As we shared with you about a week ago, there are currently 133 players formerly of the Division II ranks on an NFL training camp roster. With all 32 teams now hitting the practice fields — albeit some sooner than others — we can start to judge who are some of the year's "camp darlings".
To be considered one of darlings of camp, one must of course have played at a D2 institution, but also be in their first season of NFL play, or have never made a 53-man roster. Thus excludes regular stars from D2 such as the Titans' Delanie Walker (Central Missouri) or Malcolm Butler (West Alabama) of the Patriots.
Camp still has over a month left, so check back in a few weeks to see some updates on names we list below, as well as those who might make a late splash to make it into the league.
Keelan Cole, WR — Jacksonville
A former offensive weapon at Kentucky Wesleyan, Cole has lit up Jags camp with his penchant for catching the deep ball, and was unofficially named as the MVP of Friday practices last week by most media members that follow the Jaguars.
At 6-1 and 194 pounds, Cole profiles well as an outside receiver who has track-star agility to break away from defenders. Also a former baseball and basketball player, the KWC standout should at the very least be on his way to a practice squad spot if he continues to shine when the pads come on for game time.
— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) July 28, 2017
Adam Shaheen, TE — Chicago
While it's hard to truly measure how the Ashland alum is doing in camp because of Chicago's social media ban at their camp, reports afterwards from various sources have praised "Baby Gronk" for the exact thing that made him a fast riser in the draft: receiving ability.
While his blocking needs some work, something that is clearly becoming an excellent trait is Shaheen's chemistry with first round draft pick Mitchell Trubisky, the quarterback of the future for the Bears. The QB and his offensive option "grab Chipotle daily" according to Shaheen, and the two have linked up in practice often to begin the blocks of a potential star combination.
No rookie tight end has ever totaled 900 receiving yards in a year, and only Rob Gronkowski has ever had 10 touchdowns in a rookie season. While expectations may be high, don't expect all-pro levels… just yet.
Dylan Donahue, LB — New York Jets
Talk about a rise from expectations, as Donahue — a fifth round pick in the 2017 Draft — has gotten reps with the first team defense over the last two practice days, and has made some spectacular plays while on the field.
Honestly, much of this could be due to the fact that the Jets are just a team looking for young talent everywhere and are in a total rebuild from the bottom up. But still, for a D2 sack master such as Donahue (West Georgia) to be getting reps as a first-teamer says more about his play than a team's philosophy.
While it is unlikely the former Wolves lineman stays atop the depth chart, we will have to wait and see how he performs in preseason action before we know the true answer.