With NFL training camps set to open up in a few weeks, it will be the first real taste of being a professional football player for all the rookies who heard their names called in the draft not too long ago. And in some cases, teams may be counting on some of their first-year players to contribute sooner rather than later.
Here is one key rookie for each of the four NFC North teams to keep an eye on during training camp.
Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
The Bears didn’t disappoint the hometown crowd on the opening night of the draft this year when they selected West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White with the seventh overall pick. The Bears hope White can jump right into a starting role opposite Alshon Jeffery. Both White and Jeffery are listed as 6-foot-3 and around 215 pounds, which makes for nightmare matchups against opposing defensive backs. White could put up some huge numbers in a league where rookie wide receivers took over last season. The x-factor in this equation is how much does Jay Cutler look at White in the red zone given his more established chemistry with Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, not to mention Matt Forté, whose 102 receptions last season were the most ever by a running back.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
The Lions ranked 28th in rushing last season, and Reggie Bush left via free agency to sign with San Francisco. Ameer Abdullah looks to continue the success he had with the Nebraska Cornhuskers and make a difference in Detroit. Abdullah will have to compete with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick for snaps. The bright side on being a running back with the Lions is that Matthew Stafford likes to throw the ball to them. Running backs were targeted on more than 28 percent of Detroit’s passing plays last season. If Abdullah can show he’s a reliable receiver out of the backfield, it will only help him carve out a role in this offense.
Ty Montgomery, WR/KR, Green Bay Packers
When Packers general manager Ted Thompson takes a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft, it’s best to pay a little attention to him. Ty Montgomery could come in and contribute from the first snap of the regular season. The Stanford product has an uphill climb to get snaps given the presence of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but Montgomery could make his mark early on through special teams, especially as a kickoff returner. While at Stanford, Montgomery returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 27.4 yards per return over his four years.
Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings
The team from the land of 10,000 lakes looks to take the next step this upcoming season and challenge for a playoff spot in the NFC North. A big part of making this happen might be Eric Kendricks, Minnesota’s second-round pick from UCLA. Kendricks becomes the second linebacker drafted in two years by the Vikings, as they took fellow Bruin Anthony Barr in the first round last year. Kendricks got some first-team reps in OTAs and at minimum should get some early looks in the defense’s nickel packages. If Kendricks, who finished his UCLA career as the program’s all-time leading tackler, can adapt quickly to the pro game, then he and Barr could finally bring some much-needed stability to the Vikings’ linebacker corps.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is apart of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.