A Rookie Report without a first-round draft pick is a rarity, but Week 13 is one of those weeks. Three second-round picks did make the report though, as well as a third-round quarterback who is playing like a first rounder. While no first-round picks making this week’s report may be strange, there are the usual players picked after round five and also those who went undrafted seeing time as the year goes on. Chris Tripodi is back to break down another set of 2012 rookies.
Russell Wilson (QB-Sea)
After an abysmal Week 7 performance against the 49ers’ top-ranked pass defense, Wilson has been nothing short of amazing over the last five games. The rookie quarterback from Wisconsin started the season slowly, especially on the road, where he threw just 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his first four NFL road games. He’s rebounded in a big way with 11 touchdowns and just 1 interception in the last five weeks, with three of those games coming away from home. In Seattle’s road win against the division-leading Bears, Wilson led a late 97-yard drive to take the lead and the game-winning drive in overtime in what might be his best performance to date.
Pete Carroll and his coaching staff have also been more confident to put the ball in Wilson’s hands, as he’s attempted over 28 passes per game during that stretch compared to just 25 per game in the season’s first seven weeks. He also has 179 of his 298 rushing yards on the season in the last five games and has attempted 35 or more passes twice, twice more than he did in his first seven career games. Wilson has rewarded Seattle handsomely for their confidence and has made big-money free agent acquisition Matt Flynn an afterthought in the present and the future.
The knock on Wilson was never his talent, which is borderline elite when considering his arm strength, 4.55 speed and the athleticism to move the pocket wherever he wants. That’s a great trait to have for a quarterback who stands just 5-11 and combining that with a 95.2 passer rating (7th in the NFL) and 19 touchdowns (11th) compared to just 8 interceptions, Wilson is starting to prove that those who were skeptical on him due to his height were absolutely wrong. There’s much more being a successful NFL quarterback than being over 6-0 and there is little that Wilson can’t do on a football field.
LaVon Brazill (WR-Ind)
The Colts added a lot of impact rookies on the offensive side of the ball this April, but Brazill hasn’t been one of them. Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen have all played a big part in the Colts’ 8-4 start but without Brazill, that record could actually be 7-5. Down 13 with just under three minutes to play against Detroit on Sunday, Brazill used his 4.44 speed to get behind a porous Detroit secondary and Luck found him for a touchdown to make it a one-possession game.
That was Brazill’s only catch of the game on four targets as Luck actually struggled with his efficiency, completing just 24-of-54 passes. A sixth-round pick from Ohio, the Colts’ fourth receiver has just 10 catches for 178 yards on the year and that was his first touchdown, although it certainly came at a big time for an Indianapolis team looking to make the playoffs just a season after going 2-14.
Despite his timed speed, Brazill doesn’t really have a second gear and has had few opportunities in the return game despite coming into the league with a reputation for being dangerous returning punts. His lack of size (5-11, 190) and top-end speed means he will likely never start at the NFL level, but Brazill can find a home as a third receiver and punt returner at the professional level. Not all sixth-round picks stick in the league, but Brazill looks like he has the potential to stay around for a few seasons.
Mitchell Schwartz (T-Cle)
After struggling early in the preseason and in his regular season debut, Schwartz has improved steadily over the course of the 2012 season. A second-round pick out of California, he is already drawing comparisons to teammate Joe Thomas, the team’s left tackle who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons, and offensive coordinator Brad Childress doesn’t think the comparisons are too out of line.
Schwartz’s emergence has helped turn the Cleveland offensive line into one of the league’s best in pass protection as they’ve allowed just 21 sacks, good enough for seventh in the NFL. His fundamentals and intelligence were two of his strongest traits entering the league and the ones which led to him shooting up draft boards his senior season and, according to Childress, “he rarely makes the same mistake twice.”
On a team full of impressive rookies from first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson to supplemental draft steal Josh Gordon, Schwartz has more than held his own and has certainly played a big part in the emergence of his first-year teammates. While he isn’t quick on his feet, the former Golden Bear has been extremely consistent and seems to get better every week, a great sign for his long-term prospects and the Browns’ offensive future.
Cordy Glenn (T-Buf)
After winning the Bills’ starting left tackle job with a strong preseason, the second-round pick out of Georgia got off to a good start to the season before missing Weeks 5-7 with a sprained ankle. He came back in Week 9 after Buffalo’s bye and picked up right where he left off, having unofficially allowed just a half sack in nine starts this season.
At 6-6, the former Bulldog left tackle weighs in at 345 pounds which led many draft analysts to believe he was better suited playing inside at guard. Although he’s a very large lineman, he is extremely athletic, runs a 5.08 40-yard dash and shows solid lateral range and the ability to get to the second level. Glenn did play both guard positions at Georgia as well and while it would be insane to move him out of such a vital position that he’s handling well, his versatility will only serve his team well in the future if injuries hit the interior of the Buffalo line.
Glenn has quickly dismissed the idea that he can’t play tackle at the NFL level and with his size and athletic ability, he has flashed first-round upside at a second-round price. The Bills aren’t normally lauded for good drafting but Glenn looks like a hit so far, especially at a position that has been a black hole in Buffalo for years. His run-blocking was never in question but the way he’s been protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blind side, the Bills have to be enamored with the return on this pick so far.
Bobby Wagner (LB-Sea)
Like Russell Wilson, Wagner is another rookie from Seattle who is starting to play his best football of the season as the playoffs approach. This second-round pick from Utah State has five straight games with at least 9 tackles and seven straight with at least 8, including four games with double-digit tackles. Wagner is one of 13 players to hit the 100-tackle mark so far this season and is a big reason why Seattle has been able to improve against the run despite trading Barrett Ruud before the season started.
The surging Wagner, like Wilson above, had arguably his best game of the season in a huge road matchup with Chicago last week. He led the Seahawks with 11 tackles, including a career-high 9 solo stops, and was a big reason Matt Forte had just 66 yards rushing on 21 carries. Wagner also added his third sack of the season, which has been an added bonus for a defense that just wanted him to be a stalwart against the run.
The former Aggie may not be the most athletically gifted or physical imposing linebacker in the league, but he’s a hard worker with great instincts who understands the game of football and where he’s expected to be at all times. While he certainly isn’t known for providing a pass rush or his work in pass defense, he has a sack, an interception and 2 pass breakups in his past two games and is hitting his stride in all facets of the game. The Seahawks have to be happy with the young talent they picked up after day one of the 2012 draft.
Ron Brooks (CB-Buf)
Sometimes it’s easy for talented players to get lost in the shuffle when they play for dominant programs. Brooks is an example of that as a 5-10, 190-pound cornerback with 4.38 speed who started just three game his senior year with the Tigers. It says a lot about a program when one of their backups gets drafted in the fourth round but it seems like the Bills are always looking for help in the secondary and Brooks got his shot last week.
Brooks was inactive for the first seven games of 2012 due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason but drew his first career start thanks to a back injury suffered by Leodis McKelvin. The rookie had his ups and downs, making 10 tackles (9 solo) and breaking up 3 passes but also getting flagged for three penalties, including a 24-yard pass interference that led to a second-quarter touchdown for the Jaguars.
Most of Brooks’ tackles came after he allowed completions, although all but three were for less than 10 yards and just one went for more than 15 yards. He struggled to keep second-year receiver Cecil Shorts in check until Brooks knocked him out of the game late with a concussion, drawing a 15-yards flag for unnecessary roughness. Brooks is a talented player that just lacks experience and if the Bills give him an extended look down the stretch, they’re likely to see him make some nice plays for them as well as some bad ones.
Tysyn Hartman (S-KC)
An undrafted rookie out of Kansas State, Hartman has done little all season but contributed to Kansas City’s second win of the season with 6 solo tackles on Sunday against Carolina. With starting safeties Eric Berry and Travis Daniels combining for just 2 tackles themselves against the Panthers, the same amount Hartman had before Week 13, the rookie safety was actually one of the team’s most active defensive backs in Week 13.
Active doesn’t necessarily mean effective though, as Hartman didn’t make a tackle within five yards of the line of scrimmage in the entire game and brought Cam Newton down on two runs of over 20 yards on a drive that brought Carolina back within three at 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. All of his tackles came in the run game except a short pass to Mike Tolbert that went for 15 yards but while he didn’t make many stops for minimal yardage, he did prove solid as the last line of defense that safeties are expected to provide.
Hartman reads the action well but doesn’t get there quickly, as seen by his 4.62 40-yard dash time. The former Wildcat safety has solid size (6-2, 200) and is tough and hard-nosed, but lacks the physical skills to turn into an impact NFL player. His aggressive special teams mentality will likely be his meal ticket to keep him on an NFL roster.
Tashaun Gipson (S-Cle)
Another undrafted safety on a bad team, Gipson had 8 tackles (7 solo) in Cleveland’s win over Oakland on Sunday. Like Hartman, most of his tackles were of the unimpressive variety with two coming after Oakland completions and four coming on runs of over eight yards. Gipson did creep up to the line of scrimmage to stop Marcel Reece for no gain at midfield in the first quarter, but did little else on the day.
At 5-11, 205 pounds with 4.55 speed, Gipson is a player who flashed skills in college but never took his game to the next level. Despite missing five games in the middle of the season due to a knee injury, he’s seen some extra work in the Cleveland secondary with T.J. Ward being limited by his own injury issues at times and has 22 tackles (17 solo) on the year.
An underachiever in college, Gipson is more of a cornerback than a safety despite his listing on the depth chart. He has the ability to stick with receivers in coverage but his inconsistency at the small-school level and lack of awareness don’t bode well for his NFL potential. Gipson isn’t much of an impact defender in the run game and unless the light switch flips on soon, he likely won’t amount to much as an NFL defensive back.
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.