Jimmy Clausen (QB-Car)
Clausen got his first career start Sunday against the Bengals and the former Notre Dame star had his share of struggles. He had three fumbles on the day, the first coming on the Panthers’ first drive of the game. Clausen fumbled two center-quarterback exchanges, an issue he had during training camp, and also botched a handoff to running back Mike Goodson in the second half.
Exchange issues weren’t the only problem for Clausen on Sunday. Clausen completed just one pass in the first half and finished the game 16-for-33 for 188 yards and an interception. He had issues looking off the Cincinnati safeties all day and struggled driving throws on deep passes, resulting in his lone interception on a deep ball to Steve Smith.
Clausen is definitely a work in progress at this point, but will get another chance to start in Week 4 against the Saints. He is their quarterback of the future and the Panthers should stick with developing him with little hope of competing, but Matt Moore could see another opportunity in the coming weeks if Clausen can’t take care of the football.
C.J. Spiller (RB-Buf)
The Bills first-round pick out of Clemson, Spiller showed his game-breaking ability in limited Week 3 action. He ran just 4 times for 29 yards, but that included a 19-yard run where he busted through a small hole and bounced outside, beating Brandon Meriweather to the sideline. The Bills got creative with Spiller three plays later, lining him up outside for a screen pass that resulted in an easy 5-yard touchdown.
Spiller also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the third quarter, splitting another small hole to beat half of the Patriots coverage team in a small space and bounce off the kicker on his way to the endzone. He showed off his 4.3 speed and no Patriot was within 10 yards of him when he crossed the goalline.
The major knock on Spiller is a lack of toughness and inability to finish off runs, which may prevent him from ever being a featured workhorse in the NFL. But his talent is unquestioned and he should be the big-play threat the Bills have lacked for years on offense. He may get more carries as the season goes on and the Bills fall further out of contention and should develop into a Reggie Bush-type of weapon in Buffalo.
Rob Gronkowski (TE-NE)
The second New England tight end profiled in my rookie reports, Gronkowski was drafted two rounds earlier than Aaron Hernandez but has been a much smaller part of the Patriots passing game. He may have slightly more interior blocking ability than Hernandez but both are players who will be more involved in the passing game, a good fit for the New England system.
After recording just one catch in each of the first two games, including a one-yard touchdown in Week 1, Gronkowski caught 3 passes for 43 yards and another touchdown against Buffalo in Week 3. He has been targeted just 6 times by Tom Brady compared to 15 for Hernandez, who has more catches in each of the past two weeks (6) than Gronkowski has all season (5)
While Hernandez’s speed, agility and ability to create yards after the catch make him a better option between the 20s, Gronkowski’s four-inch height advantage makes him Tom Brady’s preferred target in the red zone. That trend should continue and New England will use both players even more as the season goes on.
Daryl Washington (LB-Ari)
Washington, the 47th overall pick out of TCU, has stepped right into the Cardinals’ starting lineup alongside Paris Lenon on the inside and has been a tackling machine, recording 20 tackles in his first three professional games including 10 in Week 2 against Atlanta.
Washington came out of college as an outside linebacker prospect due to his lack of size (6-2, 230), a tendency to get caught inside and an inability to laterally scrape off blockers. But he has held his own on the inside so far and should be able to stay there if he continues to mature physically and adds strength. His rapid improvement over his final two seasons in college and his quick transition to the NFL also bode well for his future as starter.
Kareem Jackson (CB-Hou)
The Texans first-round pick in April’s draft, Jackson has started all three games for Houston this season and shows promise in both coverage and run defense. He’s had at least 4 tackles in all three games and 16 total, while defending 3 passes as well.
He has had his share of rookie issues as well, including this week against Dallas. Lined up in press coverage against receiver Roy Williams in the fourth quarter, Jackson lost the physical battle and got beat quickly to the inside. Jackson couldn’t stay on his feet as Williams caught a quick slant from Tony Romo that turned into a 63-yard touchdown, as Jackson couldn’t catch up after getting back on his feet.
Jackson has the potential to be a complete corner in the NFL and, despite losing out to Williams on Sunday, is extremely physical in bump-and-run coverage. If he can iron out the rough edges of his game, Jackson could turn into an effective shutdown corner for the Texans in a few seasons. But this year, expect some struggles.
Walter Thurmond (CB-Sea)
A fourth-round pick out of Oregon, Thurmond saw extensive playing time for the first time this season due to Marcus Trufant’s injury issues and responded with 8 tackles and a pass defensed against the Chargers. He was a highly-rated cornerback prospect before a serious season-ending right knee injury four games into his senior season that required surgery.
Thurmond is limited in terms of size (5-11, 190) and speed (4.55) but has very good awareness and ball skills and is aggressive both in coverage and against the run. A four-year starter with the Ducks, his upside may be limited to nickel and dime packages and spot-start duty due to his size and speed limitations, but he’s a polished corner that can definitely make an impact on the field when placed in the right situations.
Earl Thomas (S-Sea)
Thomas has been excellent in his first three games with the Seahawks, recording at least 6 tackles in each contest. But he broke out in a big way against Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 3 with two interceptions.
The first came on a tipped pass where Thomas was simply in the right place at the right time, but he showed off his speed on a 34-yard return that set Seattle up around the Chargers’ 10-yard-line when many other safeties may not have made it into the red zone. His second pick came on the game’s final play, where he took advantage of double coverage and jumped a pass intended for Legedu Naanee to seal the win for the Seahawks.
These interceptions more than made up for Thomas being late on a early 49-yard completion from Rivers to Buster Davis, where Thomas could’ve come up with a third interception if he got to the spot a second or two sooner.
Thomas’ combination of good ball skills, great hands and an aggressive, hard-hitting mentality should more than make up for a lack of size (5-10, 202) that was one of the few knocks on him out of Texas. After three weeks, he looks like a star in the making.
Eric Berry (S-KC)
While Earl Thomas is shining in Seattle, Eric Berry is dealing with a few early struggles in Kansas City. Against San Diego in Week 1, he allowed Antonio Gates to get inside on a touchdown pass and later overcompensated for Gates’ presence, allowing Legedu Naanee to get behind him for a long touchdown.
In Week 2, he bit hard on a play-action fake and missed his help responsibility on a long touchdown reception by Josh Cribbs. He also took a bad angle to the action after a completion to Ben Watson, allowing Watson to gain an extra 20 yards after the catch.
On the positive side, Berry has also been extremely stout in run support and has shown the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, totaling 17 tackles including 2 for a loss against the Browns. He made just 4 tackles in Week 3, but avoided the big mistake against a struggling San Francisco passing game.
Berry oozes potential and has looked great at times but mistakes are to be expected from any rookie, even a safety taken in the top five. The early reports on Berry have been mixed but once he gains more NFL experience, he should be able to cut down on his mistakes in coverage and blossom into the playmaker that most scouts expect him to be.