Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota played well enough to give their teams hope, Amari Cooper blew up for the Oakland Raiders and is already one of the better receivers in the league. Todd Gurley is the future of a Los Angeles Rams offense that will need to lean on him heavily going forward. The first round of the 2015 NFL Draft looks like it was a good one after one season, with the biggest names already paying dividends.
Guys like Vic Beasley, Arik Armstead, Bud Dupree and Shaq Thompson seem to have bright futures ahead of them. Few players performed poorly enough to be written off after a single season, if any.
But there are still some big question marks, none bigger than three of the biggest names from the first round: wide receivers Kevin White and Breshad Perriman and pass rusher Dante Fowler.
The Jacksonville Jaguars landed Fowler with the No. 3 overall pick and he was expected to take their defense to another level. The Chicago Bears took Kevin White at No. 7 overall and he was possibly the most intriguing wide receiver in the draft. The Baltimore Ravens landed Perriman closer to the end of the round but his insane athleticism gave them amazing big-play ability.
But none of those players actually found their way onto the field in the regular season last season. All had their seasons derailed due to injury and are now looking at 2016 as a second rookie season. But all three have the same promise they had 12 months ago, and all three could be essential contributors to their teams this year. Let's take a look at them below.
WR Kevin White, Chicago Bears
The Bears took White with the seventh overall pick in the draft, and he was expected to take their offense to new heights. Unfortunately, White had a string of bad luck before he ever got to play in a game. He sustained a shin injury that forced him out of 11 training camp practices and the preseason opener. It was then announced that he suffered a stress fracture in his shin, and he was placed on the physically unable to perform list.
White, 23, did not play at all in his rookie season but provided no further injuries occur, he'll get his chance as soon as possible. General manager Ryan Pace confirmed at the NFL owners meetings that White is "100 percent healthy," and that it's up to White to show a "mental confidence to go full speed."
Chicago retained Alshon Jeffery this offseason, but don't have much else at the receiver position behind him. The Bears don't truly know how White will adjust to the NFL, but their best-case scenario is that he earns a starting role opposite Jeffery sooner rather than later.
Better than this year's WR class?
This year's wide receiver draft class was considered weak overall, with Laquon Treadwell generally accepted as its leader. Treadwell had injury and speed concerns and was ultimately taken by the Minnesota Vikings as part of a run of receivers that also included Josh Doctson and Will Fuller. Corey Coleman was the first receiver off the board, going to the Cleveland Browns at No. 15 overall.
White was considered one of the better receiver prospects in a very long time last season. He and Amari Cooper were the top prospects at the position. The Bears arguably have the best rookie receiver in the NFL, if you consider White a rookie since he's only had a negligible amount of professional experience.
DE Dante Fowler, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fowler was the No. 3 overall pick for the Jaguars and was considered the top pass rusher in last year's draft. Expectations were high for Fowler out of the gate, but he tore his ACL on the very first day of minicamp and missed the entirety of his rookie season. He even signed his rookie deal four days after sustaining the injury that derailed his NFL debut.
ACL injuries are complicated and scary for players. Sometimes a full year of recovery isn't enough and often times, those players don't look the same when they come back. At this stage, the Jaguars haven't said much about Fowler's health but he's obviously been practicing and spending time getting ready. What kind of work he does when the team convenes for training camp will be telling.
Part of a massive defensive resurgence for Jaguars?
Head coach Gus Bradley got the job after impressing as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, but thus far the Jaguars have shown little on the defensive side of the ball after three seasons of trying. Bradley's on the hot seat now, and fortunately for him, the Jaguars seem to be stacking the roster in his favor.
The NFL Draft went perfectly for the Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey, the top defensive back in the draft, fell to them at No. 5 overall. Myles Jack, the UCLA linebacker with concerns about the long-term effects of a knee condition, fell to the Jaguars in the second round even after they debated taking him with the fifth pick.
The Jaguars are expected to have both Jack and Ramsey starting this season. Fowler, essentially a rookie, will see time as a LEO pass rusher and, if he's healthy enough, a starting role on the defensive line. With those three players and a list of offseason veteran acquisitions like Malik Jackson, the Jaguars are looking at a potentially dominant defense.
WR Breshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens
Perriman was considered a reach by the Ravens, who took him at No. 26 overall last year. But Perriman is incredibly fast, and has as much big-play potential as any receiver in the league.
The problem is he never found his way onto the field. The team originally suggested he had a sprain. Then they denied he aggravated the injury. Finally, head coach John Harbaugh said it was "one of the all-time slowest healing sprained PCLs ever," sounding a little frustrated and not making Perriman come off well in the court of public opinion. Eventually, they placed him on injured reserve on Nov. 17.
Why don't the Ravens want to say what's happening?
Throughout all of this the Ravens have barred Perriman from speaking to the media, and the team's offered only vague updates about his injury during and after the season. There is no real information about whether or not he'll be ready for training camp, the preseason or even the regular season.
The only information about Perriman's recovery was from his position coach at Central Florida, who said that Perriman's spirits were high, and that he was "100 percent and couldn't wait to get back out on the field with his teammates," Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun reported.
A healthy Perriman could be a huge part of the Ravens offense. They desperately need playmakers to help 36-year-old Steve Smith, who also sustained a season-ending injury last year.
There's a lot of hope still riding on all three of these players.