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ProFootballFocus, First Impressions of the First Round Picks
First Impressions: The Top Ten Rookies
August 13th, 2012 | Author: Ben Stockwell
Boundless enthusiasm and baseless optimism, it must be Week 1 of the preseason. It’s that time of year where fans cling to the hope that what has gone before either means everything or nothing. The past means nothing to the team that had the four-win season; they can be the team that goes from worst to first. It means everything to the team that won it all; they can join the pantheon of back-to-back Superbowl champions. It is indicative to the team that finished strong but fell short; they will take that next step this season. Everyone knows that this only pans out as planned for a few teams, but after the starvation of the off-season the sense of optimism is palpable.
Well the first week of preseason is in the books and it’s time to take a look back and reflect on the first impressions. Ten players have as much pressure and expectation on them as any, the first 10 selected in New York during April’s NFL Draft. In spite of past history suggesting it isn’t a sure thing these players are expected to turn around their franchise’s fortunes and lead them to the top, sooner rather than later.
These expectations are rarely realistic, but with baited breath we take a look at the first showing of these 10 heralded rookies, well those that saw the field anyway.
1. Andrew Luck
2. Robert Griffin III
For the last 12 months Robert Griffin III has been upstaging the more heralded Andrew Luck, winning the Heisman Trophy and stealing the headlines around the Draft as the Redskins paid a king’s ransom to select Griffin with the second overall pick. However in their first competitive action Luck exacted his revenge and after a solid debut against the Bills, Griffin was firmly upstaged when Luck played the Rams. Griffin looked solid enough for the Redskins however, so there’s no need to fret for Redskins fans. His first pass, an incompletion, might have been reviewed and overturned in season but after that he was for the most part given safe throws and he didn’t introduce any danger to them. If your first preseason game is there to find your feet in the NFL then Griffin should have done just that. We will wait to see more from Griffin in the coming weeks.
3. Trent Richardson
4. Matt Kalil
5. Justin Blackmon
6. Morris Claiborne
7. Mark Barron
8. Ryan Tannehill
After months of it being trendy to write Tannehill off and panning the Dolphins for reaching for him, it now appears to be trendy to say that the Dolphins should hurry him into action. The buzz around Tannehill’s preseason debut has been under the level of that relating to Luck and Griffin’s, but it could be easily argued that he was the second most impressive Top 10 pick in the opening week of exhibition. Tannehill got off to a rookie-esque start, capping a predictable run-run-pass play call with an overthrow to an out route. Outside of that one throw, a late speed out without the necessary velocity, which Tannehill forced, that might have been picked off for a touchdown by Anthony Gaitor, the rookie was on the money. He showed touch on deep throws, getting a pass over Marquese Wheaton on a long pass to Roberto Wallace in the third quarter and didn’t make a mess of his short passes, allowing the likes of Charles Clay to collect a lot of yardage after the catch.
Probably most impressive, however, was his passing against zone coverage. Considering his inexperience and the relative inexperience of his receivers, there were a number of passes completed to hitch routes against zone coverage, throwing receivers open from behind a defender. Such passes are often a mystery for young quarterbacks but Tannehill made them his own. There is an important note of caution here, Tannehill was going against the backups of what (until we see otherwise) is a miserable Tampa Bay starting defense. The Dolphins’ starting QB battle is heating up and Tannehill at least showed on Friday night that he cannot be ruled out as not being ready to step in immediately.
9. Luke Kuechly
10. Stephon Gilmore
The Remaining First Rounders
So many rookies, so little time. Well not for me anyway, as after Ben Stockwell watched each snap of the top 10 picks, I turned my attention to those who went between 11 and 32.
I’m not one for watching how guys perform against third stringers so I limited myself to watching every snap these young bucks played in the first half of games. Naturally I came away impressed by some, and not so impressed by others. So let’s take a look at what I observed.
The first wideout I got a look at was Michael Floyd who got on the field for nine first half snaps. On seven of these he ran routes (four of which were downfield) and was not targeted on any of these, while in the run game he looked less than happy to mix it with the bigger bodies.
I got a better handle on Kendall Wright. Now as a guy who doesn’t watch college football I was expecting a slot weapon, so imagine my surprise when he only lined up in the slot for two of his 28 first half snaps. He got open on more than one occasion, with the Seahawks more than happy to give him a big cushion, especially when their second team defense came in. The most interesting thing may have been that Tennessee actively ran to the opposite side he was on, and when he was put on his backside while attempting to block on a screen pass, it was easy to see why.
Defensive Ends and Outside Linebackers
I was eagerly anticipating watching Bruce Irvin after the shock his selection caused. He played 19 first half snaps, nearly all with the second team defense and with his hand always on the ground. He’s a very busy linemen, and was always looking to beat linemen with double moves. This nearly worked on Michael Roos, who bit on the outside move and then found himself being driven towards his QB on a screen pass. Did make a nice tackle for a loss with a quick first step that befuddled Mike Otto, but was largely subdued in the first half as Roos, Otto and particularly David Stewart got to grips with him.
It was a different story with Quinton Coples who was clearly out to impress. It looks like Muhammad Wilkerson is the new Shaun Ellis who will play the every down role, so Coples found himself on first and second down duty, playing 16 snaps where he spent the majority of time at defensive end in three or four man fronts. He started off by making life very hard for Andre Smith, showing a quick burst to beat him on his inside shoulder on more than one occasion, and demonstrated his power by standing up and moving back elite left tackle Andrew Whitworth. It wasn’t perfect as he seemed to visibly slow when left on the field for a number of snaps, but there’s some extra explosion to his game that you don’t see from other members of the Jets starting front seven, an impressive start.
Saving me some workload I was able to watch both Nick Perry and Melvin Ingram play when the Packers travelled to San Diego. I came away more impressed with Perry who dominated Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary, and had no problem overpowering tight ends when left one on one in the run game. Not really tested in coverage but neither man stood out in this regard, though Ingram was certainly asked to do this more. I was expecting an out and out edge rusher, but it’s clear he’ll spend a large part of his time dropping into coverage and interestingly came out in some nickel sets. Had the beating (power and speed) of Packers backup tackles which led to a hit causing an INT from Aaron Rodgers. Not a bad way to crown your debut.
As I watched Shea McClellin play I found myself irritated by the desire to promote him by the commentary duo. The truth is he got more pressure than any other rookie but did so against backups, and wasn’t without his flaws. He’s extremely active and always working to beat a tackle, and not afraid to chase plays down (it’s how he got his sack). But in the run game he has a way to go, as tight ends able to get the better of him, but if the Bears are going to use him as a situational rusher he could be in for a big year.
Over in New England Chandler Jones was making all sorts of headlines. But sometimes the headlines lie right? Well not so much here. Jermon Bushrod wasn’t up to the task of dealing with a guy who makes you draw comparison with Jason Pierre-Paul. A player with a relentless motor, even if Charles Brown had some joy slowing him down, he looks like an every down player who does a good job of reading where the run is going and reacting to it. A very exciting prospect and the best rookie I watched over the weekend.
The last pass rusher I saw in action was Whitney Mercilus who played with the second string Texans defense. He’s an interesting guy because it’s hard to see where his playing time is going to come from with two guys so entrenched ahead of him. He took his opportunity to flash his skill well though, lining up primarily on the weakside and picking up an impressive sack when he got the tackle upfield and cut in on his inside shoulder to bring Derek Anderson down. It will be interesting to see how Houston use him, with their two starters getting a lot of pressure courtesy of a scheme that gets people free as opposed to out and out beating tackles.
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