The season is drawing to a close- David Syvertsen looks at the best rookies from the week that was.
QB: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
Sanchez has taken to roller coaster route in his rookie season in terms of performance. However he has evened out as of late and even though the 7/15-98 yard performance in Buffalo was not exactly a top notch performance, he played smart football. The color system that was affable to the media at first has put a cap on the reckless throws Sanchez was becoming notorious for. He played a ball control-quarterback on Thursday but still came up with some big throws and scrambles when it mattered most. His deep ball to Braylon Edwards was picture perfect but the inconsistent hands of the number one target failed his team again. Remember that the last time Sanchez played these same Buffalo Bills, he threw 5 interceptions and he responded with zero this time around.
Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
RB: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
After a strong Thanksgiving performance, Moreno responded with some more tough nosed running against Kansas City. While Correll Buckhalter came up with the big plays, Moreno was the consistent force that kept moving the chains with his 86 yards on 21 carries. His second touchdown of the day, an 18 yard scamper, in the fourth quarter put an end to thr Chiefs comeback hopes and gave Denver a victory at Arrowhead Stadium, a place that has not treated them well lately. More importantly, Moreno held on to the ball for each of his 21 carries and his fumbling woes seem to be in the past for good.
Honorable Mention: Shonn Greene – New York Jets
WR/TE: Louis Murphy – Oakland Raiders
Louis Murphy has been struggling to adjust to the NFL game following his career in Urban Meyer’s friendly system. However his effort has been there from day one and the consistent hustle and hard nosed attitude has kept him on the field. With just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Murphy did not have a single reception. However him and Bruce Gradkowski turned it on and hooked up 4 times for a total of 128 yards, including touchdowns of 75 and 11 yards, the latter being a game winning score with 15 seconds left. He competed for the ball as if it was his for the taking every time the ball came his way and he showed some high football IQ against a talented defense in Pittsburgh. It was one of the greatest fourth quarter performances any wide receiver has displayed all season.
Honorable Mention: Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings
OL: Eben Britton – Jacksonville Jaguars
Britton has been a steady presence on the right side this season for the surprising Jaguars, but Sunday was arguably his best game of the season. I noticed that when the tough yards are needed, they all a lot of plays to his side. He doesn’t look pretty from a technique point of view just yet, but he got the job done. He will sometimes be put in at guard because when he pulls and gets going in space, he is a nice lead blocker for Jones-Drew. His balance is night and day different than what it was in September and if that holds true, he’ll be an important factor in the Jaguars playoff run.
Honorable Mention: Michael Oher – Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
DL: BJ Raji – Green Bay Packers
Raji is becoming a more influential factor in the surging Packers defense as his number of snaps is teadily increasing. He made two tackles on Monday night, both for a loss, but that is not where is impact ended. The Packers were bringing pressure from the outside all night on Joe Flacco, but it was Raji that got the push up the middle that forced Flacco in to some poor decisions. He was in the backfield all night because of his ability to fire out low off the snap and get inside position with his hands. He stood blockers up consistently and played with a lot of strength and power. His use of leverage will make him incredibly difficult to block down the stretch as offensive linemen noticeably lose their sense of technique this time of year because those little nicks and injuries for them really pile up in December.
Honorable Mention: Terrance Knighton – Jacksonville Jaguars
LB: Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
There was a lot of concern for the Green Bay defense following the season ending injury to Aaron Kampman but Matthews has responded with some of the best football he has played all season. He is one of the most important players on that defense now because he is the only one that can consistently disrupot the passer off the edge. He is using outstanding technique with his upper body to make himself small to blockers while maintaining separation. His open field speed was put on full display with the final sack of the game, his second of the night, as he chased down a faster-than-you-think Joe Flacco. Not only is his ability as a pass rusher an important piece to the puzzle, but he has become very stout against the run and thins out the lanes for backs to run through outside the tackle.
Honorable Mention: James Lauranaitis – St. Louis Rams
CB: Jerraud Powers – Indianapolis Colts
Powers continues to be an integral component to the defensive success of the Colts. Peyton Manning’s offense has been strong as usual, but it is the defense that has really made the difference this year. Powers broke up another 2 passes and his adjustment on a Kenny Britt double route prevented the rookie receiver out of Rutgers from catching his second touchdown of the day. His veteran savvy has caught the eyes of his opponents week in and week out. He did another fantastic job at playing the shadow of his man all day as he is rarely fooled by any attempt to fake him out.
Honorable Mention: Derek Cox – Jacksonville Jaguars
S: Victor Harris – Philadelphia Eagles
With Matt Ryan and Michael Turner sidelined, it was obvious that the Falcons were going to try and get the ball to tight end Tony Gonzalez all afternoon. However each time Chris Redman looked his way, Harris was right there with him. He shut him down all afternoon, shadowing his every move while maintaining a physical presence against the much bigger Gonzalez. The majority of Gonalez’s 8 receptions were when Harris was off the field but when he was there, Atlanta had to really adjust their approach.
Honorable Mention: Louis Delmas – Detroit Lions