Every training-camp period, certain rookies shine and go relatively unnoticed by major sports media. While local beat writers tend to pick up on the action, most NFL fans won’t know that specific player until he’s running circles around their team or smashing into their favorite players. By staying in touch with the ‘beats’ of every team, here are my favorite ‘under-the-radar ‘rookies to watch out for as the pre-season begins to veer its head.
Green Bay Packers LB Quay Walker
The Green Bay Packers have gone all-in on their defense and Georgia linebacker Quay Walker is the ‘icing on top.’ Playing a pivotal role for the best defense in the NCAA last year at Georgia, Walker is jumping from one esteemed program to the next. While pundits argued about Walker’s status amongst a legendary Bulldogs’ defense during draft season, his 67 tackles – including 39 solo and 5.5 for loss – 25 QB pressures, and 1.5 sacks was enough for the Pack to select him 22nd overall.
Coming into camp, Walker finds himself in the perfect position to both perform and learn as he lines up alongside 2021 stud De’Vondre Campbell. With Campbell as a resource, Walker should bolster this already-strong unit of Joe Barry’s Packer defense that is absolutely loaded with talent. For the first time in years, the Packers are a defensively driven team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Luke Goedeke
With the loss of center Ryan Jensen to a potentially season-ending injury, the Buccaneers’ offense may have a weak spot after all. I wouldn’t fret too much if I was a Bucs fan though, as back-up center Robert Hainsey appears capable of filling this new hole. That being said, only days after Jensen went down, bonafide right tackle Tristan Wirfs did too. While Wirfs is reportedly fine and is expected back at camp, all eyes have seemingly landed on Tom Brady’s protection unit as the biggest point of concern for this Super-Bowl contending team.
Easy to go unnoticed, offensive tackle Luke Goedeke, the Bucs’ 2nd round draft choice, is a name to keep an eye on through training camp as the team will ultimately look to put the best offensive line unit together. Drafted out of Central Michigan, Goedeke was one of the best lineman in the MAC and only allowed 7 QB pressures throughout the 2021 season. Excelling as a run-blocker, Goedeke could see action in an offense that loves to feature their running back weapons (i.e. Leonard Fournette) and one that is driven by play-action.
Miami Dolphins LB Channing Tindall
With the ‘Patriot Way’ being thrown out of Miami like the team’s 2023 first round draft pick from the controversial ‘exit’ of head coach Brian Flores, the Miami Dolphins are searching for a new team identity centered around the offense. While the team made splashes for star skill-players, the defense has remained nearly unchanged under tenured defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. Now turn your attention to rookie third round pick Channing Tindall, another member of the legendary Georgia defense last year. Securing 67 tackles – including 35 solo, 7.5 for loss – and 5.5 sacks last year for the Bulldogs, Tindall has a shot at beating out current starter Elandon Roberts at some point this season.
The former New England Patriot Roberts had a season that left a lot to be desired and the Dolphins’ selection of Tindall could be seen as an indictment of that. Tindall’s prowess and his ability to be one of the leading tacklers of one of the best college defenses of all time should earn him an extra look at camp.
Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder
Honestly, I wasn’t too high on Desmond Ridder coming out of Cincinnati, but he’s one of only two rookie quarterbacks that could realistically start early-on this season. I was tempted to put Malik Willis here but Ridder is facing perhaps the easiest starting competition and getting little-to-know media coverage. Truly flying under the radar, if Ridder can outperform Marcus Mariota – a quality back-up quarterback – in camp, then he has his audition to become the Falcons’ franchise quarterback of the future.
While posting Ridders’ numbers here serves no purpose as his only real competition was against Alabama in the CFB Playoff (where his team lost 27-6), he definitely has the moxxy to go head-to-head with Mariota throughout the preseason. While I believe Mariota will ultimately win the job, the fact that an AAC QB is competing with a former Heisman trophy winner for an NFL starting job deserves more attention.