David Syvertsen gets us caught up to speed on which rookies are making the biggest plays through the first four games of the season.
QB: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
Stafford finished just four yards under his first ever 300 yard game as an NFL quarterback on the same day he went up against the signal caller I compared him to last April. It was a high scoring affair that included several on-the-money throws by Stafford that showed off his combination of poise in the pocket, accuracy, and arm strength. After winning the franchise’s first game since December of 2007, Stafford and the Lions actually entered the second quarter with a 14-7 lead, and trailed 28-21 at the half. Stafford received little help from his offensive line, especially in the second half. However the positive that can be drawn from that is the toughness he showed with rushers staring him in the eye. While he did leave the game with a knee injury, that toughness will go a long way to his teammates down the road.
Honorable Mention: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
RB: Bernard Scott – Cincinnati Bengals
While Scott’s 6 carries for 41 yards will not jump out at anyone looking over the stat sheet, the way he looked with the ball in his hands gives hope to the Cincinnati running game. Scott’s value plummeted during the pre-draft process because of his off-the-field concerns but his talent was never questioned. He displayed outstanding vision in traffic and was able to get through the tight lines and fall forward. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Head Coach Marvin Lewis sent Scott into the game and he stood up to the challenge, ripping off consecutive runs of 11 and 16 yards, bringing the Bengals into Cleveland territory as they were trying to score a late game touchdown to overtake the Browns 20-14 lead. The trust in a late round rookie in that kind of situation is very rare at this point in the season.
Honorable Mention: Rashad Jennings – Jacksonville Jaguars
WR: Mohamed Massaquoi Cleveland Browns 8-148, collie 6-65 TD, britt 7-105
With the affable Cleveland offense looking for answers on every level, Mohamed Massaquoi stood up to the challenge and put up a nice argument for himself in being the talent that could take the pressure of Braylon Edwards. Massaquoi finished the contest with 8 catches and 148 yards, dropping just a couple yards short of a touchdown. He made some tough catches with blanket coverage on him, seeing the ball directly into his hands and locking on to it. His catching mechanics were top notch and that kind of reliability that he brought to the table could elevate a porous offense into one that is capable of putting up 20+ points per game.
Honorable Mention: Austin Collie – Indianapolis Colts
TE: Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions 4-64-28 long, screen pass, 30+ YAC, cook 2-11
The Lions passing game is starting to become a force to be reckoned with as Matthew Stafford is becoming more and more confident with each week that passes. The weapons on the outside are legit but I noticed that Brandon Pettigrew is garnering plenty of attention every time he releases into the middle of the field. While his speed won’t scare anyone deep, his presence throughout the intermediate level of the defense is opening things up for Calvin Johnson down the field. His 28 yard screen pass reception in which he carried the ball 30+ yards was an impressive feat. He ripped through arm tackles and showed that the ability to make things happen in space is there.
Honorable Mention: Travis Beckum – New York Giants
OL: Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns
For the first time all season, the Browns offensive line put up a strong performance from beginning to end. Derek Anderson was sacked only two times and backup running back Jerome Harrison rushed for 121 yards. It was a balanced approach that was led by center Alex Mack. He did not struggle with any snaps and he did not get flagged for one penalty for the first time in his young career. He moved well in space and made his presence felt from a physical stand point. He reaches the B gaps with quickness and balance, allowing him to get the most out of his block. He was also very active with line calls, ensuring the safety of Anderson against the complez blitzing schemes Lewis uses with his front seven.
Honorable Mention: Andy Levitre – Buffalo Bills
DL: Jeremy Jarmon – Washington Redskins
Jarmon has quickly gone from a supplemental selection that very few knew about to a versatile weapon that is making his impact felt in the trenches. His motor stands out as his hands remain active throughout the entire play consistently. He is very difficult to lock on to and he frees himself up the second a blocker makes a mistake. He used those hands to force the game clinching fumble that led the Redskins to their second win of the season from the defensive tackle position. The fact that he can play inside and out will get him on the field plenty from here on out.
Honorable Mention: BJ Raji – Green Bay Packers
LB: Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
The Raiders rushing attack was supposed to be the factor that kept the team in the game on Sunday, but strong side linebacker Brian Cushing aided the Houston defense in their effort to finally stuff the trenches. Cushing finished with a team leading seven tackles, one of which was for a safety of Justin Fargas that pretty much put the staple on the Texans second win of the season. He closed lanes with his power and kept open shoulders for the tackle all afternoon, something most rookie linebackers struggle with early on.
Honorable Mention: Brian Orakpo – Washington Redskins
CB: Vontae Davis – Miami Dolphins
While Vontae Davis is not playing on every down just yet, his progression from the preseason has been something to watch. He is being brought along slowly, but the technique and reading ability he showed on Sunday simple wasn’t there just a short month ago. The footwork and diagnosing that was displayed on his first quarter pick six was picture perfect. He has the timing and quick twitch in his hips/feet to make him a big time threat with the action in front of him. His playmaking ability was a big time contributor to the early put away of the Bills on Sunday.
Honorable Mention: Derek Cox – Jacksonville Jaguars
S: Louis Delmas – Detroit Lions
Giving up nearly 50 points to the Chicago Bears is nothing to be proud of, but Louis Delmas continues to impress in all facets of the safety position. He does not back down against anybody and that kind of aggression will pay dividends once the personnel around him starts to improve. He notched a hustle sack off a strong blitz against Jay Cutler while the game was still in reach, and was a contributor in Detroit’s ability to prevent Cutler from throwing the ball deep with success.
Honorable Mention: Jairus Byrd – Buffalo Bills