The first week of the 2010 NFL season saw several first-year players thrust into key roles on their new teams. Chris Tripodi is back with us this season and he breaks down some of the best (and worst) rookies, this time from Week One.
Sam Bradford (QB-StL)
The top overall pick in the 2010 draft threw the ball a whopping 55 times in his NFL debut, completing 32 of those passes for just 253 yards and a touchdown while getting intercepted three times. Despite the ugly numbers, Bradford looked good at times with limited receiving options and against an underrated Cardinals defense.
Bradford relied heavily on fellow Oklahoma product Mark Clayton, who caught 10 balls after practicing with the team just three times before the opener. Bradford looked composed in the pocket and despite the 55 attempts, was sacked just twice on the day. He likely won’t be asked to consistently make big plays with a shaky offensive line and lack of big-play receivers, but Bradford played better than the stats show in Week 1 and has the look of an impact quarterback down the road, granted he can handle the inevitable struggles that will come with quarterbacking a bad offense as a rookie.
Dexter McCluster (WR-KC)
The second-round pick out of Mississippi may not have a true position in the NFL just yet, but he showed why the Chiefs spent a top-40 pick on him with a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave Kansas City a two-score lead heading into halftime. McCluster fielded a booming punt inside the 10 with room to run, made a quick cut just the inside the left hash and was off to the races from there.
McCluster wasn’t the most productive returner in college while handling the rushing load, but the early returns look good on him excelling in that role as a pro. He showed great vision, elusiveness and explosion on his touchdown return and could give the Chiefs their best return man since Dante Hall. He also added 2 receptions for 9 yards and will likely be given many opportunities to catch short passes because of his game-breaking ability.
Tony Moeaki (TE-KC)
A third-round pick out of Iowa, Moeaki saw plenty of action on passing downs and in multiple tight-end sets in the season’s first week, catching 3 passes for 21 yards and his first career touchdown, breaking wide open into the endzone from a goalline set in the second quarter.
Moeaki was a reliable receiver at Iowa and should give Matt Cassel an extra option in the underneath passing game. Considering Cassel throw for just 68 yards on 22 pass attempts, Moeaki should continue to see looks in this offense despite some deficiencies in the run game.
Tyson Alualu (DT-Jac)
Many experts screamed, “Reach!” when the Jaguars drafted Alualu with the 10th overall pick in April but the rookie out of California made an instant impact in Week 1, making 3 tackles and registering a sack on Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton.
What was most impressive about that sack was the move Alualu put on tackle Ryan Clady, considered by many to be the best left tackle in the game today. Lined up at right defensive end, Alualu bull rushed Clady and drove him back into Orton, grabbing the quarterback by his jersey while still engaged to take him to the ground.
Alualu is known more for his nasty streak and ability to play multiple positions along the line rather than his pass rushing ability, but beating one of the NFL’s top young tackles with brute strength is a good sign for the Jaguars. If Alualu can maintain this level of play throughout the season and his career, no one will be questioning whether or not Jacksonville reached on him in the top 10.
Devin McCourty (CB-NE)
McCourty is one of many young players New England will rely on defensively this season, particularly in the secondary. Carson Palmer targeted him early in his matchup with veteran Terrell Owens and McCourty proved up to the task, knocking the ball out of Owens’ hands after he jumped over McCourty to make a catch.
Owens caught seven balls on the day for just 53 yards on 13 targets as McCourty did a solid job limiting Owens to underneath grabs. One thing McCourty needed to improve on coming out of Rutgers was his ball skills, but he showed the ability to stay with Owens downfield and reacted well to the ball in the air. He’ll need to continue to make plays if New England expects to stop anybody through the air, especially with another inexperienced corner on the opposite side in second-year player Darius Butler.
Kyle Wilson (CB-NYJ)
To say that Wilson looked bad in his debut would be an understatement. The first-round pick out of Boise State was expected to help the Jets secondary in man coverage, but looked lost at times against veteran receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Wilson was noticeably beat downfield on at least five separate occasions, with three resulting in completions and one resulting in a 22-yard pass interference penalty that turned a Ravens third-and-10 into a first-and-goal from the 1-yard-line. Wilson also had a key holding penalty on third-and-long early in the game that extended a Ravens drive that had stalled in Jets territory.
Wilson did show the ball skills that made him a first-round pick early on against Todd Heap, who beat him to the endzone only to get the ball knocked from his hands on a well-timed breakup from Wilson. But he will need to work on staying with receivers downfield in order to stay on the field for the Jets, whose multiple blitz packages on passing downs will require their corners to man up often.
T.J. Ward (S-Cle)
Ward got the Week 1 start at strong safety for the Browns and didn’t disappoint, leading all rookies with 11 tackles this week. Tackles can be a misleading statistic for safeties, but Ward made multiple plays around the line of scrimmage as well as on special teams, not just padding his numbers with tackles 10-15 yards down the field.
A former walk-on at Oregon and a second-round pick of the Browns, Ward has always shown the ability to play downhill and sideline-to-sideline against the run. His coverage skills were seen as his major weakness, particularly man-to-man, but Ward did a good job containing Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow, holding him to 4 receptions for 32 yards on 6 targets. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to Kansas City’s backfield committee of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones in Week 2, as well as how he performs in coverage against the aforementioned Moeaki.
Nate Allen (S-Phi)
Allen will forever be known in Philadelphia as the players the Eagles drafted with the pick they received in exchange for long-time quarterback Donovan McNabb. He also has the daunting task of replacing Brian Dawkins in the Eagles secondary, but the Week 1 returns look good for the second-round pick out of South Florida.
Allen had 5 solo tackles, a pass defensed and an interception against the Packers on Sunday. While the interception was an overthrown gift from Aaron Rodgers on a rainy day, Allen does have the size and speed to become and impact free safety in Philadelphia for a long time. Intercepting one of the league’s best quarterbacks should only boost his confidence and help him build on a solid debut.