Week 2 saw many rookies build on strong performances from Week 1, while others burst onto the scene after being nonexistent in the opening week. Chris Tripodi breaks down the notable rookie performances from the season’s second week.
Jahvid Best (RB-Det)
Through two games, Best is showing everybody why Jim Schwartz used to watch late-night highlight clips of the former Cal standout on YouTube. His two touchdowns in Week 1 masked an uneven 19-touch, 36-yard effort but a monster Day from Best kept Detroit in their Week 2 matchup with Philadelphia until the very end.
Best led the team with 17 rushes for 78 yards and 9 receptions for 154 yards, including a 75-yard screen pass that he took to the house. Best showed great patience waiting for his blocks to develop on the play and then turned on the jets to blow past the rest of the Eagles secondary to paydirt. He also displayed great vision and burst through the hole on a 14-yard draw play for his first of 3 touchdowns on Sunday and now has 5 touchdowns in his first two NFL games.
Best fell to 30th in this year’s draft due to concussion issues in his final two seasons at Cal and injuries seem to be the only thing that can stop him from becoming a star. His patience as a runner along with his natural gifts and ability to accelerate out of cuts make him a player that will give defensive coordinators fits for years, much like Tennessee’s Chris Johnson.
Demaryius Thomas (WR-Den)
Many questioned the Broncos’ decision to make Thomas the first wide receiver drafted with Dez Bryant still on the board, but Thomas played well in his first NFL game on Sunday, leading the Broncos with 8 receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Thomas missed the season opener after re-aggravating a foot injury that required February surgery. He has drawn favorable comparisons to former Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall with his 6-3, 229-pound frame, sure hands and ability to make defenders miss after the catch and those abilities were on display against Seattle. Thomas beat Kelly Jennings on a go route for an easy 21-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, as Jennings fell down trying to stay with Thomas up the left sideline.
Thomas lacks the explosiveness of a player like Best but has the speed to get downfield once he gets moving. Like most young receivers his route-running needs work, but his talent is as unmistakable in the pros as it was in Georgia Tech’s triple-option system. The Marshall comparisons seem legitimate and Thomas definitely has the talent to be a number-one receiver down the line, if not this season.
Dez Bryant (WR-Dal)
Bryant came off the board two picks after Thomas, but many think he was the most talented receiver in this draft class. Draft Insider had him ranked ahead of Thomas but his off-the-field issues, including a year-long suspension at Oklahoma State after contact with Deion Sanders, caused him to drop into the late first round.
Bryant refused to carry veteran Roy Williams’ pads during training camp and then hurt his ankle, putting his season opener in doubt. But he returned to play against the Redskins and had 8 catches for 56 yards, following that up with a 2-catch, 56-yard performance against Chicago. Bryant showed his ability to impact a game in the return game as well, returning a punt 62 yards for a touchdown early in the game.
With the Cowboys offense struggling to find its identity, Bryant will have his ups and downs in coming weeks, if not all season. Like Thomas, he has good size (6-2, 217), strong hands and excellent ability after the catch but needs to polish his route-running and work on staying consistently focused. Look for him to improve every week and become one of Tony Romo’s most trusted targets by the end of the season.
Mike Williams (WR-TB)
If Williams can keep his head on straight as a pro, he might be the steal of the draft. After academic and suspension issues cost him most of his final two seasons at Syracuse, Williams slipped out of the top 100 and was taken by the Bucs at pick 101. Arguably a first-round talent, Williams has looked the part through two weeks this season.
Williams has a touchdown reception in each of the first two games along with 7 catches for 84 yards. He took advantage of a tipped ball in the endzone in Week 1 for his first score and showed off his playmaking ability with his touchdown on Sunday. Williams was on the receiving end of a crossing route from Josh Freeman and beat four defenders to the endzone with a quick burst up the middle and the power to bounce off two tacklers at the 5-yard-line.
At his best, Williams is a tough receiver with good hands and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. He isn’t a true deep threat but has the deceptive speed to separate from defenders and make plays down the field. If Williams stays focused on and off the field, he can have a very productive professional career.
Aaron Hernandez (TE-NE)
After two games, it looks like Hernandez is developing into Tom Brady’s go-to tight end over fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski, who was actually taken 71 picks earlier. Hernandez’s lone catch in Week 1 went for 45 yards but he had a big game against the Jets with 6 receptions for 101 yards, including a 46-yarder.
Hernandez is a limited interior blocker but his upside in the passing game is tantalizing. He may lack the speed to be a consistent deep threat from the tight end position but his ability after the catch in the open field will result in many big plays, like it has in the first two weeks of 2010. On both of Hernandez’s long catches, he showed great vision and cutback ability following his blocks downfield. He also picks up positive yardage despite a tendency to go east and west rather than north and south.
Hernandez releases well off the line, runs sharp routes, has excellent balance and body control and shows soft hands. He has made big plays in both games so far this season and should be expected to make many more this season.
Trent Williams (LT-Was)
After being drafted 4th overall by the Redskins, Williams is the only first-round pick currently starting at left tackle in the NFL. He held his own against DeMarcus Ware in Week 1, allowing just one sack and showing ability in both run and pass blocking. But Week 2 was a different story for the rookie.
A matchup with Mario Williams resulted in three sacks for Houston’s All-Pro defensive end, who had a field day with the raw rookie. Trent Williams also injured his knee in the fourth quarter, but suffered no structural damage and it’s unknown if he will play in Week 3.
Williams has good strength and moves well along the line and up to the second level but needs to smooth out the rough edges in his game to reach his upside. He will have the chance to learn on the job in Washington and has the potential to be a very good left tackle down the line, but could be a liability in the meantime, especially against the top-tier pass rushers he will face on the left side while he adjust to the NFL game.
Ndamukong Suh (DT-Det)
Along with Jahvid Best, the second overall pick in April’s draft has Lions fans very excited for the future. Suh has recorded a sack in each of his first two professional games, recorded 8 tackles against the Eagles after just one against the Bears and is already drawing attention from multiple opposing linemen on most plays.
Suh is a game changer along the defensive line and is nearly impossible for one opponent to handle. He is strong and dominant at the point of attack and sheds blocks laterally to chase down running plays. He showed off his intensity and nasty streak in the preseason when he yanked Jake Delhomme’s facemask and tossed him to the ground, a play that resulted in a hefty fine but also showed the fire Lions fans must love to see from their top draft pick.
Sean Weatherspoon (LB-Atl)
The Falcons first-round pick out of Missouri has stepped in as the starting strong side linebacker in Atlanta and already has 17 tackles in his first two games. Weatherspoon also added a sack against the Cardinals and has made an immediate impact defensively for the Falcons.
His size (6-1, 239) was the major knock on Weatherspoon out of college and had many, including Draft Insider, projecting him as a more productive weak side linebacker. But Weatherspoon has held his own in the early season, showing a nose for the football and sure tackling ability. If he can continue to improve his ability to play the inside run, his sideline-to-sideline speed and overall athleticism will be a nightmare for offensive coordinators around the league.