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Ultimate 11: Intriguing rookies to watch

The thing about going to the Greenbrier for training camp is that no one, outside of media and a few hearty fans, will get to see the new breed of Texans until Saturday night against the Patriots in preseason game number two. That said, I’ll definitely keep you updated on this group of rookies as they progress through their inaugural NFL training camp.

Here’s a rookie to watch at each position, an ‘Ultimate 11’ rookie breakdown, if you will. If I’ve written about a rookie already this offseason, I might spread the wealth a bit.

11. Interior defensive lineman Eli Ankou (UCLA, undrafted) – The big fella was an important piece of an underrated defense at UCLA. He didn’t get a ton of love in the draft process because he did more of the grinder work for the Bruins defense, but he’s stout and strong at the point of attack. He can move better than most 300 lb. men as well.

10. Wide receiver Riley McCarron (Iowa, undrafted) - He missed a portion of OTAs/minicamp with an injury, but, hopefully, he’ll be ready to roll by training camp. He LOOKS exactly like Wes Welker; if Welker had a doppelganger, it’s certainly, and without a doubt, McCarron. If he could PLAY like him, that would be a gift from the B1G football gods.

9. Cornerback Treston Decoud (Oregon State, fifth round) - Due to the archaic NFL graduation rule, we haven’t gotten to see Decoud at all, similar to what happened to Xavier Su’a-Filo in his rookie campaign. Decoud is going to play a role this year, even if we forgot all about him after the draft. He’s the only rookie at cornerback, outside of undrafted Dee Virgin, who showed some flashes throughout the offseason.

8. Interior offensive lineman Kyle Fuller (Baylor, seventh round) - He spent a decent majority of his time at guard during the offseason, which did nothing but build up his versatility quotient. It’s a math algorithm that I’ve figured out on my own - play more positions, have a better chance to get on the field. See? Math.

7. Inside linebacker Dylan Cole (Missouri State, undrafted) - I’ve talked about Zach Cunningham for a while, a long while. However, a guy that I’ve mentioned a few times as well is Cole, a speedy linebacker from an FCS program. This dude can FLY although he’s short..er and small...er than Texans linebackers the past few years. Mainly, he’s an athlete that can help in a number of areas on the field. Before the draft, I predicted that he’d make a 53-man roster, but didn’t think the Texans would be the team that drafted/signed him. If he does make this roster, he’ll definitely find a way to contribute on special teams, at a minimum.

6. Quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson, first round) - Is there anything we haven’t said at this point? I just can’t wait to see him get back to work with this offense and fellow quarterbacks Tom Savage and DeAndre Hopkins.

5. Running back Dare Ogunbowale (Wisconsin, undrafted) - Yesterday, I was doing some work around the house, so I flipped a game on the TV to keep me company. Yes, I do that frequently. Anyhow, Wisconsin was playing Michigan State and Ogunbowale caught my attention. He showed that he’ll run his guts out and will compete for any scrap of playing time he can get this preseason. He’s tough and thicker than his listed height/weight. Sure, D’Onta Foreman will have eyes on him throughout training camp for a number of reasons, but we’ve all written about him for months.

4. Safety Malik Smith (San Diego State, undrafted) - Smith is a smart, physical safety who started a ton of games at San Diego State. He’s going to have to make some plays early in camp to get some attention and opportunities. If the safety position experiences an injury situation like it did last year, Smith had better be ready, that’s for sure. I love his build and his demeanor; now, let’s see what he can do with pads on.

3. Outside linebacker Dayon Pratt (East Carolina, undrafted) – Long arms. Motor. Can go all day. Loves the game. Pratt is highly intriguing as he has every attribute that defensive coaches look for in an edge player, except that he’s a little light. The roster has him listed at 225 lbs., but he’s bigger than that. Not much, though, so he’s going to have to prove that he can set the edge well at 235-240, something that took Whitney Mercilus some time to master. Mercilus will, at a minimum, be inspiration and a great leader for Pratt and this outside linebacker crew.

2. Tight ends Evan Baylis (Oregon, undrafted) and Zach Conque (Stephen F. Austin undrafted) – The Texans seem set with three versatile and unique tight ends - C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson. The rookies, though, got plenty of reps at all three tight end spots during the offseason and showed plenty of athleticism, hands and toughness. I don’t know that either can crack the top three or even make the Texans decide to take four at this spot, but they have skill sets worth watching at the Greenbrier.

1. Tackle Julien Davenport (Bucknell, fourth round) - Perhaps no player, outside of Deshaun Watson, will get tested more at training camp than Davenport. He’s going to face three rushers that the rest of the NFL has a difficult time handling and he’s never seen them before. It can only make him better because he won’t see anyone quite like that all season long. He made some progress in the offseason but now the pads go on and it’s time to shine.

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