Many rookies broke out on the offensive side of the ball this week including multiple wide receivers who have been buried on the depth chart to this point in the season. Week 7 also marks the first Rookie Report of the season that doesn’t include any players drafted in the first two rounds. Chris Tripodi breaks down the best of this week’s rookie crop.
LeGarrette Blount (RB-TB)
The undrafted former Oregon star has had his share of troubles since punching Boise State’s Byron Hout in the face last September, leading to a season-long suspension that was later reduced. But Blount has found a home in Tampa Bay, rushing for 72 yards on 11 carries against the Rams last week after totaling just 10 carries through the team’s first five games.
What was even more impressive about Blount’s breakout game were his 46-yard and 13-yard runs that were nullified by penalties. His workload in this game was no fluke either, as his blitz pickups have been improving and Raheem Morris has been looking for a reason to give the powerful Blount more carries than Cadillac Williams. At 6-0, 247 pounds, Blount is extremely powerful and a load to bring down for opposing defenses.
Morris said after the game that he wasn’t committing to Blount as his starter, but the coach also said the Bucs were the best team in the NFC, which makes it difficult to take him at his word. As long as Blount continues to improve he should get the majority of the work in the Tampa Bay backfield; not bad for an undrafted rookie who almost didn’t make it to this point at all.
David Gettis (WR-Car)
A sixth-round pick out of Baylor, Gettis put together a big day in Matt Moore’s return to the lineup on Sunday with 8 catches for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 targets, the only miss coming on a fourth-down drop in the endzone that would’ve been his third score of the game. Gettis had been targeted 22 times in Carolina’s previous four games so his usage is much less of a surprise than his performance.
Gettis is a 6-3, 216-pound possession receiver with strong hands and 4.43 speed who has steadily improved since his junior season with the Bears. After the game, Moore referred to Gettis as a “stud” and his big game should earn him the second-receiver role opposite Steve Smith.
With Smith seeing constant double teams in his return to the lineup this week, Gettis should see plenty of single coverage and have a chance to build on his impressive Week 7 performance. The Panthers are hoping he develops into the type of player that Marques Colston has been for the Saints.
Brandon LaFell (WR-Car)
Like David Gettis, LaFell burst onto the scene in Week 7 as Matt Moore’s return ignited a Panthers offense that struggled mightily with rookie Jimmy Clausen under center. The third-rounder out of LSU was targeted 6 times by Moore and caught all 6 balls for 91 yards.
With Steve Smith’s return and Gettis’ performance LaFell will likely remain third on the depth chart in Carolina, which is a decent situation for a receiver at his best running underneath routes. LaFell lacks the speed (4.58) to stretch the field or the size (6-2, 211) to be a serious red-zone threat but is a smooth receiver who can become an NFL starter with work.
Jordan Shipley (WR-Cin)
The Bengals fell behind early at Atlanta, forcing Carson Palmer to throw the ball 50 times and allowing the third-round pick out of Texas to put up big numbers. Shipley caught all 6 passes thrown his way for 131 yards and a 64-yard touchdown mostly working out of the slot. His big play came on an all-out blitz where he caught a short pass as Palmer’s hot read and took it to the house untouched.
Shipley’s lack of size (6-0, 190) or blazing speed (4.60) will likely prevent him from being a starter on the NFL level, but he has all of the tools to be one of the league’s better slot receivers. He’s a great fit in the current Bengals offense and while they won’t pass 50 times every week, Shipley should continue to be one of the more consistent rookie receivers this season.
Riley Cooper (WR-Phi)
With the injury to DeSean Jackson, Cooper got an opportunity as the Eagles’ third wideout and the fifth-rounder produced with 3 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Kolb looked his way often and showed the confidence in the 6-3 receiver out of Florida to throw a few jump balls his way.
Cooper lacks the speed to stretch a defense but has the size and pass-catching ability to be an effective possession receiver and red-zone threat in the NFL. If Jackson still can’t play in Week 9 once the Eagles return from their bye, Cooper should again find himself in the slot behind Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant but Michael Vick’s return may stunt any opportunity for further growth this season, as Cooper developed a noticeable rapport with Kolb when they were both working with the second team earlier in the season.
Jimmy Graham (TE-NO)
After seeing little of the field during the first five weeks of the season, Graham has caught a pass in each of the Saints’ last two games, catching 4 for 38 yards last week against Cleveland. A third-round pick out of Miami who played basketball until his senior season, Graham is extremely raw but has drawn comparisons to Antonio Gates (another former college basketball player) from many scouts.
Graham is more of a receiver than a tight end, similar to fellow rookies Jermaine Gresham and Aaron Hernandez. He’s still extremely raw in just his second season playing football and is unlikely to see many more games like this stuck behind Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas on the depth chart. But once he puts it all together and learns the nuances of the NFL game, especially in the running game, Graham has the potential to be the best tight end out of this draft, which could be known for producing multiple Pro Bowl tight ends a few years from now.
C.J. Wilson (DE-GB)
A last-minute injury to Cullen Jenkins forced Wilson into action for the Packers for the second straight week, as an injury to Ryan Pickett gave Wilson his first career start the week before against Miami. After 4 tackles (3 solo) against the Dolphins, the seventh-round pick had 8 tackles (5 solo) in his second career start.
Wilson seemed more comfortable after struggling against the Dolphins and was a key part of possibly the game’s biggest play. Wilson provided the pressure on Brett Favre that lead to Desmond Bishop’s interception return for a touchdown and was able to scrape off blocks to stuff Adrian Peterson on multiple plays during the Vikings’ final possession.
Wilson was an excellent edge pass rusher at East Carolina but is undersized for an NFL defensive end at just 6-3, 290 pounds and lacks great strength at the point. If Jenkins can return against the Jets next weekend, expect Wilson to head back to the bench. But these two starts may have given the coaching staff enough confidence in him to work him in on more plays, especially in pass-rushing situations.
Kendrick Lewis (S-KC)
The Chiefs’ less-heralded rookie safety returned to action after missing Week 6 with a hamstring injury and racked up 5 solo tackles and a pass defensed, compared to 2 tackles for starter Jon McGraw. McGraw is technically still the starter but it’s only a matter of time before Lewis officially overtakes McGraw on the depth chart, as he is already seeing the majority of the snaps alongside fellow rookie Eric Berry.
Lewis is the opposite of Berry, who was a high pick and a freak athlete. Lewis is an overachiever who plays bigger than his 6-0, 198-pound frame and faster than his 4.73 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a disciplined safety who plays the run well but struggles in pass defense due to his marginal speed and ball skills.
Berry will continue to get the attention in the Chiefs secondary, especially after he exploded with a forced fumble, an interception and three passes defensed this week. But Lewis is a glue guy in the defensive backfield and if he and Berry can continue to work well with each other it will only help the Chiefs’ improving defense.
It is time to veer off the beaten path to a degree, as the Watcher initially concentrates on two games which did not possess a great amount of talent, but had two big eaters in particular requiring attention.
Then Oklahoma State and Nebraska receive the spotlight.
Head Scout Brent Sobleski leads you down the path of last weekend’s watching.
Navy once again upended Notre Dame.
Earlier in the year, the Watcher discussed some of the complexities and issues with defending the Midshipmen’s triple option attack from an assignment viewpoint.
It was interesting to see how the Fighting Irish would attack the system, and how one particularly important defender would perform.
Ian Williams had to leave the game at the 7:21 mark in the third quarter after getting his legs chopped out from underneath him. The senior will miss four to six weeks after suffering a torn MCL in his left knee. Unfortunately, it may end the senior’s career if Notre Dame cannot immediately reverse their fortunes.
To add insult to injury, the nose tackle was not playing well leading up to said point.
As a defensive lineman approaches a game against an opponent that thrives on the option, their linemen are required to fire off the ball straight ahead consistently, while using the cut block to their advantage. Many defenders do not like having to ward the blockers from their knees down after down. It is a tough test which should highlight a crucial aspect of playing as a 0 technique, hand play.
Williams was not up to the task most of the game.
The nose tackle was struggling as Navy’s center Brady DeMell consistently got into the defender’s body. Williams could not hold both ‘A’ gap responsibilities in the Irish’s three man front. The end result was Navy fullback, Alexander Teich, gashing the interior of Notre Dame’s defense and having a career day.
Williams was not establishing his hands quickly or effectively. He was not warding off cut blocks. He struggled to work his way through traffic. He did not require double teams on a consistent basis. He was able to throw a few linemen off their blocks, but it was far too little and too late.
Already considered undersized for the position (6’2” 305), Williams draft stock took a hit on multiple fronts against Navy.
There was not much to watch outside the play of Williams among Notre Dame’s roster. Star receiver Michael Floyd sat out due to injury. Top tight end Kyle Rudolph was already lost for the season entering the game. Jumbo guard prospect Chris Stewart (6’5” 351) is immobile and stiff in his play. It is another tough season for the Fighting Irish faithful.
Another name of consequence regarding potential future NFL nose tackles is Hampton’s Kenrick Ellis.
Both Ellis and Williams will require a lot of attention because of a rarity of talent at the position, yet more teams are running the 34 in the NFL than ever before.
Ellis, in particular, has two qualities which cannot be taught.
First, the defensive lineman is 6-feet-5-inches tall and 340 pounds (although there is a discrepancy according to Hampton’s official site), ideal size for a two gap defender.
Second is Ellis’ penchant for hustling every single down he is on the field, a rarity for a talent of his girth. The interior defender makes numerous plays down the line of scrimmage and from the opposite side of the field by scraping and taking angles properly while not giving up on plays.
Statistically, Ellis jumps off the page as well. How many defensive linemen lead their conference in tackles per game? Hampton’s defensive focal point does just that averaging over 10 tackles per game entering this past weekend’s contest against South Carolina State.
As one watches his play closely, the South Carolina transfer lacks polish.
Everything starts with the stance. Ellis does not start with a good base as his footwork is often spread too far apart. Heal-to-toe is the rule of thumb, but Ellis does not always abide, particularly seen in his first half of play. As a result he does not fire off the ball with the same type of coiled explosion seen from other contemporaries.
The second half, a difference was seen. Coming out of the intermission, a coach must have lit a fire in his belly and corrected some of Ellis’ issues. His footwork improved, and he became harder to handle off the snap. A permanent correction is required for Ellis to play to his fullest.
Two other issues were presented.
Ellis does not have violent hands, a requirement for those playing nose tackle. This may push him outside to defensive end in the 34 since he does not deliver a strong blow off the snap nor controls even FCS offensive lineman.
Also the defender is not a fluid athlete. He plods as he runs and does not appear to posses much flexibility in his hips and knees. As a result, how many times has one watched a 340 pound man get pushed around and knocked over by inferior talent? Ellis was found on the ground after a few plays.
Ellis has a lot of potential, but he is raw.
Now it is time to move away from the underappreciated, yet invaluable, space eaters and discuss some more high profile skilled prospects.
Nebraska versus Oklahoma State presented one of the most entertaining match-ups of the season to date.
Top rated cornerback Prince Amukamara led the Blackshirt Defense into Stillwater attempting to cover the nation’s top pass catcher, Justin Blackmon. The two did not disappoint.
Blackmon, a redshirt sophomore, is especially intriguing and recently came within the scouting spotlight. Many overlook young underclassmen, until those players cannot be ignored any longer.
Not only is Blackmon the nation’s leading receiver, the only target currently with 1100 plus yards, but he also has three more touchdown receptions than anyone else (14). And he averages nearly 18 yards per catch. A tough draw for any cover man, including Amukamara who is arguably the best in the nation.
Blackmon lit up the Nebraska defense to the tune of five catches for 157 yards.
The receiver possesses fantastic body control and reliable hands. He runs good routes, always giving his quarterback the opportunity to make a throw. He adjusts to the ball in the air remarkably well. He has the ability to stretch the field, at least he showed as much against the Cornhuskers.
He will have to show more competence releasing off the line when jammed and re-routed. Currently, Oklahoma State’s spread offense does not lend much to this transition, and Nebraska did not show an overt amount of cover two.
Despite Blackmon’s big day, Amukamara displayed the skills which have him generally regarded as a top ten talent.
The cornerback is particularly fluid in the hips transitioning easily while running down the field with any assignment. He jams at the line well, when asked. He could be more physical tackling, but he is willing. No receiver beat the senior clean throughout the day.
Blackmon’s biggest gain came when Amukamara clearly got caught looking in the backfield during a fleaflicker. Blackmon sold the route, and Amukamara had to chase. He was still in position to make the play but could not locate the football in time.
Amukamara’s one downfall came as he did not have a good feel for the pressure on his back. He needs to be able to ride an opponents hip and understand angles and leverage. A few catches came when he was already in position but failed to do as such.
Overall, Nebraska’s coaches had no issue leaving their best player out on the island. His skills were apparent, but he had some struggles.
Finally, it is time to return to the play of the hogs.
Nebraska has the best pair of guards in college football. Keith Williams and Ricky Henry pave the way for the ‘Huskers top rushing attack.
Williams may be entering the conversation as the top ranked guard in the upcoming class. After watching his play the past few weeks, it is obvious he is nasty. He moves well laterally and in space. He delivers a blow while firing off the ball hard. He explodes through his hips while getting extension. And his recognition during stunts and blitzes has been commendable.
Williams may not be as physically dominant as a Mike Iupati, who was drafted in the first round this past year, but he has the talent to be a top guard prospect which become invaluable when drafted in the second or third round.
Henry is a very good college football player, but he does not have the same all around skill set as his bookend. He is not as big, as powerful, and can be thrown off blocks. He does take a nice first step out of his stance, but he is best when asked to block within the “phone booth”.
Remember…the eye in the sky does not lie, and the Watcher sees all.
NFL Draft news and notes after the eight week of the college season. Major updates on a few under the radar juniors considering the jump into next April’s draft as well as another well-known ball carrier. Also, players that are drawing a lot of positive press in the scouting community in this week’s edition.
– Last week we touched on initial Senior Bowl invitations. Sources have told us Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is another slated to receive an invite for the week in Mobile.
– Scouts continue to fall in love with Stanford passer Andrew Luck. One source we spoke with, and one of the few that would actually speak openly about the third-year sophomore, told us hands down Luck is the first pick of the draft if he opts for the NFL after the season. Besides his playing skill scouts love his leadership skills, the ability to innovate when plays break down and control the situation on the field. We hear Luck is well liked by his teammates which is yet another intangible scouts like. We’ve mentioned previously how scouts love his size as we’ve been told Luck is a natural 6-foot, 4-inches and 235 pounds with room to grow.
– We’ve been critical of Ryan Mallett from the get-go, and mentioned numerous times since August how we feel many are overrating the junior from Arkansas. We also touched lightly on the red flags that may be raised over his character. Now comes word from someone familiar with the situation that the light has gone on for the big armed passer and he’s starting to show signs of maturity. Has he turned the corner? According to our source not yet, though Mallett is headed in the right direction.
– We spoke about Mount Union receiver Cecil Shorts III in last week’s live wire as well as during our podcast. Since then several league insiders have in fact confirmed that the small school wide out is moving up draft boards.
– Another receiver flying up draft boards, yet at a faster pace, is Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles. Sources have told us Broyles is likely to enter the draft and could be selected as early as the late part of round one.
– We are hearing whispers that Justin Houston and Cordy Glenn from Georgia will both look at their NFL options when the season concludes. We’ve also been told that Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams is a shoe-in to enter the draft, a bad move from our perspective.
– Two Arizona Wildcat defensive ends are getting rave reviews from NFL scouts. Brooks Reed, who’s been healthy this season, has been compared to former USC star Clay Matthews while Ricky Elmore, who is in the midst of a sensational season, is drawing comparisons to NFL Pro-Bowler Jared Allen.
– We’ll have more on these stories as well as breaking news on Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph in this week’s podcast, which should be posted Wednesday evening.