David Syvertsen gives us his run down of how the best rookies faired this past weekend, position-by-position.QB: None.
RB: Javon Ringer – Tennessee Titans
One advantage to losing a game 59-0 is the opportunity to let your young guys play in a situation where true heart and determination comes out. Being down by so many points, on the road, in the middle of a snow storm is not the easiest environment for a player to buckle up the chin strap and give forth with a strong effort. Ringer received the bulk of the late game carries and despite little to no room in front of him, he put his head down and ran. He had a run of 32 yards in the fourth quarter in which he diagnosed the lane, burst through it, and broke an open field tackle. While he won’t be getting a ton of carries with Chris Johnson and Lendale White in front of him, Ringer is showing he has the ability to make the plays in this league should an injury occur to one of those two backs.
Honorable Mention: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
WR: Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
There was very little to be happy about in when it came to the Giants loss in New Orleans. The lone bright spot was the playmaking ability that Hakeem Nicks showed in a very dangerous New York passing attack. The wide receiver position for the Giants is without a true ace, or number one guy, but there is more talent there than most know. It is a very crowded spot for a rookie to step in to but Nicks is proving he may be the team’s best option as the weeks go on. He caught 5 passes for 114 yards which included a 37 yard touchdown and 58 yard reception in which he showed some outstanding open field speed. While he may not impress with a sub 4.4 forty time, Nicks is displaying the kind of game speed that could make him a big time force in New York. He is getting behind the defensive backs on deep routes consistently and is running away from defenders when he gets the ball in his hands. He is a versatile threat that can put points on the board in a variety of ways and the Giants are bringing him along nicely.
Honorable Mention: Sammie Stroughter – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TE: Shawn Nelson – Buffalo Bills
Nelson really looks like a wide receiver playing the tight end position when you consider his athleticism. He gets off the line with such ease and his breaks in routes seem so effortless. He hauled in two catches, one of which was a poorly thrown ball by Ryan Fitzpatrick in which Nelson had to adjust to make a fantastic reception for 25 yards. He is light on his feet and runs in space with great balance, getting the most out of every step. He was drawing a lot of attention from linebackers and safeties as the matchup problems he proposes are significant. While he lacks the push as a run blocker, his technique has come a long way and with a year or two of NFL weight training, Nelson could evolve into one of the top tight ends in the league very fast.
OL: Jamon Meredith – Buffalo Bills
After being cut by the Green Bay Packers, a team in need of as much offensive line help as any in the league, the 2009 season was not looking too bright for Meredith. However he made his first start in New York against one of the league’s most difficult front sevens to block and performed better than every first day pick offensive lineman. His athleticism had already been there but the technique coming into the NFL was not game ready just a couple months ago. On Sunday, Meredith constantly got his hands inside while maintaining proper position with his feet. Despite the complex blitz packages thrown his way, Meredith was part of an offensive line performance that allowed just one sack on the day.
Honorable Mention: Eugene Monroe – Jacksonville Jaguars
DL: Terrance Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
When evaluating a defensive tackle, the last thing I look at is the box score. The impact a good player can have in the trenches does not translate to the stat sheet and Knighton’s performance on Sunday against the Rams is a prime example. While he finished with just one tackle, the role he had in holding Steve Jackson to just 50 yards on 17 carries was enormous. He consistently won the initial punch battle, pushing blockers into the backfield which forced Jackson to adjust his running lanes prior to reaching to point where he looked to make a cut. The players around Knighton are benefitting from his ability to demand those double teams and anytime a player has that kind of presence in the middle, everyone becomes a better player.
Honorable Mention: Myron Pryor – New England Patriots
LB: Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
Playing in Cincinnati against one of the toughest backs of the 2009 season in Cedric Benson, Brian Cushing led the Houston defensive surge. His presence in the box was consistent all day as he was shedding blocks and putting himself into position. His struggles at USC to keep an open shoulder while engaged with a blocker carried over into his early NFL career, but the improvement in that area was blatant on Sunday. He finished the run stuffing performance with 9 tackles to go along with two forced fumbles and an interception. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer tried to lead yet another performance filled with late game heroics but Cushing stepped it up when the team needed him most, forcing two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Honorable Mention: Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
CB: Derek Cox – Jacksonville Jaguars
One of the most vital aspects to a cornerback’s game is the ability to have a short memory. All of them get burned here and there, but the good ones forget about it and don’t let it impact their game from there on. Cox was beat on the first drive on the game for a 17 yard touchdown by Donnie Avery, but he played his best football of the young season following that drive. He played with a physical presence all afternoon and seems to be catching on fast when it comes to diagnosing routes and passing lanes. His footwork in comparison to where it was week one against the Colts is almost black and white, and the sky is the limit for him as he shows flashes of Rashean Mathis in that Cover 2 scheme.
Honorable Mention: Darius Butler – New England Patriots
S: Jairus Byrd – Buffalo Bills
Jairus Byrd had one job on Sunday. Provide over the top help against the Jets newest downfield threat Braylon Edwards. How did he fare? Two interceptions that helped pave the way for the Buffalo Bills gutsy win in the Meadowlands. The ball skills that Byrd displayed in college (17 career interceptions) as a cornerback were reason enough to get him on the field early this season for the stingy Buffalo defense. While he is still learning to play the free safety position, it is not difficult to notice his tremendous nose for the throwing lanes. He made quick breaks on the ball and was always around the ball when Mark Sanchez was attempting to get the ball to Edwards.
Honorable Mention: Victor Harris – Philadelphia Eagles