After somehow being overlooked in all that micro-analysis that goes into the NFL draft, there are free-agent rookies who go to camp every year and become the surprise of summer alongside lightly regarded veterans still looking that one last chance.
And 2014 is no different, with several undrafted rookies making a splash and, more importantly, making the roster side by side with a few veterans whose chances of playing this season also seemed slim back in the spring.
Among rookies, wide receiver Corey Washington out of little Newberry College overcame the most rejection this year. He was signed and cut by the Arizona Cardinals, then went to the New York Giants and became the preseason leader in receptions (10), receiving yards (155) and touchdowns receiving (3).
Other undrafted rookies who were pleasant surprises in NFC training camps were Dallas cornerback Tyler Patmon (Oklahoma State), Green Bay outside linebacker Jayrone Ellis (Toledo) and Seattle's Brock Coyle (Montana), a former ski racer from Bozeman, Montana who is now the backup middle linebacker for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Several veterans also took full advantage of every day they had in training camp, most notably offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who last year was the controversial central figure in Miami's bullying incident.
This summer he worked his way from a questionable player to the No. backup tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, in line to start this week if Anthony Davis is sidelined by an injury.
In New Orleans, running back Mark Ingram, a former first-round draftee who wasn't offered a contract extension heading into his fifth season, had his best training camp, giving ample reason for the team to reconsider his contractual status.
Here is a closer look as the Surprises of Summer from all NFC training camps, as reported by correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange (teams listed in alphabetical order within each division):
--SURPRISE OF SUMMER: Cornerback Tyler Patmon.
A rookie free agent from Oklahoma State, Patmon not only played well enough to make the roster, but is a possible nickel cornerback with Orlando Scandrick suspended for the first four games of the season.
Patmon opened of eyes in the preseason game against Miami with a forced fumble, an interception and an interception returned for a touchdown. He played so well that the Cowboys released disappointing cornerback B. W. Webb, a fourth-round pick of a year ago.
NEW YORK GIANTS
--SURPRISE OF SUMMER: Wide receiver Corey Washington.
Washington was originally signed this year by the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie out of little Newberry College. When the Cardinals cut him, the Giants quickly signed Washington.
At 6-4, 214 he was the biggest receiver on the Giants roster. But he began playing even bigger than his size, much as he did at Newberry, where he caught 95 passes for 1,615 yards and 22 touchdowns. He first showed his big play ability at North Charleston (S.C.) High School, where 19 of his 33 catches were for touchdowns.
He showed all of that in preseason, including a 73-yard, game-deciding touchdown against Buffalo.
--SURPRISE OF SUMMER: Linebacker Travis Long.
Long was a highly-regarded pass-rushing linebacker at Washington State, but tore his ACL in the next to last game of his college career. He wasn't drafted and signed in July 2013 with the Eagles. After spending last season on the practice squad, Long had a solid 2014 training camp and preseason. He has cross-trained as both an inside and outside linebacker and is an asset on special team.
--SURPRISE OF SUMMER: Wide receiver Ryan Grant.
A fifth-round draft choice from Tulane, Grant has not only been steady in practice, but he led the Redskins with 14 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the four preseason games. With Leonard Hankerson still sidelined following knee surgery, Grant figures to join 35-year-old Santana Moss as the leading wideouts behind starters Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.