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Under-the-radar rookies to watch – NFC South

Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports In addition to our Training Camp Takeaway series, we at PFF are also hot on the trails of some intriguing rookies to keep your eyes on as we progress through the preseason.
Last season, the Falcons defense ranked fifth in overall grade as a unit at 87.7 improving from 15th in 2016 (75.2).
Oliver has the body type that NFL teams covet in 2017, with the size and speed to be able to play man coverage on the outside and challenge for any deep ball.
An athletic tight end, Thomas can create mismatches on the outside and he averaged 8.9 yards after the catch per reception despite not forcing a missed tackle on his 29 career receptions.
Smith’s production in 2017 was almost unmatched as he caught 70.8 percent of his deep targets, second-best in the nation, and he led all FBS receivers with nine touchdowns on deep passes.
Besides Thomas, no other Saints wide receiver generated a 70.0 receiving grade in 2017, so if Smith can show he’s a reliable target throughout the preseason, his rookie impact could be huge as a third or fourth option behind Thomas and premier receiving running back, Alvin Kamara.
This provides a great opportunity for second-round pick Ronald Jones II to step in and shoot up the depth chart.
Jones was the highest-graded running back in the nation in 2017.
His 76.4 elusive rating ranked 12th among draft-eligible RBs which should open some eyes in Tampa Bay as no running back on the roster ranked in the top-20 in elusiveness rating last season.
Jones II is a player to watch this preseason.

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Aug 9, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (10) catches a ball in the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to our Training Camp Takeaway series, we at PFF are also hot on the trails of some intriguing rookies to keep your eyes on as we progress through the preseason. Some rookies are wowing during their first training camp and may be pushing hard for some well-deserved, extra snaps during preseason games.

With our wealth of knowledge both at the NFL and FBS level, here are some under-the-radar rookies that have been turning heads and that you may get to see a lot of this preseason, and what they did in college a year ago:

Atlanta’s second-round draft selection, Isaiah Oliver, steps in to a favorable situation to provide depth behind current starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the up-and-coming Falcons defense. Last season, the Falcons defense ranked fifth in overall grade as a unit at 87.7 improving from 15th in 2016 (75.2). Oliver has the body type that NFL teams covet in 2017, with the size and speed to be able to play man coverage on the outside and challenge for any deep ball. Oliver allowed fewer than 44 percent of his targets to be caught in each of his past two seasons, and he finished his collegiate career with 23 passes defensed and three interceptions. Combining his impressive radius to challenge for the ball, and his steady improvement during each season at Colorado, Oliver has the potential to be an impact player in his first NFL season.

With the first pick of the fourth round the Panthers opted for Indiana’s standout tight end, Ian Thomas. Thomas joins a tight end group lacking depth behind all-pro Greg Olsen who is entering his 12th year and coming off an injury plagued 2017 season. Behind Olsen, other tight…

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