The early rookie returns through two weeks of the season haven’t been terribly surprising, with the impact players generally coming from the first two or three rounds of April’s draft. Week 2’s Rookie Report includes four first-round picks, three players taken in the next three rounds and one diamond in the rough taken with the second-to-last pick in the 2012 draft. Chris Tripodi is back again with this week’s breakdown.
Brandon Weeden (QB-Cle)
After a dismal Week 1 that saw him throw 4 interceptions and complete just 12 of his 35 pass attempts, Weeden seemed confident enough in a bounce-back performance to say, “It can’t get any worse than it was the first week and I mean that jokingly.” Whether or not he was serious is up for discussion, but his performance against the Bengals in Week 2 certainly supports the notion that Weeden is a confident young man.
While “young” may be the wrong word to describe the 28-year-old rookie quarterback, efficient is the right word in looking at his Week 2 performance. On 37 passes, Weeden had barely fewer incompletions (11) than he had completions in Week 1 (12) and threw for 322 yards with a 114.9 passer rating. The first-round pick from Oklahoma State took advantage of the middle of the field against a struggling Bengals secondary and didn’t force throws like he did in Week 1, finding his check-downs when nothing was open.
Weeden was drafted in round one despite his advanced age, which says a lot about his talent level. He is a prototypical pocket passer with a big arm and solid poise. His major pitfalls include locking onto receivers and trusting his arm too much when throwing into a crowd, two things that will lead to many turnovers in the NFL. Coach Pat Shurmur said after the Cincinnati game that Weeden was making strides in his reads, which should be expected for any talented rookie, but his receivers leave a lot to be desired and games like this may be few and far between this year for Weeden.
Trent Richardson (RB-Cle)
August knee surgery threatened the start of Richardson’s season, which got off to a slow start in Week 1. While the Browns almost knocked off the Eagles in their season opener, Richardson played little part in that near-victory, rushing for just 39 yards on 19 carries. Just like his first-round teammate Brandon Weeden, the 3rd overall pick out of Alabama bounced back in a big way in Week 2.
Richardson had the same number of carries (19) as he did in Cleveland’s first game, but he ran for 109 yards and added 36 yards and 4 receptions as well. The Browns still lost, but the offense looked way better with the former Crimson Tide stud at full strength. His touchdowns weren’t cheap either, with one coming on a 32-yard run off right tackle in the second quarter and the other from 23 yards out on a screen play.
Touted as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in 2007 leading up to the draft, Richardson showed why on Sunday. The only knock on his game is a lack of blazing speed (4.55) but he more than makes up for it with great burst, quickness out of cuts and outstanding power at 5-9, 230 pounds. Richardson runs lows, has a smooth gait and is tough to bring down on initial contact, while also showing the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and make defenders miss in the open field. If he can stay healthy over the course of his career, the sky is the limit for Cleveland’s new workhorse.
Lamar Miller (RB-Mia)
After not making Miami’s active roster in Week 1, Miller took full advantage of Daniel Thomas’ concussion and his opportunity to see the field on Sunday against Oakland. With the Dolphins building a big early lead and blowing out the Raiders, the fourth-round pick out of Miami had 10 carries spelling Reggie Bush and made the most of them.
After rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, Miller should be more of a mainstay on the Dolphins’ active roster from here on out. It’s possible that the former Hurricane could even overtake Thomas on the depth chart, at least temporarily until the second-year runner is back to full strength, but Miller will need to improve his lackluster pass blocking to hold off Thomas.
In the long run, Miller has the size (5-10, 212) and speed (4.35) to be a productive starting running back but after leaving as a sophomore, he is extremely raw and doesn’t have NFL-level instincts just yet. Once he learns the professional game he can become a weapon in Miami, much like Reggie Bush has proven to be over the past year. Bush is also a free agent after this season and if the Dolphins decide not to bring him back, Miller and Thomas will likely battle for the starting job in 2013.
Daryl Richardson (RB-StL)
Richardson was one pick away from being 2012’s Mr. Irrelevant, but the honor this April went to quarterback Chandler Harnish from Northern Illinois. With the Rams using a second-round pick on Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, the former Abilene Christian star was expected to make the St. Louis roster as a special teams players, not see significant playing time.
A strong performance throughout the offseason pushed Richardson ahead of Pead on the Rams’ depth chart and with Steven Jackson leaving due to a groin injury in the second quarter on Sunday, Richardson filled in admirably with 83 yards on 15 rushes and 19 yards on 2 receptions. Coach Jeff Fisher said Jackson could have returned if Richardson struggled, but the rookie played well enough that St. Louis didn’t feel the need to rush their injury-prone star back onto the field.
Richardson is a home-run hitter as a runner with excellent speed that he showed with a 53-yard run in the Rams’ win over Washington on Sunday. He also has strong NFL bloodlines, with brothers Bernard Scott and Clyde Gates (both also ACU products) on NFL rosters at the moment. At 6-0, 200 pounds, Richardson may not have the size to ever be a featured back but his speed and the ability he has shown early in his career bodes well for him to be a solid change-of-pace runner. Not bad for somebody drafted outside the top 250 picks.
John Hughes (DT-Cle)
When the Browns drafted Hughes in the third round of April’s draft, most draft experts were shocked at the pick and screamed “Reach!” for all to hear. We here at Draft Insider had him rated as an undrafted free agent, so to hear his name called with the 24th pick in round three was certainly a surprise. The former Cincinnati Bearcat is apparently full of surprises, as nobody expected him to make an impact early in the season considering the questions surrounding him on draft day.
With Phil Taylor on the PUP list with a torn pectoral muscle, Hughes worked his work into the starting lineup with a strong performance in OTA’s, training camp and the preseason. Hughes must have been excited to visit Cincinnati again on Sunday, making 6 tackles (3 solo, 1.5 for loss) with his first career sack in Cleveland’s loss to the Bengals.
Initially drafted as a rotational lineman, another reason the draft community questioned the use of a third-rounder on him, Hughes showed flashes of ability while in his days with the Bearcats and on Sunday. He will need to work on consistency and continue to use his quick first step to shoot gaps in the offensive line, as he has a tendency to be neutralized by one blocker at the point of attack. Hughes has gotten himself up to 320 pounds however, 10 pounds heavier than he was a few months ago. Maybe that weight has given him the extra power he will need to validate his draft slot.
Zach Brown (LB-Ten)
With Colin McCarthy sitting out Week 2 with an injury, Will Witherspoon moved inside and the second-round pick from North Carolina drew his first career start on the weak side. Brown responded with 10 tackles (6 solo, 1 for loss) and a third quarter strip sack on Philip Rivers, although the Titans didn’t recover.
A great athlete with 4.45 speed, Brown is a three-down linebacker with the ability to play the run, rush the passer and the speed to stay with backs and tight ends in pass coverage. A solid tackler with a good head for the ball, Brown has the ability to play sideline to sideline even from the weak side. He was a first-round talent with character red flags and a soft reputation which led to him falling outside the top 50, but that could actually make him one of the draft’s better early values.
McCarthy’s ankle injury looks like it will keep him out for a few more weeks, meaning Brown will continue to get the opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. If the Titans continue to struggle like they have in the season’s first few weeks, the team would have no choice but to keep Brown in and let him develop if he continues to play well.
Stephon Gilmore (CB-Buf)
After getting torched by the Jets’ Stephen Hill in Week 1, Gilmore was called “soft” and “tentative” by head coach Chan Gailey. Buffalo’s first-round pick seemed to take that as a challenge in Week 2, as he was part of a Bills defense that improved after allowing 48 points in Week 1, letting up just 17 points on Sunday.
Along with his physical tools and athleticism, Gilmore is a heads up player who plays an aggressive brand of football. Soft and tentative aren’t words that are used often to describe his play and he proved that on Sunday, making 7 tackles with 3 pass breakups and proving to be a force both against the run and the pass. Gilmore made a few big open-field tackles early on the elusive Jamaal Charles and allowed just one pass to be completed against him in the first three quarters.
At 6-0, 190 pounds with 4.4 speed, Gilmore has prototypical size and speed for an NFL corner. His only weaknesses lie in his fundamentals and getting his head around to locate the ball, two of the easiest things a corner can improve as he gains experience. He has the potential to be an explosive playmaker that affects every aspect of the game from the corner position and has all the talent to be a very productive NFL starter.
Mark Barron (S-TB)
Arguably the best player on the nation’s best defense in 2011, Barron was the highest Crimson Tide defender drafted when Tampa Bay made him the 7th overall pick in April. Barron was generally expected to fall into the teens to a safety-needy team like the Jets, but the Bucs made sure they got their man by taking him earlier than most expected him to go.
Barron has paid immediate dividends early in the season, making 10 tackles (6 solo, 1 for loss) against the Giants and breaking up multiple passes for the second straight week. The rookie safety was known for his big hits and tremendous run support in college but his coverage ability flew under the radar. Barron is a solid man-to-man defensive safety who breaks quickly to the ball and shows good ball skills along with his run-stopping ability, all of which were on display this past weekend.
With good strength at 6-2, 213 pounds and solid but not blazing 4.55 speed, Barron should be a force in the NFL for years to come. He has the potential to be one of the league’s best two-way safeties and will be a huge boon to a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season. We should expect to see many more performances like this one from Barron this season and in the future as he continues to improve his game at the NFL level.
Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, compiling Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and conducting draft interviews with NFL prospects. He has been a sportswriter for multiple newspapers and has previously worked at ESPN and with the Rochester Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.