As the season progresses, the roles that rookies take part in will be expanded. Week one was not friendly to the 2009 draft class as a whole, but a few names were able to make an impact right off the bat.
(Note: Only one player was chosen for the offensive line, one for the defensive line)
QB – Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
Looking like a comfortable, confident veteran, Mark Sanchez played efficient football across the board. His presence in the pocket was outstanding and his 9-15 performance on third downs was something you rarely see in a rookie signal caller, especially in his first game. He quickly picked up blitzes that the Texans threw his way, showing that he has a firm grasp of the scheme he is playing in.
Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
RB – LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
Tough opening week for rookie running backs across the league, as none of them made a great impact on Sunday. McCoy did not exactly lead the Eagles to victory against the Panthers, but he was given the opportunity to show his stuff in the second half as the game was out of reach for Carolina. He showed the efficient, nifty moves in short space that allowed him to fall forward and gain extra yards. While he had just one carry in the first half, he is proving that he can hang tough in the NFL and give the Eagles another weapon.
WR – Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings
The dynamic threat out of Florida was a big time difference maker in Cleveland. While it was Adrian Peterson’s show, Harvin made the impact that makes the Vikings offense awfully dangerous. He put his stamp on all three dimensions with 99 yards as a kickoff returner, 22 yards on the ground, and 36 yards on 3 receptions, one of which was a touchdown. His presence on the field was constantly shifting the back seven around because of the respect they had for his speed and playmaking ability. That in turn resulted in even wider initial lanes for Peterson to work with.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Britt – Tennessee Titans
TE – Shawn Nelson – Buffalo Bills
Nelson caught an early touchdown that put the Bills up 7-0. He showed nice athleticism on the play and seems to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses from the get go. His blocking was suspect throughout the preseason but he played hard and aggressive in the trenches last night. While his technique is in need of obvious work and repetition, he has the smarts and the attitude to make a difference as he did on a long Fred Jackson run Monday night.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions
OL – Michael Oher – Baltimore Ravens
While the Ravens were not up against a strong front seven unit, Michael Oher stood out several times as I watched the tape against the Chiefs. He was out of his stance and ready to pounce with quickness and balance. He looked very comfortable out there and was not caught up in the complex blitzes that were thrown his way. When tough yards were needed, the Ravens usually ran to the right side where Oher was found tossing his opponent around with aggression and violence.
Honorable Mention: Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
DL – Terrance Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
Peyton Manning and the Colts offense really struggled to find their rhythm throughout the game. The lack of a consistent running game prevented the dangerous playaction package he possesses within his arsenal. Knighton paired with John Henderson to control the tackle to tackle box with their ability to hold their ground and close up gaps. Knighton finished with three tackles and was consistently keeping two blockers occupied, which opened things up for the linebackers behind him.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Maybin – Buffalo Bills
LB – James Lauranaitis – St. Louis Rams
There was not too much to be impressed with in Steve Spagnuolo’s debut as the Rams head coach, but his rookie in the middle James Lauranaitis played tough and effective in his first regular season action. He totaled 14 tackles (10 solo) as he was making himself small and slippery to blockers which got him to plug holes. He is proving to be a sure tackler that can be depended upon both in space and within the box.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Curry – Seattle Seahawks
CB – Alphonso Smith: Denver Broncos
With Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman on the outside, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was attacking the slot cover men. However Alphonso Smith has those targets blanketed all afternoon, rarely allowing enough separation for Palmer to work with. His ability to stay in the hip pocket of receivers was a vital component to the Broncos strong defensive showing. On top of that, Smith had 4 tackles, 2 of which with physicality and aggression. He played the complete role of a nickel back.
Honorable Mention: Jerraud Powers – Indianapolis Colts
S – Louis Delmas: While the Detroit secondary was torched by arguably the best passing attack in football, Louis Delmas stood out. His motor was revved up from start to finish and his 65 yard fumble return at the end of the third quarter made things interesting deep into the game. He finished with 6 tackles, many of which were tough ones in space, and played with the reckless abandon style that was expected of him.
Honorable Mention: Al Afalava – Chicago Bears