With many teams out of playoff contention or locked into their seeds Week 17 saw many starters rested, which gave backup rookies a chance to shine in the regular season’s final week. Chris Tripodi tells you which rookies may have earned themselves a larger role next season in his final Rookie Report of the 2010-11 NFL season.

Joe McKnight (RB-NYJ)

The Jets expected more out of McKnight this season after drafting him in the fourth round and cutting the resurgent Danny Woodhead early in the season, but the former USC star had just 7 carries before this week. Getting the start with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene resting, McKnight went off against the Bills porous defense with 32 carries for 158 yards on the ground and added 2 receptions for 15 yards.

His size (5-11, 205) will prevent him from ever being a workhorse at the NFL level, but McKnight has a similar skill set to another USC running back, Reggie Bush. While McKnight is not as fast, quick or talented as Bush, both have the ability to impact a game running, receiving and returning. A lack of focus, discipline and blocking ability has kept McKnight in the doghouse for most of his rookie season but if he can put everything together, he has the ability to be a solid complement to Greene once Tomlinson’s days in New York are done.

John Connor (FB-NYJ)

A fifth-round pick out of Kentucky, Connor is more well-known for the high praise he received from Jets coaches during the HBO special “Hard Knocks” than for any of his play this season. He has spent most of the year behind veteran Tony Richardson on the depth chart but like McKnight, saw playing time for New York in their meaningless Week 17 blowout of the Bills.

Connor carried 8 times for 44 yards including a 16-yard touchdown that almost ended in a fumble at the one-inch line. In the team’s previous 15 games, Connor had no carries and just 2 receptions. His game is predicated on blocking inside the hole and while he may never see another 8-carry game in his career, he should be the Jets’ starter and a bruising interior blocker once Richardson retires, which could be as early as next season.

Dezmon Briscoe (WR-TB)

Briscoe is the third Tampa Bay rookie receiver to make the reports after Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. With Benn on injured reserve, Briscoe was active in Week 17 and played a big part in the Bucs’ victory over the Saints. He caught 4 passes for 65 yards, including an early two-yard touchdown and a late 54-yard bomb that set Tampa Bay up for a field goal to ice the game.

With Benn’s status for the start of next season in doubt, Briscoe will have a chance to compete for a job in the offseason. He has nice size at 6-2, 210 pounds and displayed the speed to get downfield on Sunday. Briscoe has impressed the Tampa Bay coaching staff and a strong offseason may put him in position to start alongside Williams, especially if Benn isn’t 100 percent.

Chad Hall (WR-Phi)

Undrafted out of Air Force, Hall stepped in for the resting Eagles’ starters and had a big day with 6 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown. Hall and Kevin Kolb have obviously developed chemistry working with the backups in practice and it showed on Sunday against Dallas.

At 5-8, 187 pounds with average speed, Hall will likely never be an impact receiver at the NFL level. But he showed good hands and the ability to work the middle of the field and may have earned himself a 2011 roster spot with his performance this week.

Clay Harbor (TE-Phi)

Like Hall, Harbor was another beneficiary of the Eagles’ meaningless Week 17 matchup with the Cowboys. With Brent Celek getting the day off, Harbor had a team-high nine targets and caught 4 passes for 32 yards. He handled himself well on the field, outside of a terrible drop on a deep pass in the second half.

A fourth-round pick out of Missouri State, Harbor lacks strength at 6-3, 252 pounds which limits his ability as a blocker. He lacks top-end speed to stretch the field but his athleticism and natural receiving skills should make him a candidate for the Eagles second tight end spot next season, especially with Cornelius Ingram’s career in jeopardy due to injuries.

Rolando McClain (LB-Oak)

McClain struggled through Oakland’s first 10 games, recording zero games with more than 7 tackles. But the 8th pick in the draft out of Alabama picked up his play in his final five games and made 7 or more tackles in four of those contests, giving the Raiders hope the he will start 2011 much stronger than he started 2010.

Coming out of a 3-4 at Alabama, McClain’s adjustment to the Raiders’ 4-3 wasn’t easy. With 4.74 speed he lacks the pursuit ability and sideline-to-sideline range of a prototypical 4-3 inside linebacker and his real strength lies in playing downhill against the run. McClain is as sure-handed a tackler as you will find and once he further adjusts to manning the middle of a 4-3 defense, he should continue to improve and become the impact player most experts thought he could be this season. His adjustment period just may take longer than expected.

Navorro Bowman (LB-SF)

Patrick Willis’ injury opened the door for the third-round pick out of Penn State to get a Week 17 start and Bowman responded with 8 tackles (6 solo). An outside linebacker with the Nittany Lions, Bowman has been backing up Willis and Takeo Spikes on the inside this season as well as seeing time on special teams.

At 6-0, 242 pounds, Bowman is undersized on the inside but makes up for it with good quickness and sideline-to-sideline range. He’s effective in coverage and great in pursuit but is not a dynamic pass rusher, which limits what San Francisco can do with him in their 3-4 alignment. If Bowman can add bulk in the next few seasons he could stick on the inside; if not, he may be a better fit on the weak side of a 4-3 where he can play to his strengths and chase down plays from behind.

T.J. Ward (S-Cle)

Ward was much maligned when the Browns drafted him with the sixth pick in the second round in April, but his play has placed him firmly in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Starting from day one in Cleveland, Ward piled up 22 tackles and a forced fumble in his first two career games and hasn’t slowed down at all.

Ward finished the year with 123 tackles to lead all rookies, as no other first-year defender hit triple digits. Ward added 2 interceptions and a forced fumble and was a rock on the back line of Cleveland’s defense all season. Along with rookie corner Joe Haden, Ward looks like a mainstay in the Browns secondary for years to come.

The hypocrisy of the NCAA will be on full display tonight as the Ohio State Buckeyes take a full allotment of players into the Louisiana Superdome to face the Arkansas Razorbacks, despite five players receiving legitimate suspensions which will not be enforced until next year. It is clearly all about the money. Then the added underlying story of the Big Ten’s recent struggles against the SEC, and bowls in general this season, only add to the pressure and defiance Ohio State shall face.  One of the more interesting BCS matchups has now been marred by these two instances only sullying the process.

3 keys from scouts

1 Tat five. Four of the five players which received illegal benefits will have a direct impact on this contest. They include Ohio State’s starting quarterback (T. Pryor), running back (D.Herron), left tackle (M.Adams), and team’s second leading receiver (D. Posey). Each is very talented in his own right. Two play premiere positions on the football field. The combined production of the three skill position prospects tally over 5000 total yards and 51 touchdowns. When the decision was made to allow the transgressors to play, the NCAA and Sugar Bowl officials knew exactly how these names will affect the outcome of this particular game.

2 Mistake prone.  Pryor’s affect, along with Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, may not be entirely positive. Both are tremendous talents playing behind center. Pryor is a premiere athlete at the position. Mallett’s arm has no equal. Both have shown a tendency to make ill-advised throws in crucial situations on the field. This year alone Pryor’s completion percentage was 50 percent, and he threw three interceptions, against the three most talented defenses the Buckeyes faced. Mallett was much better statistically against all of his opponents but still had his struggles against the best. His completion percentage was much better as a junior than during his sophomore campaign facing top defenses. He still threw five interceptions against Alabama and Auburn. His throws cost his team a win against the Tide.  Again, both are blessed with unbelievable ability, but they can be rattled.

3 Discrepancy in defense. The famous SEC speed has given Ohio State its troubles over the years, but Arkansas rarely faces a defense as talented and disciplined as the Buckeyes.  Coach Tressel’s unit ranks second in the nation. They are third against the run and sixth against the pass. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks are not *quite* as good. They are 32nd in the nation and surrender nearly 90 more yards per game on average than Ohio State. Arkansas can rush the passer if given the chance.

Bold Prediction: The Big Ten’s fragile ego is on display. Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, Mallett is a superior talent at quarterback compared to Pryor. The way these two signal callers play dictates each team’s success. Ohio State will get into Mallett’s face, and they could rattle the big gunslinger, but he has faced as good and still posted numbers. Whereas Pryor has fallen flat on his face in multiple big games. Ohio State would prove less winning this game than they would losing without the suspended players. Karma should be in full effect.  Arkansas 34, Ohio State 28.

Ohio State

Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
1stCameron HeywardDE974SrLarge, athletic lineman with a great amount of upside potential. Possible two gap lineman in a 3-4. Better athlete than given credit for. Not a great pass rusher but a terrific defensive lineman.
2-3Mike AdamsT753JrThe next great left tackle from the Ohio State program. Athletic, agile and a terrific pass protector with the footwork to slide out off the edge and block speed rushers.
2-3Ross HomanILB515SrSmart, intelligent linebacker that understands the game. Not a great athlete yet gets the most from his assets.
2-3Mike BrewsterC503JrTerrific blocker on the pivot with a complete understanding of the game. Plays with great quickness, intelligence and intensity. Outstanding shot gun snaps. Not a mauler but understands positioning and angles. Effective in motion.
3-4DeVier PoseyWR83JrLarge, physical receiver that flashes the ability to separate downfield. Very raw in many of his techniques but has a great upside.
3-4JB ShugartsT763JrSolid strong side prospect.
3-4Chimdi ChekwaCB55SrStrong, physical corner that shows flashes. Top athlete but lacks instincts and never really improved his game from the ’08 season.
4thDevon TorrenceCB14SrNice number two or three corner for the next level. Needs to iron out his mechanics but has an upside.
4thTerrelle PryorQB23JrTerrific athlete that really needs to prove he can be a passer.
5-6Justin BorenC655SrTransfer from Michigan who can play center or guard. Effective when he plays with good fundamentals but looks unathletic at times and really did not impress us this year. Looked sensational in ’08.
7thJermale HinesS74SrUnderrated zone safety that can be an intimidating force. Lacks great ball skills but effective between the numbers or downhill.
7-FABrian RolleILB364SrUndersized defender that projects as a one-gap linebacker or possible strong safety. Fast, explosive and covers a lot of area on the field but small.
7-FABryant BrowningG705SrSolid small area blocker that improved his game this season. Potential back up for the next level.
7-FADane SanzenbacherWR124SrTough, smart wide out but a one speed receiver. Projects as a number five in the NFL.
FADexter LarimoreDT725SrHard working interior lineman with marginal upside.
FABrandon SaineRB34SrNon–instinctive ball carrier with solid physical skills. Lethal pass catching threat.
FAAndy MillerT555Sr


Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
1stRyan MallettQB144JrProto-typical pocket passer with a rifle arm. Needs to develop his game yet offers incredible upside. Character issues with throw up red-flags.
3rdDeMarcus LoveT655SrAdequate blocker with potential at a number of spots on the offensive line.
3rdGreg ChildsWR853JrDeveloping receiver with a big time game. Terrific size, reliable hands and a lot of upside.
4thD.J. WilliamsTE454SrAthletic pass catcher that lacks the pure ht/wt for the next level. Possible H-back or move tight end.
7-FARay DominguezG735SrUnderrated blocker best at guard in confined quarters
7-FASeth OxnerC604Jr
FARamon BroadwayCB265Sr
FARudell CrimCB44Sr

Angry Game Preview: Brent Sobleski

Prospect Preview:  Tony Pauline

Stanford’s luck of the draw playing in this year’s Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech could be viewed as both favorable or unfavorable depending on its fanbase’s particular point of view. Favorable, regarding the matchup which has been set. Unfavorable based on wanting to smell the roses in Pasadena. Virginia Tech may be seen as one of the lesser BCS entrants (along with UConn), but they have rode a wave of success after its early season foibles. And all of this will be completely overlooked as the overriding stories of Jim Harbaugh’s future as coach and the decision of Andrew Luck to declare early or not will completely dominate the telecast.

3 Keys from the scouts

1. Run the football. It seems simple, but it is the key for both teams. Stanford relies heavily on playaction, and Virginia Tech uses the run to make the game easier for its quarterbacks. Some may be surprised to find just how closely each team ranks running the football. They finished 17th and 18th in the nation respectively. The Cardinal outrushed the Hokies by 2.08 yards per game. After Toby Gerhart left Palo Alto, it was questioned who would fill the running back’s void. Stepfan Taylor had done so admirably rushing for over 1000 yards and totaled 15 rushing touchdowns. Virginia Tech counters with a dynamic duo in sophomore Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Evans has received the bulk of the workload, but Williams is healthier than he has been all season. The key may be the defenses each team faces. The Hokies surrender 20 more yards per game on average against the run.

2. Quarterback duel. Any preview including these two particular teams would be remiss if it did not mention either Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor. Luck is the 2011 NFL draft golden boy. The likely top overall selection come April. His anticipation with his throws is the best seen in a long time in the collegiate ranks. Meanwhile, Taylor seemed completely written off as a quarterback prospects in recent years. The dual-threat has become a pass first signal caller who has not made the crucial mistakes. His 23/4 touchdown to interception ratio is staggering considering the Hokie has thrown 70 more passes this season, than either of his previoust two years. In those two years, Taylor had 10 combined interceptions. If the running game fails for either team, one of these two signal callers will have have to shoulder the load.

3. Specialties. The cliche still readily presents itself, special teams are a third of the game. None have been better in this area over an extended period than Virginia Tech under the watch of head coach Frank Beamer. It simply is not based off reputation. The only major special team’s statistic which Stanford is higher rated is kickoff coverage. The rest of the special teams battles decidedly favor the Hokies.

Bold Predictions
Virginia Tech is much better than given credit, but Stanford’s only loss this year came at the hands of the juggernaut which is Oregon. A game which the Cardinal were quite competitive. They are one of the best teams in the nation with one of the best quarterbacks in the country. They deserved a better bowl match-up. But the Hokies should at least make this competitive. And it is possible the off-the-field issues initially mentioned for Stanford may linger as they take the field.
Stanford 31, Virginia Tech 24.


Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
1stAndrew LuckQB123SoThe most complete NFL quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. Has all the physical skills, leadership qualities and intangibles needed to be branded as a franchise quarterback.
2ndChris OwusuWR813JrNice sized receiver with a complete game. Not a burner but a dependable second receiver on the NFL level.
3rdOwen MarecicFB484SrOutstanding lead blocker who does the little things very well. Truly a triple threat fullback that has also made his mark as a middle linebacker this year.
3-4Sione FuaDT925SrStrong, zero-technique lineman with potential at defensive tackle or on the nose.
6thRichard ShermanCB95SrTerrific cover corner that also impacts the game as a return specialist. Still learning the position after moving over from receiver at the start of this season and offers a large degree of upside.
6-7Ryan WhalenWR84SrNice sized possession receiver with a reliable game.
FADerek HallT535SrCame out of nowhere and is building a buzz for himself in the scouting community. Career back-up who saw limited action until this season.
FATom KeiserDE944JrSolid pass rusher with potential as a 3-4 linebacker or traditional defensive end.
FAAndrew PhillipsG715Sr
FAKonrad ReulandTE885Sr

Virginia Tech

Round Full Name Pos Num Yr Comments
3rdRyan WilliamsRB343SoSlippery, creative ball carrier coming off a disappointing season. Has a lot of skills though we do not fully beleive he is a feature runner at the next level.
6-7Tyrod TaylorQB54SrRun/pass signal caller coming off a very good campaign. Significantly improved his passing this season.
7thRashad CarmichaelCB215SrTough, feisty cornerback best facing the action.
FAJaymes BrooksG684Jr
FAJohn GravesDT915Sr
FAJarrett BoykinWR813JrPotential underneath receiver that needs to improve the consistency of his fundamentals.
FADanny CoaleWR194JrResilient receiver that constantly comes away with the tough or ordinary grabs. Lacks the speed to stretch the field but a money receiver.
FABeau WarrenC605SrMechanically sound blocker with potential in a zone blocking system.
FAAndre SmithTE885SrLarge target who gets up in a crowd then comes down with the ball. Lacks speed and quickness in his overall game.
FADyrell RobertsWR113Jr
FABlake DeChristopherT624JrNarrow based blocker who must improve his balance.
FADavon MorganS24Sr

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