After a special Thanksgiving report last week Chris Tripodi returns to normalcy with the Rookie Report, once again profiling first-year players who received opportunities due to injuries, benchings or teams falling out of playoff contention. Week 12’s edition profiles three undrafted rookies, a seventh-round pick and a sixth-rounder as well as a few early picks as more and more rookies are getting changes around the NFL.
Ryan Lindley (QB-Ari)
With Kevin Kolb still stuck on the sidelines with a rib injury, Lindley got an extended opportunity in Week 11 after John Skelton was benched for missing a wide open Larry Fitzgerald in the endzone. The sixth-round pick from San Diego State completed just 9-of-20 passes for 64 yards but apparently Skelton is far enough in Ken Whisenhunt’s doghouse that Lindley’s performance was good enough to earn him a second start.
The former Aztec quarterback’s Week 12 performance certainly wasn’t good enough for him to remain the starter once Kolb returns which, fortunately for Lindley, won’t likely be in time for Week 13. Lindley started well by completing 7-of-8 passes on the Cardinals’ opening drive which ended in a touchdown, but began the second quarter by throwing a pick-six to Janoris Jenkins.
He was 17-for-25 for 181 yards at halftime but when the Rams started pressuring him more in the second half Lindley came unglued, completing just 14-of-27 passes for 131 yards and three interceptions, including another to Jenkins that was returned for a score. Two of those interceptions came on miscommunications with Larry Fitzgerald and Lindley did not show much of an ability to make good decisions under pressure.
For all the physical skills and pocket awareness Lindley possesses, he was extremely inconsistent as a senior and struggled communicating with his receivers and reading defenses. Those issues have continued to plague him in the last two weeks and while he’s done well to get the ball out quickly behind a poor offensive line, Lindley is obviously still a work in progress. His has the physical talent to start at the NFL level but is certainly a project and will need a bit more seasoning to reach his potential.
Bryce Brown (RB-Phi)
For the second consecutive week, the Eagles were forced to start a rookie in place of an offensive star who suffered a concussion. In Week 11 it was third-round pick Nick Foles replacing Michael Vick and he was less than impressive in his first career start. Running back LeSean McCoy also left with a concussion that same week leaving the Philadelphia backfield to two rookies, as Brown has been second on the depth chart behind McCoy all season.
A seventh-round pick in April’s draft, Brown had just 32 carries for 141 yards all season in his backup role. With an opportunity to start against a bad run defense, the former Kansas State runner exploded for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries and also added 11 yards on 4 receptions. He had a 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and added a 5-yard score in the third.
At 6-0, 223 pounds with sub-4.5 speed, Brown has the power and speed to be an impact NFL running back but slipped to the seventh round due to off-the-field concerns, as he quit the Kansas State football team in 2011 after being a part of three NCAA investigations over recruiting and improper benefits. Brown was a top-10 recruit out of high school and the second-ranked running back behind Trent Richardson so his pedigree is that of an early-round pick. Since he can’t get in trouble for accepting money from Nevin Shapiro at the NFL level, there is little doubt the Eagles got a steal in round seven and as a back that hits the hole hard and wastes few steps, Brown fits well as a complement to the shifty, improvisational McCoy.
Jeremy Stewart (RB-Oak)
With Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson still out with high ankle sprains, Stewart saw more of a role in the Raiders’ offense this week with Oakland falling behind 24-0 at halftime. The undrafted rookie from Stanford tied his career-high with 7 carries, set a new best with 28 rushing yards and also added 6 receptions for 37 yards after catching just one ball all season.
Stewart still saw less work than starter Marcel Reece who had 15 carries for 74 yards, but he served as a nice dump-off option for Carson Palmer in the second half as the Oakland passing game struggled to make plays down the field. With McFadden and Goodson still looking uncertain for Week 13, it looks likely Stewart will continue to see some touches as Reece’s backup for the next week or two.
At 6-1, 218 pounds with 4.57 speed, Stewart is a big back much like Reece who plays faster than his 40 time and shows solid hands. He’s shown the ability to hit the open hole in his limited touches and while the Oakland running game surely misses McFadden’s big-play ability, their star running back was struggling when he was healthy anyway. Stewart is nothing more than a depth running back in the NFL, but he’s proven he can make a few plays when his number is called.
Cole Beasley (WR-Dal)
Heading into last week’s matchup with the Redskins, Beasley had just 5 receptions this season for 33 yards and had been an afterthought in the Dallas offense. With third receiver Kevin Ogletree missing Week 12 due to a concussion, Beasley got an extended look early in the game along with Dwayne Harris and made the most of it, making 7 receptions for 68 yards on 13 targets.
Despite his statistical output, five of Beasley’s receptions came before the Cowboys put up a single touchdown in the game and when Tony Romo finally started looking away from Beasley, Dallas mounted a big comeback that got them back in the game. While the Cowboys would probably like to limit Beasley’s already-marginal role in the offense they may have no choice with Miles Austin likely limited for Week 13 and Ogletree’s participation still uncertain.
At just 5-8, 177 pounds with 4.5 speed, Beasley doesn’t really bring any one skill in particular to the table on offense which might explain why he went undrafted out of SMU back in April. He did show an ability to get open on underneath routes along with solid hands which could keep him in a fourth or fifth receiver role in the future, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he never has another seven-catch game in his career.
Kevin Zeitler (G-Cin)
Cincinnati’s second first-round pick in April’s draft, Zeitler has made far more of an impact than the Bengals’ first pick of the round, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was profiled in last week’s “Turkey Report” and while his season has been slowed by an injury that isn’t directly his fault, the Bengals have to be far more enamored with the Zeitler pick so far in 2012.
The first-year guard out of Wisconsin has improved with each passing week and was even named Pro Football Focus’ AFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for October, a month that saw him allow just three quarterback pressures against a tough Miami Dolphins defensive line. Many people criticized the Bengals for passing on Stanford’s highly-touted David DeCastro for Kirkpatrick and instead opting for Zeitler 10 picks later, but Cincinnati actually had Zeitler higher on their draft board than DeCastro and has looked smart for their decision so far despite a lost season for Kirkpatrick.
Zeitler has been a stalwart opening holes in the running game for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, which is exactly what the Bengals expected. He was a great small-area blocker for the Badgers and while he has almost no speed and is not effective blocking in motion or pulling, his strength and nastiness make him a good interior blocker who has also been solid in pass protection as a rookie. He’s graded out as one of the league’s better guards so far this season and the Bengals expect him to continue to develop into a potential Pro Bowler on the inside of their offensive line.
Vinny Curry (DE-Phi)
A second-round pick from Marshall that had yet to make the active roster this season, Curry finally saw action in the Eagles’ Monday Night Football loss to Carolina. Spelling Trent Cole and Jason Babin in the team’s defensive line rotation, Curry was so impressive showing off his raw abilities and making 5 solo tackles that Philadelphia cut Babin the next day, opening up even more playing time for the former Thundering Herd star pass rusher.
Babin may have been on the outs with the Eagles anyway thanks to their lost season, an inability to hold up against the run and just 5.5 sacks on the year but Curry’s strong play Monday night probably sealed the veteran’s fate. Despite his reputation as a pass rusher and an impressive 23 sacks in his final two years at Marshall, all of Curry’s tackles came in the running game and none on plays that gained more than four yards for the Panthers.
Combining his strong debut with Babin’s release, Curry should see extensive playing time over the final five games of the season. He’s a little on the small side (6-3, 266) but his explosiveness and 4.7 speed play great off the edge. Curry has a wide array of pass rushing moves and uses his hands well to fend off blockers, which he will need to continue to do so he doesn’t get swallowed up by larger offensive lineman. As he develops his game for the rest of this season and into 2013, Curry can become a lethal pass rusher for the Eagles.
Tyrone Crawford (DE-Dal)
A third-round pick out of Boise State, Crawford has seen sporadic playing time so far this season behind veteran starters Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher. The former Bronco saw his most extensive action of the year on Thanksgiving Day against the Redskins and Crawford responded with a season-high 5 solo tackles, including his first career sack. Coming into the game, the rookie had just 7 tackles (6 solo) on the year.
While his sack came late in the second quarter and brought Robert Griffin III down for just a short loss, it came directly after a Tony Romo interception led to a sudden change for the Dallas defense. Crawford’s other four tackles came on short gains by Alfred Morris as he showed his ability to play both the run and the pass and the complete game that intrigued the Cowboys’ front office enough to take a risk on a player who started just one year in college.
At 6-4, 285 pounds, Crawford has the size to fit in nicely at defensive end in Dallas’ 3-4 defense. He has 4.82 speed, good quickness and the athleticism to get around the edge and also shoots holes in the line to make plays in the backfield. Crawford plays with good leverage and knows how to use his hands to shed blocks, but is somewhat stiff in his movements and can be pushed off his spots at times. He made great progress as a senior and if he continues to develop with professional coaching, Crawford has good upside where the Cowboys drafted him and could turn into an impact player at the NFL level.
Dezman Moses (LB-GB)
Moses started at outside linebacker in place of Clay Matthews, who missed Week 12 with a hamstring injury. The undrafted rookie from Tulane played well the week before in Detroit to earn the start, sacking Matthew Stafford late in the first half and forcing a fumble that the Packers recovered and also making a nice play on Mikel LeShoure in the backfield that was wiped away by a holding penalty.
The rookie put together a nice game in primetime on Sunday night as well, making 8 tackles (3 solo, 1 for loss), another sack and a pass breakup. The Packers are hoping Matthews will be returning from injury soon, but it’s certainly possible that Moses has earned himself a few extra snaps at the expense of fellow outside linebacker Erik Walden when Matthews does make it back, as Walden made just one tackle as Green Bay was blown out by the Giants and hasn’t impressed many people during his career.
While Moses has played well in recent weeks, he lacks bulk at 6-2, 250 pounds and isn’t likely suited for every-down duty. He is fast off the edge despite a lack of top-end speed (4.94 40-yard dash) and good chasing down plays laterally, meaning he can definitely find a niche in the NFL as a situational pass rusher. Once Matthews returns and Moses heads back to the bench, they may be able to form a nice third-down duo rushing the passer.
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.