Archive for September, 2012

This week’s Rookie Report is dominated by Colts, Seahawks and Panthers. In fact, all eight of the first-year players profiled below all hail from those three teams I just mentioned. Chris Tripodi is here to tell you about their performances.

Andrew Luck (QB-Ind)

It took three weeks, but April’s top overall pick finally made the Rookie Report. After a rough debut against the Bears that saw Luck throw three interceptions and complete barely half of his passes, the rookie signal caller out of Stanford has bounced back with two straight 2-touchdown performances and just one interception over those two games.

Luck’s offensive line hasn’t done a great job protecting him, especially on Sunday, but the heir to Peyton Manning was able to scramble out of the pocket for 50 yards on 4 carries along with topping 300 passing yards for the second time this season. He was just 22-for-46 passing and has completed just 53 percent of his passes so far this season, numbers that should certainly improve as the year goes on. His 846 passing yards through three games are impressive, but he’s thrown over 40 times per game to get there.

So far in 2012, Luck has shown all the talents that made him the highest-rated college prospect since Manning in the late 1990’s. His long touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton against Jacksonville on Sunday was an example of his great anticipation, arm strength and downfield accuracy and while his supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired, especially with Austin Collie now out for the season, Luck should continue to hold his own at the NFL level and grow into a star with every passing week.

Russell Wilson (QB-Sea)

After a great preseason, Wilson earned the starting quarterback job in Seattle while free agent prize Matt Flynn spent most of the fake games on the sideline with an injury. At just 5-11, Wilson has an uphill battle to climb to be a successful short NFL quarterback but the Seahawks believed enough to spend a mid-third round pick on him. With Wilson’s talent level, he could have been a top-ten pick if he was even three inches taller.

Wilson is also a great baseball player, being drafted in 2010 by the Colorado Rockies out of North Carolina State before returning to school to play football at Wisconsin. He has 4.55 speed and the ability to break contain, move outside the pocket and make all the necessary throws while on the move. He’s been protected early in his career, throwing just 41 passes in his last two games, but has 4 touchdowns and just 1 interception on the season and is completing over 57 percent of his passes.

The former Wolfpack and Badgers’ quarterback has also faced three of the NFL’s best pass defenses so far this season, which makes his solid numbers even more impressive. He’ll get a reprieve from top defenses when he faces the Rams this week and could enjoy a true breakout game if Seattle removes the reigns and lets him make some plays rather than relying on Marshawn Lynch to continue carrying the load. Wilson may be facing long odds as a quarterback under six feet tall, but he certainly has the ability to be the player who breaks that mold.

T.Y. Hilton (WR-Ind)

Hilton burst onto the scene in a big way on Sunday against Jacksonville, catching his first career touchdown on a 40-yard strike from fellow rookie Andrew Luck. Hilton also added a 33-yard catch later in the game on his way to a 113-yard day on 4 receptions.

Known as a burner, Hilton’s 4.4 speed was on display and he showed chemistry with Luck that was not there in Weeks 1 and 2, when Hilton was targeted just once. Luck looked his way eight times in Week 3 and while he may not see that many targets in a game again this season, another season-ending injury to Austin Collie has moved Hilton up to third on the depth chart behind Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery.

With Avery’s checkered injury history it wouldn’t be that surprising to see Hilton enter the starting lineup at some point, even for just a game or two. At just 5-9 he may never be anything more than a third receiver but if he sticks in Indianapolis, he could end up being one of the league’s better slot receivers. He has had his own injury issues as well thanks to his small frame but if Hilton stays healthy, he has the potential to become a dynamic weapon for Luck and the Colts’ offense.

Bruce Irvin (DE-Sea)

A surprise first-round pick by the Seahawks in April, Irvin was part of a surprising defensive outburst in Seattle’s controversial win over Green Bay on Monday night. The Seahawks defense sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times in first half, including two from Irvin.

While Irvin isn’t starting just yet on a solid Seahawks defense, the rookie from West Virginia helped stymie Rodgers and the Green Bay offense early and prevent them from building any momentum in the first half. With 22.5 sacks in his final two years with the Mountaineers, Irvin came into the NFL as one of the draft’s premier pass rushers and with 2.5 in his first three games, he hasn’t disappointed thus far.

At just 6-3, 250 pounds, Irvin is best suited as a 3-4 rush linebacker but has been used as a backup defensive end in the Seahawks’ 4-3 alignment so far. If he wants to start for Seattle in the future, he will likely need to add some weight to his frame to hold up against the run and prevent himself from being controlled easily at the point. If he can bulk up or find a home as a 3-4 rush linebacker, Irvin’s future will be bright. If not he may end up being a rotational player early in his career, which would be somewhat disappointing for a first-round pick.

Frank Alexander (DE-Car)

A fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in April’s draft, Alexander has been used in Carolina’s defensive line rotation behind Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. With Hardy feeling under the weather for Week 2’s win over New Orleans and the Panthers falling behind by a big margin in Week 3, Alexander got a few extra snaps towards the end of game and showed some flashes of potential.

A third-quarter sack of Eli Manning that almost pushed the Giants out of field goal range was the highlight of Alexander’s night, which also included 3 solo tackles. He was a productive pass rusher with the Sooners and has the ability to stick on the end of a 4-3 defensive line if things fall into place for him.

His technique and effort were major question marks at Oklahoma but Alexander’s athleticism was never in doubt. He stays low and uses his hands well and can even drop back effectively into space. Alexander has all the underlying skills to be a starter in the NFL, either at end or as a 3-4 rush linebacker, but he will need to take in professional coaching and dispel the notion that he has a tendency to give up on plays before they’re over.

Luke Kuechly (LB-Car)

Kuechly came into the NFL very highly regarded after winning the Lombardi Award for best linebacker and the Bronko Nagurski Award for best defensive player. The expectations out of the gate were certainly high and Kuechly was expected to immediately step into stardom. With just 9 tackles (3 solo) in his first two games, the early returns were slightly underwhelming.

The ninth overall pick in the April’s NFL Draft stepped up in Week 3 and showed everybody why he was so highly regarded coming out of Boston College, racking up 12 tackles (6 solo, 1 for loss) and a pass breakup. Kuechly finally looked 100 percent comfortable on the field and it showed in his instinctual play and nose for the football.

Kuechly is more football player than pure athlete, but he has enough speed (4.58) and quickness to be a stud between the tackles. He may not make as many plays to the sideline or chasing the action as some NFL middle linebackers but he’s as sure a tackler as they come after making 374 tackles in his last two years with the Eagles. More performances like the one from Week 3 should be expected from Kuechly from here on out, rather than the duds he posted in his first two career games.

Bobby Wagner (LB-Sea)

When Seattle traded veteran Barrett Ruud to New Orleans late in the preseason, their confidence in Wagner’s ability to immediately step into the starting lineup was apparent. After starting slow in the first two games by totaling just 8 tackles (5 solo), the rookie second-round pick from Utah State showed why the team was confident in his abilities against Green Bay.

Wagner matched his season total in tackles with 8 in helping the Seattle defense limit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just 12 points. This is the type of performance the Seahawks were expecting from Wagner, who had 400 tackles in the last three years with the Aggies. His coverage ability still needs work and while Packers’ tight end Jermichael Finley posted his highest yardage total so far this season, he still managed only 60 yards receiving.

Unlike Bruce Irvin who was mentioned earlier, Wagner fits perfectly in the Seahawks’ 4-3 defense as a prototypical run-stuffing middle linebacker. He scrapes well out to the flanks and while his speed in pursuit and quickness is nothing special, Wagner still has a good opportunity to be a productive NFL middle linebacker.

Josh Norman (CB-Car)

A four-year starter at Coastal Carolina, this fifth-round pick is surprisingly polished for a small-school defender. Norman has improved every week so far in the NFL as well, moving from 4 tackles (3 solo) in Week 1 to 8 tackles (5 solo) in Week 2 and a career-high 11 tackles (8 solo) in Week 3. He also broke up his first career pass.

Norman has good size (6-0, 195) and 4.55 speed, which makes him a solid yet unspectacular prospect at the cornerback position. One of the few weakness exposed in his game at Coastal Carolina was an inability to shed blocks and cover bigger receivers despite his size, but he has shown a nose for the football early in his Carolina career and ranks third on the team with 23 tackles, ahead of star linebacker Jon Beason.

It’s rare for a rookie from a school like Coastal Carolina to make an immediate impact at the NFL level, but Norman has done just that. A shutdown corner in college, Norman still has some work to do to be as effective in coverage as he was against lesser competition but he will be afforded every opportunity to get that work in starting opposite Chris Gamble. It’s still too early to tell whether Norman will end up as a nickel back or a starter in the league down the line, but if he rounds out his game he certainly has a shot.

Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, compiling Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and conducting draft interviews with NFL prospects. He has been a sportswriter for multiple newspapers and has previously worked at ESPN and with the Rochester Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.

The early rookie returns through two weeks of the season haven’t been terribly surprising, with the impact players generally coming from the first two or three rounds of April’s draft. Week 2’s Rookie Report includes four first-round picks, three players taken in the next three rounds and one diamond in the rough taken with the second-to-last pick in the 2012 draft. Chris Tripodi is back again with this week’s breakdown.

Brandon Weeden (QB-Cle)

After a dismal Week 1 that saw him throw 4 interceptions and complete just 12 of his 35 pass attempts, Weeden seemed confident enough in a bounce-back performance to say, “It can’t get any worse than it was the first week and I mean that jokingly.” Whether or not he was serious is up for discussion, but his performance against the Bengals in Week 2 certainly supports the notion that Weeden is a confident young man.

While “young” may be the wrong word to describe the 28-year-old rookie quarterback, efficient is the right word in looking at his Week 2 performance. On 37 passes, Weeden had barely fewer incompletions (11) than he had completions in Week 1 (12) and threw for 322 yards with a 114.9 passer rating. The first-round pick from Oklahoma State took advantage of the middle of the field against a struggling Bengals secondary and didn’t force throws like he did in Week 1, finding his check-downs when nothing was open.

Weeden was drafted in round one despite his advanced age, which says a lot about his talent level. He is a prototypical pocket passer with a big arm and solid poise. His major pitfalls include locking onto receivers and trusting his arm too much when throwing into a crowd, two things that will lead to many turnovers in the NFL. Coach Pat Shurmur said after the Cincinnati game that Weeden was making strides in his reads, which should be expected for any talented rookie, but his receivers leave a lot to be desired and games like this may be few and far between this year for Weeden.

Trent Richardson (RB-Cle)

August knee surgery threatened the start of Richardson’s season, which got off to a slow start in Week 1. While the Browns almost knocked off the Eagles in their season opener, Richardson played little part in that near-victory, rushing for just 39 yards on 19 carries. Just like his first-round teammate Brandon Weeden, the 3rd overall pick out of Alabama bounced back in a big way in Week 2.

Richardson had the same number of carries (19) as he did in Cleveland’s first game, but he ran for 109 yards and added 36 yards and 4 receptions as well. The Browns still lost, but the offense looked way better with the former Crimson Tide stud at full strength. His touchdowns weren’t cheap either, with one coming on a 32-yard run off right tackle in the second quarter and the other from 23 yards out on a screen play.

Touted as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in 2007 leading up to the draft, Richardson showed why on Sunday. The only knock on his game is a lack of blazing speed (4.55) but he more than makes up for it with great burst, quickness out of cuts and outstanding power at 5-9, 230 pounds. Richardson runs lows, has a smooth gait and is tough to bring down on initial contact, while also showing the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and make defenders miss in the open field. If he can stay healthy over the course of his career, the sky is the limit for Cleveland’s new workhorse.

Lamar Miller (RB-Mia)

After not making Miami’s active roster in Week 1, Miller took full advantage of Daniel Thomas’ concussion and his opportunity to see the field on Sunday against Oakland. With the Dolphins building a big early lead and blowing out the Raiders, the fourth-round pick out of Miami had 10 carries spelling Reggie Bush and made the most of them.

After rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, Miller should be more of a mainstay on the Dolphins’ active roster from here on out. It’s possible that the former Hurricane could even overtake Thomas on the depth chart, at least temporarily until the second-year runner is back to full strength, but Miller will need to improve his lackluster pass blocking to hold off Thomas.

In the long run, Miller has the size (5-10, 212) and speed (4.35) to be a productive starting running back but after leaving as a sophomore, he is extremely raw and doesn’t have NFL-level instincts just yet. Once he learns the professional game he can become a weapon in Miami, much like Reggie Bush has proven to be over the past year. Bush is also a free agent after this season and if the Dolphins decide not to bring him back, Miller and Thomas will likely battle for the starting job in 2013.

Daryl Richardson (RB-StL)

Richardson was one pick away from being 2012’s Mr. Irrelevant, but the honor this April went to quarterback Chandler Harnish from Northern Illinois. With the Rams using a second-round pick on Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, the former Abilene Christian star was expected to make the St. Louis roster as a special teams players, not see significant playing time.

A strong performance throughout the offseason pushed Richardson ahead of Pead on the Rams’ depth chart and with Steven Jackson leaving due to a groin injury in the second quarter on Sunday, Richardson filled in admirably with 83 yards on 15 rushes and 19 yards on 2 receptions. Coach Jeff Fisher said Jackson could have returned if Richardson struggled, but the rookie played well enough that St. Louis didn’t feel the need to rush their injury-prone star back onto the field.

Richardson is a home-run hitter as a runner with excellent speed that he showed with a 53-yard run in the Rams’ win over Washington on Sunday. He also has strong NFL bloodlines, with brothers Bernard Scott and Clyde Gates (both also ACU products) on NFL rosters at the moment. At 6-0, 200 pounds, Richardson may not have the size to ever be a featured back but his speed and the ability he has shown early in his career bodes well for him to be a solid change-of-pace runner. Not bad for somebody drafted outside the top 250 picks.

John Hughes (DT-Cle)

When the Browns drafted Hughes in the third round of April’s draft, most draft experts were shocked at the pick and screamed “Reach!” for all to hear. We here at Draft Insider had him rated as an undrafted free agent, so to hear his name called with the 24th pick in round three was certainly a surprise. The former Cincinnati Bearcat is apparently full of surprises, as nobody expected him to make an impact early in the season considering the questions surrounding him on draft day.

With Phil Taylor on the PUP list with a torn pectoral muscle, Hughes worked his work into the starting lineup with a strong performance in OTA’s, training camp and the preseason. Hughes must have been excited to visit Cincinnati again on Sunday, making 6 tackles (3 solo, 1.5 for loss) with his first career sack in Cleveland’s loss to the Bengals.

Initially drafted as a rotational lineman, another reason the draft community questioned the use of a third-rounder on him, Hughes showed flashes of ability while in his days with the Bearcats and on Sunday. He will need to work on consistency and continue to use his quick first step to shoot gaps in the offensive line, as he has a tendency to be neutralized by one blocker at the point of attack. Hughes has gotten himself up to 320 pounds however, 10 pounds heavier than he was a few months ago. Maybe that weight has given him the extra power he will need to validate his draft slot.

Zach Brown (LB-Ten)

With Colin McCarthy sitting out Week 2 with an injury, Will Witherspoon moved inside and the second-round pick from North Carolina drew his first career start on the weak side. Brown responded with 10 tackles (6 solo, 1 for loss) and a third quarter strip sack on Philip Rivers, although the Titans didn’t recover.

A great athlete with 4.45 speed, Brown is a three-down linebacker with the ability to play the run, rush the passer and the speed to stay with backs and tight ends in pass coverage. A solid tackler with a good head for the ball, Brown has the ability to play sideline to sideline even from the weak side. He was a first-round talent with character red flags and a soft reputation which led to him falling outside the top 50, but that could actually make him one of the draft’s better early values.

McCarthy’s ankle injury looks like it will keep him out for a few more weeks, meaning Brown will continue to get the opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. If the Titans continue to struggle like they have in the season’s first few weeks, the team would have no choice but to keep Brown in and let him develop if he continues to play well.

Stephon Gilmore (CB-Buf)

After getting torched by the Jets’ Stephen Hill in Week 1, Gilmore was called “soft” and “tentative” by head coach Chan Gailey. Buffalo’s first-round pick seemed to take that as a challenge in Week 2, as he was part of a Bills defense that improved after allowing 48 points in Week 1, letting up just 17 points on Sunday.

Along with his physical tools and athleticism, Gilmore is a heads up player who plays an aggressive brand of football. Soft and tentative aren’t words that are used often to describe his play and he proved that on Sunday, making 7 tackles with 3 pass breakups and proving to be a force both against the run and the pass. Gilmore made a few big open-field tackles early on the elusive Jamaal Charles and allowed just one pass to be completed against him in the first three quarters.

At 6-0, 190 pounds with 4.4 speed, Gilmore has prototypical size and speed for an NFL corner. His only weaknesses lie in his fundamentals and getting his head around to locate the ball, two of the easiest things a corner can improve as he gains experience. He has the potential to be an explosive playmaker that affects every aspect of the game from the corner position and has all the talent to be a very productive NFL starter.

Mark Barron (S-TB)

Arguably the best player on the nation’s best defense in 2011, Barron was the highest Crimson Tide defender drafted when Tampa Bay made him the 7th overall pick in April. Barron was generally expected to fall into the teens to a safety-needy team like the Jets, but the Bucs made sure they got their man by taking him earlier than most expected him to go.

Barron has paid immediate dividends early in the season, making 10 tackles (6 solo, 1 for loss) against the Giants and breaking up multiple passes for the second straight week. The rookie safety was known for his big hits and tremendous run support in college but his coverage ability flew under the radar. Barron is a solid man-to-man defensive safety who breaks quickly to the ball and shows good ball skills along with his run-stopping ability, all of which were on display this past weekend.

With good strength at 6-2, 213 pounds and solid but not blazing 4.55 speed, Barron should be a force in the NFL for years to come. He has the potential to be one of the league’s best two-way safeties and will be a huge boon to a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season. We should expect to see many more performances like this one from Barron this season and in the future as he continues to improve his game at the NFL level.

Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, compiling Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and conducting draft interviews with NFL prospects. He has been a sportswriter for multiple newspapers and has previously worked at ESPN and with the Rochester Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.

The top impact rookies from Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season were names you would have expected, including a top-2 pick, two other first-rounders and three second-rounders. The only outliers were a sixth-round running back from Florida Atlantic who nobody even knew was starting until minutes before game time and a fourth-round linebacker out of the Mountain West. Check out Chris Tripodi’s first installment of the Rookie Report to find out which first-year players played important roles for their team in Week 1.

Robert Griffin III (QB-Was)

Most draft analysts acknowledged that there was some debate between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as to who should have gone first overall in April’s draft, but those same analysts generally sided with Luck. There was no debate about who the better quarterback was on Sunday, as Griffin became the first player in NFL history with 300 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his NFL debut, a 40-32 victory over Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints

Griffin finished the game 19-of-26 passing for 320 yards, second-most in a debut behind only Cam Newton, who topped 400 yards in Week 1 last season. Most impressively, Griffin completed 8-of-9 passes for 188 of those yards when the Saints rushed five or more defenders, proving to be a more lethal weapon against the blitz than the New Orleans’ base defense. He also had 10 rushes for 42 yards, eight of which came on designed runs, proving once again that Griffin is more polisher passer than frantic runner even at this early stage of his career.

The much-hyped rookie from Baylor showed the poise and athleticism that led the Redskins to trade three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move up to the second overall pick in April to draft him. Griffin certainly made Washington look smart after his Week 1 performance and his arm strength, mobility and leadership should be on display all season in the nation’s capital.

Doug Martin (RB-TB)

Tampa Bay’s first-round pick out of Boise State, Martin ran Sunday like he didn’t miss the blue turf at all. The former Bronco carried the load in the Bucs’ win over the Panthers, toting the rock 24 times for 95 yards and adding 23 yards on 4 receptions out of the backfield. After rumors of a timeshare with LeGarrette Blount earlier in the summer, this is clearly Martin’s backfield to start the season as Blount carried just 3 times before leaving with a leg injury.

While Blount is a plodder with limited upside, Martin is a well-rounded overall runner who does the little things well. The rookie may not excel in any one thing but has good size at 5-9, 223 pounds and enough speed (4.5) to be an effective NFL starter. He has even drawn comparisons to another Martin, recently enshrined former Jet Curtis Martin, who wasn’t the biggest or the fastest running back but possessed the vision, patience and pure running ability to make the most of his abilities.

Like Curtis Martin, Doug Martin is a complete, polished back who understands blocking schemes and has the burst to hit the hole quickly before it closes. He’s a hard runner with quick feet and the ability to make defenders miss in space and, despite his lack of breakaway speed, is also a dynamic receiver and return man. Martin should see as much work as he can handle as a rookie with Blount already falling into the doghouse and should be Tampa’s every-down back this season.

Alfred Morris (RB-Was)

With Evan Royster listed atop the team’s depth chart and Roy Helu possessing the most dynamic skill set of the Redskins’ running backs, it was certainly a surprise to learn that Morris was receiving the Week 1 start just a few hours before kickoff. It was even more of a surprise that Morris received 28 carries compared to just 4 for Royster and Helu combined, and possibly even more surprising that he turned that extra work into 96 yards and 2 touchdowns. Regardless, the sixth-round rookie made an instant impact on Washington’s offense along with fellow rookie Robert Griffin III.

Nobody will confuse Morris’ potential with Griffin’s, however, as he is a 5-10, 220-pound back who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash. Morris’ lack of speed and burst was evident at times, but he ran hard on the inside and seemed to thrive in the one-cut, zone-blocking scheme that has made runners like Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson look like stars under Mike Shanahan in the past.

Nobody would be surprised if this proves to be the best game of Morris’ career, especially considering Shanahan’s history of playing musical running backs and the depth the Redskins possess behind him. But on Sunday, the former Owl certainly outshined his more talented teammates in the backfield and will get every opportunity to keep the job if he stays productive and the team continues to win. Just don’t expect another 28 carries especially if the Redskins fall behind, as both Helu and Royster should receive most of the work on passing downs.

Stephen Hill (WR-NYJ)

Coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, not much was expected from Hill out of the gate as he adjusted to an NFL system and was playing with a still unproven quarterback in Mark Sanchez. The second-round rookie’s Week 1 performance defied even the loftiest expectations that could have been placed on him, as Hill had 5 receptions for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Jets blew out the Bills, 48-28.

Hill dominated his matchup with Buffalo’s first-round pick, cornerback Stephen Gilmore, beating him consistently and catching everything thrown his way, something he didn’t do in college or the preseason. When a 6-foot-4 receiver has 4.3 speed people tend to notice, but Hill came into the NFL as an unfinished product, albeit one with tons of raw potential, and his upside was certainly on display Sunday.

It will be difficult to expect this kind of performance from Hill every week with the Jets employing a run-heavy offense, but it was obvious on Sunday that new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano plans to take far more shots down the field than his predecessor Brian Schottenheimer. As the Jets fastest receiver on the outside and their tallest target in the red zone, Hill should be the beneficiary of the Jets new-look passing attack. Growing pains should still be expected, however, as this performance should draw the attention of opposing defense and Hill’s route running and hands still need polish.

Coby Fleener (TE-Ind)

Despite a slow start on Sunday, the Stanford rookie best known for being Andrew Luck’s teammate with the Cardinal posted respectable stats in his NFL debut. The first pick of the 2012 second round, Fleener caught his first three NFL passes for 51 yards on the Colts’ final drive of the second quarter, helping Andrew Luck and company get into field goal range before halftime.

Fleener finished with a total of 6 catches for 82 yards and was targeted 10 times by his former teammate, a trend that should continue throughout the season. With Austin Collie out due to a concussion Luck had few options beyond Fleener and Reggie Wayne, who had a whopping 18 targets on the day.

Fleener’s size (6-6, 247) and 4.5 speed make him an attractive option in the passing game for any quarterback, let alone one he already has years of chemistry with. The rookie tight end can create mismatches down the field for any secondary but also has the size and awareness to be effective underneath, which should help both he and Luck develop quickly in the NFL. The Colts should be excited about the future these former Cardinal teammates can have together.

Chandler Jones (DE-NE)

A first-round pick from Syracuse, Jones made his way into the Patriots’ starting lineup and paid immediate dividends for his team, forcing a Jake Locker fumble deep in Titans’ territory early in the second quarter on Sunday. The fumble was recovered by fellow rookie first-round pick Dont’a Hightower and returned for a touchdown that gave New England an early double-digit lead they would never relinquish.

Jones finished the game with 5 tackles (3 solo, 2 for loss), a sack and the aforementioned forced fumble while playing almost 60 snaps. He looked exactly like the instinctive, explosive pass rusher the Patriots thought they were getting 21st overall in April. The former Orange star will experience his share of struggles in the running game at 6-5 and just 265 pounds but he already looks like a threat to reach double-digit sacks in his rookie season.

It’s difficult to picture a better situation for a player with Jones’ skill set than the one the Patriots present. New England is likely to have opponents playing from behind often, which will allow Jones to pin his ears back and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks rather than worrying about playing the run. Just ask Dwight Freeney, another former Syracuse star pass rusher, how it feels to play with the lead most of the time and attack the quarterback.

Miles Burris (LB-Oak)

A fourth-round pick from San Diego State, Burris earned one of the starting outside linebacker roles for Oakland when Aaron Curry went down with injury and enjoyed an impressive debut. The rookie had 9 tackles including 7 solo and one for a loss and looked extremely comfortable in his first NFL action.

Burris’ fearless, blue-collar attitude was certainly on display with some solid hits in the running game as he acclimated himself well after a strong performance in preseason play. He showed solid play recognition ability, scraped well down the line and aggressively attacked the running lanes all day as he helped the Raiders limit the Chargers to just 45 yards rushing on 20 carries without Ryan Mathews.

Burris was drafted to solidify one of the Raiders’ biggest weaknesses from 2011, their run defense. As a player who doesn’t rely on blazing speed to make an impact, he is the opposite of the Raiders’ prototypical draft pick but is still a good athlete who uses his intelligence and toughness to diagnose the situation and make plays. Curry may never get his job back if Burris can continue his strong play, and the Raiders may have found themselves a full-time starter late in the fourth round.

Janoris Jenkins (CB-StL)

Jenkins came into this year’s NFL Draft with a great deal of baggage from his college days. The talented cornerback was arrested in 2011 on misdemeanor marijuana charges and subsequently dismissed from Florida’s football team. Jenkins played his senior year at North Alabama and despite being a first-round talent, slipped into the second round where the Rams decided his upside outweighed his downside.

After a strong preseason and just one week of the regular season, that decision looks like the right one. On the opening drive of the team’s season, Matthew Stafford drove the Lions all the way down to St. Louis’ three-yard line before getting intercepted at the goalline by Jenkins, who returned the interception out past his own 30-yard line.

On the interception, Jenkins jammed tight end Tony Scheffler at the line of scrimmage and immediately picked his head up to read Stafford’s eyes, which were looking directly at Scheffler. Jenkins stopped in his tracks for the easy interception, which kept Detroit off the scoreboard and led to a Rams field goal in a game they almost won. Jenkins’ past troubles could always rear their ugly head at any time but if he can fly straight, he should prove to be one of the second-round steals of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, compiling Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and conducting draft interviews with NFL prospects. He has been a sportswriter for multiple newspapers and has previously worked at ESPN and with the Rochester Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.

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