Only one top-75 pick from April’s draft made this week’s Rookie Report as the season moves into its sixth week. Many high picks have already found a way into their team’s starting lineup, leaving the new opportunities to mid-round picks and undrafted rookies who are seeing the field with players in front of them hurt or playing poorly. Chris Tripodi will let you know which unheralded first-year players are making front offices around the NFL look smart with his Week 6 Rookie Report.
Zac Stacy (RB-StL)
With Daryl Richardson’s demotion heading into Week 5, Stacy has taken the reigns in the Rams backfield and looks to be running with the opportunity. After seeing 41 of the 73 snaps in his first start with Richardson still seeing 23 plays himself, it seemed Stacy would simply be the leader of a St. Louis committee. On Sunday, however, Stacy played 38 out of 47 snaps compared to just 5 for Richardson and ran for 79 yards on 18 carries. It looks like the St. Louis backfield belongs to the rookie fifth-rounder until further notice.
Drafted out of Vanderbilt, the 5-8, 224-pound Stacy was pegged by many as a sleeper heading into the preseason considering the Rams unsettled depth chart at running back. After two starts, Stacy trails Richardson by just six rushing yards and while he was stopped for a loss twice, the ex-Commodore is a North-South bruiser compared to Richardson’s dancing East and West. On an 18-yard run in the second quarter, Stacy showed the power to break through two arm tackles in the backfield, the balance to stay on his feet and once he was stood up in the secondary, the effort to keep his legs moving and pick up an extra 8 yards after contact, dragging multiple Texans along with him.
Our scouting report on Stacy mentioned his vision, patience and burst as the strength of his game and those skills helped him bust a 14-yard run later in the game. Stacy stretched his run to the left edge and cut upfield once Lance Kendricks moved the linebacker off his spot. He waited nicely for the pulling guard to get into the hole and then quickly burst through the opening. Stacy is outplaying our draft grade on him as well as his draft position through two starts while showing more power than he did at Vanderbilt. If Stacy can keep this up, Richardson won’t be getting his job back anytime soon. And 2012 2nd round pick Isaiah Pead will continue not to see any snaps at all as he trends towards bust territory.
Khiry Robinson (RB-NO)
Every three years, the Saints seem to find an undrafted running back that makes an impact on their roster. In 2007 it was Illinois’ Pierre Thomas, who scored 12 touchdowns in his second year and is still a key part of the New Orleans offense. In 2010, Tiffin’s Chris Ivory ran for 716 yards on just 137 carries and while he was limited by injuries the next two seasons, the Saints were still able to get a 4th round pick in return for him. Enter Robinson in 2013, a rookie from West Texas A&M who didn’t even make our draft board this offseason.
Robinson made the most of his 9 snaps on Sunday, taking 7 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown. He had two runs of 15-plus yards and showed excellent vision and cutback ability attacking the New England defense. He made a nice double jump cut to get through an open hole for 16 yards early in the third quarter and finished that drive with a 3-yard touchdown that he patiently bounced outside after the Patriots lost contain. His 20-yard run in the fourth quarter started left before Robinson cut back towards the middle, read that his offensive tackle had the end sealed inside and bounced it out. Robinson showed great balance to stay on his feet after being tripped up around midfield and picked up an extra 15 yards after contact.
The similarities between Robinson and Ivory are eerie, as both were undrafted 6-0, 220-pound backs from small schools that wore #29 in New Orleans with dreadlocks flowing from the back of their helmets. Robinson also shows a similar combination of power, quickness and vision to the man he replaced in the New Orleans backfield. Mark Ingram remains out of the lineup and Robinson has been more productive in the last four games than Ingram ever was during the past two seasons, meaning there’s a chance Robinson hangs onto his role as the Saints’ third runner. The Ivory comparison seems like it comes too easily, but it’s legitimate.
Kenny Stills (WR-NO)
Another rookie the Saints got great value on, Stills was drafted in the 5th round despite carrying a 3rd round grade here at Draft Insider. Stills is the only receiver drafted in rounds 4-7 to have a major impact on his team so far this season thanks to second-year slot man Joseph Morgan’s season-ending torn ACL in the preseason. Stills beat out Nick Toon as the deep threat in the New Orleans offense and has 10 receptions for 198 yards so far this season, scoring his first career touchdown on Sunday against New England.
Despite average size (6-0, 194), Stills showed the ability to beat press coverage on his first two catches of the game. On his first reception, he fought with his hands to get off the line of scrimmage and made a big third-down reception for 16 yards. Stills used a quick stutter step to beat the press and get into his crossing route later in the game for another catch. He got a free release on his touchdown but the catch was impressive, as it showed off Stills’ ability to win a 50-50 ball, adjust to the ball in the air and protect it once he made the catch.
Stills ran a go route down the sideline and beat Alfonzo Dennard down the field with his sub-4.35 speed. The ball was slightly underthrown by Brees as Steve Gregory was coming over from his safety position to play the ball as well. Stills slowed his route early enough to make it tougher for Dennard to get into position to break up the pass and as the ball sailed over Dennard’s outstretched arm, Stills snatched it out of the air and quickly turned his body away from Gregory to secure the ball. The third-and-20 catch put the Saints up 24-23 and would have been the game-winner if it weren’t for undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins making a great grab of his own on the final drive.
That touchdown catch showed many of the skills the Saints liked in Stills coming out of Oklahoma and if he’s added even an average ability to beat press coverage at the line, he could have a future as more than just a slot receiver at the NFL level. His frame and straight-line speed tell a different story though, as does his sporadic production early on. Stills has proven useful for the Saints so far this season but when Lance Moore comes back from injury, his role may be minimalized as Moore thrives underneath like Stills does, but without the deep speed.
Marquise Goodwin (WR-Buf)
Goodwin’s return from a hand injury coincided perfectly with Stevie Johnson sitting out due to a back injury of his own. Goodwin stepped right into the third receiver role and made an immediate impact, grabbing 2 receptions including a 40-yard touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Goodwin was also the primary kick returner for the Bills, taking back four kicks for a total of 94 yards.
Showing off his 4.25 track star speed, Goodwin blew by Terence Newman on a go route and made the touchdown look easy. With quarters coverage and no safety help over the top, all Thaddeus Lewis had to do was lead Goodwin into the endzone. Goodwin also caught a short curl route earlier in the quarter and will look to continue developing a more advanced route tree as the year goes on.
The Bills also tried Goodwin on a reverse, which was stopped for a one-yard loss. Buffalo will surely try to get the ball into Goodwin’s hands any way they can, as he showed Sunday that he may be their most dangerous offensive weapon at receiver even if he can only be used situationally. Goodwin was also solid blocking down the field and played just 14 fewer snaps than starter T.J. Graham, which indicates the Buffalo coaching staff may be more comfortable with Goodwin taking over as the team’s third receiver when Johnson returns and Goodwin gets more reps. Graham has done little in his 20-plus NFL games to keep a game-breaker like Goodwin from seeing the field.
Joseph Fauria (TE-Det)
Despite a fifth-round grade here at Draft Insider, every team in the NFL passed on Fauria in April before he signed with Detroit as an undrafted free agent. Six games and five touchdowns later, every team in the NFL regrets not finding Fauria worthy of even a 7th round draft pick. A monster red zone threat at 6-8, the former UCLA tight end took advantage of Tony Scheffler’s concussion and a hobbled Calvin Johnson drawing attention away from him to beat single coverage and score on all three of his targets against Cleveland.
Two of Fauria’s touchdown catches from Matthew Stafford were jump balls where Fauria was able to use his height to create mismatches for Browns defenders. His first touchdown was a fade in the end zone where Fauria did a great job of high pointing the ball and hanging on with strong hands as Johnson Bademosi tried to rip the ball out on his way down. He ran past linebacker Craig Robertson up the seam for 23 yards on his second score to put Detroit up 21-17, attacking the ball in the air with great extension. Fauria’s third touchdown sealed the game with two minutes left, as he showed the ability to adjust to a back-shoulder ball from Stafford along the sideline.
Fauria has been used mostly as a receiving threat so far this season and his 24 snaps Sunday were almost half the number he saw in the first five weeks (52). His hands and ability to make contested catches were on display in Week 6 and despite average speed, he was able to stretch the seam as well as dominate in the red zone. Fauria was lined up in the slot or outside on all three scores and while he won’t see as many snaps in those spots once Johnson returns to full health and Scheffler is back, he proved his ability as a red-zone threat which should earn him at least situational playing time going forward.
Corey Lemonier (LB-SF)
After not playing a snap in the 49ers’ first three games of the season, Lemonier has taken on a large role off the bench with Aldon Smith getting treatment for his issues with alcohol. The rookie from Auburn has seen more snaps than starter Dan Skuta with San Francisco forcing their opponents to play from behind and after a promising Week 5 performance that included three hurries and a QB hit on 21 pass-rushing snaps, Lemonier recorded his first career sack on Sunday against Arizona.
Not only did Lemonier sack Carson Palmer, but the result was a safety. The former Tiger abused left tackle Bradley Sowell with a quick swim move on an outside speed rush to get to Palmer in just about two seconds, as the veteran quarterback had no chance. Lemonier also batted down a pass intended for Alphonso Smith, staying extended on Sowell and reading Palmer checking down when he realized he couldn’t get to the quarterback. His forced fumble in the fourth quarter gave the 49ers a short field as he brought his left arm across the ball as Smith ran up the middle.
With Smith’s immediate future up in the air thanks to his DUI and recent felony gun charges, San Francisco may need Lemonier for a lot longer than they expected to. He was a one-dimensional pass rusher coming out of the SEC but showed ability against the run versus Arizona. While Skuta will likely handle a majority of the snaps in run situations, Tennessee’s Michael Roos will be much more of a challenge for both players than Sowell, who was a backup before Levi Brown was traded. If Lemonier can step up to that challenge, it will be an impressive development for the young pass rusher.
Sharrif Floyd (DT-Min)
The lone first-round pick to make the report this week, Floyd had his first career full sack on Sunday but unfortunately, it was rendered moot as he also picked up a 15-yard face masking penalty on the play, turning second-and-9 for Carolina into first-and-10 rather than third-and-15. Despite his late first-round draft status, Floyd has been strictly a rotational lineman for Minnesota so far and hasn’t been able to jump Letroy Guion as the starter next to Kevin Williams.
Despite the penalty, the ability Floyd showed on the sack was impressive. He worked his way inside to shed right guard Chris Scott and was then doubled by center Ryan Kalil. Floyd fought through the double team and reached out to grab Cam Newton as he tried to escape the pocket. Unfortunately, he got a fist full of facemask on the play that cost him for his second penalty this season. Floyd’s ability to bust through double teams and crash the backfield was one of his strength at Florida and it’s good to see him doing it at the NFL level already.
With just 3 solo tackles so far this season, albeit in limited snaps, Floyd hasn’t made much of an impact in the run game and actually has more QB hurries this season (4) than solo stops. Opponents have been able to keep him at bay with just one blocker and he may need some time to add extra strength to his frame to be the impact defender we thought he could be when we rated him as a top-5 prospect last season. Guion isn’t very good in his own right so once Floyd is ready, he should move into the starting lineup quickly.
Micah Hyde (CB-GB)
As Casey Hayward continues to struggle with hamstring issues, Hyde had been splitting nickel reps with Davon House until last week, when Hyde played the most complete game either has this season and was rewarded with a season-high 41 snaps. Hyde responded with great all-around play, tallying 7 tackles (6 solo) including 3 stops and a sack-fumble early the third quarter that may have earned him more time in the nickel at House’s expense.
Hyde came unblocked off the edge from a bunch formation and Flacco never saw him, leading to a hard hit that jarred the ball loose. While the Ravens recovered, it turned into a 10-yard loss that made Baltimore kick from their own 9-yard line. Hyde returned the ensuing punt 20 yards after an earlier 23-yard return, showing good agility and making multiple Ravens miss to set up great field position. Hyde refused to dance, instead heading straight up the field to pick up maximum yardage and ended up with 68 yards on 5 returns after returning just two punts all season.
Three of Hyde’s tackles went for 1 yard or less, including a short stop on a Marlon Brown reception at the Green Bay five-yard line a play after Hyde was beat to the corner by Tandon Doss, who couldn’t stay in bounds to make the touchdown grab. The former Hawkeye was a solid player in college against both the run and the pass and he’s shown some skill replacing Hayward so far this season. While Hyde’s footwork is still a work in progress, especially in reverse as seen against Doss, there is definitely a place in the NFL for a player like him. He may not stand out in any facet of the game but can impact them all to help his team.
Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, contributing Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews and interviewing NFL prospects. He also writes for Optimum Scouting, Yahoo! and Jets 101 and has previously worked at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.