Rookie Watch: DeAndre Hopkins among rookie wideouts who impressed in Week 2
For first-year players who shined in Week 1, Week 2 was a “show-me” week, as in “Show me you can do it again.” The first week of the season tends to have all sorts of anomalies that make you raise an eyebrow, only to be forgotten as the season wears on.
The goal for young players in particular is to avoid being that short-term raised eyebrow, good or bad. Some rookies built on already-impressive starts to the season in Week 2, while others turned from dud to stud. And then there were some who had their coaches pulling out their hair.
Week 2 had much more good than bad from this rookie class, one that has already had a major impact on the early season. We saw receivers step up in big games, quarterbacks lead game-winning drives and corners get torched, or even benched. Find the full rookie breakdown below.
• The ACC in the AFC - Although the ACC isn’t a football powerhouse, some impact rookies from the coast lifted their teams to victory in Week 2. EJ Manuel led the Bills on a game-winning drive, going 27-of-39 for 296 yards with the go-ahead TD pass with just two seconds on the clock. The Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins took over late for Houston, catching seven passes for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown in OT. With Andre Johnson injured, Matt Schaub fed “Nuk” (pronounced like “nuke”) as if he were a Pro Bowl wideout, and the former Clemson star delivered. Not to be outdone, Giovani Bernard, a former North Carolina standout, scored twice on just nine touches, proving to be the difference as the Bengals beat up the Steelers Monday night.
• Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams - In the opener, St. Louis’ first-round pick caught six passes for 41 yards and failed to show the type of explosiveness we expected. Week 2 saw the former Morgantown speedster grab six passes for 47 yards — only a slight improvement. The big difference: The No. 9 pick found the end zone twice in Week 2 and even ran the ball twice, evidence that the Rams are finding ways to use their new dynamic playmaker. Both of Austin’s scores were from the slot, where he figures to be a matchup problem for defenses, and the second touchdown catch was an outstanding sideline grab where Austin created space on the boundary by laying out and keeping his feet in bounds.
• Cordarrelle Patterson WR, Minnesota Vikings - While Patterson has yet to find a groove in this passing attack — a difficult task given how abjectly terrible Christian Ponder has been — you like to see a rookie finding other ways to contribute. Coming out of Tennessee, Patterson was considered a highly unrefined prospect with seemingly limitless physical potential. His return skills helped the Vikings on the opening kickoff Sunday against the Bears as Patterson took the ball five yards out, made one cut and was off to the races, speeding 105 yards for the score on a track in Chicago that is notoriously slow. Just wait until he hits the turf in Minnesota.
Honorable Mention: Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers; Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals; Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona; Marlon Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens.
• David Amerson, CB, Washington Redskins - Following a forgettable season at North Carolina State, scouts questioned Amerson’s ability to play man coverage, even wondering if he ought to play safety. Those concerns appeared to be well-founded as Aaron Rodgers constantly targeted Amerson on Sunday and lit him up. All told, Amerson allowed five catches for 126 yards and a touchdown pass, which was called back on a penalty by the Packers. He even added a penalty of his own for good measure. Sure, Rodgers threw for 480 yards, so there was plenty of blame to go around the Washington secondary, but it wasn’t just coverage. Green Bay receivers ran for almost 300 of those 480 yards after the catch, meaning leaky coverage gave way to shoddy tackling, too.
• New England Patriots wide receivers - Somewhere Randy Moss must be feverishly texting his old pal Bill Belichick insisting he can still play. Yes, it was raining and awful on Thursday, and the Pats were facing a pretty good Jets defense, but Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were utterly insufficient. To be sure, Tom Brady missed more throws than you’d normally expect, but Dobson and Thompkins had ball after ball bounce off their hands and shoulders. When the drop fest was over, Patriots rookies had caught just 9-of-31 targets and worse yet, several drops came when they were open. In fact, Rex Ryan benched rookie corner Dee Milliner in the first half because Milliner was playing so poorly. Dobson, for his part, did have a touchdown catch, but was also saddled with three drops.
Honorable Mention: Steve Alford, CB, Atlanta Falcons; Dee Milliner, CB, New York Jets
• Jonathan Cyprien, S, Jacksonville Jaguars - You’re forgiven if you missed this game considering even local TV stations were apologizing for having to show it. Cyprien, a local kid from Florida International, was a fast-riser through the draft process and ended up going 33rd overall to the Jags. Cyprien is a fast, physical player who thrives coming downhill and making splash plays. He did that against the Raiders, forcing a fumble and finishing with 8 tackles to lead the team. To be sure, he’s closer to the ‘the good’ side of the spectrum, but Pro Football Focus graded him a -2.1 for a number of negative plays in run support, including being out of position and missing tackles on several long runs. Cyprien has the physical tools, but the jump up in competition level from FIU to the NFL has certainly been a major adjustment as his athletic ability is no longer enough on its own. Once he learns to trust the schemes and his instincts, he could be a nightmare for offenses.
• Datone Jones, DL, Green Bay Packers - Dom Capers appears to be easing the Pack’s first-round pick into the defense. Without C.J. Wilson on the active roster, the expectation was the Packers would play Jones in more than just the sub-packages he had been seeing previously. The 26th overall pick’s ability to rush the passer was supposed to be a key element for Green Bay’s defense, but on 18 pass-rush snaps — out of 40 Robert Griffin III dropbacks — Jones didn’t register a single pressure. The scheme can’t be blamed this week as the Packers were aggressively attacking RGIII with blitzes and pressure packages — as opposed to Week 1 where Green Bay played mostly contain against Colin Kaepernick. Coming off a badly sprained ankle, Jones isn’t yet 100 percent and the Packers tend to be cautious with injured players. Given that the former UCLA lineman’s biggest attribute is his quickness off the line, that ankle could be preventing him from showing his true ability.