Week 2 Rookie Watch: Sammy Watkins breaks through
Here are the rookies who impressed us the most in Week 2 NFL action.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills: Watkins caught just three passes for 31 yards in his NFL debut against the Bears, but last Sunday when the Bills took on the Dolphins, he looked far more like the player Buffalo moved up in the 2014 draft to nab (giving up their 2015 first-rounder). Watkins bagged eight receptions on 11 targets for 117 yards and a touchdown, and he would have been even more prolific had quarterback EJ Manuel not misfired on a few passes. Watkins is especially good when he's running intermediate routes against zones, and when he's taking quick passes up the field. In both cases, his ability to add yards after the catch is a real factor. Watkins is still learning the full route tree, and Manuel is still figuring out how to best connect with him (not to mention the rest of Buffalo's receivers), but you can see the makings of a true gamebreaker here. At his best, Watkins reminds me of Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson -- the kind of player that ties opposing defenses in knots.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears: When I wrote up Fuller's Virginia Tech tape, it was clear to me that had he played the entire 2013 season without the sports hernia injury that caused him to miss seven games and the Senior Bowl, he would have been discussed as a top-15 pick in this draft. Certainly, there were few players at Fuller's position with cleaner tape, and a better sense of the demands of the position. Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery took a shot anyway, selecting Fuller with the 14th overall pick, and against the 49ers on Sunday night, Fuller paid the Bears back in spades. He came up with two fourth-quarter interceptions, showing impressive awareness and technique. The first, with 13:29 left in the game, saw Fuller playing off as Colin Kaepernick telegraphed his throw to Michael Crabtree, and Fuller jumped the route. His second pick, with 9:19 left, was even more impressive -- Fuller was covering Crabtree outside and switched over to tight end Derek Carrier, who was running a deeper out route. Fuller sat with Crabtree as he curled back inside, and then followed the ball for the pick. You'll be hearing a lot more about Fuller through his rookie season if he keeps playing like this.
Terrance West, RB, Cleveland Browns: West has been the primary beneficiary of Ben Tate's ongoing injury status, and the Towson alum, who was on several small-school star lists, has made the most of his opportunity. He rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries against the Steelers in Cleveland's season-opener, and followed that with 68 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against the Saints. West has a powerful running style, and has showed the same level of speed and balance against NFL defenses as he did when he was running over Holy Cross and Delaware State. No mean feat.
Gabe Jackson, OG, Oakland Raiders: Andy Benoit of TheMMQB had a good point about Jackson fighting J.J. Watt to a draw when the Raiders faced the Texans last Sunday. I was very impressed with the ways in which he pulled to the left and right to seal the edge on running plays, and he was dynamite when asked to hit the second level and block linebackers accurately. The knock on Jackson coming out of Mississippi State was that at 6-foot-3, 336 pounds, he wasn't mobile enough to block in space. But so far in the NFL, he appears to have corrected that problem. And the Raiders' oft-maligned front office might have a relative steal on their hands here.
“He’s real powerful,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Jackson in August. “He’s got excellent feet. He’s an excellent puller. On the double-teams, he’s extremely powerful.”