Through 10 weeks of the NFL season, most of the league’s impact rookies have already been profiled in Draft Insider’s Rookie Reports. That will lead to a few repeats over the remainder of the year and this week’s includes the NFL’s lone first-round rookie quarterback. Chris Tripodi also breaks down the second undrafted quarterback to get a shot under center this season, one that was far more impressive than the first who got an opportunity and likely never will again. Week 11’s report also includes a few top-5 picks that aren’t living up to their team’s expectations.
E.J. Manuel (QB-Buf)
Coming off a rough Week 10 return to action against Pittsburgh and facing a Jets defense that flustered him in Week 3, this time without starting receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, it looked like Manuel would be in for a long day in windy Western New York conditions. Instead, Manuel showed why the Bills drafted him after he impressed in a cold weather workout, completing 20-of-28 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead Buffalo to a blowout victory.
Both of Manuel’s touchdowns came on deep balls, but the plays themselves were very different. One his first touchdown pass to T.J. Graham, Manuel saw an unblocked Demario Davis coming at him and quickly set his feet and threw to the go route down the left sideline. The ball hung up in the wind and was well short, allowing Graham to adjust back to the ball while Dee Milliner couldn’t stop his momentum and ended up slipping to the ground, making for an easy catch by Graham and run into the end zone.
Manuel was able to step into his second touchdown pass, a 43-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin that was thrown right on the money to beat Antonio Cromartie and essentially seal the win for the Bills late in the third quarter. Goodwin’s track speed wasn’t too much for Manuel’s arm and the two have shown impressive timing and chemistry since Goodwin debuted a few weeks ago.
After struggling mightily against the blitz in the teams’ first meeting and completing just 2-of-13 passes, Manuel went 8-for-9 for 109 yards against the blitz last week and showed the ability to adjust to an opponent his second time facing them. This bodes well for his development, especially considering he was working with backup receivers against a good defensive team, albeit one with some issues in the secondary. Geno Smith’s debacle on the other end only makes Manuel look even better 11 games into the season.
Matt McGloin (QB-Oak)
An undrafted free agent that no NFL or media scouts thought was worth a draft pick, McGloin has been the underdog his entire life. After walking on at Penn State he assumed the starting quarterback role and showed enough to work himself into a training camp audition with the Raiders. When McGloin outplayed Tyler Wilson during the summer to be Oakland’s third quarterback, most attributed it to Wilson’s issues adjusting to the NFL. Maybe, just maybe, it was more about McGloin proving his worth as a professional quarterback.
For a player with limited arm strength and an inability to stretch the field, McGloin excelled throwing downfield against the Texans, completing 3-of-5 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. The score came on a throw that McGloin made from a ¾ angle off his back foot that sailed just over the outstretched arm of linebacker Darryl Sharpton to Mychal Rivera for a 26-yard touchdown. McGloin also showed more zip than expected on his other two touchdowns, especially a first-quarter strike to Rod Streater from 16 yards out that made Streater slow his route but still got there before Brice McCain could recover.
McGloin did struggle somewhat under pressure, completing just 5-of-13 passes for 53 yards and taking 2 sacks in those situations. That’s to be expected behind a terrible Raiders offensive line that made Terrelle Pryor improvise more than he wanted to when he was under center. McGloin’s timing and anticipation against Houston was impressive and if he gets another start in Week 12, it will be interesting to see if he can duplicate his success throwing down the field against another top 6 passing defense at home against the Titans.
Ace Sanders (WR-Jac)
The Jaguars have struggled with issues at receiver this season as Justin Blackmon’s season ended the same way it started; with a suspension. Cecil Shorts has dealt with injuries and Stephen Burton missed Week 11’s game with a concussion, thrusting Sanders into the slot receiver role for Jacksonville. When Blackmon’s replacement Mike Brown left the game with a shoulder injury, Sanders saw extra attention from Chad Henne and led the team with a season-high 10 targets, catching 8 passes for 61 yards.
The former Gamecocks star was effective in the screen game, picking up two first downs on impressive moves with the ball on his hands. Early in the game, Sanders put a video game juke on Jerraud Powers to shake free at the line of scrimmage and pick up 15 yards. Later on, he came back to the ball and ran parallel to the line before accelerating quickly through a thin seam up the middle, showing great burst to get past the marker for 11 yards.
Sanders caught just one pass thrown more than 5 yards down the field and it was impressive, as the rookie did a great job coming back to a ball thrown short by Henne on a corner route. Sanders did a nice job of locating the ball before Powers turned around, left his feet and used his body to shield Powers from the ball and make the grab for 29 yards. Despite standing just 5-7, Sanders is crafty and can make plays with the ball in the air as well as in the screen game.
Even with Brown questionable to play in Week 12, Sanders likely won’t lead the team in targets again especially with Shorts complaining about seeing just two passes thrown his way. He should see the field on most of Jacksonville’ offensive snaps as one of their best playmakers despite a lack of long speed. More quick than fast, Sanders is great on returns and short passes but also shows skills as a receiver down the field. His height will always limit him but if the Jaguars head into 2014 with a new quarterback and Blackmon returns, Sanders has the potential to be one of the league’s better slot receivers.
Eric Fisher (T-KC)
The first overall pick in April’s draft, Fisher has struggled to live up to expectations despite Kansas City’s 9-1 record so far this season. Known as a polished pass rusher who had to improve his run blocking out of college, the transition from the MAC to the AFC West hasn’t been very smooth for Fisher and he’s struggled against the run as well as the pass, allowing 6 sacks this season and at least one quarterback hurry in every game he’s started.
Coming off an impressive performance against the Bills in Week 9 where Fisher allowed just two hurries and dominated in the run game, he headed into the bye with great momentum and two weeks to prepare for a Sunday night showdown with the Broncos. Instead, Fisher had another bad game and was owned by Derek Wolfe on a key third quarter sack. After the Chiefs drove into Denver territory down 17-10, Fisher overextended into his block and Wolfe took advantage, tossing the 305-pound Fisher out of the way to bring Alex Smith down for a 14-yard loss that set up a 3rd-and-27 and killed the drive.
That play is a microcosm of Fisher’s season to date, as his tendency to bend at the waist has gotten him in trouble against good pass rushers. The Chiefs have to be extremely happy they kept Branden Albert in town considering Fisher’s struggles on the right side against supposedly less talented right defensive ends. Kansas City will hope that Fisher can bounce back and finish out the season strong heading into the postseason, but it’s difficult to see his rookie season being anything more than one big learning experience.
Dion Jordan (DE-Mia)
Another top-3 pick that has struggled to make a big impact is Jordan, who Miami thought highly enough of to trade up from 12th overall to draft him with tackle Lane Johnson still on the board and a serious need along the offensive line, one that has been exposed this season as well. While Fisher has started every game this season, Jordan has been stuck in a rotational role and hasn’t seen more than 31 snaps in a game all year.
The second-rated player on the Draft Insider board heading into the draft, Jordan has been able to rush the passer despite his limited role with 14 hurries in just 200 snaps. While those numbers look good on a per-snap basis, they’re skewed by the fact that he sees the majority of his plays on passing downs and at this point in his career, Jordan is a one-trick pony who hasn’t recorded a sack since Week 1 and at just 260 pounds, may still be a bit small for an ideal 4-3 defensive end.
Stuck behind star Cameron Wake and emerging second-year talent Olivier Vernon, there isn’t much need for Jordan on Miami’s defensive line at the moment. This begs the question of why Miami traded up to get him if they didn’t view him as a player they could use this season, especially with a win-now mindset after spending in free agency over the offseason. They may not have expected Vernon to play as well as he has but even still, the team had more pressing needs on the offensive line to address. It’s too early to call this pick a bust as Jordan could still develop into an excellent player, but it certainly doesn’t look like the right pick from a short-term perspective.
David Bass (DE-Chi)
Chicago’s defense has struggled with injuries all season, leading to increased playing time for a late seventh-round pick like Bass who was never expected to play a serious role for a playoff contender. A week after struggling in his first career start against Detroit, Bass was moved back to the bench but still played 59 snaps in an overtime win against Baltimore. He finished the game with 4 tackles (2 solo) including one for a loss and the play of the game in the middle of the second quarter.
Lined up at left end, Bass stayed on his feet despite a cut block from Ray Rice and showed quick reactions to get his hands up and deflect a Joe Flacco pass intended for the flat. Not only did Bass deflect the pass, it also landed right in his hands for an interception he returned 24 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 10-10. Bass also made a couple nice plays in the run game, using good extension on Ed Dickson before shedding his block to the ball. Bass pushed Dickson off his spot multiple times in the running game to get to the ball and make plays.
Despite rushing the passer on 28 plays, Bass had just one hurry and generally struggled to get away from Michael Oher and pressure Flacco. He more than made up for the lack of pass rush with his play against the run and the interception and may find his way back into the starting lineup in Week 12, as replacement Landon Cohen was the biggest reason the Ravens were able to get their run game back on track after struggling all season. Chicago could opt to move Corey Wootton inside to tackle and give Bass another shot at end, which would be well-deserved after his performance on Sunday that helped the Bears move into a tie with Detroit in the NFC North.
Jarvis Jones (LB-Pit)
A highly-touted rookie from Georgia, Jones has bounced between the starting lineup and the bench a few times this season and was replaced by Jason Worilds weeks ago. With LaMarr Woodley’s strained calf keeping him out of action in a Week 11 win against the Lions, Jones drew his fifth start of the season and did a decent job filling in for the veteran.
Jones’ most impressive work on Sunday came in the passing game, as he batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage. The first came in the second quarter and was an easy one for Jones, as Matthew Stafford threw right into the lane he was standing up in before getting engaged on a stunt. The second came late in the fourth quarter as the Lions tried to mount a desperation comeback and while Jones couldn’t get past the anchor of LaAdrian Waddle, he did the next best thing by stepping back and reading Stafford’s eyes as he released the ball and getting his hand up to bat the pass away.
The former Bulldog had a nice stop in the running game as well, getting great extension and throwing Riley Reiff to the inside before making a tackle on Joique Bell after a short gain. With the Steelers’ still alive in the Wild Card race it’s likely that Woodley will get his job back when healthy, moving Jones back to the bench. The rookie showed he could step in and play solid football against a good team and if the Steelers fall out of contention, he may get a longer look at the team looks to the future.
Johnthan Banks (CB-TB)
Drafted in the second round to shore up a Tampa Bay secondary that added Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis in the offseason, Banks has struggled like most rookie cornerbacks do in their first taste of the NFL. This week against Atlanta was no different than the first time the Bucs played their division rival outside of the final score, as Banks allowed 6 receptions and 128 yards to Atlanta receivers, including a long touchdown for Harry Douglas late in the game when Tampa Bay was up 38-6.
Douglas pushed Banks off press coverage way too easily on a quick post route and Banks was right behind him as he caught the ball. Instead of taking him down for a 15-yard gain, Banks tried to strip Douglas off the ball and made little attempt to grab jersey, missing the tackling completely and pushing Douglas away from the incoming safety’s angle, allowing Douglas to take the play to the house. Banks allowed just one other reception over 10 yards on the game but that long score was very preventable.
Banks had a career-high 6 tackles in the game, but none come within five yards of the line of scrimmage and he was usually bringing down a receiver he allowed to make a catch. With below average speed (4.59), one of Banks’ major weaknesses at Mississippi State was getting beat for big plays which is still an issue for him. Banks fits better in the zone system the Bucs were playing earlier in the season but after switching to more man-to-man looks to take advantage of Revis’ ability to shut down the game’s top receivers, Banks has been exposed. Tampa Bay’s terrible record will allow him plenty of snaps to improve heading into next season and the best way for young cornerbacks to develop is by learning on the job.
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 and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com.