Preseason gems: Could Seahawks have new Legion of Boom stud?

Tharold Simon's 103-yard interception return for a touchdown was a sliver of the second-year cornerback's athletic display. Which other hidden gems caught the eyes of in the second week of the preseason?

Tharold Simon (right) was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

James Snook / USA TODAY Sports

No play ignited CenturyLink Field on Friday night like when Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon took an interception 100 yards and returned it for a touchdown. Officials, though, negated the play, flagging Simon for illegal contact on Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman.

"On Tharold, the league came back and said it was not a penalty," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday on 710 ESPN Seattle. "I don't blame the officiating, because the emphasis on these rules was clear and they've done that. They are calling contact [penalties] that would have been incidental in the past. It's an elevated number. Contact penalties are up seven times as much [as a year ago] in a mock study we did."

Simon, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound cornerback, isn’t afraid to play in a receiver’s face and press off the line of scrimmage. While Simon was placed on the physically unable to perform list last season with a stress fracture in his foot, the time away may have worked in his favor.

Former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner took Simon under his wing during his rookie season. Now that Browner has moved on to New England, cornerback Richard Sherman has assumed responsibilities.

Sherman has notably been a reliable source of knowledge for the young cornerback.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Simon left a year early from LSU, where he earned valuable reps once Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne left for the NFL.

“When you draft juniors, typically that second year those players will take a big leap because it’s technically their rookie season,” a source close to Simon told “Last year, with the injury, it was tough for him, but he took advantage of the learning opportunity and that will ultimately benefit him."

While Simon was ejected for throwing a punch in the first preseason game against Denver, he vowed to funnel his aggressive mentality into production on the field.

With Browner and cornerback Walter Thurmond III departing in free agency, cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane and Simon will have big roles in Seattle’s defense. Simon’s big-play ability is certainly welcomed in a fierce secondary that’s bolstered by Pro Bowlers.

Simon’s performance tops a list of players of hidden gems, who performed well in the second week of the preseason.    

Jeff Janis, Packers WR

Despite a logjam at the wide receiver position in Green Bay, the Saginaw Valley State product looks to make his name on special teams.

He was able, though, to show off his 4.4 40-yard dash speed on Sunday against the Rams.

Janis hauled in a Matt Flynn pass on a crossing route and exploded 34 yards for a touchdown.

The 6-foot-3 wide receiver’s notable work during Senior Bowl week, impressive combine showing and clean-as-a whistle billing during the draft process didn’t help him shed the small-school label. Falling to the seventh round, Janis plays with a chip on his shoulder and is eager to prove doubters wrong. 

"He's made a few plays," Rodgers said, via’s Rob Demovsky. "He's athletic. He's fast. He ran his route, caught a ball and outran everybody today. When you're playing against the first string, you have to run crisp routes and make the plays that are there, so plays like today help him out confidence-wise for sure. He did it in practice last week. Coming back from his ailment, he did a nice job for us."

Taylor Thompson, Titans TE

Has converted DE rounded out his ability to play TE position?

Crystal LoGiudice / USA TODAY Sports

Thompson entered the league two years ago as a defensive end, but made the switch tight end. Since then, he's rounded out his game and has become a more polished player at the position.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder has caught the eyes of the team and is notably leading the Titans in receiving two weeks into the preseason.

“It has been just a little bit of a process, but he has great athleticism,” a Titans source told “He’s a great athlete and now you’re starting to see it on the field. He’s starting to feel much more comfortable running routes and catch the football. He has been huge in training camp so far.”

Thompson, who is unofficially behind Delanie Walker and Craig Stevens on the depth chart, could be an underrated contributor in the Titans offense this season.

Tim Lelito, Saints C

Entrenched in a training camp battle with veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, Lelito has shown good versatility at several positions on the interior of the offensive line.

Earning valuable repetitions with the first-team offense in practice, Lelito could be a good option at guard as Jahri Evans continues to work back from an undisclosed injury.

Lelito, an undrafted free agent from Grand Valley State, played in a handful of games last year.  

Dez Southward, Falcons FS

Dezmen Southward was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

Starring in basketball at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Southward didn’t play football until his senior year in high school.

The freak athlete, though, was able to land a full ride to Wisconsin, where he displayed his tremendous size and speed combination.

Returning from a knee injury which caused him to miss a week of practice, Southward earned valuable reps at free safety against the Texans this past week. With Dwight Lowery struggling, Southward aims to make a run at the starting free safety job.

What’s more, though, is he has proven to be a factor on special teams, showing up consistently on the punt team last week.

Rodney Smith, Vikings WR

Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target made a name for himself on Saturday night, hauling in the go-ahead touchdown against the Cardinals. While much of Smith’s work came against Arizona’s third-team defense, the 6-foot-5 receiver used his frame for the biggest play of the night.

Smith, who ran multiple routes effectively, finished his night with four receptions for 55 yards and a score. While Smith spent last season on the Vikings practice squad, his greatest competition is likely 6-foot-2 receiver Adam Thielen for the final spot at the position.

"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable," Smith said, via’s Chris Tomasson. "It's a big offense. It takes time to learn and I've just been working harder to get the offense all down pat, and it's coming together for me."

Brice Butler, Raiders WR

Another receiver who found himself on the end of a game winner in the second week of preseason was Butler.

After dropping a pass early on Friday night against the Lions, the second-year wide receiver was able to piece together a four-catch, 74-yard performance.

“He’s getting better every day,” a Raiders source told in a text message. “He wants to be great.”

The son of former Falcons wide receiver Bobby Butler has an opportunity to crack a thin wide receivers corps.  

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