'Walker Awards' for training camp

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
9:30
AM ET
MIAMI -- The AFC East blog is back in its South Florida headquarters after an 11-day road trip visiting training camps around the division.

I have now visited all four camps in the past two weeks. You can check out our "Camp Confidential" segments for three AFC East teams here, here and here. The New England Patriots' report is coming up later on Thursday.

With tons of notes still left in my pad, I decided to do the first annual "Walker Awards" for 2012 training camp.

Enjoy.

Most impressive team: Patriots

Analysis: To be frank, you can just see the difference in talent between the Patriots and everyone else in the division. No other team has a quarterback like Tom Brady. No other team has Rob Gronkowski at tight end or a receiver like Wes Welker. No teams' practices are as crisp and workmanlike as coach Bill Belichick's. The football culture in New England is just better, and you can see it and feel it in its training camp. The Patriots are confident. They know what success feels like and prepare for it every day. It would be shocking if New England doesn't win another division title based on what I've seen in camp. It’s clear the Patriots deserve to be the favorites.

Most impressive quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots

Analysis: No surprise here. Brady is the only legit franchise quarterback in the division. Even though he struggled in practice on Tuesday, the other two practices were what I expected. There is a big difference when you watch other AFC East quarterbacks like Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez practice compared to Brady. It's the biggest reason New England sits comfortably at the top of the division.

Most impressive running back: C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: I was really impressed by what I saw from Spiller during my visit to Pittsford, N.Y., last week. Spiller looks like a player who is demanding more carries with his play. He has to wait his turn behind starter Fred Jackson, but Buffalo's coaching staff would be silly to let Spiller rot on the bench this year and not put the ball in his hands. If Jackson proves to be 100 percent healthy, the Bills could have one of the best one-two punches at running back in the league. The question is, how do you keep both players happy?

Most impressive rookie: Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills

Analysis: This was a close race between Gilmore and Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower. I was really impressed with both rookies in training camp. But Gilmore made fewer mistakes than Hightower during my time at both camps. Gilmore is playing like a five-year veteran. He is challenging No. 1 Bills receiver Steve Johnson nearly every day in practice, and that can only speed up his development. Gilmore is physical, he moves well and he's fearless. He may already be Buffalo's No. 1 corner and he hasn't played a game in the NFL.

Most disappointing player: Vontae Davis, CB, Dolphins

Analysis: While we're on the subject of corners, the most disappointing player during my tour of training camp has been Davis. He has the physical tools to be a No. 1 corner. Davis was heading in that direction toward the end of the 2011 season. But Davis, as outline by HBO's "Hard Knocks," showed up to camp out of shape. The former first-round pick has been getting beat too much and Miami's coaching staff moved him out of the starting lineup for Richard Marshall. Davis has always been plagued by immaturity. With a new coaching staff, he needs to grow up fast or it is going to be a long year.

Most comeback potential: Chad Johnson, WR, Dolphins

Analysis: Johnson looks like a man on a mission. The receiver is showing flashes of the old Johnson we saw with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is coming off his career-worst season with just 15 receptions last year in New England. Johnson admits he was humbled and exposed, but now he's motivated. That's a good thing for Miami, which needs all the help at receiver it can get.

Most baffling player: Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets

Analysis: It's been a bizarre training camp for New York's starting cornerback. First, Cromartie causes controversy by saying he's the second-best receiver on the team. Then, Cromartie injuries No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes' ribs with a big hit in a scrimmage, forcing Holmes to miss at least one preseason game. Finally, Cromartie gets into it with tight end Dustin Keller this week and causes head coach Rex Ryan to stop practice. It's only August and Cromartie has a string of incidents piling up. He just needs to concentrate on playing his best football from here on out.

Most overhyped player: Tim Tebow, QB, Jets

Analysis: Yes, Tebow is polarizing. Fans either love him or hate him. But strictly from a football standpoint, Tebow was not impressive enough in practices to merit the immense coverage he gets in the media. Tebow is far from lighting it up in training camp. Sanchez is outplaying Tebow and erasing any doubts that Tebow should be the starter in Week 1. In last week's scrimmage that I attended, Tebow was 0-for-3 with two fumbled snaps. The offense looks shaky with him under center. Tebow will be able to help the Jets' ground-and-pound offense with his running ability and contribute on special teams. But the huge hype of outplaying Sanchez and making a strong push for the starting quarterback job in training camp hasn't materialized.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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