Week 2 saw many rookies build on strong performances from Week 1, while others burst onto the scene after being nonexistent in the opening week. Chris Tripodi breaks down the notable rookie performances from the season’s second week.

Jahvid Best (RB-Det)

Through two games, Best is showing everybody why Jim Schwartz used to watch late-night highlight clips of the former Cal standout on YouTube. His two touchdowns in Week 1 masked an uneven 19-touch, 36-yard effort but a monster Day from Best kept Detroit in their Week 2 matchup with Philadelphia until the very end.

Best led the team with 17 rushes for 78 yards and 9 receptions for 154 yards, including a 75-yard screen pass that he took to the house. Best showed great patience waiting for his blocks to develop on the play and then turned on the jets to blow past the rest of the Eagles secondary to paydirt. He also displayed great vision and burst through the hole on a 14-yard draw play for his first of 3 touchdowns on Sunday and now has 5 touchdowns in his first two NFL games.

Best fell to 30th in this year’s draft due to concussion issues in his final two seasons at Cal and injuries seem to be the only thing that can stop him from becoming a star. His patience as a runner along with his natural gifts and ability to accelerate out of cuts make him a player that will give defensive coordinators fits for years, much like Tennessee’s Chris Johnson.

Demaryius Thomas (WR-Den)

Many questioned the Broncos’ decision to make Thomas the first wide receiver drafted with Dez Bryant still on the board, but Thomas played well in his first NFL game on Sunday, leading the Broncos with 8 receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas missed the season opener after re-aggravating a foot injury that required February surgery. He has drawn favorable comparisons to former Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall with his 6-3, 229-pound frame, sure hands and ability to make defenders miss after the catch and those abilities were on display against Seattle. Thomas beat Kelly Jennings on a go route for an easy 21-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, as Jennings fell down trying to stay with Thomas up the left sideline.

Thomas lacks the explosiveness of a player like Best but has the speed to get downfield once he gets moving. Like most young receivers his route-running needs work, but his talent is as unmistakable in the pros as it was in Georgia Tech’s triple-option system. The Marshall comparisons seem legitimate and Thomas definitely has the talent to be a number-one receiver down the line, if not this season.

Dez Bryant (WR-Dal)

Bryant came off the board two picks after Thomas, but many think he was the most talented receiver in this draft class. Draft Insider had him ranked ahead of Thomas but his off-the-field issues, including a year-long suspension at Oklahoma State after contact with Deion Sanders, caused him to drop into the late first round.

Bryant refused to carry veteran Roy Williams’ pads during training camp and then hurt his ankle, putting his season opener in doubt. But he returned to play against the Redskins and had 8 catches for 56 yards, following that up with a 2-catch, 56-yard performance against Chicago. Bryant showed his ability to impact a game in the return game as well, returning a punt 62 yards for a touchdown early in the game.

With the Cowboys offense struggling to find its identity, Bryant will have his ups and downs in coming weeks, if not all season. Like Thomas, he has good size (6-2, 217), strong hands and excellent ability after the catch but needs to polish his route-running and work on staying consistently focused. Look for him to improve every week and become one of Tony Romo’s most trusted targets by the end of the season.

Mike Williams (WR-TB)

If Williams can keep his head on straight as a pro, he might be the steal of the draft. After academic and suspension issues cost him most of his final two seasons at Syracuse, Williams slipped out of the top 100 and was taken by the Bucs at pick 101. Arguably a first-round talent, Williams has looked the part through two weeks this season.

Williams has a touchdown reception in each of the first two games along with 7 catches for 84 yards. He took advantage of a tipped ball in the endzone in Week 1 for his first score and showed off his playmaking ability with his touchdown on Sunday. Williams was on the receiving end of a crossing route from Josh Freeman and beat four defenders to the endzone with a quick burst up the middle and the power to bounce off two tacklers at the 5-yard-line.

At his best, Williams is a tough receiver with good hands and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. He isn’t a true deep threat but has the deceptive speed to separate from defenders and make plays down the field. If Williams stays focused on and off the field, he can have a very productive professional career.

Aaron Hernandez (TE-NE)

After two games, it looks like Hernandez is developing into Tom Brady’s go-to tight end over fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski, who was actually taken 71 picks earlier. Hernandez’s lone catch in Week 1 went for 45 yards but he had a big game against the Jets with 6 receptions for 101 yards, including a 46-yarder.

Hernandez is a limited interior blocker but his upside in the passing game is tantalizing. He may lack the speed to be a consistent deep threat from the tight end position but his ability after the catch in the open field will result in many big plays, like it has in the first two weeks of 2010. On both of Hernandez’s long catches, he showed great vision and cutback ability following his blocks downfield. He also picks up positive yardage despite a tendency to go east and west rather than north and south.

Hernandez releases well off the line, runs sharp routes, has excellent balance and body control and shows soft hands. He has made big plays in both games so far this season and should be expected to make many more this season.

Trent Williams (LT-Was)

After being drafted 4th overall by the Redskins, Williams is the only first-round pick currently starting at left tackle in the NFL. He held his own against DeMarcus Ware in Week 1, allowing just one sack and showing ability in both run and pass blocking. But Week 2 was a different story for the rookie.

A matchup with Mario Williams resulted in three sacks for Houston’s All-Pro defensive end, who had a field day with the raw rookie. Trent Williams also injured his knee in the fourth quarter, but suffered no structural damage and it’s unknown if he will play in Week 3.

Williams has good strength and moves well along the line and up to the second level but needs to smooth out the rough edges in his game to reach his upside. He will have the chance to learn on the job in Washington and has the potential to be a very good left tackle down the line, but could be a liability in the meantime, especially against the top-tier pass rushers he will face on the left side while he adjust to the NFL game.

Ndamukong Suh (DT-Det)

Along with Jahvid Best, the second overall pick in April’s draft has Lions fans very excited for the future. Suh has recorded a sack in each of his first two professional games, recorded 8 tackles against the Eagles after just one against the Bears and is already drawing attention from multiple opposing linemen on most plays.

Suh is a game changer along the defensive line and is nearly impossible for one opponent to handle. He is strong and dominant at the point of attack and sheds blocks laterally to chase down running plays. He showed off his intensity and nasty streak in the preseason when he yanked Jake Delhomme’s facemask and tossed him to the ground, a play that resulted in a hefty fine but also showed the fire Lions fans must love to see from their top draft pick.

Sean Weatherspoon (LB-Atl)

The Falcons first-round pick out of Missouri has stepped in as the starting strong side linebacker in Atlanta and already has 17 tackles in his first two games. Weatherspoon also added a sack against the Cardinals and has made an immediate impact defensively for the Falcons.

His size (6-1, 239) was the major knock on Weatherspoon out of college and had many, including Draft Insider, projecting him as a more productive weak side linebacker. But Weatherspoon has held his own in the early season, showing a nose for the football and sure tackling ability. If he can continue to improve his ability to play the inside run, his sideline-to-sideline speed and overall athleticism will be a nightmare for offensive coordinators around the league.

9/21/10 Edition

9/21/10 Edition

The Weekend Watcher returns with plenty falling within his realm.

The contests viewed this past weekend contain two potentially elite quarterback prospect breakdowns, tough line play, and even more quick hits.

Sample Brent Sobleski’s, TFY’s Head Scout, inner thoughts as he breaks down multiple games and players.

NFL prospects and their standing ebb and flow each and every week as they display promise or disappoint.

Without further adieu…

Already discussing two of the top quarterback prospects in the previous installments (found HERE & HERE); it would only be fair to analyze two more names which have worked their way to the top of the heap.

Starting in Athens via Fayetteville, Ryan Mallett’s pure natural ability is tantalizing.

The Arkansas product has the strongest arm in the nation.  His deep ball is mesmerizing. Nearing 6-feet-7-inches tall and 240 pounds, Mallett possesses prototype NFL measureables. And he is far from lumbering behind center.

The number one concern with his play entering this season was a lack of overall touch. A year ago, Mallett finished with a completion percentage under 56. While not terrible, it did not highlight his tremendous struggles especially against the better defenses on the Razorback’s 2009 schedule. More than half his games saw his percentage dip below 53 percent. Entering this year it was a questioned if Mallett could become more of a pure passer than just a rifled armed thrower.

The Ryan Mallett seen against Georgia this past weekend, particularly in the first half, was a quarterback who has obviously grown as a passer.

Through the first and second quarters, the large signal caller was effectively taking what the defense was giving instead of continually trying to press the ball downfield. Finishing 13 for 17 before halftime was a tremendous step in the right direction.  Mallett was making the correct reads, generally hitting his targets in stride, and started to look potentially like a number one overall level prospect.

Then the second half hit. And the thought had to be floating through many scouts’ collective consciousness, “Here we go again.” Starting 5 for 13 from the third into the late fourth quarters, Mallett’s previously described struggles began anew. Open receivers were being missed. Initial reads were being stared down. In fact the Georgia Bulldogs should have intercepted two terrible throws when the Arkansas quarterback never checked down and still decided to throw the football into good coverage. Luckily for the Razorbacks, defenders play defense for a reason and the two particular passes mentioned fell harmlessly to the ground after bouncing off Bulldog paws.

Mallett’s growth did continue in the final minutes of the game. After a mostly horrid second half performance, the quarterback finally showed some gumption never previously seen previous in his career. Entering the game in Athens, Mallett had yet to earn a road victory in the SEC. And it appeared Georgia had all the momentum late. The big gunslinger stepped up, completed three straight passes, and drove his team to a touchdown to win the game in its waning moments. Finally, Mallett displayed the fortitude to step up and lead his team to victory in a difficult situation.

As a prospect there will continue to be concerns for Ryan Mallett, but this past Saturday was a step in the right direction.

Up front, Arkansas had issues.

Tackle prospect DeMarcus Love was highly regarded entering this season according to certain scouting services.  It was a bit perplexing based off his 2009 film as Love was far too often caught over his toes and top heavy.

Love looked like a different prospect against Georgia compared to a season ago.  The previous statement is not entirely positive.

Arkansas adjusts their offensive line according to strength call. Love clearly looked much more comfortable at right tackle than on the blindside. At right tackle, the lineman had a deeper kick step and slid more naturally in his pass set than manning left tackle.   Overall, he had his struggles in pass protection most of the day being caught off balance multiple times.

While run blocking Love winds up far too much upon initial contact. Instead of a strong initial short punch, the tackle looks like a bird preparing for flight just prior to engaging a defender. This causes a lineman to lead with his helmet, forcing issues with balance, and maintaining blocks.

At the very least, Love did not play as top heavy as previously seen.

On the opposite side of the field, the play of two Arkansas defensive linemen was intriguing.

Damario Ambrose and Alfred Davis are two very different players, but both of their skill sets are quite effective.

Ambrose is a 6-feet-5-inches tall and 270 pound defensive end who is just as effective getting up field as he is dropping off in coverage.  As such the team used him as a hybrid edge player against the Bulldogs. His presence was certainly felt with two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble.

As a pure pass rusher, the senior has the athleticism and quickness to beat tackles off the snap, but he appeared to lack the ankle inflection and body lean to shorten the edge consistently.

Davis is the plugger in the middle of the Razorbacks’ defense. At 6-feet-1-inch tall and a listed 326 pounds [maybe closer to 340], he is the poster boy for the term ‘widebody’.  Davis is hard to uproot out of the middle of the defense and creates opportunities for his linebackers and edge players.

Asking the redshirt sophomore to be anything more than a two down player, at this point in his career, would be a stretch.

Two highly touted teams from the Big Ten both met Arizona based programs this past weekend.

Starting with Iowa’s trip to Arizona and subsequent defeat at the hands of the Wildcats, quarterback Nick Foles should be entering the conversation as a top prospect in his own right. Mike Stoops’ leading signal caller stepped in as the team’s starter in this very same game a year ago and has yet to relinquish the duties, playing at a very high level.

It would not be out of the line to start discussing this less heralded PAC Ten prospect above the likes of Jake Locker and in the same breath of Andrew Luck and the previously discussed Ryan Mallett.

Already possessing prototype size at 6-feet-5-inches tall and 245 pounds, Foles’ greatest asset is his uncanny accuracy. A year ago the Arizona prospect completed nearly 64 percent of his passes, a very good number in its own right. Currently, the junior is completing his pass attempts at a ridiculous 79 percent clip.  While the Wildcats’ schedule has included Toledo and Citadel early, Iowa’s defense is one of the best in the country.  A defense Foles still completed over 70 percent against.

As young quarterback with only 14 career starts under his belt currently, there are still concerns which he can rectify within his development.

For example Foles’ accuracy overall is fantastic, but it drops tremendously if a defense forces him off his initial read.

Second, his arm strength is suspect after watching a prospect like Ryan Mallett earlier in the day (whose isn’t?). The issue appears be derived from a lack of arm speed on his release and less than ideal rotations spinning the football.

Arizona has done Foles a favor this past off season hiring a quarterback’s coach, Frank Schelfo, to work purely on the junior’s mechanics and technique. This is an advantage many at the same level do not possess.

But when the game was all said and done, and a victory was on the line, Foles’ blood was ice cold lacing a precision pass into the back of the endzone that would have made any NFL quarterback proud.  It seemed destined to be tipped by the four or five Hawkeyes it passed, yet found its way softly into the open arms of a ‘Zona receiver for the winning score.

Much like his contemporaries, Foles is not an infallible prospect but his continued growth along his personal learning curve presents high potential leaning towards becoming a top quarterback prospect.

Defensive line was considered a strength of Iowa’s entering the game, but it was Arizona’s front which controlled parts of the game.

Brooks Reed, in particular, played impressively. Iowa has churned out offense line prospect after offensive line prospect.  Junior Riley Reiff appears to be the next along their assembly line to become a solid to very good product. Reiff struggled to handle Reed throughout the entire contest.  Reed played with leverage, strength, and tenacity throughout causing Iowa headaches with his five tackles and 1.5 quarterback sacks. Against the pass the defensive end displayed a speed rush, a bull rush, a spin, a rip…all the moves required to be effective. Reed may not wow with top notch athleticism off the edge, but he could easily fall in the same mold of a Kyle VandenBosch or Aaron Kampmann at the next level.

Reed’s counterpart, and the highly ranked, Adrian Clayborn was a non-factor because of the attention Arizona paid to Iowa’s end. Clayborn was shut down throughout most of the contest facing relentless double teams and chip blocks from the running backs and tight ends.  Senior left tackle, Adam Grant also played outside of his means.

Meanwhile, Clayborn’s less heralded (yet potentially more talented) teammate Christian Ballard also had his struggles. Ballard’s biggest issues, both figuratively and literally, were facing the near 360 pound junior Vaughn Dotsy. The guard’s lateral movement is very suspect but he was able to engage Ballard multiple times, overwhelming the defensive lineman, or turning and walling him off very effectively.  Ballard would start to figure it out at the end, using his agility to catch Dotsy off balance; but it may have been too little too late.  Ballard was much more effective lined up as a one technique or even five technique instead of over the outside shoulder of Arizona’s massive blocker.

Arizona’s in-state rival traveled north to face Wisconsin with the Sun Devils coming up just short of beating the highly ranked Badgers.

Wisconsin running back John Clay receives most of the attention, but his NFL prospectus is suspect. Clay is a massive downhill runner with freight train ability. At 6-feet-1-inch tall and near 260 pounds, he is intimidating at the college level especially when Wisconsin runs him behind their 300 plus pound fullback. But like most oversized backs, Clay struggles accelerating into the hole and moving laterally. If a hole does not open automatically, this runner had to gear down completely and could not regain his momentum.  If a defense can create some disruption up front, Clay can and will become a non factor. Arizona State was not that type of defense, and Clay posted 125 yards rushing.

Whereas his running mate, Montee Ball, may have not tallied impressive stats (far from it), but his explosiveness into and through the hole was evident.  Ball may be considered little compared to Clay, but the back-up still pounds away at 238 biscuits.

The power running game would not be effective without Wisconsin’s dominant offensive line.

Gabe Carimi leads the pack.  As a prospect, the senior left tackle appears different upon initial viewing this year compared to previous seasons. As a pass blocker, Carimi did not display the smooth and deep kick step seen as a sophomore or junior.  Instead the blindside protector relied heavily on a short power step up initial movement.

Physically Carimi was developed as well, looking more stout and thick. The tackle has admitted to big gains in the weight room this off season.

These changes are likely the result of struggling against the bull rush previously in his career.

Arizona State was dominated and pushed around up front by Wisconsin’s massive offensive line.

Stud sophomore Vontaze Burfict had his struggles taking on and defeating blocks.  Though it was obvious how talented this yet to be eligible draft prospect is when watching him run sideline to sideline.  His ability to get downhill, not allowing backs space on the edge may be the best seen since Patrick Willis.

Junior cornerback Omar Bolden is also a talented defender that made his presence known throughout this contest.

Quick Hits

-         Jake Locker’s athleticism and potential will likely keep him in the first round mix, but his play against Nebraska’s tough defense exposed the lack of the Washington quarterback’s progression in Coach Sarkisian’s offense.

-         Chris Neild is the nation’s most technically sound zero technique.  Unfortunately, WVU’s nose tackle barely tips the scales at 300 pounds.

-         Noel Devine should benefit greatly from the advance of spread offenses in the NFL and the usage of smallish playmakers.  The Mountaineer’s acceleration is second to none.

-         Robert Sands continues to have issues with a shoulder that he aggravated in WVU’s comeback victory against Marshall, and the safety’s lackluster play has been a direct result.

-         Davin Meggett is not cut from the same cloth of his father and former NFL star, Dave Meggett. The son is arguably the best running back currently on Maryland’s roster over a highly touted Da’Rel Scott because of his ability to run down hill and stick his nose in as a blocker.

-         Zach Collaros desperately needs to run the ball more. New Cincinnati Coach Butch Jones wants you to be more like Dan LeFevour at quarterback, not Tony Pike.

Remember…the eye in the sky does not lie, and the Watcher sees all.

NFL Draft notes and news after the third week of the college season.  Will Andrew Luck stay at Stanford?  What about head coach Jim Harbaugh?  Was there a silver lining for some of the Cal Bears despite the drudging they took at the hands of Nevada?  This plus more news today and throughout the week.

- Sources have told us Andrew Luck and family members are being coy about where the Stanford passer will be playing football next year.  Right now those intimate with the situation feel Luck will enter the ’11 draft, baring an unforeseen disaster.  We will have much more on the situation during our Wednesday night podcast.

- Its’ still early to talk about the coaching carousel in the NFL but people we’ve spoken with think Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh will be the front runner for the San Diego Chargers job if Norv Turner’s team does not make it deep into the playoffs.

- The Cal defense got pushed around by Nevada on Friday night, yet many came away impressed with Bear lineman Cameron Jordan.  Those on hand scouting the game told us when Jordan lined up as a three-technique tackle Nevada could not run on the inside.  When Jordan lined up at end it was a different story.  This versatility will only enhance Jordan’s stock.

- These same people did not come away from the game impressed by Nevada’s Dontay Moch.  The highly rated player with impressive speed is great off the edge yet many think his instincts and awareness are suspect.  The feeling is the 6-foot, 1-inch, 238-pound Moch will struggle at linebacker, the position NFL scouts project him to.

- One WAC defender gaining traction in the scouting community is Idaho safety Shiloh Keo.  Scouts have compared the seniors open field tackling skills to those of Troy Polamalu’s.

- Ryan Mallett played well in the win over Georgia on Saturday but its’ crystal clear he must work on his pass placement.  Mallett missed a number of wide open receivers in the game because of poor passes.

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