Here’s the second installment of our analysis of the first two outings from this year’s second-round rookies. More and more it seems that teams are looking to get players into starting roles as early as possible in order to maximize their investment. In fact, it came as somewhat of a surprise when we begun this article just how many second-rounders had seen action against first-string opposition, and hence the need for such an extended breakdown.
With contributions from PFF analysts Nathan Jahnke, Steve Palazzolo and Ben Stockwell, I break down what these young players have put on display so far.
If you missed Part One, selections No. 33 through No. 42, here it is.
Pick No. 43 – Stephen Hill (Jets)
Watching Stephen Hill at Jets camp I thought (with Santonio Holmes sidelined) he was easily the best wide receiver they had, so I was excited to see him in some ‘live’ action. Unfortunately, despite playing over 80% of the snaps with Mark Sanchez and the firsts, he wasn’t targeted once. More to the point, I’m not sure Sanchez even looked his way. Without the All-22 it’s difficult to see how open he was, but just a couple of short timing passes designed to get him involved in the offense might have helped.
He had a mixed performance with Tim Tebow and the second-string across both games. He caught three first-down balls; a slant, a come back and a particularly pretty deep out on Justin Tyron. However, against the Bengals he dropped a ridiculously easy pass and, when wide open deep in the end zone against the Giants, didn’t do a lot to help Tebow complete a difficult throw back across his body.
How good will he be? With this level of play from the Jets offense, who knows?
Pick No. 44 – Jeff Allen (Chiefs)
The Chiefs have one of the better offensive lines in the league and looked to add depth for the future in the draft. Jeff Allen was a left tackle at Illinois but always projected to play guard coming out. With Ryan Lilja installed at left guard, Allen is his backup and as such played the majority of his first preseason games against the second-string. Because the Cardinals had played in the Hall of Fame game they left their first-string defense on for a couple of drives against the Chiefs second-string, so he got some useful time against Calais Campbell and didn’t look out of place. It was too small a sample size to say much beyond that (and Campbell hardly looked to be giving it his all) but initial signs were at least positive.
Pick No. 45 – Alshon Jeffery (Bears)
While Chicago’s first three wide receivers up will be Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and the underrated Earl Bennett in the slot, Alshon Jeffery will get significant snaps. In my view, he may already be a better option than Hester but I’m not sure the Bears will see it that way.
Last year Jay Cutler began to lose patience with his crew of small targets and picking up Jeffery to complement Marshall has turned that size weakness into a strength.
Running a large percentage of comebacks in the games I saw, he used his body to good effect to shield off defenders and drew penalties. However, probably his most important catch was the 16-yard post he took to the Washington 1-yard line early in the second game; it showed he had much more in his armory than just the short curls he’d displayed until then.
Even his one transgression was excusable in the context of a preseason game; when punched by DeAngelo Hall he responded by easily removing the defender’s helmet and, while he got flagged as the second offender, he displayed his competitive fire.
Pick No. 46 – Mychal Kendricks (Eagles)
In his very first game, against Pittsburgh, he started at outside linebacker playing on the strong side. He also played in the nickel (with DeMeco Ryans), as well as the base defense. The first three plays were a screen pass, a run and a pass all to his direction. On the first, he didn’t take the best angle to help bring the back down, on the second he was stiff-armed into a missed tackle, and on the third he pushed the receiver out of bounds after he had gained a first down. On more than one occasion, offensive linemen pushed Kendricks back on run plays. Additionally, he had one pass rush but that play involved Roethlisberger rolling out to the opposite side. The Steelers saw enough of their starting offense after one drive, even though a number of Eagles starting defenders, including Kendricks, stayed in.
In his second game, against the Patriots, he managed to make a tackle on a screen despite being blocked. He also made a big play on the second drive, pushing the fullback back into the running back, which eventually led to a teammate making the tackle for a loss. Later on in the drive he went unblocked to make a tackle for a loss. He blitzed a little more in this game as well, which included a pressure. The Patriots didn’t play a number of their starters, so even though he improved in game two, it should still be taken with a grain of salt.
Pick No. 47 – Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
During the months of build-up to the NFL Draft I heard Bobby Wagner described as a poor man’s Mason Foster, which makes even damning with faint praise sound positive. The good news for Seahawks fans is that on the evidence of two preseason games that comparison is unwarranted. Wagner is far more disciplined in his play against the run than Foster showed during his rookie season in Tampa Bay. The bad news for Seahawks fans though is that their rookie MLB did not look particularly active or effective when shedding blocks in his preseason debut. He was easily controlled at the second level by Tennessee offensive linemen and tight ends alike. His only positive play came with a tackle of Chris Johnson on a broken play. Wagner immediately looked to rectify this tentativeness in the game against Denver–he shed the lead block of Jacob Tamme to make a tackle for short gain on Willis McGahee on the first snap of the game. However, Wagner’s snaps were extremely limited in this encounter. He does not feature in the Seahawks’ nickel defense (Leroy Hill and K.J. Wright are the Seahawks’ three-down linebackers) and with the Broncos running three-wide personnel for the majority of the first half, Wagner spent most of his time on the sideline. Wagner will need to get used to this in the regular season with the proliferation of ’11′ personnel, and concentrate on being as productive as possible in the Seahawks’ base defense.
Pick No. 48 – Tavon Wilson (Patriots)
One of the biggest surprises of the second round was the New England Patriots selection of safety Tavon Wilson. It’s always interesting to see what Bill Belichick sees in a player that was drafted well above most projections. Wilson has only seen action in one game to this point, but Belichick clearly has a plan as he moved him all around the defense. He played some dime linebacker with the first team, and later played deep safety with the second team. Wilson also lined up outside at RCB to match up with a Saints tight end, so it looks as if he will be used around the line of scrimmage. The game was pretty uneventful, though Wilson did show up late from his safety position on one 3rd-and-8 conversion. We haven’t seen much of Wilson to this point, but as long as he’s healthy, he should get a chance to contribute in sub-packages early in the season.
Pick No. 49 – Kendall Reyes (Chargers)
In his first game Kendall Reyes played five snaps against the Green Bay starters and in the second, versus Dallas, he got a further eight against the first string. That might not seem like a lot but I’m guessing, given the way he was used, he only see about 20 a game during the regular season.
He was the first off the bench in base, playing both ends and he also participated as a tackle in the four-man-line nickel package.
As a run defender he made one excellent play, getting outside Jeff Saturday against the Packers to make the tackle. His only other legitimate tackle came in the second game when his blocker, Doug Free, was tripped allowing him free passage to the ballcarrier.
In the passing game, he got a little push on occasion but no actual pressure and it is this that the Chargers will need to see to increase his snap count beyond 350.
Pick No. 50 – Isaiah Pead (Rams)
With Steven Jackson only in for a few plays versus the Colts, Pead had the opportunity to show his skills. Despite breaking a couple of tackles, his first five runs netted only six yards, mostly due to poor blocking. That said, he did seem to have a penchant for drifting east-west after his initial cut.
However, the problems really arose on two fumbles; one after failing to take a hand-off on a draw from Sam Bradford, and another after tripping over himself on a dump-off and losing the handle.
In the second game, Jackson saw nearly all the action against the Chiefs first stringers, but Pead’s final stat line of minus-eight yards on eight touches (although, including a touchdown) won’t thrill many.
Pick No. 51 - Jerel Worthy (Packers)
For the most part when the Packers used starters, it was Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson in the 3-4 defense, Pickett and Raji for 2-4-5 defenses in run situations, and Raji and Worthy for 2-4-5 in pass downs. In the first game against San Diego Worthy failed to cause any pressure, and was pushed around in the run game while the starters were still in. In the second game, against Cleveland, he didn’t fare much better. While the opposing starters were in he never got close enough to a ballcarrier to make a play, which is a little disappointing given the problems the Packers have had at the position since Cullen Jenkins left.
Pick No. 52 – Zach Brown (Titans)
Five plays are all Zach Brown got against starters in two games; when he replaced Will Witherspoon against the Seahawks. Against the Buccaneers he only played once the opposition first string had left the field. Barring injury, don’t expect to see too much of him during the regular season either. The starters in Tennessee look set and he did nothing in the brief action I saw to suggest he will force his way into the line-up.
On one play he attacked a gap and ended up being pushed in the opposite direction to the ball carrier and on another he reacted to a play action fake by slipping and hence being very late across on a short pass.