Rookie Watch: Keenan Allen, Joseph Fauria break out in Week 6
With the seemingly unending carnage in training camps, when every day someone new was being carted off the field, it should have been obvious that rookies from a deep draft class were going to play a major role in the 2013 season.
No, there are no Andrew Luck’s or Robert Griffin III’s, and that’s fine. It appears just about every team hit on at least one early impact player, and many teams have a slew of them.
More players break out every week and Week 6 was no exception. Andre Ellington ignited a stagnant Cardinals offense and should get more snaps as the season wears on. An undrafted tight end with NFL roots was the difference for Detroit, as Joseph Fauria scored a trio of touchdowns against the Browns.
Buffalo added to an already stellar draft class with a breakout game from Marquise Goodwin — a track athlete still learning how to play. And speaking of receivers, Keenan Allen looks like a bonafide No. 1 receiver after he torched the Colts Monday night, not to mention Kenbrell Thompkins caught the game-winner from Tom Brady in New England’s wild comeback win over the Saints. That being said, we’re still waiting on players like Tavon Austin ( one catch, 3 yards Sunday) and Jarvis Jones to figure the NFL game out.
• NFC running backs: Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy led this group with 120 yards on 23 carries against one of the best front sevens in football. Lacy tallied 99 yards against Detroit the week prior and is establishing himself in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race (see below for more). The man Lacy is chasing on that list is Giovanni Bernard, who finished with 100 yards on 21 touches and this scintillating 18-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Ellington added some juice to the Cardinals backfield with 92 yards on just 12 touches. Somehow he’s still getting fewer carries than Rashard Mendenhall. Expect that to change in a hurry. And the best offensive rookie for the Rams in Week 6 wasn’t the underwhelming Tavon Austin, but rather fifth-round running back Zac Stacy. The Vanderbilt product, still listed on the official team depth chart as the third running back, ran the ball 18 times for 79 yards. No other back carried it more than three times, which means that depth chart will change in a hurry.
• Pair of playmaking linebackers: Kiko Alonso has been on this list basically every week this season, and he’s now positioned himself as a top candidate for both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defense Player of the Year. With a whopping 22 tackles against the Bengals, Alonso showed his incredible instincts and closing burst. He now leads the league tackles and is tied for the league lead in interceptions. Meanwhile, Alec Ogletree is backing up his coach, who said the Georgia product would be the Rams’ version of Patrick Willis. Ogletree leads St. Louis in tackles and is second in the NFL in forced fumbles. He had another 10 tackles against Houston to go along with an incredible pick-six of (no, not Matt Schaub) T.J. Yates.
• West coast targets: Keenan Allen, a Cal product, and Joseph Fauria, who starred at UCLA, both jump-started their respective offenses this week. It began last week for Allen who had six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in the late, late game against the Raiders. He followed that up with a monster game against Indy, to the tune of nine catches, 107 yards and a touchdown. He also had another score slide off his fingers on a poorly thrown ball from Philip Rivers. Fauria’s rise is much less likely as he was undrafted and figured to see little time behind incumbents Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler. Instead, Fauria — not Calvin Johnson — has been getting the lion’s share of red-zone targets, becoming something of a touchdown savant. Check out his season stats: seven catches, 66 yards, five touchdowns. In his first ever start on Sunday against Cleveland, Fauria had three catches for 34 yards, all three resulting in scores.
• Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets: In what has become standard for the rookie quarterback, Smith went from hero to zero in a week. After playing his best game as a pro against the Falcons, Smith looked lost and confused by what had been a struggling Steelers defense. The stats were bad — 13-of-34 with two picks — and if it’s possible, he played even worse than those numbers suggest. Pittsburgh was finally able to get some pressure, and the rookie from West Virginia didn’t respond well at all. Smith was inaccurate most of the game and while he does have a motley crew of skill position players, managing just six points at home after a huge win on the road just isn’t going to cut it. The good news for Jets fans? Given how up-and-down his season has been this year, Geno should play great this week against New England.
• Top-10 offensive lineman: It has not been a good start to the season for the elite offensive linemen in the 2013 class. Luke Joeckel struggled before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Jonathan Cooper has yet to see the field after breaking his leg, and the two guys still playing are really scuffling. Eric Fisher, despite the Chiefs’ dominating win and terrific season, has been the weak link of not just the offense, but perhaps the whole team. His -4.8 grade from Pro Football Focus Sunday is indicative of his struggles this season. He gave up a sack, a hit and four hurries. Chance Warmack didn’t fair much better for the Titans as he wound up with a -2.3 grade and has yet to be the dominant force some thought he could be in the running game. Chris Johnson’s struggles continued thanks to poor offensive line play, as he finished with just 33 yards on 12 carries.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1.) Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: The front-runner for now, particularly given his highlight-friendly game. Look out though: With Cincinnati’s Jekyll and Hyde offense, his grasp on this spot is tenuous at best.
2.) Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: If he hadn’t gotten hurt against the Redskins, he’d likely be leading this list. Lacy is the only true feature back we’ve seen in this class, and he’s playing better than his former Alabama teammate — and 2012 top-five pick — Trent Richardson.
3.) Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers: Allen gets the nod over Kenbrell Thompkins who had the game-winner Sunday. Allen is building momentum and should be his team’s No. 1 receiver all season barring injury.
Honorable mention: Larry Warford, G, Detroit Lions
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1.) Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills: On his way to a Pro Bowl season, Alonso appears to be a lock to finish in the top five in the NFL in tackles, and has been an ace in coverage as well. Usually DROY goes to a guys who get sacks or interceptions, but Alonso’s ubiquitous presence on the field make him the favorite for now.
2.) Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets: The sack numbers aren’t gaudy, but Richardson is playing at an elite level as a 3-4 defensive end. He’s the top-graded rookie according to Pro Football Focus and could be headed to the Pro Bowl as well.
3.) Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals: The Honey Badger had a bad penalty on Sunday, but he’s been solid all season playing a new position. Mathieu, as he did at LSU, seems to make at least one splash play a week.
Honorable mention: Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams