Many rookies broke out on the offensive side of the ball this week including multiple wide receivers who have been buried on the depth chart to this point in the season. Week 7 also marks the first Rookie Report of the season that doesn’t include any players drafted in the first two rounds. Chris Tripodi breaks down the best of this week’s rookie crop.
LeGarrette Blount (RB-TB)
The undrafted former Oregon star has had his share of troubles since punching Boise State’s Byron Hout in the face last September, leading to a season-long suspension that was later reduced. But Blount has found a home in Tampa Bay, rushing for 72 yards on 11 carries against the Rams last week after totaling just 10 carries through the team’s first five games.
What was even more impressive about Blount’s breakout game were his 46-yard and 13-yard runs that were nullified by penalties. His workload in this game was no fluke either, as his blitz pickups have been improving and Raheem Morris has been looking for a reason to give the powerful Blount more carries than Cadillac Williams. At 6-0, 247 pounds, Blount is extremely powerful and a load to bring down for opposing defenses.
Morris said after the game that he wasn’t committing to Blount as his starter, but the coach also said the Bucs were the best team in the NFC, which makes it difficult to take him at his word. As long as Blount continues to improve he should get the majority of the work in the Tampa Bay backfield; not bad for an undrafted rookie who almost didn’t make it to this point at all.
David Gettis (WR-Car)
A sixth-round pick out of Baylor, Gettis put together a big day in Matt Moore’s return to the lineup on Sunday with 8 catches for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 targets, the only miss coming on a fourth-down drop in the endzone that would’ve been his third score of the game. Gettis had been targeted 22 times in Carolina’s previous four games so his usage is much less of a surprise than his performance.
Gettis is a 6-3, 216-pound possession receiver with strong hands and 4.43 speed who has steadily improved since his junior season with the Bears. After the game, Moore referred to Gettis as a “stud” and his big game should earn him the second-receiver role opposite Steve Smith.
With Smith seeing constant double teams in his return to the lineup this week, Gettis should see plenty of single coverage and have a chance to build on his impressive Week 7 performance. The Panthers are hoping he develops into the type of player that Marques Colston has been for the Saints.
Brandon LaFell (WR-Car)
Like David Gettis, LaFell burst onto the scene in Week 7 as Matt Moore’s return ignited a Panthers offense that struggled mightily with rookie Jimmy Clausen under center. The third-rounder out of LSU was targeted 6 times by Moore and caught all 6 balls for 91 yards.
With Steve Smith’s return and Gettis’ performance LaFell will likely remain third on the depth chart in Carolina, which is a decent situation for a receiver at his best running underneath routes. LaFell lacks the speed (4.58) to stretch the field or the size (6-2, 211) to be a serious red-zone threat but is a smooth receiver who can become an NFL starter with work.
Jordan Shipley (WR-Cin)
The Bengals fell behind early at Atlanta, forcing Carson Palmer to throw the ball 50 times and allowing the third-round pick out of Texas to put up big numbers. Shipley caught all 6 passes thrown his way for 131 yards and a 64-yard touchdown mostly working out of the slot. His big play came on an all-out blitz where he caught a short pass as Palmer’s hot read and took it to the house untouched.
Shipley’s lack of size (6-0, 190) or blazing speed (4.60) will likely prevent him from being a starter on the NFL level, but he has all of the tools to be one of the league’s better slot receivers. He’s a great fit in the current Bengals offense and while they won’t pass 50 times every week, Shipley should continue to be one of the more consistent rookie receivers this season.
Riley Cooper (WR-Phi)
With the injury to DeSean Jackson, Cooper got an opportunity as the Eagles’ third wideout and the fifth-rounder produced with 3 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Kolb looked his way often and showed the confidence in the 6-3 receiver out of Florida to throw a few jump balls his way.
Cooper lacks the speed to stretch a defense but has the size and pass-catching ability to be an effective possession receiver and red-zone threat in the NFL. If Jackson still can’t play in Week 9 once the Eagles return from their bye, Cooper should again find himself in the slot behind Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant but Michael Vick’s return may stunt any opportunity for further growth this season, as Cooper developed a noticeable rapport with Kolb when they were both working with the second team earlier in the season.
Jimmy Graham (TE-NO)
After seeing little of the field during the first five weeks of the season, Graham has caught a pass in each of the Saints’ last two games, catching 4 for 38 yards last week against Cleveland. A third-round pick out of Miami who played basketball until his senior season, Graham is extremely raw but has drawn comparisons to Antonio Gates (another former college basketball player) from many scouts.
Graham is more of a receiver than a tight end, similar to fellow rookies Jermaine Gresham and Aaron Hernandez. He’s still extremely raw in just his second season playing football and is unlikely to see many more games like this stuck behind Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas on the depth chart. But once he puts it all together and learns the nuances of the NFL game, especially in the running game, Graham has the potential to be the best tight end out of this draft, which could be known for producing multiple Pro Bowl tight ends a few years from now.
C.J. Wilson (DE-GB)
A last-minute injury to Cullen Jenkins forced Wilson into action for the Packers for the second straight week, as an injury to Ryan Pickett gave Wilson his first career start the week before against Miami. After 4 tackles (3 solo) against the Dolphins, the seventh-round pick had 8 tackles (5 solo) in his second career start.
Wilson seemed more comfortable after struggling against the Dolphins and was a key part of possibly the game’s biggest play. Wilson provided the pressure on Brett Favre that lead to Desmond Bishop’s interception return for a touchdown and was able to scrape off blocks to stuff Adrian Peterson on multiple plays during the Vikings’ final possession.
Wilson was an excellent edge pass rusher at East Carolina but is undersized for an NFL defensive end at just 6-3, 290 pounds and lacks great strength at the point. If Jenkins can return against the Jets next weekend, expect Wilson to head back to the bench. But these two starts may have given the coaching staff enough confidence in him to work him in on more plays, especially in pass-rushing situations.
Kendrick Lewis (S-KC)
The Chiefs’ less-heralded rookie safety returned to action after missing Week 6 with a hamstring injury and racked up 5 solo tackles and a pass defensed, compared to 2 tackles for starter Jon McGraw. McGraw is technically still the starter but it’s only a matter of time before Lewis officially overtakes McGraw on the depth chart, as he is already seeing the majority of the snaps alongside fellow rookie Eric Berry.
Lewis is the opposite of Berry, who was a high pick and a freak athlete. Lewis is an overachiever who plays bigger than his 6-0, 198-pound frame and faster than his 4.73 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a disciplined safety who plays the run well but struggles in pass defense due to his marginal speed and ball skills.
Berry will continue to get the attention in the Chiefs secondary, especially after he exploded with a forced fumble, an interception and three passes defensed this week. But Lewis is a glue guy in the defensive backfield and if he and Berry can continue to work well with each other it will only help the Chiefs’ improving defense.