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NFL rookies develop at different rates


Should gibbs put in Campbell next season as the undisputed starter? Or brunell  

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  1. 1. Should gibbs put in Campbell next season as the undisputed starter? Or brunell

    • Gibbs should start Campbell. Let him learn the NFL for a year.
    • Start Brunell. Hes got one more season in him so why not give it to him.
    • Remain undecided and say that Mark will start but we will se how things will go?

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As the NFL season enters its final quarter, front offices and coaches around the league have a pretty good feel for the rookies from this year's draft class. They've seen them through training camp, preseason and now 12 games of the regular season -- plenty of time and opportunity to evaluate what they have.

As is the case every year, though, these young players have developed at different rates. Some rookies come in and have an immediate impact, contributing from the beginning of the season. Others develop as the season progresses and are just now making an impact. And there are others who still are not ready to step in and will have to wait another year.

At this point, status no longer matters. Where the player was drafted, or even if he was signed as a college free agent, is all but forgotten. In December, rookies are judged on whether they can help the team win.

Among the top 10 players taken in last spring's draft, only Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams had an immediate impact. Meanwhile, plenty of the players taken later in the first round, and even later in the draft, had a greater impact than the other eight top-10 picks. That's not an indictment of those top-10 picks, because some of them suffered injuries (QB Alex Smith, RB Cedric Benson, DC Antrel Rolle) and some of them simply took longer to pick up the NFL game (WRs Troy Williamson and Mike Williams).

Without analyzing the whole draft, here's a look at how a handful of rookies have developed this season:

Immediate impact

Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay: He started strong from day one and was the leading rusher in the NFL early in the season before an injury slowed him down. His speed, vision and quickness make him a threat with the ball in his hands. He is now healthy and might be considered the front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami: Splitting time with Ricky Williams has limited the number of opportunities he has had to run with the ball, but he is a big, powerful back with speed who can wear a defense down. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield and has a nose for the end zone. Since Week 1, he has had 20-plus carries twice, and both times he has produced 100-yard rushing performances.

DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas: He has had an immediate impact on the Dallas Cowboys' defense, providing excellent speed and quickness off the edge as a pass-rusher. As a linebacker in Dallas' 3-4 defense, he possesses the strength and power to hold the point against the run. He is the perfect fit for Bill Parcells' defensive scheme.

Odell Thurman, LB, Cincinnati: He has been an impact player for the Bengals from day one. He shows speed, quickness and the athletic ability to play in Cincinnati's defensive scheme. Once Thurman improves his technique and angles, coach Marvin Lewis may have a young version of Ray Lewis and a staple in his defense for years to come.

Lofa Tatupu, LB, Seattle: His natural instincts and nose for the ball have improved the Seahawks' defense from the start. He will get bounced around some, but he brings high energy and an intensity that Seattle's defense might have been missing.

Growing into their roles

These players started the season slowly, contributing very little, if at all, in the season's first few games. But as time went on, they grew as players and developed to the point where they became solid contributors in the second half.

Shawne Merriman, OLB, San Diego: He has turned the corner in the last month to become a feared pass-rusher off the edge. Merriman has a quick, explosive first step and shows excellent strength and power to collapse the pocket. He can play the run equally well. By the end of the season, he should be the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Cleveland: He lacked production early this season but then came on strong. Edwards had a productive game against the Dolphins three weeks ago (six catches, 90 yards), then had two touchdown catches Sunday against the Jaguars. His route running has improved, and he displays good timing and courage in traffic to make the tough catch. His season ended, though, when he suffered a torn ACL late in the Jacksonville game. But if he comes back healthy and continues to progress, and if the Browns can ever get Kellen Winslow back on the field, they potentially have two big-time playmakers on offense.

Carlos Rogers, DC, Washington: He took over the starting left-corner duty midway through the Redskins' game against San Diego, replacing veteran Walt Harris. He has the size, speed and physical skills you look for in a shut-down corner, but he has been inconsistent in coverage. Washington's defensive scheme takes time to learn, and Rogers has become more comfortable and is starting to play more instinctively.

Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh: The Steelers hit on potentially the best overall tight end in the draft. In early games, he was excelling more as a blocker than in the passing game. He lacks top speed but is an effective route runner with soft hands and can find the open seams. He provides big Ben Roethlisberger with another dependable offensive weapon.

Matt Jones, WR, Jacksonville: This former college quarterback has great athletic ability and speed. He has excellent hands and is improving each week as a receiver. He needs to improve his route-running ability and to become more physical working off a jam at the line of scrimmage. Jones is much more effective releasing from the slot and can be a mismatch against smaller defensive backs in the red zone.

Still under construction

This category contains players who have not developed or made significant contributions to their club. This does not mean they're busts, by any stretch of the imagination. It just means they haven't done much as rookies, due to injury or other factors. More than likely they will have an impact in future years.

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco: This young quarterback has taken his lumps this season. He struggled with the speed of the game in his early starts before missing time with a knee injury. Smith showed flashes this past weekend in his first start back, completing 11 of his first 12 throws, but he also threw three interceptions. The 49ers will need to get more playmakers around him as they rebuild.

Cedric Benson, RB, Chicago: Very few rookies make an impact when they hold out during training camp. They tend to fall too far behind and never seem to catch up. Benson missed most of camp and never threatened to unseat Thomas Jones at that top running-back spot. He did show flashes off his limited chances, gaining a combined 129 yards in 26 carries in games vs. the Saints and 49ers, but a knee injury set him back.

Troy Williamson, WR, Minnesota: This young, raw receiver has exceptional speed, but he also has a huge learning curve on running routes and reading defenses. He made some plays downfield off his pure athletic talent early in the season but has fallen back on the depth chart. Williamson has potential to be a big-play threat for the Vikings in the future, but it will take time.

Mike Williams, WR, Detroit: Williams was the third of the three receivers the Lions have taken with a top-10 pick in the last three drafts, but he has not made much of an impact. He struggles versus a strong jam at the line of scrimmage and does not play with a sense of urgency from play to play. Maturity and work ethic also have been reported as concerns. He played only two years of college football and missed an entire season before entering the draft, and these factors appear to have made his learning curve larger than anticipated.

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