Two highly touted skill players finally got their opportunities to shine in Week 12, as both Tevin Coleman and DeVante Parker were expected to make immediate impacts for their teams after being drafted. Instead, both have dealt with injuries as rookies this year and were thrust into action last weekend after their teammates found themselves sidelined by ailments of their own. Two Giants rookies made the list as well, one of whom was a relative unknown heading into the week. Chris Tripodi breaks down a new batch of rookies for Week 12.
Tevin Coleman (RB-Atl)
When the Falcons drafted Tevin Coleman early in the third round of the 2015 draft, it was presumed they wanted him to be their starting running back, with Devonta Freeman working as a change-of-pace. Both players had 29 touches through two weeks before Coleman missed Weeks 3 and 4 with a rib injury, opening up the backfield for Freeman.
Freeman ran away with the job over the next seven games, playing like one of the best backs in football. A concussion early in last week’s game against the Colts knocked him out early and kept him out of Week 12’s loss to the Vikings, giving Coleman the opportunity to step up. The rookie responded with his first career 100-yard game, rushing for 110 yards on 18 carries.
Atlanta made it a point to establish Coleman early, handing the ball to him on their first three plays of the game. His seven-yard run on the first snap displayed his vision and instincts to find the open lane, as Coleman waited for his fullback to seal his block before cutting to the backside and picking up seven yards. Coleman picked up just two yards on the next two plays, though, forcing Atlanta to punt.
The Falcons went right back to Coleman on their next drive with a toss to the right, and the rookie used his speed to get outside before patiently waiting for his fullback to seal off the corner and bursting to the second level for 46 yards. Coleman straight-armed safety Antone Exum off him down the field, but didn’t protect the ball after that move as Anthony Barr came from behind to knock it into the air, where Exum grabbed it to force the turnover.
Atlanta’s next drive started with four straight passes before Coleman saw another carry, which went for eight yards after a good cutback into the hole. The rookie showed nice balance on the play, stumbling through the opening but staying on his feet to finish the run. One of Coleman’s strengths at Indiana was falling forward at the end of his runs, and he consistently added an extra yard or two to his runs Sunday by refusing to go down easily on first contact.
Down four points coming out of halftime, the Falcons leaned heavily on Coleman on their initial drive of the third quarter after marching into Vikings territory. The 6-1, 210-pounder showed an innate ability to avoid backfield penetration on multiple plays, juking to redirect behind the line of scrimmage and avoiding losses, as Coleman was stopped just once for negative yardage.
Even when the holes didn’t open immediately, the rookie did well not to stop his feet in the backfield, which was a key to his 16-yard run that brought Atlanta down to the 1-yard line. Rather than freezing when the hole didn’t materialize right away, Coleman kept inching towards the line of scrimmage before spotting a gap and using his acceleration to hit the hole and carry safety Robert Blanton at least five yards down to the goal line.
Two plays later, Coleman scored on a toss to the left side, showing good speed to turn the corner past the defensive end before cutting back inside his block. Unfortunately, the TD was called back due to clipping and Coleman’s alligator arms caused him to drop an easy slip screen on the following play. The Falcons then turned to the air, and Matt Ryan threw a deflating interception in the end zone.
Coleman had another bad drop in the fourth quarter. After beating Barr down the sideline, Ryan hit Coleman right in the hands with a pass that the rookie runner dropped before Barr recovered to knock the pass away for good. Coleman didn’t receive another carry or target the rest of the way as the Falcons turned to Terron Ward and their two-minute offense in a comeback attempt.
The numbers look nice on paper, and Coleman showed some very nice traits Sunday that will serve him well as a future starter. The fumble and drops were poor, however, and there is little doubt that Freeman will be back to serve as the starter in Week 13. Coleman should see a few touches as a change-of-pace back but as long as Freeman is in Atlanta and healthy, the rookie’s path to a starting job will be a difficult one despite showing what he was capable of Sunday.
DeVante Parker (WR-Mia)
DeVante Parker has been mostly invisible in Miami this season, struggling to climb the depth chart and dealing with a recurrence of his foot issue that led to surgery over the summer. Certainly those two facts are related, as Parker never really had time to get up to speed after missing much of the offseason program.
Starter Rishard Matthews left with an injury on Miami’s third offensive play Sunday, which gave Parker an increased opportunity. The rookie receiver saw a whopping 10 targets on a day Ryan Tannehill threw 58 passes and turned those chances into four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins offense was lifeless in the first half and Parker looked tentative in his first extended playing time of the year. He beat Antonio Cromartie off the line on a post route late in the first quarter, but couldn’t corral the catch as Tannehill tried to drop the ball in between a diving Cromartie and safety Marcus Gilchrist.
On a 3rd-and-18 in the second quarter, Parker ran a deep curl short of the first down marker and Tannehill’s throw was late, allowing Buster Skrine to come underneath and break up the pass. Parker broke open on another outside curl later in the quarter, but gave up once Tannehill looked to the other side of the field before the quarterback was forced to throw the ball away over Parker’s head.
Parker made his first catch of the game on the second play of the third quarter on a crossing route when he found open space just beyond the linebackers, made the catch and turned upfield for a 20-yard gain. Two plays later, he rounded off an in-breaking route and allowed Jets reserve corner Darrin Walls to undercut his route. Parker got his hands on the pass, but Walls was in great position to prevent him from completing it.
Later in the quarter, the rookie receiver made a big 3rd-and-10 conversion with the Dolphins still hanging onto hope of a comeback down 21 points. Parker rounded off his out route again, but that helped him keep separation from the underneath corner and Tannehill delivered the pass on time as Parker extended away from his body to make the catch on the sideline and get both feet down in bounds.
Parker’s first NFL touchdown came deep in garbage time on an out route where the rookie showed off his playmaking ability after the catch. After making the catch on the sideline, Parker cut back inside Cromartie’s overpursuit and cut back again when Gilchrist played him too far towards the sideline on his way to a nice 33-yard run-and-catch. While Parked looked slow on the play, he managed to find his way into the end zone nonetheless.
Four catches for 80 yards sounds good, but Parker left a lot of plays on the field. He played tentatively at times and it’s obvious the game has yet to slow down for the rookie, which is to be expected considering the lack of repetitions throughout the offseason and into the regular season. Parker’s chemistry with Tannehill was borderline awful, and he floated out of his route breaks, a problem that stems back to his days at Louisville.
Miami’s first-round pick will have the opportunity to gain valuable reps down the stretch with Matthews out indefinitely thanks to multiple rib fractures, and the Dolphins will be hoping his health cooperates as Parker gets used to the speed of the NFL game. This was shaping up like a lost season for Parker just a week ago, but now he can use the final five games to build his own confidence and chemistry with Tannehill heading into next season.
Will Tye (TE-NYG)
Larry Donnell’s season-ending neck injury has opened the door for Will Tye, an undrafted free agent out of Stony Brook who started his college career at Florida State, to start for the Giants. Tye’s role in the offense has steadily grown over the past three games, going from six targets in Week 9 to seven in Week 10 and eight during Sunday’s loss to the Redskins, which the rookie turned into six receptions for 74 yards.
Tye’s day started with a tough drop early in the first quarter, as the first-year tight end showed a quick burst off the line to get open, but let Eli Manning’s pass slip right through his hands in tight coverage. Manning didn’t look Tye’s way again until late in the second quarter, and the rookie made a wide-open grab on a similar curl route over the middle for six yards.
Tye wasn’t targeted again until the Giants were in serious comeback mode midway through the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t for lack of trust. Tye’s 16-yard catch on a 2nd-and-14 showed that Manning trusts Tye, as the quarterback threw the ball purposely behind him before Tye had even turned around. The athletic 6-2, 273-pound tight end turned just in time and smoothly made the reception.
Manning continued to show faith in his young tight end, targeting him on a nice curl-and-go route on a late 4th-and-2. Tye was double-covered but sold the quick route, which sucked the linebackers up and allowed him to get open down the seam for a big 28-yard gain.
Tye added another short grab over the middle on the next play and caught two short passes on the final drive with the Redskins playing prevent defense and allowing the underneath throws. He’s proven to be a reliable target underneath for Manning with an ability to threaten the seam that Donnell never had.
While Tye’s size and blocking struggles make him more of an NFL H-back than a true tight end, he’s shown himself to be a threat similar to the Bills’ Charles Clay, albeit with 20-25 more pounds on his frame. Tye is unlikely to become a star in the NFL, but with 11 receptions for 130 yards over the past weeks, he’s proven himself to be a capable receiver on a team that lacks talented targets beyond Odell Beckham Jr.
Landon Collins (S-NYG)
Desperate for help in the back end, the Giants traded up to draft Alabama safety Landon Collins with the first pick of the second round. While Collins’ coverage ability needed refinement, he was an NFL-ready box defender who could make an immediate impact against the run, and he’s shown that this season.
Collins has been a consistent producer for New York, making at least five tackles in 10 of 11 games this season. He set a new season-high against the Redskins on Sunday, making eight solo stops including two behind the line of scrimmage.
The rookie safety was quiet in the first half, recording just two tackles on short dumpoff passes to running backs when the Giants didn’t cover them in the flat. With the Redskins nursing a big second-half lead and focusing on the run game, Collins played a key role in keeping Washington from putting together extended drives.
Collins made two textbook tackles in the third quarter, filling the hole hard before breaking down and rolling his hips into Alfred Morris to stop him in his tracks after a two-yard gain. On a later possession, Collins came on a run blitz and beat Ryan Grant’s crack-block attempt, upending Matt Jones with a perfect diving hit to the legs for a one-yard loss.
In the fourth quarter, Collins did his part to get the Giants the ball back as often as possible to attempt a comeback. Lined up on the left edge with receiver Jamison Crowder in front of him, Collins easily shoved Crowder into the backfield before grabbing Morris and tossing him to the ground for no gain.
Two plays later on 3rd-and-6, Collins was lined up outside against tight end Jordan Reed. Quickly diagnosing Reed’s short curl route and Kirk Cousins’ quick release against the blitz, Collins immediately stopped the play with a sure tackle after Reed’s four-yard catch, forcing a punt.
On the next drive, Collins showed good pursuit speed to chase down Morris, who tried to stretch a busted play out to the right side, and took the running back down for a one-yard loss to force another punt.
With the Giants linebackers struggling against the run this season, Collins has been a key part of New York’s defense in the box and a big reason for their gradual improvement on the ground this season. They still struggle against the run due to overall talent issues, but that’s not on Collins.
Follow Chris Tripodi on Twitter @christripodi to talk football and the NFL Draft.