Five weeks into the season, it’s about the time when the light turns on for some highly-touted rookies who couldn’t get up to speed after training camp and preseason play. A pair of Giants drafted in the first two rounds fit that bill in this week’s version of the rookie report, while a few mid-round picks and an undersized, undrafted linebacker made the most of their opportunities last week as well. Chris Tripodi is back for another weekly edition of the Rookie Report.
David Wilson (RB-NYG)
Expectations were high for Wilson entering the season after getting drafted with the final pick of April’s first round. With Brandon Jacobs leaving New York and the fragile Ahmad Bradshaw not suited for every-down work, many expected Wilson to get 5-10 carries per game right away and even take the job from Bradshaw by midseason.
A key fumble in Week 1 against Dallas put Wilson in the doghouse and dashed his hopes of making a big early impact, as he had just five touches in the team’s next three games. Reports were circling this week that the rookie from Virginia Tech was working his way out of Tom Coughlin’s doghouse with his play on special teams and the coaching staff was looking for ways to further involve Wilson and his big-play ability in the offense.
After just one carry early in the game for 4 yards, Wilson broke off a 40-yard touchdown late against a tired Browns defense to seal a win for the Giants, exactly the big play the coaching staff was looking for all season from the 5-9, 205-pound rookie. Wilson’s 4.41 speed, agility and acceleration make him a threat to score every time he touches the ball and with Andre Brown suffering a concussion against Cleveland his backup role could increase this week, especially after the injury-prone Bradshaw saw 30 carries in the Giants’ win.
Rueben Randle (WR-NYG)
The merry-go-round at receiver behind Victor Cruz continues for the Giants, who have been without the injured Hakeem Nicks for three weeks now. In Week 3, Ramses Barden stepped up and had a big game. Week 4 saw Domenik Hixon draw the extra looks from Eli Manning. A concussion suffered by Barden in that Week 4 game against Philadelphia opened the door for Randle to step in as the team’s third receiver against the Browns on Sunday.
Randle, whose work ethic had been questioned recently by the Giants’ staff, responded to the criticism and his opportunity to play significant snaps with 6 receptions for 82 yards on 9 targets to lead New York in all three categories. Randle had four of those catches on the third drive of the game for the Giants, which led to a Victor Cruz touchdown that cut an early Browns lead to 14-7. The rookie’s fifth reception came immediately after a Browns’ turnover and went for 36 yards down to the Browns’ 4-yard-line. Ahmad Bradshaw scored on the next play to tie the game, 17-17.
A second-round pick from LSU, Randle has great size (6-3, 210) and plays faster than his 4.5 speed. He has the upside to eventually develop into a number-one receiver and big plays like his 36-yard catch on Sunday can be expected on a consistent basis from the former Tiger if he gets enough playing time. With Hakeem Nicks proving to be very injury-prone and his contract expiring after the 2013 season, it is certainly possible Randle could be the Giants second receiver alongside Victor Cruz by his third NFL season. Manning would love to have two big-play threats like that to throw the ball to.
Josh Gordon (WR-Cle)
With Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin sitting out Sunday against the Giants due to injuries, Gordon got an opportunity to show why the Browns used a second-round pick in July’s supplemental draft on him. Gordon has been slow to pick up the Browns offense so far this season and struggled with route-running and drops, but according to coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress, the light seemed to turn on for him in practice last week.
That flip of a light switch was evident in Week 5, when Gordon caught two touchdown passes in Cleveland’s loss to the Giants. One was a 62-yarder where he beat linebacker Chase Blackburn, while the other was from 20 yards out against cornerback Corey Webster. Unfortunately for Gordon, these were his only two receptions of the game on eight targets from fellow rookie Brandon Weeden.
Gordon was dismissed from Baylor’s football team in August 2011 for off-the-field issues and transferred to Utah, but was ineligible to play last season and then entered the supplemental draft. With plus size (6-3, 225) and respectable speed (4.52), Gordon can carve out a bigger role for himself in the Browns’ offense and maybe even move up to the top of a weak wide receiver depth chart with second-year receiver Greg Little struggling to catch the football.
Dwayne Allen (TE-Ind)
The first pick of the third round in April’s draft, many were surprised to see the Colts draft Allen after taking Coby Fleener just a round earlier. We had Allen rated as a second-rounder here at Draft Insider and he represented good value for the Colts early in the third even with Fleener already in tow, considering the success of New England’s two-tight end system and the need to add weapons for Andrew Luck to throw to.
Fleener and fellow rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton have already made their way onto the Rookie Report and now so has Allen after 4 catches for 38 yards and a touchdown in a win against Green Bay on Sunday. The rookie from Clemson saw just five targets to Fleener’s nine and is clearly behind the ex-Stanford Cardinal on the depth chart, but he has 9 receptions in his past two games and his skill set makes it easy for him to see the field at the same time as Fleener.
Allen is an athletic pass catcher with soft hands who is best working in motion rather than as a conventional tight end. He struggles as an interior blocker at just 6-3, 255 pounds but runs fluid routes and quickly gets to top speed to make himself an available target for his quarterback. Like Fleener, Allen has very nice upside and should be a nice weapon for Luck as the young Colts’ offense continues to grow in 2012.
Derek Wolfe (DE-Den)
A hard-nosed defensive tackle in college at Cincinnati, Denver drafted Wolfe early in round two to solidify the defensive end slot opposite pass-rusher extraordinaire Elvis Dumervil. Wolfe had 9.5 sacks as a senior interior lineman and while he isn’t known as an elite pass rusher, he does have 2 sacks this season including one in Sunday’s loss to New England.
Wolfe has 14 tackles (7 solo, 3 for loss) in five games so far this season and has lived up to his reputation as a hard-nosed defensive lineman. At 6-5, 300 pounds, he is big for a 4-3 defensive end but shows the ability to explode through gaps in the offensive line to make plays in the backfield. He has a powerful lower body and the strength to bulrush opposing blockers off their spots.
After seeing consistent double teams in college, Wolfe hasn’t had to deal with multiple blockers on the NFL level and has used his fiery nature and power-rushing ability to impact both the Broncos’ run and pass defenses. While Wolfe has been a solid defensive end so far in his rookie season, his size and previous experience at tackle makes him extremely versatile and he looks like a solid investment as a second-round pick through five weeks.
Mike Martin (DT-Ten)
A third-round pick out of Michigan in April’s draft, Martin has stepped into a starting role on the Titans’ defensive line after beating out the team’s fifth-round pick last year, Karl Klug. Through five weeks the former Wolverine has put up solid numbers for a 4-3 defensive tackle, making 18 tackles (9 solo, 3 for loss) and picking up 2 sacks, including one this week in a lopsided loss to the Vikings.
Martin also tied his career high with 5 tackles on Sunday and has been everything the Titans expected him to be coming out of college. He was a nose tackle for the Wolverines but wasn’t expected to fill that role at the NFL level at just 6-1, 306 pounds. Martin is an intense competitor with 4.82 speed, an explosive first step and good quickness along the defensive line.
Despite his 2 sacks so far this season, Martin is a one-dimensional run stopper who had just 6 sacks in his final two seasons with the Wolverines. It wouldn’t be wise to expect too many more sacks from him but Martin’s instincts, desire and ability to make plays in a small area should help him keep a spot in a 4-3 defensive alignment throughout his career.
L.J. Fort (LB-Cle)
Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, Fort was pressed into action against the Giants on Sunday after D’Qwell Jackson left with a head injury. In less than a full game, the 6-0, 230-pound rookie put up numbers that many would expect from Jackson, finishing with 10 tackles (6 solo) in a losing effort.
Much like Jackson, Fort is a tackling machine who led the FCS with 184 tackles last season. His lack of size and average speed (4.68) will always be a limiting factor for Fort in the NFL but as he showed on Sunday, football instincts, tackling ability and a nose for the football will play well at any level, especially in a part-time or backup role.
With Jackson’s status up in the air as of right for Week 6, Fort could be in line for his first career start. If Jackson does miss the game and Fort performs well, the rookie could be in line for an increased role even when Jackson returns with the injury issues facing the Browns’ linebackers. His 230-pound frame and ability to chase down ballcarriers may play better on the weak side next to Jackson as well and if the veteran can’t play Sunday, Fort may have a legitimate shot to play himself into a larger role in Cleveland. That’s something nobody would have expected coming into the season.
Nigel Bradham (LB-Buf)
With second-year outside linebacker Arthur Moats struggling and seeing his snaps reduced by the week, Bradham made the most of his opportunity to play in the Bills’ blowout loss to San Francisco on Sunday. With Buffalo switching from a 3-4 that plays to the strengths of a pass-rushing outside linebacker like Moats to a traditional 4-3 scheme, Bradham is a better fit for the team’s struggling defense.
A fourth-round pick out of Florida State, Bradham is an athletic linebacker with the speed (4.56) and ability to gets out to the flanks and make plays. He also understands what opposing offenses are trying to do and is a hard hitter who can make plays up the field as well as in pursuit.
With Buffalo quickly looking at another lost season, it makes sense for them to take a look at Bradham as a starter over Moats, whose upside is limited to a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment. If the former Seminole actually does enter the starting lineup in Week 6 and acquits himself well, he has the ability to be a productive starter on the pro level if he can remain consistent, as the talent and measurables are certainly in place.
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.