Everybody knows the Patriots draft well and this week’s installment of the Rookie Report is evidence of that. Three New England rookies have already been highlighted this season and Week 6 brings three more, along with more undrafted players around the league taking advantage of their opportunities to play. Chris Tripodi is here to break it all down.
Colt McCoy (QB-Cle)
Due to injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, McCoy became the Browns 16th starting quarterback since they returned to the NFL in 1999. The third-round pick from Texas performed admirably in his first NFL start against a tough Pittsburgh defense, completing 23-of-33 passes for 281 yards (a season-high allowed by the Steelers defense), a touchdown and 2 interceptions, one coming on a game-ending hail mary.
McCoy’s lack of arm strength was the main reason he fell to the third round when many thought he was a borderline first-round pick and while he threw twice as many passes to his backs and tight ends (22) as he did to his receivers (11), he showed the ability to move the Browns downfield, something Delhomme and Wallace have struggled with so far this season.
McCoy has always been lauded for having the intangibles that make a solid NFL quarterback despite his lack of size and arm strength. He showed that command of the offense on Sunday and early word out of Cleveland is that he will get another start against New Orleans this weekend. Another decent performance could earn him more playing time down the stretch, considering the 1-5 Browns have little to play for the rest of the way.
Chris Ivory (RB-NO)
Injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush earlier this season opened up playing time for Ivory and the undrafted rookie out of D-II Tiffin University has taken advantage. After rushing for just 119 yards on 29 carries in his first three games and losing two fumbles, Ivory gashed the Buccaneers for 158 yards on 15 carries this past week and may have earned himself a role in the Saints backfield even when Thomas returns.
Ivory started his college career at Washington State, but injuries and a 2009 fight (which he faces felony assault charges from) got him kicked off the team. He played just five games at Tiffin before a knee injury but got an opportunity with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent.
The 6-0, 220-pound Ivory has shown the power to run between the tackles and the speed (he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine) to turn the corner and break runs to the outside. Like Max Hall last week, Ivory has proven that it doesn’t matter where or if you’re drafted, but whether you seize the opportunities when they come.
Danario Alexander (WR-StL)
Mark Clayton’s season-ending injury opened up a roster spot for the undrafted Alexander, who was promoted from the practice squad for this week’s game against the Chargers. Alexander responded with 4 receptions for 72 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
It’s ironic that a knee injury to Clayton opened the door for Alexander, who has had his share of knee problems undergoing surgery on his left knee four times in the last three years. Even with a bad knee, Alexander caught 114 balls for almost 1800 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season at Missouri. But his 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine didn’t convince teams his knee was healthy enough to have a productive NFL career and he went undrafted.
At 6-5, 215, Alexander has great size and has run in the 4.4s when healthy. He is slow releasing off the line but can stretch the field once he gets going, as he showed on the streak route that resulted in his first NFL touchdown. That combination of size and speed could make him a legitimate second receiver if he can manage to stay on the field and develop a rapport with fellow rookie Sam Bradford, who looks like a star in the making.
Brandon Deaderick (DE-NE)
After being inactive for the season’s first three weeks, Deaderick has worked his way into the Patriots’ defensive end rotation in the team’s past two games, making 2 tackles in each game and recording his first career sack Sunday against the Ravens.
A tackle in college, Deaderick is an ideal backup due to his positional flexibility along the line. He lacks the playmaking skills to be a big-time player and has already matched his sack total from his senior year at Alabama this season, but at 6-4, 314 pounds he occupies blockers at the line and creates opportunities for others along the defensive front.
Jermaine Cunningham (LB-NE)
Cunningham had a huge game against the Ravens on Sunday, making 6 tackles including 2 for a loss while recording his first career sack and forcing a fumble. The second-round pick out of Florida was on the field for most of New England’s defensive plays and seems to have earned himself more playing time over Tully Banta-Cain, who hasn’t made a tackle since Week 3.
A defensive end in college, Cunningham is especially adept at pinning his ears back and rushing up the field. He was rarely asked to play in space or work in coverage and will have to learn those skills on the fly during his transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. His physical skills and work ethic, something the Patriots have always coveted, should serve him well in his learning experience over the course of this season.
Pat Angerer (LB-Ind)
A second-round pick out of Iowa, Angerer got his first career start against the Redskins on Sunday night. He tied for the team lead with 11 tackles on the game (4 solo), a sack and 2 passes defensed but as usual, the numbers don’t tell the entire story.
Outside of a sack on Donovan McNabb on an early delayed blitz Angerer struggled for much of the game, biting on play-action fakes and allowing Ryan Torain to get out to the edge of the Colts defense. Later in the game, Keiland Williams was left uncovered in the flat for a touchdown as both Angerer and Clint Session were covering tight end Fred Davis, a possible blown coverage on the play by Angerer as Session was pressing Davis on his release. But Angerer came up big on the next drive with a third-down pass breakup that put Washington in a fourth-and-long situation they couldn’t convert.
Angerer may lack the size or speed to be a true sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker, but he has excellent instincts defending the run and showed some ability in coverage as well. He has the skills to start in the middle for the Colts once he refines his game and his coverage ability makes him a good fit for a team that is used to playing with a lead.
Brandon Spikes (LB-NE)
The Patriots’ other second-round pick from Florida in April’s draft, Spikes broke out in a big way against Baltimore. After recording just 15 tackles (8 solo) in the team’s first four games, Spikes led the Pats with 16 tackles including 10 solo takedowns in Week 6.
Spikes plays the game with an attitude and is considering dirty by some, particularly after his eye-gauging incident last season against Georgia. While Spikes is an animal defending the run, he lacks great speed (5.01 40-yard dash), struggles in coverage and will be at his best as a two-down inside linebacker.
Starting next to Jerod Mayo will mask many of Spikes’ weaknesses early in his career and if asked to play strictly downhill, he should be able to post many more double-digit tackle performances and become an intimidator on the field for New England.
Syd’Quan Thompson (CB-Den)
Denver’s seventh-round pick in April’s draft, Thompson got significant action against the Jets in passing situations with Perrish Cox again replacing Andre Goodman, whose return from injury against Baltimore was short-lived. Thompson recorded 2 tackles and intercepted Mark Sanchez in the second quarter, a big step forward for the rookie who was inactive the previous week.
At just under 5-10 with 4.65 speed, Thompson lacks the measurables to be an NFL starter but could develop into an effective nickel back. A four-year starter at Cal, Thompson is a very polished corner with good awareness as he showed by reading Sanchez’s eyes, leaving his receiver and stepping in front of Dustin Keller for his first career interception. Goodman looks likely to miss a few more games, so this performance should keep Thompson on the active roster for at least a couple more weeks.