David Syvertsen checks back in this week with his run-down of the rookies who came up best on the field.
QB: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
After a miserable first two weeks, Matthew Stafford came out firing to lead the Lions to their first victory since December of 2007. The poise he showed in the pocket against a dangerous defensive line is a reason to believe the 2009 number one pick will be a winning quarterback down the road. After throwing multiple interceptions in each of his first two NFL starts (5 total), Stafford did not shy away from throwing the ball downfield or trying to fit it in tight spots. His 21 yard strike to Bryant Johnson was right on the money but perhaps the most impressive throw came late in the game where he launched the ball unbalanced from beyond midfield into the endzone while rolling to his left. The pass was not completed but the Lions were given the ball on the 1 yard line thanks to a Chris Horton pass interference which led to a Maurice Morris game clinching touchdown run.
Honorable Mention: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
RB: LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
With both Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb sidelined, McCoy was going to be near or at the top of the Eagles offensive gameplan. He responded with a tough 5 yard touchdown run in the first to get the Eagles rolling towards their second victory. With 20 carries, he was able to gain 84 yards and ran tough in between the tackles, something that was questioned coming into the season. While he is not ready to take the throne that belongs to Westbrook as the team’s dynamic weapon out of the backfield, McCoy have the assurance that this offense can still produce with him behind the quarterback and considering the amount of time he has been on the sideline, that may be an incredibly valuable asset.
Honorable Mention: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
WR: Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings
Harvin’s receiving stat line is not overly impressive but the impact he had on the Vikings comeback effort certainly was. With the Niners ahead 17-13 towards the end of the third quarter, Harvin took a Joe Nedney kickoff from inside his own end zone and returned it 101 yards for the touchdown. The explosion he showed once he cleared from the pack was stunning and before the season is over, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll do that again. On the Vikings infamous game winning drive, Harvin came down with two vital third down conversion receptions and the trust that Brett Favre already has in him is rare among rookies this early in the season. He is getting a ton of attention from opposing defenses the second he steps foot on the field, thus even when he doesn’t touch the ball he is having an impact on the play.
Honorable Mention: Mike Wallace – Pittsburgh Steelers
TE: Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions
While Pettigrew did not fill up the stat sheet, he came up with two huge third down conversions in the second quarter that enabled the Lions to put up three more points right before halftime. Again, Pettirgrew controlled the defender that lined up across from him in the trenches and helped paved the way for Kevin Smith’s 100+ yard day in which he averaged over six yards per carry. His arm extension and low base really allow him to put the defender where he wants, very much like Alge Crumpler used to do with the Falcons.
Honorable Mention: Cameron Morrah – Seattle Seahawks
OL: Michael Oher – Baltimore Ravens
After three weeks of watching every Baltimore Ravens snap, I can say with confidence that Michael Oher is one of the top five right tackles in the game right now. Sure, he has a lot to prove between now and the end of the season in terms of consistency, but he looks like a five time pro-bowler out there. He was put out on an island all afternoon and did not just win the battle, he dominated them. The initial punch he gives in the run game really opens up a quick lane for Ray Rice and Willis McGahee to dart through when the Ravens run to the right. In pass protection, he seals the edge but maintains his balance against the inside moves. His blitz and stunt recognition was flawless on Sunday and I have yet to see him get beat on consecutive plays this season.
Honorable Mention: William Beatty – New York Giants
DL: Terrence Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
The way Houston went about attacking Jacksonville’s defensive front on Sunday should be an indication as to how much the league is starting to respect third round pick Terrence Knighton. He saw more double teams than John Henderson, yet he still made five tackles on the day. He isn’t a rangy, mobile playmaker in the middle but he does a fantastic job of controlling the inside gaps. While the Jacksonville defense is still a little ways away from being what it used to be, having Knighton in the middle gives them a strong foundation to build around.
Honorable Mention: Myron Pryor – New England Patriots
LB: Aaron Curry – Seattle Seahawks
In what should have been a Seattle victory if it weren’t for two missed field goals, Aaron Curry looked like the best linebacker in the stadium on the same field that Lance Briggs played on. Curry was all over the place against both the run and pass. His sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter should have been the nail in the coffin used on Chicago but a couple of inopportune mishaps overshadowed his standout performance. Curry was everything Seattle hoped for when they drafted him. A guy that can stuff the run with physicality, defend the pass with range, and rush the passer with versatility.
Honorable Mention: Brian Orakpo – Washington Redskins
CB: Captain Munnerlyn – Carolina Panthers
I’m surprised to see how much playing time Munnerlyn has been seeing considering the fact he was drafted in the seventh round. He finished with five tackles in which he showed outstanding technique with some physicality. His speed in the deep third impressed me the most as he would get beat at the line of scrimmage but close the gap the further he got down the field. He was matched up against Roy Williams for the majority of his night and he prevented the big play and put a cap on the receptions he did allow. He played very well with the action in front of him and you could see Romo wanted to go his way, but with the quickness that Munnerlyn closed the gaps, he had to hold back and look elsewhere.
Honorable Mention: Derek Cox – Jacksonville Jaguars
S: Mike Mitchell – Oakland Raiders
What may have been the most controversial selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, Mike Mitchell has really impressed considering the amount of criticism the Raiders received for taking him in the second round. He flies around the field with aggression and he at the very least appears to know what he is doing assignment wise. He helped control the deep passing game of Denver by sticking with his assignment and not being looked off by Orton, something a lot of young safeties struggle with. In Oaklan’s last ditch effort to make a comeback, Mitchell recovered a Correll Buckhalter fumble. While the turnover did not result in a score, he is consistently found around the ball which shows hustle and his ability to pick up the mental side of the game quickly.
Honorable Mention: Macho Harris – Philadelphia Eagles