When the Philadelphia Eagles signed a number of undrafted free agents following the 2015 NFL Draft earlier this offseason, one player who stood out was Coastal Carolina cornerback Denzel Rice. But it wasn't in a good way.
Out of all the rookies the Eagles signed, Rice ranked as the lowest prospect on CBS Sports at No. 880 overall. Even more, he was only one of two Eagles undrafted free agent signings at the time (the other being Division III wide receiver Rasheed Bailey) whom the team didn't award with a small signing bonus. These clues could lead one to believe he was brought in to be nothing more than a camp body.
Early on in Eagles 2015 training camp, however, Rice has been one of the players who has stood out in a good way. After having a solid spring, Rice has made plays during several of the team's summer training sessions. He's knocked down passes and even forced a fumble on Tim Tebow in front of 20,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field. The rookie lit up when asked about that play after practice earlier this week.
"[Laughs] Just doing my job, man," Rice said. "I seen the ball and I went it at it, man. That’s just the mentality I go in with every day."
"Just going back from high school, the coaches say "the ball!" It’s all about the ball. Everything’s about the ball. So when I see the ball, I gotta have the ball."
Rice's efforts have drawn praise from Chip Kelly. The Eagles coach has liked what he's seen from the 22-year-old rookie.
"He just keeps showing up," Kelly said. "You look at the play when [Tebow] kept it and ran and has a big gainer of about 10 yards and then Denzel comes up, has a caused fumble, picked it up, scooped it up and had a fumble recovery at the same time. He seems to have a unique knack to always being around the ball."
Kelly also explained that the Eagles were very interested in Rice leading up to the draft.
"He was a guy we had targeted high. We didn't have a seventh-round pick – well, we did have a seventh-round pick, but we took a defensive lineman at that situation. But he was a guy we were very, very high on. Spent a lot of time with in the offseason. That seems to happen every year. [Patriots CB] Malcolm Butler was a guy last year for the Patriots that no one drafted and ended up making the key play in the Super Bowl. It happens all the time. Why, I don't know, maybe he was at a little bit smaller school. He was a guy we were very excited about when we got the evaluation."
To put things in perspective, Rice is going up against lesser quarterbacks and lesser wide receivers since he's running with the third team. And there's still plenty of summer left. Recall that Curtis Marsh looked pretty good in camp last year before really flaming out later in the summer.
Still, Rice has shown promise early on. There's a legitimate chance he can fight for a spot at the bottom of the roster or, at least, a practice squad opportunity. Rice will definitely be a player to watch once the preseason games begin.