookie. He’s got deceptive speed and already has been a favorite target of quarterback Carson Palmer during practices.


–RB Brian Hill: The rookie has caught the eye of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. He wants to see if Hill can help replace kickoff and punt returner Eric Weems. He likes the way that Hill attacks with the ball in his hands and believes he has some potential as a kickoff returner.


–WR Devin Funchess: Entering his third season, he can be a threat, particularly if he uses his 6-foot-4 frame. He seems more willing to do that. As a bonus, if he shows more flashes during workouts like he did at the beginning of the second week of OTAs, he could push others in the receiving corps to upgrade their performances as well. That ultimately might be one of the biggest benefits from what appears to be glimpses of increased efficiency.


–S Adrian Amos: The need for a safety to arise and play alongside Quintin Demps has led to a search for talent, but Amos is the incumbent and appeared ready Tuesday to make a statement. Amos came up to make an interception in scrimmage. When teamed with Demps, he helped to prevent anything long while coming up strong and fast on the routes over the middle. Amos covered wide receivers as well as tight ends. In his second season last year, Amos had problems timing his break on passes thrown underneath the coverage. His performance in OTAs suggests he may have improved at this, but having a veteran like Demps to communicate with is a luxury he didn’t have in the past. Often the past two years he was an inexperienced safety trying to direct even more inexperienced defensive backs.


–TE Rico Gathers: He gets a lot reps behind Jason Witten because of injuries to James Hanna and Geoff Swaim. He gets starters reps when Witten takes Wednesdays off to rest. The Cowboys are doing their best to get the former college basketball player up to speed and ready to play. Head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Dak Prescott spent more than 30 minutes after practice with him during red-zone work Wednesday. He caught three touchdown passes from Prescott in practice.


–LB Tahir Whitehead: Whitehead is moving to weak-side linebacker this season to allow rookie Jarrad Davis to play middle linebacker, and he’s done so without complaint. The Lions’ leader with 132 tackles last season, Whitehead said his goal is to be on the field in nickel situations alongside Davis. “He’s one of those guys that can play those two inside positions very, very well,” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “He runs well and obviously, he’s played them both before. … He’ll play WILL for us and he also obviously still has the ability to play any other spot.”


–WR Jordy Nelson: To cap the same week he celebrated his birthday, the Packers’ star wideout will host his annual Jordy Nelson Charity Softball Game on Saturday. The festive event at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute, Wis., about 30 miles from Lambeau Field, pits players from Green Bay’s offense against their teammates on defense. The game comes amid Nelson’s on-field involvement in the Packers’ spring workouts. “It’s really fun to have him here this time,” second-year wide receivers coach Luke Getsy said about Nelson’s participation in the ongoing organized team workouts. Nelson was a non-participant last spring as well as for nearly most of training camp in the summer as he completed his recovery from a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2015 season. Once on the field, Nelson bounced back in a big way. He led the Packers last season with 97 catches for 1,257 yards and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns.

“As the year went on, I think you saw a guy who got better, so that’s exciting,” said Getsy, noting that Nelson essentially needed the first part of the season to get “in game shape” after more than a year of inactivity. Getsy is hopeful a healthy Nelson will continue to flourish in his second season removed from a devastating injury. Nelson, who will enter his 10th pro season, turned 32 on Wednesday. “We’re excited to see what he can do this year, and I’m sure it’s going to be great stuff and it’s going to help us win a lot of football games,” Getsy said.


–OL Jamon Brown: Brown has played guard throughout his short Rams career, but with new head coach Sean McVay determined to create competition while figuring out the most effective offensive line he can, there’s been major additions and position shuffling including moving left tackle Greg Robinson to right tackle. But Brown might be making a push to win the right-tackle job after sliding over from guard and getting the majority of first-team reps over Robinson during the open part of Rams OTA’s this week. His work over the last week, coupled with a strong offseason, has opened eyes.

“When you look at it, Jamon Brown is a guy that’s competed really well. He’s done a nice job competing both at guard and at tackle,” McVay said. “We gave him and Greg a chance to compete and really excited to go back and look at the tape. I think what we’ve seen from Jamon, really going back to last week, a lot of encouraging things and Greg has done some good things as well. Until I really see this practice, it’s hard for us to say exactly how it went today. But, I think it’s good to let guys compete and see how they do.”


–DE Danielle Hunter: Based on practices open to the media the past two weeks, the situational pass rusher has moved past veteran Brian Robison as the team’s new starting left defensive end. That’s not a big surprise. Yes, Robison is in his 11th season with the team. But even he saw this coming after last season, when the freakishly strong and athletic Hunter had 12.5 sacks as a role player. In 30 career games, Hunter has 18.5 sacks and just one start. It’s hard to judge Hunter without the pads on, but the 22 year old looks even quicker. Whether he can hold the point of attack against the run as well as the more experienced Robison remains to be seen. But it sure looks like Hunter will be seeing more snaps in running situations this season.


–WR Ted Ginn Jr.: He caught several deep passes from Drew Brees, though he later dropped a ball on a short crossing route. Ginn, who played the previous two of his 10 career seasons with the Panthers, signed with the Saints in the offseason to help offset the loss of Brandin Cooks, who was traded to New England. “I could not be more impressed with Teddy,” Brees said. “He’s had his most productive years recently and he certainly doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. He can fly.”


–LB B.J. Goodson: Last year as a rookie, Goodson was the only one of the 2016 draft class who barely played at his position despite being healthy (safety Darian Thompson hardly played after suffering an early season-ending injury). This year, Goodson has his eye set on winning the starting middle linebacker job and is making a very early case to do so. Goodson has been trusted by the coaches to make the defensive calls, something he’s done with authority in his voice. Goodson also looks surer of himself and what he’s doing, particularly in coverage where he’s shown good instinct in drifting toward the ball carrier. Goodson, who is battling for the job with veteran Keenan Robinson, has also shown good instincts in anticipating where a play will be run, having put himself into position to break up or minimize a play several times.


–CB Rasul Douglas: The 6-foot-2, 209-pound rookie third-round pick has made a very good early impression at the Eagles’ OTAs. While he got beat on a 50/50 touchdown pass by 6-foot-4 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery Tuesday, he has played well and has held his own against the Eagles’ receiving corps. Considered a project when he was drafted, he is determined to compete for a starting job as a rookie.


–CB Rashard Robinson: The second-year cornerback has impressed his new bosses with a mindset “unique for a corner,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He does not want to get beat. Every rep is so important to him. He doesn’t care who he’s going against.” Saleh went on to call Robinson a “dog” … but in a good way. “He’s made of the right stuff,” the coach insisted.


–WR Kenny Lawler: Following up on a strong rookie minicamp showing, Lawler continued to make a strong impression. Lawler, a seventh-round pick in 2016, spent most of his rookie season on Seattle’s practice squad. After adding some weight to his wiry frame in the offseason, Lawler appears to be better situated to compete this year. Lawler was one of the stars of Seattle’s rookie minicamp and was involved again Friday.


–WR Adam Humphries: He established himself as the Bucs’ slot receiver last season and was third on the team with 55 receptions for 622 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bucs’ receiving position became more competitive with the addition of DeSean Jackson and third-round pick Chris Godwin. However, Humphries is holding on to his spot. He had an exceptional practice Thursday and was singled out by head coach Dirk Koetter as being the most consistent player during the six OTA workouts.


–WR Terrelle Pryor: Pryor admits he and quarterback Kirk Cousins will have to work on their timing throughout the offseason. Cousins has never had a target as big as the 6-foot-4 Pryor. So far, so good. On Wednesday, they tested Washington’s cornerbacks early. Pryor went deep and made a leaping catch for a touchdown over Bashaud Breeland during 11-on-11 drills.

“Terrelle is a different guy when he is running,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “He is such a long strider that it doesn’t look like he is running that fast. So we have underthrown him like a dozen times already in two weeks. So it is just a matter of the quarterbacks getting used to it. Once he gets his feet churning, he’s fast, so they’ve got to trust that he’s going to go get it.”