Injuries around the NFL have opened the door for more mid-to-late-round rookies to show their stuff. This week’s report also includes a pair of first-round picks who have been scoring at a ridiculous pace lately. Chris Tripodi is here to sort it all out.
Tim Tebow (QB-Den)
Tebow had his first career multi-touchdown game in Sunday’s blowout win over Kansas City, picking up his third rushing score in the last four games and throwing a 3-yard touchdown on his first career NFL pass. While the surprise first-rounder out of Florida is still the backup to Kyle Orton, he has gotten ample goal-line work over the last few weeks.
With Orton throwing the ball as well as he has this season, it seems unlikely Tebow will get an opportunity even once the Broncos are out of playoff contention. Far from an NFL-ready quarterback prospect, Tebow still has work to do and Orton’s contract runs through the end of next season. Unless Tebow has made serious strides with his throwing mechanics, he will likely only be used to poach goal-line work for the rest of this and likely the start of next season, if not longer.
Dez Bryant (WR-Dal)
Bryant is the first rookie of 2010 to earn a second write-up and with good reason. He has five touchdowns in his past five games and has earned rave reviews around the league, while Dallas’ other receivers have seen their production take a nosedive since Tony Romo’s injury. With Jon Kitna under center, Bryant has 23 receptions for 328 yards and four touchdowns in just under four games.
Anybody who has seen Bryant’s play of late has to be impressed with the rookie, who could easily be one of the league’s top receiving threats down the stretch. He showed off his athleticism, strong hands and great concentration on an early touchdown catch in tight coverage, took a screen pass for 46 yards and had another long catch overturned by replay. A strong finish to the season could earn Bryant Rookie of the Year honors over Sam Bradford and the struggling Jahvid Best.
Emmanuel Sanders (WR-Pit)
A third-round pick out of SMU, Sanders saw his first extensive action of the season when Hines Ward left Sunday night’s game with a concussion. He had just four catches entering the game but made 5 receptions for 41 yards and the first touchdown of his career, seeing 9 balls thrown his way as the Steelers tried to play catch up against New England.
Ward says he will play next week, but we all know concussions are a hot-button issue in the NFL right now so that is far from certain. If Ward doesn’t play, Sanders will likely be the slot receiver with Antwaan Randle El taking over Ward’s starting role opposite Mike Wallace. Like Wallace, Sanders is a speedster (4.4 40-yard dash) and has the potential to develop into an excellent weapon out of the slot for Ben Roethlisberger to go along with his explosive return ability.
Carlos Dunlap (DE-Cin)
After being inactive for four of the team’s first five games, Dunlap has played in four straight and picked up the first sack of his career on Sunday. With the Bengals struggling this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, Dunlap should continued to see increased reps down the stretch in an audition for next year’s starting lineup.
Dunlap is an awesome talent, but fell to the second round due to inconsistent play in his last two years at Florida and questions about his motivation and work ethic. At 6-6, 285 pounds and blessed with 4.66 speed, Dunlap is an imposing presence on the defensive line who is equally as fast, quick and explosive as he is powerful. If he continues to improve and work on his game, he has the potential to be an All-Pro someday.
Kavell Conner (LB-Ind)
A late seventh-round pick out of Clemson, Conner saw extensive action at linebacker for the Colts with injuries to Gary Brackett and Clint Session affecting their depth. He had 7 tackles (5 solo) and a forced fumble against the Bengals on Sunday.
Undersized at 6-0, 242 pounds, Conner took advantage of his opportunity to play this week and if Brackett and Session remain out, Conner should continue to see reps at weakside linebacker. Playing on the weak side will allow Conner to use his athleticism and ability in pursuit while masking his major downfall, a lack of size and strength at the point. He should be a serviceable backup once the Colts get healthy at the linebacker position.
Bryan McCann (CB-Dal)
McCann came up with possibly the biggest play of Dallas’ win over the Giants on Sunday, stepping in front of Hakeem Nicks at the goal-line for an interception that went 101 yards the other way for a touchdown. McCann said after the game that Nicks’ body language once he released off the line tipped him off that he was running a slant and not a fade, helping the undrafted SMU product turn what could’ve been a 10-9 Giants lead into a 16-3 lead for the Cowboys and shift the momentum towards the Dallas sideline.
McCann was signed from the practice squad before last week’s game against Green Bay and saw extensive action Sunday with Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins suffering injuries. He was inconsistent in coverage outside of his touchdown but added five tackles and a pass defensed. Even if Newman and Jenkins are able to return this week, McCann should still see action in nickel and dime packages after Sunday’s performance.
Reshad Jones (S-Mia)
A fifth-round pick out of Georgia, Jones filled up the stat sheet on Sunday after replacing Chris Clemons, who left the game with a knee injury. Jones had three tackles along with his first career interception, a sack and two passes defensed.
We had Jones rated as a second-to-third-round prospect entering the draft as an athletic safety with lots of upside. He is indecisive and hesitant in coverage but defends the run well and has the size (6-1, 214) and speed (4.51) for the position. If Clemons is forced to miss next week’s game, Jones should get the start at free safety and with continued improvement of his coverage instincts, could become a legitimate starter for Miami, either this season or down the line.
Kurt Coleman (S-Phi)
Graded as a third-round prospect here at Draft Insider, Coleman fell to the end of the seventh round in April’s draft despite a solid career at Ohio State due to his lack of great size (5-11, 195) and speed (4.52). With fellow rookie Nate Allen missing Monday night’s game against the Redskins Coleman got the start at free safety and registered 5 tackles (4 solo) with an interception and a pass defensed.
Coleman took advantage of his opportunity to play and showed off his complete skill set, with good awareness in both the running game and passing game, good tackling ability and enough range to play center field. Coleman reminded us of Ed Reed coming out of college and if Allen isn’t fully recovered from a neck injury suffered against the Colts, Coleman will get another chance to show off his skills against the Giants.