Two historic offensive performances headline this week’s Rookie Report, as two first-round picks are proving they were well worth their draft slot in April. Two first-round receivers made the cut as well this week, but their performances have been nothing but disappointing throughout the first half of the 2012 season. Chris Tripodi throws in a couple undrafted free agents as well as two mid-rounders to fill out his Week 9 Rookie Report.
Andrew Luck (QB-Ind)
Just a year after Cam Newton set an NFL rookie record with 422 passing yards, Luck broke it with a 433-yard performance where he completed 30 of his 48 passes and threw for 2 touchdowns in the Colts’ win over Miami. Along with a place in the record books, this performance also earned Luck AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors as his already-building legend continues to grow.
While Luck has just 10 passing touchdowns in the first half of the season to go along with 8 interceptions, he has 12 total touchdowns (3 rushing) and just 5 interceptions since a 3-interception performance in Week 1 against the Bears, whose defense has been victimizing opponents all season. Luck has also been extremely comfortable playing on his home field, with 8 passing touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in five games at Lucas Oil Field.
Luck was billed as the next Peyton Manning heading into this year’s draft and ironically, both quarterbacks have led their teams to 5-3 records and have 2,404 passing yards this season. While Robert Griffin III stole the show early in the season and made the Redskins look smart for trading up to draft him, Luck has been the more consistent passer by far and is making the Colts organization look good for resisting the temptation to draft Griffin III with the top spot in April. Indianapolis fans have to consider themselves lucky to go from a Hall of Famer in Manning to a star like Luck that has the potential to find his way to Canton as well.
Doug Martin (RB-TB)
Speaking of rookies setting records, Martin set a Buccaneers’ franchise mark with 251 rushing yards on Sunday against Oakland as the former Boise State star became the first player in NFL history to score three rushing touchdowns of 45 yards or more in a game. Martin also became just the second NFL player to rush for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns in a game and his 486 yards from scrimmage over the past two weeks are the most in the NFL since Hall of Famer Walter Payton in 1977.
After a slow start to the season that saw his rushing totals drop in each of the first four weeks, Martin had shown signs of breaking out even before the Oakland game and was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month for October. He had just 31 rushing yards at halftime of Sunday’s game and it looked like the loss of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks to a season-ending toe injury the week before might bring Martin back down to Earth.
Instead, Martin put together a second half for the ages and helped Tampa Bay dismantle the Raiders and move to 4-4 on the season. The big game pushed the first-round rookie up to third in the NFL in rushing yards and even if he doesn’t maintain that pace, he’s proven to be a very effective weapon catching passes out of the backfield as well. Although I likened Martin’s skill set to Hall of Famer Curtis Martin after Week 1, his short, stocky build (5-9, 215) has people now comparing him to current Ravens star Ray Rice. If Martin has the career of either of those two backs, the Bucs turned a great profit with the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Justin Blackmon (WR-Jac)
Many outlets including Draft insider compared Blackmon to Terrell Owens coming out of college. Through eight games, Blackmon has been a huge disappointment with just 23 receptions for 225 yards and a touchdown. The good news for the 5th overall pick is that the comparison to Owens still holds, as the mercurial ex-Pro Bowler caught just 35 passes for 520 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first NFL season.
Blackmon had arguably his best statistical game of the season in Sunday’s loss to Detroit, making 5 receptions for 32 yards and his lone touchdown of the season. The touchdown came in garbage time and when a measly yardage total like that represents a good game, you know it’s been a struggle. Blackmon has just three games with over 40 yards receiving this year and while part of that can be attributed to Blaine Gabbert’s continued struggles to prove he’s an NFL quarterback, Blackmon has issues of his own. To prove that point further, 2011 fourth-round pick Cecil Shorts has six games of over 40 receiving yards this season.
The former Oklahoma State star is lackadaisical at times and has been ineffective after the catch, which was one of the knocks on him entering the league and the major difference between him and the aforementioned Owens. Blackmon does have extremely strong hands along with great body control and remains a high-upside player, especially in the red zone, but it’s obvious his development may take some time. Many receivers peak in their third season and while you would expect a top-five pick to make a more immediate impact, Blackmon has already lost half a season and the arrow isn’t pointing up.
Michael Floyd (WR-Ari)
As Early Doucet continues to struggle with dropped passes, the 13th overall pick from Notre Dame has seen more action despite still being listed as the fourth receiver on the depth chart. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has confirmed that Floyd’s reps will continue to increase after the team’s bye week, likely at the expense of the veteran Doucet.
After making just eight catches in the first seven games of his NFL career, Floyd has 10 receptions for 116 yards on 18 targets in the past two weeks as the Cardinals have been consistently behind and working out of four-receiver sets. The light finally seems to be turning on for the rookie and the coaching staff seems to be noticing as well, using their Week 10 bye to adjust their offensive plans to include more of Floyd.
Floyd was a big-time playmaker at Notre Dame and at 6-2, 220 pounds with 4.4 speed, he has the size and speed NFL teams covet at the receiver position. The former Fighting Irish star had some issues with drinking in college that led to three arrests but has stayed clean during his first professional season and now finds himself looking at increased playing time. The talent is there for Floyd to be a very good NFL receiver if he keeps out of trouble and stays focused on every down.
Rod Streater (WR-Oak)
Undrafted out of Temple, Streater started the season well with 4 receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets in Week 1. He had just 7 catches on 11 targets over the next four games and seemed to be losing playing time to Derek Hagan and even Juron Criner. Even after a few more disappointing performances after that, Oakland stuck with Streater as their third receiver and their confidence paid off on Sunday.
With Carson Palmer throwing 61 times as the Raiders played from behind thanks to Doug Martin’s record-setting day, Streater saw another 10 targets in Week 9 and turned those into 4 receptions for 54 yards. After Palmer missed his first three throws to Streater, his fourth resulted in a 25-yard touchdown that cut the Tampa Bay lead to 10-7 heading into halftime. Streater caught his other three passes on an early fourth-quarter drive, but was also the intended target on two late interceptions that sealed Oakland’s fate.
At 6-3, 200 pounds, Streater has good size and the ability to go up and get the ball. He’s quicker than he is fast (4.55 speed) and was as inconsistent in college as he has been in his short NFL career. It’s difficult to see Streater becoming much more than a depth receiver at the NFL level unless he improves his consistency, especially with Jacoby Ford returning to the Oakland passing game next season.
Mike Daniels (DT-GB)
With second-round pick Jerel Worthy missing Week 9 with a concussion, the Packers looked to Daniels among others to fill the rotational void that Worthy left. Daniels came up with a big sack late in the second half that killed the momentum of an Arizona drive and helped Green Bay maintain a 21-7 lead heading into the half.
Daniels has just 5 tackles and 2 sacks on the season but looked explosive on Sunday in his limited playing time and may be playing his way into the Packers’ defensive line rotation even when Worthy returns. The fourth-round pick from Iowa comes with less pedigree but he should continue to see snaps until his competition returns from injury and after if he continues his strong play.
Daniels is a 6-0, 294-pounder who runs a sub-5.00 40-yard dash and displayed the same quickness and explosiveness on Sunday that he showed throughout his college career. An excellent first step is his biggest asset but he tends to struggles getting off blocks if he doesn’t get around blockers right away. If he continues to improve like he did throughout his Hawkeyes career, he can have a solid NFL career as a rotational 3-4 defensive end or a three-technique tackle.
Leonard Johnson (CB-TB)
When Aqib Talib was suspended by the NFL two weeks ago, Johnson took over nickel back duties for Tampa Bay and almost made the Rookie Report last week after recording his first career interception. This week, the undrafted Iowa State cornerback did make the report after his second career interception and another solid game overall, lessening the blow to the Tampa Bay secondary after Talib was traded to the New England Patriots.
With the Raiders down 21-10 and driving inside the Tampa Bay 40-yard line, Johnson stepped in front of Denarius Moore to intercept Carson Palmer and get the ball back for the Bucs. Two plays later, fellow rookie Doug Martin scored his second of four touchdowns on the day by breaking off a 67-yard run that opened up an 18-point lead that Tampa Bay would never relinquish. Johnson also had a career-high 6 tackles (5 solo) and broke up two passes.
We had Johnson rated as a fourth or fifth-round prospect heading into April’s draft but no NFL team took a chance on him. His struggles staying close in downfield coverage and lack of great speed (4.53) likely caps his upside as a nickel back, a role he has stepped into seamlessly in the past two games for Tampa Bay. Johnson is an aggressive run defender and breaks well on the ball in zone coverage, showing he has the ability to succeed at the NFL level as long as he isn’t exposed as a starter asked to play consistently in man-to-man coverage.
Jonte Green (CB-Det)
Another rookie nickel back that made an impact for his team in Week 9, Green was drafted in the sixth round out of New Mexico State and has seen an increase in playing time over the past three weeks with starter Jacob Lacey missing the previous two games with a concussion and finally returning on Sunday. In Week 9 against Jacksonville, he had a career-high 5 tackles along with his first career interception and a pass defended in a big 31-14 win for the Lions.
Four of Green’s tackles came on completions of seven yards or less and his interception came late in the third quarter when it looked like the Jaguars were going to put up a fight towards the end of the game. Driving at the Detroit 26-yard line, Blaine Gabbert could not connect with Rashad Jennings as Green picked him off and returned it 18 yards to the 36-yard line, leading to a Detroit field goal early in the fourth quarter that sealed the Lions’ win.
Green was effective in Week 7 before disappearing two weeks ago, so it was nice to see him bounce back last week with a good game. At 5-11, 184 pounds with 4.45 pounds, Green has the size and speed to be an NFL starter but fell to the sixth round due to the same inconsistent play we’ve seen from him in the last month. He is a solid tackling corner and displays good instincts breaking on the ball at times, but is prone to blowing assignments and getting beat downfield. If Green can take to NFL coaching and find a way to stay consistent at the pro level, he has starting potential down the line.
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 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.