Week 11 brought us exciting games from some of the NFL’s best rookies. David Syvertsen gives us his list of the best performances by those 1st year players.
QB: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
Statistically, Stafford put up what will likely be the best performance the 2009 rookie quarterback class has to offer. 422 yards along with 5 touchdowns is simply as good as it gets in the NFL and Stafford elevated his game after weeks of struggling against mediocre defenses. The Browns are at the butt-end of jokes in the league but their defense is not nearly as bad as the common perception would leave you to believe. Stafford found lanes on all three levels and was throwing the ball with power, accuracy, and precision from start to finish. However the most impressive part of the game was his last second touchdown to fellow rookie Brandon Pettigrew which followed a nasty hit that did a lot of damage to his non-throwing shoulder. He put the pain aside and willed his team to their second victory of the year.
Honorable Mention: Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay Buccanneers
RB: Bernard Scott – Cincinnati Bengals
I can recall seeing highlight tapes of Scott for the first time last November and thinking he could be a potential top 45 pick. His major off the field issues bumped his grade down a few rounds but make no mistake about it, his talent level is on par with every back of the 2009 class. He received the opportunity to be the guy against the Raiders and responded with 119 yards on 21 carries while adding another 32 yards receiving. He is shifty and difficult to get a good clean hit on because of his last second quickness. He is not ready for every down duty on an every week basis because he simply is not in tip-top game shape yet, but he will be a huge piece to the puzzle in the Bengals backfield down the stretch.
Honorable Mention: Chris Wells – Arizona Cardinals
WR/TE: Mohamed Massaquoi – Cleveland Browns
In a game where Massaquoi watched his former Georgia Bulldogs teammate Matthew Stafford torch the Browns defense, the Cleveland leading receiver had quite the game himself. He caught 5 passes for 115 yards which included a 59 yard touchdown in the first quarter. He is becoming a big time deep threat and defenses are learning the hard way that he needs to be jammed at the line. He gets going in a hurry and if the safety help over the top doesn’t have a good angle on him, Massaquoi can get behind the entire defense in a blink. His speed is very underrated even by his own quarterbacks, as he often found slowing down and waiting for the ball. His route running is an effective tool that Brady Quinn can use and the separation is consistently there which is a quarterback’s best friend.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions
OL: Michael Oher – Baltimore Ravens
Dropping a quarterback in to the pocket for 35 passes against the Colts almost always results in a sack or two. As a matter of fact, Sunday was the first time all year Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were both shut out. Oher did receive help on the edge, but not as many times as we Jared Gaither got on the left side. Oher continues to be the dominant force in one on one situations as his feet are good enough to stay in front of his man, and his hands strong enough to control once engaged. He is being counted on in short yardage situations as well because of his ability to swing his hips in the hole while maintaining leverage and power on his assignment. His level of play this season has been, by far, higher than any rookie offensive lineman all year. He continues to improve every week and the fact that he was the best player in his matchup against Robert Mathis should really tell you something.
Honorable Mention: Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
DL: Terrance Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
This spot on the rookie reports seems to be reserved for Knighton and deservedly so. He and the rest of the Jaguars defensive line were up against the worst group of blockers in the NFL and they did exactly what they were supposed to do. The Bills finished the game with 53 yards on 19 carries (2.8 YPC). Knighton is at the point where he is being double teamed more than John Henderson which has elevated his level of play, notching 2 sacks on Sunday. He is making players around him better on a weekly basis and that is the number one aspect of a nose tackle you look for. Beyond that, he had a couple of tackles and a forced fumble that was recovered by Derrick Harvey.
Honorable Mention: BJ Raji – Green Bay Packers
LB: James Lauranaitis – St. Louis Rams
At first glance, Lauranaitis was a no brainer for this spot because he finished Sunday’s contest with 16 tackles against a team that ran the ball just 28 times. I went back and forth however because he spent a lot of the game locked up on blockers at the point of attack just to shed them a second too late. But Lauranaitis showed a lot of heart against a team that had a big early lead, and that attitude made its way in to his teammates. He is already the leader of the Rams defense and they buckled down in the second half. His tackling was sure and his hustle was constant. Those two portions of his game will make him a consistent force as a middle linebacker and he already has a knack for the NFL rushing schemes. He is very good with putting guys in the right spot and making up for the mistakes of the awfully mediocre talent around him. Once he has a couple of noteworthy defenders next to and in front of him, Lauranaitis will shine.
Honorable Mention: Rey Maualuga – Cincinnati Bengals
CB: Malcolm Jenkins – New Orleans Saints
In Jenkins first start, which took longer to arrive than many thought, he impressed on all fronts. He finished the game with 7 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. He was jumping routes before the ball came out of Josh Freeman’s hands on a few different occasions, one of whoch resulted in a turnover. He was matched up against the underrated Antonio Bryant for most of the contest and Jenkins can easily go through practice this week knowing he won that battle. The size and speed are there and watching how he read the Tampa Bay offense leads me to believe that he is ready to be an impact player on the surging Saints defense from here on out.
Honorable Mention: Jacob Lacey – Indianapolis Colts
S: Darcel McBath – Denver Broncos
When looking at a young safety on tape, you look for the awareness and footwork in coverage to really see how well they are playing. McBath played a strong game against a very good passing attack. His diagnosing was quick and efficient as he flew into the box against the run and made physical tackles and dropped in to deep coverage to negate the option of Rivers throwing deep with confidence. While the Chargers had an early lead and ran the ball more than they usually do, McBath’s impact was felt and his role within one of the better NFL secondaries should expand in the coming weeks.
Honorable Mention: Victor Harris – Philadelphia Eagles