These four rookies, drafted after the first round, made lasting impressions in camp and should be major contributors this year
DESHAUN FOSTER, RB, PANTHERS
Drafted in second round, 34th pick
Concerns about his character following an NCAA suspension last year for an extra-benefits violation—not to mention a rep for fumbling—dropped Foster out of the first round. A left knee injury will sideline the former UCLA star for the first four weeks, but when he returns Foster should dramatically improve a rushing attack that ranked 29th in the NFL in 2001. "He'll be a great one," says Panthers coach John Fox. Case in point: On his first preseason carry, Foster broke loose for an electrifying 61-yard score.
ANDRE GURODE, C, COWBOYS
Drafted in second round, 37th pick
Entering the bell lap of Emmitt Smith's race to the NFL career rushing record, Dallas had concerns at center and right guard. The uncertainty at center, however, lasted only one week of training camp, by which time Gurode, a feisty rookie from Colorado, had sufficiently dazzled coaches to become, at 326 pounds, the NFL's heaviest starter at his position. With a last name that's frequently mispronounced (it's Jer-ROD), he'll likely become known by what's surely the best rookie nickname: The Garage.
DEION BRANCH, WR, PATRIOTS
Drafted in second round, 65th pick
A 5'9", 190-pound flash out of Louisville who could be mistaken for Pro Bowl wideout and teammate Troy Brown, Branch caught eight passes for 129 yards in the first half of New England's preseason opener against the Giants, prompting coach Bill Belichick to say that he had to figure out a way to get the rookie on the field. The Patriots thought they had fortified their receiving corps with free agent Donald Hayes. After Branch's catch-everything camp, that position is looking downright dangerous.
WILL OVERSTREET, LB, FALCONS
Drafted in third round, 80th pick
In the 259-pound Overstreet, a three-year starter at Tennessee at defensive end, the Falcons saw a player they felt could make the transition to weakside linebacker in their new 3-4 scheme. They also figured he might occasionally spell defensive end Patrick Kerney, the team's leader in sacks last year, who was moving to the weak side too. Plans have changed. Because he had such an exceptional camp, Overstreet was penciled in as a starter at linebacker, and Kerney will stay put at right end on what should be one of the league's most improved defenses.