Week 14 of the NFL season saw many first-year players foreign to the average fan make an impact on the field. Chris Tripodi also checks in with a few more well-known rookies who continue to play key roles on their teams.
Arrelious Benn (WR-TB)
The second-round pick out of Illinois has been quiet this season but had a breakout game against Washington this week, catching a career-high four passes for 122 yards. The Tampa Bay coaching staff said this week they were looking for ways to get Benn more involved after using him on end arounds and screens last week and while he was targeted just four times, he made the most of his opportunities.
Benn beat Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall on a go-route for a 64-yard gain and also made a diving 43-yard catch that got the Bucs down to the 1-yard-line, where they proceeded to fumble on the next play. Benn’s combination of size (6-2, 220), 4.45 speed and ability with the ball in his hands should make him a useful weapon for the Bucs down the stretch and he has a lot of potential for the future.
Rob Gronkowski (TE-NE)
Another week, another New England tight end doing big things in a blowout win. Gronkowski had five catches for 43 yards and his 7th touchdown of the season in New England’s 36-7 road thrashing of the Bears, while fellow rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez had just 2 catches for 19 yards.
New England has been using both of their tight ends rather equally all season, as Hernandez has 10 more catches for 167 more yards but 3 fewer touchdowns. Gronkowski continued his recent roller coaster ride, alternating 5-catch games with 1-catch games. It may be difficult to figure out which tight end New England will feature from week-to-week, but both will continue to be heavily involved in the Patriots gameplan as the season continues.
Daryl Washington (LB-Ari)
After 42 tackles in his first six career games, Washington found himself on the bench once Gerald Hayes was activated from the PUP list after offseason back surgery. But with Hayes a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game against Denver, Washington got his first start since Week 7 and capitalized with 8 tackles (6 solo), an interception he returned 39 yards and 2 passes defensed.
Hayes’ struggles in his last few games paved the way for the speedy Washington to return to the starting lineup, along with the Cardinals overall struggles as a team, as they lost seven straight heading into Sunday. After his Week 14 performance, Washington should remain in the starting lineup for the rest of the season and continue to solidify his reputation as a player who consistently improves on a week-to-week basis.
Arthur Moats (LB-Buf)
Antonio Coleman’s injury opened up playing time for the sixth-round pick out of James Madison and Moats delivered. A defensive end in college who had 23.5 sacks in his final two seasons at JMU, Moats saw action on third downs and created a big turnover for the Bills in the fourth quarter.
Standing up over left tackle Joe Thomas, Moats engaged the Pro Bowler and beat Thomas with a swim move to the outside. Then he knocked the ball out of Jake Delhomme’s hand as he was throwing. The ball was scooped up by the Bills and would’ve been returned for a touchdown had the refs not ruled it incomplete on the field. But a challenge reversed the call and give Buffalo the ball in field goal range to take a 13-6 lead.
Former first-round pick Aaron Maybin was also supposed to see more time due to Coleman’s injury, but it was the small-school sixth-rounder who was on the field making plays instead. Moats should continue to see time in pass-rushing situations but his lack of great size (6-2, 250) and inexperience playing in reverse might limit him to third-down duty in the NFL.
Jamar Chaney (LB-Phi)
With Stewart Bradley out for the season, the seventh-round pick out of Mississippi State will take over in the middle for the Eagles. He led the team with 7 tackles (5 solo) once he replaced Bradley on Sunday night and had already been cutting into Bradley’s playing time before the injury. Now he will get an opportunity to start for the rest of the season.
We had Chaney rated as a second-to-third prospect and his athleticism, size (6-0, 242) and 4.55 speed makes him an intriguing rookie to watch. Known as a hard worker, Chaney is a potential three-down linebacker thanks to his coverage skills and is a disciplined and explosive hard-hitter. If he can put everything together for the rest of the season, Chaney might make it difficult for the Eagles to take him out of the starting lineup next year when Bradley is healthy.
Darryl Sharpton (LB-Hou)
The fourth-round pick out of Miami saw extensive action on the weak side this week against the Ravens at the expense of starter Zac Diles. Sharpton finished the game with more tackles than Diles (6 to 4) and added a third-quarter sack that helped stall a Ravens drive and set the Texans up to mount one of the more impressive late-game comebacks in recent memory.
Sharpton started his final two seasons at Miami but his game leveled off and he went from a potential top prospect to a fourth-rounder. He doesn’t have ideal size (5-11, 248) to play in the middle but his overall athleticism makes him a solid prospect on the weak side. However, he lacks the coverage skills you would expect from a smaller linebacker, struggles to shed blocks and isn’t the strongest tackler. He played well this week, but will need to continue to improve his game if he wants to be a starter in the NFL.
Alterraun Verner (CB-Ten)
The Titans’ fourth-round pick out of UCLA continues to start opposite Cortland Finnegan and while the stats from this week look good with 10 tackles, Verner struggled in coverage. Peyton Manning threw at Verner seven times on Thursday night and completed all seven passes in what amounted to Verner’s worst day as a pro.
Verner has been playing since the early weeks of the season and while he’s good in run support and puts up impressive tackle numbers, he has broken up just 10 passes all season and none in the past three weeks. Many of those tackles have come after allowing a completion and Verner’s struggles have been part of the reason Tennessee’s secondary is one of the league’s worst. If he can’t adjust to the size, speed and overall ability of NFL receivers he may be destined for nickel and dime work throughout his career.
Darian Stewart (S-StL)
An undrafted rookie out of South Carolina, Stewart has seen action on special teams and in the secondary recently with the Rams’ starting safeties missing time and snaps with. This week Stewart also saw snaps late in St. Louis’ blowout loss to New Orleans, picking up a sack and recovering a fumble.
Stewart is a run-defending safety who lacks speed to the flanks and ability in man coverage. He’s aggressive coming up the field and on the blitz and has a good straight-line burst and strong wrap-up tackling ability. His skill set limits him to conventional strong-safety duties in a zone system and special teams work and if he can continue to make plays in a limited role, Stewart should see more of the field down the stretch as the Rams make a playoff push.
Back on track despite a rocky start, TFY’s Draft Podcast featuring SI.com’s Tony Pauline and host Brent Sobleski hit some hot and heavy topics including…
– Clearing the air about Jacquizz Rodgers. The Oregon State product that may be saying one thing, but thinking otherwise.
– A potential reasoning behind the length of suspension regarding an agent involved in the North Carolina scandal.
– Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin already making his choice, and USC’s Tyron Smith receiving more recognition.
…and some of the show’s regular segments including: Taking Stock, What scouts are saying, plus a look at some Sandman level sleepers!
After partaking in the podcast, all conversation can be directed to the site’s FORUMS.
If any questions or comments persist, the show can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plus, it should be noted TFY’s Draft Podcast can be imported into iTunes and can be done if any listener clicks on the appropriate link situated on the far right of the blog player. Otherwise…
Tune in next week. Same Draft Insider time. Same Draft Insider channel.
With a limited amount of new rookies making a big impact in Week 13, Chris Tripodi returns to break down their successes and revisit some other higher-profile rookies who had impressive weeks after struggling at times this season.
John Skelton (QB-Ari)
A fifth-round pick out of Fordham, Skelton is likely to start this week with Max Hall lost for the season and Derek Anderson suffering a concussion in the team’s last game. Skelton was 3-for-6 for 45 yards in limited action last week, once both Anderson and Hall were knocked out of the game. According to Coach Ken Whisenhunt, Skelton could be the right fit for Arizona’s offense right now but he is “by no means” ready to be a starting NFL quarterback.
Skelton has a big arm but faced a lower level of competition in college. He was seen as a project heading into April’s draft; the kind of prospect that could pay dividends down the line but needed a few years to be developed as a professional quarterback. That timetable has been accelerated due to injuries and it will be interesting to see if Skelton can ignite a struggling Cardinals offense against a porous Denver pass defense.
James Starks (RB-GB)
The Packers coaching staff loves this sixth-round pick out of Buffalo and at 6-2, 218 pounds, Starks can give Green Bay the inside running game they had before Ryan Grant was lost for the season. He made his season debut on Sunday and was only supposed to see 8-10 carries. But Starks improved as the game went along and seems to have quickly earned the trust of the Green Bay brass, as he ended up with 18 carries for 73 yards compared to just 4 carries for starter Brandon Jackson.
Packers running backs coach and former Packer running back Edgar Bennett called Starks an every-down back that has the talent to stay on the field in every situation. Starks is a strong runner who falls forward and is patient setting up his blocks. He has impressive footwork, the ability to make quick moves in small spaces and the receiving skills to see third-down action as well. He’s not a burner, but the coaching staff loves him and he’s a better fit than Jackson as Green Bay’s featured back down the stretch.
Aaron Hernandez (TE-NE)
After catching fewer than 4 passes just twice in his first eight career games, Hernandez caught just two balls over the past three weeks leading up to New England’s Monday Night matchup with the Jets while Rob Gronkowski emerged with two 5-catch games and a 3-touchdown performance. But Monday night against the Jets man coverage schemes, it was Hernandez who made more plays.
Hernandez had 6 catches for 101 yards against the Jets in Week 2 and added 3 receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown this week. He was quiet early as Tom Brady was able to involve his receivers more but had a 35-yard catch-and-run to go along with a short touchdown catch later in the game. Hernandez and Gronkowski will continue to be hit-or-miss while splitting time, but Hernandez’s speed and open-field running ability will continue to make him a matchup nightmare for teams that play man-to-man defense.
Joe Haden (CB-Cle)
Haden was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for November, a month that saw the first-rounder out of Florida rack up 3 interceptions and 7 pass breakups. He continued his strong play Sunday against Miami, adding another interception and 4 breakups to go with 6 tackles.
Haden was excellent in coverage all game, staying with the Dolphins receivers out of their breaks and making countless impressive plays on the ball. His one interception came on a play where he was beat down the sideline by Brian Hartline, but an underthrown ball from Chad Henne allowed Haden to recover and come underneath Hartline for the pick.
Haden was making just his third career start and while Miami’s receivers are nothing to write home about without Brandon Marshall, Haden was able to hold his own on the outside. He also showed his ability to come up and stop the run around the line of scrimmage. When I wrote about Haden earlier this season it was to document his early struggles; now his continued improvement throughout the season should make him a fixture in the Browns starting lineup for years.
Eric Berry (S-KC)
Like Haden, Berry is another rookie drafted in the top 10 who had his share of early-season issues. Berry was beat constantly in coverage in the first few weeks, but has improved in that area as the season has gone on and has started to add the big plays that the Chiefs and many others expected out of him.
In his last seven games, Berry has 42 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble and is doing a great job in run support and creating turnovers. The Chiefs are looking good at 8-4 atop the AFC West and Berry is part of the reason for their improvement on the defensive side of the football. It will be interesting to see how he handles playing in a playoff atmosphere, but all recent signs say the rookie out of Tennessee should thrive the rest of the way.
Nate Allen (S-Phi)
Allen got off to a quick start as the Eagles starting strong safety with 15 tackles, 3 interceptions and a sack in his first four career games. His production has tailed off since then but he rebounded with his best game in months in Week 13, recording 4 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Allen has been up-and-down in his rookie season, but he has shown the ability to play centerfield, rush the passer and make plays against the run around the line of scrimmage. Combine Allen’s play with the lack of success Donovan McNabb has had with the Redskins and the resurgence of Michael Vick, and the Eagles trade of McNabb for the second-round pick they used to acquire Allen looks great. He’s still raw and inconsistent at times but looks like a player who will be a solid starting safety.
Stevie Brown (S-Oak)
A late seventh-round pick from Michigan who has been used mostly on special teams, Brown saw work in the secondary against San Diego on Sunday with Nnamdi Asomugha and Tyvon Branch playing at less than 100 percent. Brown had five tackles and a pass defensed in what was his best performance of the season.
At just 6-0, 215 pounds, Brown was an undersized linebacker for the Wolverines who also saw time at safety. His uncertain role in college stunted his development as a defensive back but the Raiders hope that with a more defined role he can be a key reserve at the back end of their defense. A hard-hitter who plays well in the box, Brown lacks the speed (4.55) and closing burst to make plays on the football in the secondary despite solid instincts. As a result, he probably won’t develop into an NFL starter but he can definitely be an impact reserve and special teamer.
Clint Stitser (K-Cin)
The Fresno State rookie debuted as the Bengals kicker this week replacing Aaron Pettrey, who was cut after missing two easy kicks in his two games replacing Mike Nugent. Despite missing an extra point, Stitser made all three of his field goal attempts, two inside 30 yards and one 47-yarder that gave Cincinnati a lead they would soon relinquish.
Stitser didn’t last long while trying out for the Jets in the offseason and if you can’t beat out Nick Folk for a starting kicking job, I’m not sure how long you can last as an NFL starter. Stitser converted less than 70 percent of his field goals during his final two college seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he struggled enough to force Cincinnati to make another move for a kicker before season’s end.