David Syvertsen brings us his weekly breakdown of the best rookies from the week that was in the NFL.
QB: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
It is always interesting to see how a young quarterback, a rookie in particular, fares against a divisional opponent for the second time in one season. After the first real tough stretch of his young career, Sanchez came out firing against a tough Miami defense. Despite pressure in his face all afternoon and after some big hits in the pocket, Sanchez threw for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception. He also added another rushing touchdown to the stat sheet as he continues to prove he can put points on the board for the Jets in multiple ways. It’s easy to notice that the comfort is starting to settle in for Sanchez now that he has receivers that complement each other very well. While his rookie struggles are not over, his ability to lead this team to the playoffs is alive and well.
Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
RB: LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
With Brian Westbrook on the sideline, McCoy and fullback Leonard Weaver combined to run through a tough Giants front seven which opened up some big plays down the field in the passing game. While McCoy wasn’t exactly steadily moving the chains all afternoon, his 66 yard touchdown run was a huge factor in putting the Giants away for good. He displayed outstanding vision and hole awareness on the run and he topped it off by outrunning the New York defensive backs. His ball security is going to be an issue if he does not learn to hold the ball tight to his body but in the role he has now, he will be a tremendous asset to an Eagles offense that is playing at a higher level than it ever has under the Andy Reid era.
Honorable Mention: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
WR/TE: Jeremy Maclin – Philadelphia Eagles
While it took a few weeks for Maclin to get acclimated to the Eagles system, the progression he has made from the draft to right now is amazing. He is a legit weapon that can be used all over the field ina variety of ways. With DeSean Jackson budding into a star, there is plenty of space for Maclin to work with. He made two catches that really caught my eye against the Giants with the first being a 23 yard touchdown reception at the end of the second half. The way he went up and competed for the ball among two defenders was exactly what you want to see in a receiver. Not every throw will be perfect, but when a receiver can adjust and fight for the ball, big plays can happen on mistakes by quarterbacks. He also made a lunging grab near the sideline that displayed just how strong his hands really are. The ball does not rattle once contact is made with his hands and if he is going to be this versatile, reliable playmaker within that offense, watch for the Eagles to put up 30 points a week.
Honorable Mention: Michael Crabtree – San Francisco 49ers
OL: Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
I have been raving about the play of Phil Loadholt since the beginning of the season, however the performance he put out on display against the Packers was by the far the best of his young career. The Packers pressured Brett Favre just two times the entire game, neither of which Loadholt was responsible for. He was matched up against Green Bay’s top pass rusher in veteran Aaron Kampman wnd locked him up with very little help. The power he can exert with his hands once he gets them on a pass rusher is what makes him so tough to beat. While he is still struggling in space at the second level, his mere presence and size is making it tough for linebackers to work against him. Overall, Loadholt is evolving into one of the best right tackles in the game.
Honorable Mention: Micheal Oher – Baltimore Ravens
DL: Terrance Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
Knighton has been in these reports a few times because of his ability to eat up space and blockers which allowed the players around him to be effective. While he did plenty of that on Sunday against Tennessee, Knighton decided to make some of those plays himself. His lateral speed within the tackle box was put on full display as he made 9 tackles, an astonishing number for a nose tackle. The Jaguars were carved up on the ground but Knighton’s play had nothing to do with it. He is already looking like he may be the best player on that defense because of his ability to do so many different things from the middle of the field.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Dixon – Philadelphia Eagles
LB: Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
Talking about budding stars, Cushing is making himself an argument to win the defensive rookie of the year. He is playing such a well rounded game from the strong side linebacker position. He finished Sunday’s contest with 10 tackles, 1 sack, and an interception. His delayed blitz up the middle was timed perfectly and it showed how natural off a feel he has for the game. The interception to end the game was another veteran-savvy type play where his instincts paid off. His weaknesses coming into the league are really starting to disappear as he becomes more acclimated to the speed of the game. Every week Cushing is making players left and right against both the pass and run.
Honorable Mention: Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
CB: Jerraud Powers – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts defense is all about making the big plays and forcing the opposition into fast mistakes. Powers is fitting in like a glove with his quick reaction times and ability to come up and make a big hit when needed. He is playing downhill very fast and on a wide receiver screen pass to Michael Crabtree, Powers closed in fast and forced the football out which was followed by him recovering the fumble. The depth he provided is a valuable asset to this team as he can matchup with the smaller, quicker slot receivers in space without help from the safeties or linebackers.
Honorable Mention: Sean Smith – Miami Dolphins
S: Sherrod Martin – Carolina Panthers
Martin was a guy that the Panthers really had no idea how to use following the draft. He played cornerback at Troy and the tool set to play the position within their scheme was there, but he just kept getting bumped down the depth chart as the preseason progressed. Throw in a couple of minor injuries and his role was clearly undefined. However he got his first start at free safety against the high flying Crdinals air attack and walked away with 2 interceptions, 2 pass deflections, and 4 tackles. He showed tremendous range and proved that he knows how to attack the ball in the air. He is still has a ways to go until he is really comfortable playing in the middle of the field but that will come with time. As long as he makes plays when the opportunities present themselves, he’ll keep his starting job.
Honorable Mention: Jairus Byrd – Buffalo Bills