With the half-way mark of the season almost here, David Syvertsen breaks down the play of the top rookies from Week 7.
QB: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
While Sanchez did not have any competition for the award this week, his bounce back performance in Oakland is deserving of some credit. After a horrific stretch where the Jets lost three straight and Sanchez threw one touchdown and eight interceptions, Sanchez got back to efficient football. He went back to what made him an early season success, making smart decisions in the pocket and minimizing the unnecessary risks. He threw just 15 times in the game, but that was mostly because of the 38-0 blowout the Jets handed to the Raiders. He finished the game with one touchdown on the ground and one through the air and he, just like any young quarterback in the NFL, will perform based on his confidence and this was a nice step to set up the second half of the season.
RB: Shonn Greene – New York Jets
After an impressive training camp in which Shonn Greene was running over the likes of Bart Scott and David Harris, the rookie back out of Iows had been a non-factor until Sunday. Greene made the most out of the 19 carry opportunity and rushed for 144 yards and his first two career touchdowns. While the Jets could have put up 30+ points any way they wanted to, Greene made sure the Jets controlled the clock with his consistent and steady attack. He ran a lot like Michael Turner, losing his thick and balanced base to bounce off the weak arm tacklers and fall forward. With Leon Washington out of the picture, the Jets running game will be much more reliant on the power attack of Greene and Thomas Jones.
Honorable Mention: Chris Wells – Arizona Cardinals
WR: Mike Wallace – Pittsburgh Steelers
The loss of Nate Washington hurt the Steelers initially more than they probably wanted to admit. Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward are all reliable underneath targets but part of what made them so effective was Washington’s ability to stretch the field and make plays deep. Enter Wallace, who is being baptized by fire as the team’s slot receiver because of Limas Sweed’s failure to come up with the big plays himself. Wallace was first being used as a fly receiver, one who is sent downfield to merely occupy defensive backs. However he is now one of the most important players within the scheme and now that Roethlisberger has gained trust in him, he is being used in a variety of ways. Wallace ended the Steelers win over the Vikings with 72 yards on just 3 receptions, including a 40 yard touchdown where he caught a tough over the middle pass and raced to the end zone untouched.
Honorable Mention: Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
OL: Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
While Adrian Peterson did not run wild against the league’s toughest defense and Brett Favre did spend a lot of time under duress, Phil Loadholt played a strong game. He was matched up against Lamarr Woodley for much of the afternoon and he more than held his own against one of the top 3-4 outside linebackers in the game. The one on one battles the two went through usually ended up with Loadholt taking Woodley out of the play with his strong punch and ability to lock on once engaged. Loadholt still isn’t the prettiest pass protector technique wise but he gets the job done with his strength and long arms.
Honorable Mention: Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns
DL: Roy Miller – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the game being over essentially before it started, it was nice to see Roy Miller play with the same fire in his belly as he does during a tight battle. He was slippery the entire game because of his relentless hands and consistently chopping feet. There was pressure coming from up the middle when he was in the game and even though he did not register any sacks, he forced Tom Brady to side shuffle on a few occasions. He is not a stout defender against the run but he pursues well and makes tackles when he is in position, as he finished with 4 on the day.
Honorable Mention: Desmond Bryant – Oakland Raiders
LB: Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
While Veron Davis absolutely torched the Houston linebackers on Sunday, and Cushing had much to do with that, there was presence there I rarely see in a rookie linebacker. Even some of the biggest and strongest rookies at the linebacker position struggle with the leap in physicality of the league in year one. So much is made up of the adjustment to the speed of the game but the amount of strength and power that exists on the offensive side of the ball is often too much to handle right away. I don’t see that with Cushing, as he seems to be bred to be a long time NFL linebacker. He finished the game with 8 tackles and aided the Houston defense into holding the Niners running backs to just 35 yards on 15 carries. His ability to stifle an offensive lineman and control them is something that takes some young linebackers years to gain.
Honorable Mention: Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
CB: Jacob Lacey – Indianapolis Colts
With the Colts ready to nail the Rams in to the coffin, Jacob Lacey picked off a Mark Bulger sideline pass and took it to the house for six. His first career interception will be a memorable one as he played the technique of the play perfectly. In that Tampa 2 scheme, he let the action transpire in front of him, diagnosed the route and intended passing lane, and broke on the ball with perfect timing and did what the Colts defense does best, make a play. While his technique as a press corner is still in need of tweaking, Lacey is carving himself a spot within the dangerous Colts defense.
Honorable Mention: Darius Butler – New England Patriots
S: Patrick Chung – New England Patriots
The way Bill Belichick is able to put together a strong secondary unit year in and year out with different personnel is one of the more amazing coaching feats we see season to season. His two rookie cover men, Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, are evolving into weekly contributors to one of the league’s top secondary units. Chung appears to now be ahead of James Sanders on the depth chart because he can be used in a similar way the Belichick used the retired Rodney Harrison, a key component to their championships. He finished the game with 4 tackles and a sack
Honorable Mention: Al Afalava – Chicago Bears