Four third-round picks highlight this week’s first-year player profiles, including one who hadn’t seen the field since the preseason and will be stepping into a starting role in Week 11. This edition of the Rookie Report also includes an offensive lineman for the first time this season as well as two players who were drafted out of FCS schools. Chris Tripodi returns with a little bit of everything this week.
Nick Foles (QB-Phi)
With the shocking news that Michael Vick is set to miss one or more games due to a “significant concussion,” in the words of head coach Andy Reid, Foles is set to make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Redskins. The rookie third-round pick from Arizona had a great preseason, completing 40-of-62 passes for 553 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and the calls for him to start were loud even before Vick’s injury thanks to Philadelphia’s poor play on offense.
Foles had his moments in relief of Vick on Sunday, hitting Jeremy Maclin for a 44-yard touchdown that showed off his NFL-caliber arm and patience in the pocket. He also threw a pass behind one of his receivers that was deflected and intercepted by Brandon Carr, who returned it for a touchdown, and tossed a screen right in the hands of linebacker Anthony Spencer for another score that was nullified by a defensive penalty.
The 6-6 Foles showed good poise in the face of pressure, something he will need working behind an offensive line that couldn’t keep the league’s fastest quarterback out of harm’s way. Unlike Vick, Foles is not very mobile or elusive inside the pocket and doesn’t have a quick release. Anybody who watched Foles against Dallas saw everything he has to offer, which is the size to stand tall in the pocket, the arm strength to make plays down the field but poor footwork and mechanical flaws that will lead to mistakes and inconsistencies.
Luckily for Foles, he has excellent receivers in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson and one of the NFL’s best two-way running backs in LeSean McCoy. Reid would be wise to keep the ball in McCoy’s hands and use Foles’ arm strength to stretch the field with play-action passes while limiting complicated reads for the rookie. With rumors that the Eagles may shut Vick down if his concussion symptoms don’t subside quickly, Philadelphia fans may be getting the glimpse of the future they so sorely wanted. Foles has all the skills to start at the NFL level with proper coaching but his performance from Sunday shows he’s nowhere near ready to carry an offense.
Mohamed Sanu (WR-Cin)
A third-round pick out of Rutgers, Sanu did not see many snaps early in the season and found himself behind names like Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns on the Bengals’ depth chart. Since being a healthy inactive in Week 6, the former Scarlet Knight has seen his playing time steadily increase and he was on the field for 61 percent of the team’s offensive snaps on Sunday, the most time he’s seen this season.
Sanu took advantage of his increased role with 4 receptions for 47 yards and his first career touchdown on an acrobatic grab in tight coverage. Viewed as a solid possession receiver coming into the draft at 6-2, 210 with 4.5 speed, Sanu showed his ability to be an effective target in the red zone and lived up to his reputation as a player who can make tough catches in traffic on Sunday.
If Sanu continues to emerge in the Cincinnati passing game it should open up more opportunities for A.J. Green, who is starting to get the Calvin Johnson treatment with consistent double coverage shifting his way. The Bengals drafted Sanu to take the pressure off Green and give Andy Dalton another big target in the passing game. If Week 10 is any indication of the future, the former Rutgers standout could do just that for Cincinnati.
Jarius Wright (WR-Min)
An injury to Percy Harvin opened up an opportunity for Wright to be active for the first time in 2012 and the fourth-rounder from Arkansas took advantage. His first career reception went for 54 yards down to the Detroit 1-yard line and two plays later Christian Ponder found Wright in the endzone for his first career touchdown to put Minnesota up 7-0 after their first drive of the game.
Wright caught just one pass for 8 yards the rest of the game and was completely shut out of the passing game in the second half, but one would think his early success would lead to an increased role when Minnesota returns from their bye next week. However, head coach Leslie Frazier has implied that if Harvin returns healthy for Week 12, Wright may not make the active roster despite his playmaking ability.
At just 5-10, 180 pounds, Wright’s lack of size is a detriment to his upside but he has 4.4 speed that he showed on the Vikings’ first drive against the Lions. The former Razorback is extremely quick and dangerous with the ball in his hands much like Harvin, and using the two of them on the field together could cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Wright may have to impress in practice over the new two weeks to stay on the active roster but if he does, he could be a great slot weapon and gadget player for an offense that struggles at times outside of Harvin and Adrian Peterson.
Brian Quick (WR-StL)
With fellow rookie Chris Givens being suspended for Week 10 for violating team rules, Quick saw increased snaps as the team’s fourth receiver. Even with more playing time the rookie from the Appalachian State had just one ball thrown his way, but it went for an early 36-yard touchdown on a busted coverage to give St. Louis a 7-0 lead in a game that eventually tied, 24-24.
Big things were expected from Quick this season after he was drafted with the first pick in the second round in April but he has been the second best rookie wide receiver on the team behind Givens, who was taken 63 picks later. The adjustment to the NFL hasn’t been easy coming from an FCS school and with Danny Amendola finally healthy again, Quick finds himself buried on the depth chart at the team’s fifth receiver.
At 6-3, 220 pounds with 4.5 speed, Quick plays big but got away with a slow release off the line and sloppy route running against low-level competition in college. Despite his size he’s at his best working the underneath routes and will need to continue to improve his route running if he expects to find success at the NFL level. He has starting potential down the line, but it just may not be realized as quickly as some expected.
Matt Kalil (T-Min)
The fourth overall pick in April behind studs Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson, Kalil has been a stud in his own right protecting Christian Ponder’s blind side and has made the entire Minnesota offensive line better. Adrian Peterson is piling up yardage at an absurd rate and while we know how talented Peterson is, it helps when you add a player of Kalil’s caliber in front of him.
Kalil wasn’t known as a dominant run blocker at USC but he was certainly very good and has continued to be productive in that aspect at the NFL level. His calling card entering the league was his pass protection and he certainly has not disappointed so far in 2012, as he didn’t allow a sack in his first four career games and has accelerated Christian Ponder’s development by allowing him to be far more comfortable in the pocket.
With great size at 6-7, 305 pounds and a sub-5.00 40-yard dash, Kalil is a physical specimen with good footwork who uses his hands well to keep pass rusher at bay. He quickly gets into position after the snap, moves well laterally to protect the edge and stays aware of the action around him, rarely letting a defender sneak by him. Kalil has stepped right into one of the toughest positions to play in the NFL and is already making a big impact for the 6-4 Vikings. He should only get better with experience and it looks like multiple Pro Bowls could be in Kalil’s future.
Lavonte David (LB-TB)
The rookie second-round pick from Nebraska started the season extremely well by recording at least 5 tackles in each of his first seven career games, including a 14-tackle performance in Week 4 that earned him a spot in the Rookie Report. After making just 2 tackles and struggling mightily against the Vikings in Week 8, David has rebounded with his two best performances of the season and is a big reason Tampa Bay sits in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race at 5-4.
David made 16 tackles (14 solo, 1 for loss) against the Raiders in Week 9 and was a tackling machine again last week against San Diego with another 14 tackles (13 solo, 1 for loss). In those two games, David has made 30 of his 81 tackles on the season which puts him tied for fourth in the NFL and second with 67 solo tackles. While the tackles are great, he has yet to force a fumble, intercept a pass and has just one pass defended this year.
Other than a lack of big plays, the only real knock on David is the same as it was when he was previously profiled: size (6-0, 233). That weakness has been masked by Tampa Bay playing the rookie on the weak side, where he can use his ability to quickly read the play and his 4.58 speed to chase it down. More than halfway through the season, David looks to be picking up steam for a playoff push rather than hitting the rookie wall and definitely has the ability to keep up his high level of play.
Corey White (CB-NO)
A fifth-round pick out of Samford, White has been a key part of the Saints’ nickel and dime packages so far in his rookie season. He came up with his first career interception on Sunday on a deep pass thrown over the middle by Matt Ryan on third-and-10 two plays after deflecting a first-down pass intended for Harry Douglas. Along with that drive, White made 3 tackles on the day and had another pass breakup as well.
One of White tackles came on Atlanta’s second drive of the game but ended being huge for the Saints. After Drew Brees was intercepted deep in his own territory, Atlanta ran Michael Turner off right tackle on third-and-1 but White was there to make the stop for a loss in the backfield and force the Falcons to settle for a field goal in a game they would eventually lose by four points.
Playing both cornerback and safety in college, White works hard to get off blocks and stop the run, wraps up well and shows the ability to bring down runners consistently in the open field. He’s physical, quick and has good hands as well as being a special teams standout. At 6-0, 205 pounds with 4.46 speed, White has the physical skills of a starting NFL corner but struggles with positioning against taller receivers. At the very least White will be a very good special teamer and can fill in as a nickel back but if he continues to develop as quickly as he did in college, he may play his way into a starting role in the future.
Trumaine Johnson (CB-StL)
With Janoris Jenkins suspended for a violation of team rules, Johnson drew the start for the Rams in Week 10 over fourth-year player Bradley Fletcher and tied his season high with 4 solo tackles in a tie game against the 49ers. Two of those tackles came after 13- and 20-yard completions for San Francisco on an early fourth-quarter drive that led to a touchdown, while his fourth tackle helped stop Vernon Davis for a minimal gain.
Johnson left injured after that play and his status for Week 11 is unknown at this time. Even if he can play, it’s likely that Jenkins will be back on the field next week and Johnson would be relegated to a nickel or dime role along with Fletcher as he didn’t exactly stand out in his starting opportunity on Sunday. Johnson is very similar to Jenkins in that both are extremely talented yet came with off-the-field baggage, but Jenkins’ experience playing in the SEC has made him the more NFL-ready corner.
The second FCS player selected by the Rams in the draft and profiled in this report, Johnson hasn’t seen much more success than Brian Quick and, like Quick, has first-year competition at his position from another talented rookie. Opponents avoided looking his way at the lower college level and at 6-2, 205 with 4.51 speed, he has the size and physical talents to play both cornerback and safety in the NFL. He’s a well-rounded player who defends the run as well as he defends the pass and given time to develop, he can turn into a solid NFL player at either position.
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.