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Chris Tripodi is back to break down the performances of more NFL rookies through the first quarter of the season after taking an extended look at some early-round draft picks and getting his first look at a few others.
Ryan Mathews (RB-SD)
The second running back off the board in April’s draft, Mathews has been slowed early in his rookie season by an ankle injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Jaguars. He was eased back into action this week with 9 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown, most of them coming in the second half when the Chargers had the game in hand.
After a solid week 1 where he ran for 78 yards on 20 carries, Mathews was hurt after just 5 carries against Jacksonville and missed San Diego’s Week 3 matchup with the Seahawks. After this week’s win against Arizona, Norv Turner committed to Mathews as his featured back as he works his way back to full strength despite the effectiveness of backup Mike Tolbert, as his injury has stunted Mathews’ development early in his rookie season.
Mathews’ isn’t a burner or a bruiser but has the speed, power and receiving ability to be a suitable replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson, who has thrived so far this season with the Jets after being let go by San Diego in the offseason. Look for Mathews’ workload to increase in the coming weeks as long as he stays healthy and outperforms Tolbert.
David Nelson (WR-Buf)
An undrafted rookie out of Florida, Nelson opened some eyes this week against the Jets with 4 catches for 75 yards, including a 37-yarder. Sitting fourth on the depth chart in Buffalo, he had gone without a catch in his previous two games after catching three balls in the opener.
Nelson was a longshot to make the team out of camp but has the size (6-5, 214) and hands to be a productive possession receiver at the NFL level. He does the little things well, running crisp routes and helping running backs get extra yardage with his terrific blocking ability down the field. However, Nelson lacks the speed to stretch the field and won’t be more than a fourth or fifth receiver in the future unless he plays to his size and develops into a more reliable red-zone option.
Jermaine Gresham (TE-Cin)
Four games into his rookie campaign, Gresham is already developing into one of Carson Palmer’s favorite targets in the short passing game. The first-round pick from Oklahoma is third on the team with 18 receptions and 134 yards after missing his senior season with a knee injury.
Gresham is a raw talent who was a very effective downfield receiver with the Sooners. His blocking leaves a lot to be desired and he has a tendency to lose focus, but has the potential to wreak havoc on linebackers and safeties once gets back to full strength and figures out the nuances of the NFL game.
Once he starts creating more separation downfield and catching the eye of Palmer, he should be able to stretch defenses and put up better yardage numbers than he has early on. But with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens dominating the downfield looks, that may be easier said than done this season for Gresham.
Gerald McCoy (DT-TB)
Another Oklahoma product, McCoy was one of two defensive tackles drafted in the top three. While second overall pick Ndamukong Suh has put up gaudy numbers through four games including 15 tackles and 3 sacks, McCoy has just 5 tackles and no sacks in three games for Tampa Bay.
But his stats don’t measure the impact he has had on the Tampa defensive line. McCoy is already a focus of opponents’ gameplans, drawing consistent double-teams since the season’s first week and even facing a few triple teams in Week 2 against Carolina.
McCoy may never be the game-changing presence that Suh already is, but he has the potential to be one of the better interior linemen in the league as he continues to develop. He won’t put up big tackle or sack numbers, but defensive tackle is one position where stats rarely tell the whole story and McCoy will continue to draw lots of attention from offensive coordinators around the league.
Joe Haden (CB-Cle)
The Browns’ first-round pick out of Florida, Haden is doing his best to break into the Cleveland starting lineup. Eric Wright remains the starter opposite Sheldon Brown but Wright had his share of troubles covering Anquan Boldin in Week 3.
Haden had 6 tackles and a pass defensed against the Bengals on Sunday but ended up on the ground trying to cover Owens on a deep out late in the second quarter. Haden was slow out of his plant, dove to break up the pass and missed, allowing Owens to run free for extra yardage. That wasn’t the only play he was beat on, either.
While Haden has had a few growing pains he represents the future for the Browns at corner, but with the team sitting at 2-2 he won’t break into the starting lineup until the coaching staff feels he’s ready. With everybody else in the Cleveland secondary getting burnt as well, Haden’s opportunity to start may still come soon despite his own uneven play.
Alterraun Verner (CB-Ten)
Replacing the injured Jason McCourty on Sunday, Verner played well in his first career start with 11 tackles and 3 passes defensed.
We had Verner rated as a second-round prospect coming out of UCLA, but he fell to the Titans in round four. What he lacks in top-end speed and size he makes up for with good awareness, instincts and physicality in both the running game and the passing game. While Verner had lots of chances to make plays against the Broncos, he also got beat for an early touchdown. Lined up on Eddie Royal in the slot, he couldn’t get outside quick enough to break up the pass as he was picked coming across the field.
McCourty’s injured forearm will likely require surgery, meaning Verner will start opposite Cortland Finnegan for the foreseeable future. If he can build on his performance Sunday, he may keep the job for the rest of the season and beyond.
Perrish Cox (CB-Den)
Cox got his second straight start in place of the injured Andre Goodman on Sunday and struggled at points, like he did against the Colts in his first start. Cox looked overwhelmed covering Austin Collie and was picked apart by Peyton Manning, allowing a touchdown to undrafted rookie Blair White. He had three tackles and four passes defensed in the game, but much of that was a result of Manning constantly looking to exploit Cox’s inexperience.
Cox also muffed a punt in Week 3 and was replaced in that role by Eddie Royal. Demaryius Thomas took over for Cox as the team’s primary kick returner as well and to say it hasn’t been a good two weeks for Cox would be an understatement. He didn’t fare much better this week against the Titans, getting beat by Kenny Britt for a touchdown on a crossing route.
If Goodman is able to return in Week 5, Cox will be sent back to the bench and see time only in nickel and dime packages. It’s pretty obvious he needs more polish before developing into a starter, but the potential is there for him to be an effective second corner down the line.
Taylor Mays (S-SF)
Mays got the start in Week 4 over Michael Lewis and played like he wanted to keep the job, leading the team with 11 tackles and scoring a touchdown on special teams. Lewis had just 10 tackles in the team’s first three games and was released on Monday.
Mays’ touchdown came when he caught a blocked punt in the Falcons end zone, displaying impressive footwork to tap his toes inbounds and hang onto possession. Not known for his hands or ball skills, this was a big play for Mays in his first career start. He was heavily involved in run support, something that should be expected out of him on a week-to-week basis.
Many thought Mays was a first-round talent but he fell into the second round in April’s draft due to questions about his ability in coverage. Mays is great playing near the line of scrimmage and has good straight-line speed, but plays stiff and struggles getting out to the flanks and playing center field in pass defense. It remains to be seen whether he can cover well enough to round out his game and become one of the league’s better all-around safeties, but Mays is a big hitter who will always have an impact in the running game.
The Watcher returns to oversee a wonderful weekend of college football.
His all-seeing ways concentrate on the juicy match-ups seen at the Red River Shootout, Stanford v. Oregon, and Miami in Death Valley.
Head Scout Brent Sobleski channels his inner omnipotent being to bring you just some of the observations made from the past weekend’s games.
Texas may be the most talented defense top to bottom in the nation. So, it must be maddening for ‘Horn fans to see opponents seemingly run roughshod over their team and can now be counted amongst the unranked masses. A struggling UCLA spotted 34 points by using the pistol to overrun a stunned Texas squad. Oklahoma had their way offensively early in the Red River Shootout. It is somewhat surprising considering there is multiple NFL caliber talents at every level of the unit.
Defensive lineman Sam Acho has become this year’s focal point of opposing offenses. Despite a similar physical profile to former end prospects, Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle, at 6-feet-3-inches tall and 260 pounds; Acho plays and is used differently within Defensive Coordinator’s Will Muschamp’s scheme.
The senior does not present the same type of explosion as the previously stated edge rushers. Against the Sooners the team came out in a three man front which counted S. Acho among its five techniques instead of standing from a two point predominantly rushing the passer. A large reason as to why pertains to Acho being better than those already mentioned, and those currently on his unit, against the run. He plays with good leverage, shoots his hands, gets extension, works his way laterally down the line, and is tougher to move than the rest of his undersized unit mates as evidenced by eating up multiple double teams.
A downfall of this two gap approach is seeing Acho underutilized as a rusher. He was most often seen slow playing the run in a read and react fashion. Texas even likes to move him inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. It hampered his play for three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Acho was unleashed to a degree. After sitting back and allowing another offense to pick them apart, Muschamp went in a different direction attempting to slow down Oklahoma’s impressive quick hit offense and rattled their talented young signal caller, Landry Jones.
Acho was able to garner multiple pressures from both the defensive tackle and end spots finally registering a quarterback sack on the first play in the fourth quarter via a simple speed rush off the right side of the defense. Inside, the defender used his hands well to avoid being overcome by bigger offensive lineman. Outside, his rush was inconsistent based on the defensive scheme but came alive when asked to do so.
Upon reviewing the Oklahoma tape, Sam Acho is not the presence which dictates the type of attention needed from an NFL caliber edge rusher. With that said he could be a valuable asset as both a versatile defender with talent and a locker room presence. It should be noted the upperclassman is an outstanding student with top notch character which many NFL teams shall look favorably.
On the day the most impressive Longhorn, if not simply the most active, was the little brother of Sam Acho, Emmanuel Acho. Emmanuel fits the role his brother was likely expected to play as the edge setter on the strong side of the defense from a two point stance.
Not possessing quite the same size as big brother, Emmanuel is about an inch shorter and twenty pounds lighter. But the linebacker clearly makes up what he lacks in size with athleticism and hustle.
Throughout the afternoon, the junior was seen effectively stacking and shedding blockers and always flying around the football to make plays. He can drop back in coverage as well, but is rarely used as a pass rusher.
As Texas football progresses into next season and the Sam backer grows physically, Emmanuel Acho will quickly be on the tip of the tongue of every opponent and scout.
Keenan Robinson is another very athletic junior linebacker along the second level, but must learn to play more disciplined arriving at the football with proper angles and filling his gap responsibilities from the weakside.
In the secondary the Longhorns have three NFL caliber cornerbacks. At times it is hard to decipher which one is which, but as one watches their play trends begin to appear. Aaron Williams is the most talented of the three displaying the best all around game: a willing tackler, good locating the football in the air, and runs well with assignments. Chykie Brown is the most physical of the lot. He loved to jam Sooner targets at the line of scrimmage using his long reach and size, but struggled when asked to open up his hips and readjust to routes. Curtis Brown had his issues due mainly to a lack of foot speed and recovery ability. Cu.Brown was beaten over the top on multiple occasions. Each will find a home in the professional ranks next year, but the talent between the three is starting to separate.
It should be noted quickly, Texas running back D.J. Monroe displayed unbelievable speed and burst on the team’s initial touchdown gallop. The smallish runner was a former track star in high school, and his speed pops off the film.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma has a feared defender as well. Jeremy Beal was more of a presence rushing the passer for the Sooners than his Texas counterparts.
Unlike the aforementioned S. Acho, Beal did show the ability to bend the edge getting to the quarterback. This defensive end consistently used his hands to swat opposing offensive linemen. He effectively ripped underneath numerous times. And the senior displayed the body lean essential to really get underneath blockers and shorten the porch.
Consistency during the Shootout became a concern while watching Beal. Backside pursuit was generally non-existent. Once stymied after initial blow, the end would shut down his pass rush and simply look in the backfield hoping to knock down a pass. Basically, if Beal was not directly involved in a play, his motor would shut down. If he was involved, he was tough to block. But it should be noted as a concern regarding a prospect with potential first round ability.
Moving on past one highly anticipated matchup into the ranks of another, the Oregon Ducks flew past Stanford Saturday evening to the dismay of Cardinal Coach Jim Harbaugh and his top notch quarterback prospect, Andrew Luck.
Watching college football intently the past two weekends and grading out the top NFL quarterback prospects, both Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett fell flat in their marquee matchups of their respective seasons.
Luck was no different.
Initially, the sophomore signal caller appeared poised and in complete control. It is obvious, in stretches, as to why so many believe he is the one elite quarterback prospect in this upcoming draft class.
The Stanford product manipulates safeties, quickly works through his progression, hits receivers in stride, and spins the football very well. He is also quite athletic and mobile while possessing prototypical size (6-feet-4-inches tall and 235 pounds).
All these factor favorably into becoming a top quarterback prospect, potentially the number one overall selection, and being able to make the transition from one level to the next.
When discussing Luck three week ago, it was mentioned he has some issues with technique; particularly distributing his weight properly threw his throwing motion. It is still a concern, and it appears to effect his arm strength at times. As a result, his deep passes tended to float.
Two drafts ago Mark Sanchez became the apple of the NFL’s eye as the top quarterback prospect in a weak draft class. Sanchez was perceived to have arm strength issues. What seperated the USC product was his ability to explode through his hips and really deliver the football despite average arm strength.
Luck does not have the same type of hip turn as a Sanchez, which can actually be construed as a positive. Nor does he display ample arm speed delivering the football.
The things mentioned regarding his game previously, and again today, are correctable. Timing, accuracy, and pocket presence, all traits he does possess, are not.
The biggest concern leaving the game against Oregon is twofold. The Ducks were able to apply pressure, Luck became rattled, and forced some ill-advised throws. Also, the inability of the perceived best quarterback in the nation to bring his team back after momentum swung inversely. These are the areas of his game which will need greater scrutiny as the season progresses.
Snapping the ball to Luck is one of the best pivots in the nation, Chase Beeler. Although an afterthought entering the season due to physical limitations at a listed 6-feet-3-inches tall and 285 pounds; Beeler is the type of center that can find a way into the the NFL. He is technically sound, firing off the ball with quick hands and leverage. A three year starter, two at center, give him experience leading the offensive line and making calls. Beeler is the leader of a nasty and pilemoving offensive line often dubbed the best in the country.
Fighting off Stanford’s hogs all evening was Oregon middle linebacker Casey Matthews. Another in a long line of great football lineage, this incarnation is not the presence his father or brother once were along the second line of defense. Against Stanford mixed results became present.
When allowed to roam free, Matthews played down hill aggressively slashing through his gap responsbilities making tackles. When asked to take on blockers, he was overwhelmed and overmatched. One play in particular stuck out as Stanfords highly rated fullback, Owen Marecic, rudely deposited the Mike backer on his behind during an isolation play.
Matthews is a solid football player but appears limited in his abilities as an NFL prospect.
Entering the season TFY Draft Insider graded redshirt sophomore guard Carson York as the top prospect currently eligible within the Ducks’ roster. Upon further review the grade was certainly warranted. York consistently plays with a low pad level. He is quite athletic, nimbly moving laterally with ease. He gets extension upon contact. A potentially premiere zone blocking prospect down the road for teams which employ a particular scheme and require interior linemen. York’s one concern will be improving on functunal playing strength as his career commences. Because of the Oregon’s predominant zone read system, the guard is not required to blow defenders off the football. Against Stanford’s physical play, York often stopped his feet upon contact and attempted to wall off his assignments instead of really uprooting them. At 6-feet-5-inches tall and a listed 286 pounds, the interior blocker still has time to grown into his frame and improve on all areas of his game.
Time to finish where the weekend viewing began in Death Valley, as the Miami Hurricanes defeated Clemson 30-21.
Defensive end Allen Bailey has worked his way into almost every top ten overall conversation. And the discussion has clearly been validated. Bailey played lights out against Ohio State earlier in the year and has gotten better week in and week out. Physically, Bailey is a legitimate top ten talent, which is without question. At 6-feet-4-inches tall and 285 pounds, the latest Miami defensive stud has the athleticism to effectively play defensive end and the strength to play inside at tackle. His long arms and quickness make him hard to handle for either guard or offensive tackle.
Quickly diving into this game, two bad habits were presented by Bailey. First is a propensity to try and shoot the gap and then backdoor running plays instead of correctly working across the face of a blocker and maintaining gap control. Second is losing contain, at times, when playing outside on the end. Neither are issues with ability, but rather mental breakdowns. Small gripes while nitpicking a top talent.
Sticking with the theme of highly athletic defender, junior Sean Spence is arguably the most athletic linebacker in the nation and runs better than some safties and cornerbacks. He is overly aggressive playing downhill, moves well enough to cover tight ends and even some receivers in the slot, but will overrun his responsibilities and get caught out of position.
Clemson’s dynamic defensive duo, Da’Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins were not much of a presence, and disappointed in their play. Bowers struggled against talented and experienced offense tackles, while Jenkins played up field far too much generally neutralized in his gap assignments.
That is it for another week!
Remember…the eye in the sky does not like, and the Watcher sees all.