|Rookies making immediate impact in NFL with great seasons for some, dismal for others|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 23 November 2007 10:23|
``Every time he touches the ball, my jaw drops,'' teammate and safety Darren Sharper said.
Despite being sidelined for a few weeks with a knee injury, Peterson has already done enough to rank at the top of this season's talented rookie class. He ran his way into the record books with 296 yards rushing against San Diego earlier this month, and was leading the NFL with 1,081 yards. Peterson, the seventh overall pick in April, was also on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record when he was injured Nov. 11.
``Surprised? I wouldn't say surprised,'' said Peterson, who hopes to return soon from a partially torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. ``With the mind-set I have and the guys I have up front, I know anything is possible.''
That's how it is with rookies. Limitless potential can excite teams and fans as soon as a player is drafted. It's the players whose talent shine through as the season progresses that make teams believe they can build around them.
Along with Peterson, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch, Cleveland's Joe Thomas, San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Houston's Amobi Okoye are among a strong group of first-year players who have made their teams look smart in the draft.
For every one of those, though, there have been underachieving duds - Tampa Bay's Gaines Adams, Atlanta's Jamaal Anderson, Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. and Carolina's Dwayne Jarrett - as well as surprising rookies who have come out of nowhere to make impacts such as New Orleans' Pierre Thomas.
``You're evaluating players off of what you see on tape and in workouts,'' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``It's not an exact science. If it was, then everybody would hit on all their picks. There's a lot of time and effort and money invested in doing that.''
Of the first 10 picks in the opening round, four have been as good as advertised: Peterson, Joe Thomas, Arizona offensive tackle Levi Brown and Washington defensive back LaRon Landry.
``He's what we thought we were going after in the draft,'' coach Joe Gibbs said of Landry, the sixth overall selection. ``There are guys who come up here and say, 'Hey, I belong here. This is what I was meant to do.' He feels like he belongs.''
So does Joe Thomas, who has rarely looked like a rookie while helping solidify Cleveland's offensive line.
``I don't know if there is anything that has surprised me,'' said Thomas, the No. 3 pick. ``I knew from the beginning they were going to take their shots at the rookie.''
While Thomas has flourished, Cleveland's other first-rounder, quarterback Brady Quinn, hasn't thrown a pass as Derek Anderson seized the starting job in Week 2.
JaMarcus Russell can relate. The No. 1 overall pick in April has yet to play for the 2-8 Raiders, who have frustrated fans by rotating Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown instead of using Russell.
``You don't want to have to rebuild him,'' coach Lane Kiffin said. ``The last thing you want to do with him is put him in when he's not ready and have to rebuild him and get him out of bad habits because he's playing when he's not ready.''
Most of this year's rookie quarterbacks are in a similar situation. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted, only Buffalo's Trent Edwards and Miami's John Beck have started at least one game.
``A lot of times, the guys that get drafted later in the first round do better,'' Kiffin said. ``Why do they do better? Well, they got drafted later and went to a team with better personnel around them.''
Calvin Johnson's mediocre statistics in a handful of games, with two or three receptions for fewer than 50 yards, has led to some grumbling about Detroit passing up a chance to draft Peterson at No. 2 overall. He's also validated the Lions' decision at times, as he did Thursday, when he had his best game against Green Bay with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, despite dropping a few passes.
``I want the ball, but I'm not open all the time,'' the soft-spoken receiver said. ``Of course, all receivers want to make plays, but we have a lot of playmakers here and that's good.''
Lynch has done all he can to help the Bills forget Willis McGahee. He'll miss his second straight game with a badly sprained left ankle, but was still eighth in the NFL with 751 yards rushing.
``When I saw him during training camp, I knew he was going to be someone special,'' tight end Robert Royal said. ``He's one of those guys that's rare.''
Being selected in the first round doesn't always guarantee instant success, of course. Tampa Bay's Adams, the first defensive player selected at No. 4, has been a disappointment for much of the season. He has 2 1/2 sacks, but the Buccaneers are expecting more.
``He's got a ways to go to become a truly great defensive end, but he's on schedule in terms of his work ethic,'' coach Jon Gruden said. ``His pass rush has some flash, and he's got some areas in which he needs to improve on.''
The Falcons expected their top pick, Anderson, to bolster the pass rush. The No. 8 selection is still looking for his first sack after 11 games.
Miami was criticized for taking Ginn with the next pick, and the detractors have been right so far. Ginn has only 12 catches and a touchdown, and has been good but not spectacular on returns.
Cincinnati's Leon Hall, the third defensive back taken after Landry and the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis at No. 18, has been picked on often, but has four interceptions while playing in every game.
``He's going through life in the NFL as a corner,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``It's been a tough baptism at times, but he's getting a chance to do it instead of watching someone else.''
New Orleans wide receiver Robert Meachem, the 27th overall pick out of LSU, hasn't had that opportunity. He's been inactive the entire season after hurting his ankle in rookie camp and then discovering in minicamp he needed arthroscopic knee surgery.
``If he can help ... we'll get him on the field,'' coach Sean Payton said.
Meanwhile, the Saints have had the good fortune of finding a gem without using a draft pick. Backup running back Pierre Thomas was undrafted out of Illinois and came to the Saints as a long shot, but has become New Orleans' main kickoff returner and a force on special teams.
``Somebody in my shoes, I tell them, don't give up,'' Thomas said. ``The senior class at Illinois, I tell them, 'If you don't get drafted, it's not the end. Keep working hard. Somebody will find you. Somebody will see your talent.' I hope I am setting a good example for other people.''
Late-round draft picks have also been good to a number of teams. Green Bay struck it big with sixth-round pick Mason Crosby, the third kicker drafted, who was leading NFC kickers in points entering Week 12.
Arizona wide receiver Steve Breaston is another who has quietly become a speedy force on punt and kickoff returns despite being a fifth-round pick. Cincinnati's Chinedum Ndukwe, a seventh-rounder, has made his mark on special teams and as a backup defensive back despite being drafted ahead of only two others at No. 253.
Whether it's highly touted or obscure talents, Whisenhunt and his fellow NFL coaches understand the importance of adding impact rookies.
``Especially for a team like us, we're building,'' the first-year coach said. ``There's been a lot of turnover, a number of guys playing different positions, so when you have young guys, especially rookies, who come in there and play and do a real good job, then it helps ensure possible success in the future.''
AP Sports Writers Bob Baum in Phoenix; Dave Campbell in Minneapolis; Josh Dubow in Oakland; Joe Kay in Cincinnati; Larry Lage in Detroit; Brett Martel in New Orleans; John Wawrow in Buffalo; Joseph White in Washington; and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this story.