Rookie Watch: Kyle Fuller leading Bears' injury-decimated secondary
These NFL rookies hit our radar after their standout performances in Week 3.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears
Fresh off his two-interception performance two Sunday nights ago in Chicago's comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers, the No. 14 overall pick in the draft found new ways to bedevil opposing offenses in the Bears' victory over the Jets on Monday night. Fuller forced two fumbles, learning well from injured veteran cornerback Charles Tillman, and snagged his league-leading third pick of the season.
In a secondary that has been decimated by injuries (this team has trouble fielding a pair of safeties at all at this point), Fuller has been a crucial part of Chicago's defensive resurgence. According to Pro Football Focus' charting stats, Fuller ranks sixth overall in opponent passer rating allowed (43.6), and he's allowed just eight catches on 15 targets. Fuller already won one Defensive Player of the Week award for his performance against the 49ers, and he'll be in line for another.
Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota Vikings
While the biggest news coming out of the Vikings' loss to the Saints last Sunday was Matt Cassel's foot injury that opened the door for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, it was Barr who made the biggest rookie impact. He picked up his first NFL sack and deflected pass against New Orleans, adding a quarterback hit and hurry while alternating between a strong-side linebacker role in Mike Zimmer's base package and more of a rushing end in nickel situations.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders
From a recognition standpoint, Mack is a bit lost in the shuffle as the Raiders continue to try and drag themselves out of a long losing tradition, but it's clear from even a casual view that he's a disruptive influence once he hits the field. Used in a similar manner as Barr, Mack doesn't have any sacks yet, but he's racking up the hits and hurries and gaining the attention of the NFL's best minds.
"He’s fast, he’s explosive," Bill Belichick said of Mack last week, before the Patriots played the Raiders. "He’s got a lot of talent and he’s certainly made some good plays. Like any rookie, he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s a force out there."
Zach Martin, OG, Dallas Cowboys
When I watched Martin's Notre Dame tape, it was clear to me that his ideal NFL position wasn't left tackle -- he was a bit too stumpy and slow to deal with NFL-level edge rushers. But what I did see in a positive sense was a great deal of strength, technique and determination, leading me to believe that Martin would be an outstanding NFL guard. The Cowboys believed the same, and selected him in the first round to man their right guard slot.
Through three games, he's been an excellent player at his new position. There have been occasional lapses in protection, but he's only allowed two quarterback hurries (no hits and no sacks), and he's stood up a lot of veteran defenders. I called Martin "a true ass-kicker" when the Cowboys took him, and he's proving to be just that.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Benjamin had his best NFL game to date in Carolina's loss to the Steelers on Sunday, grabbing eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Benjamin still struggles with route concepts at times, and his drop rate needs to be addressed, but he's proving to be the player he was at Florida State -- a big, physical target who can grab contested catches and make things happen after the catch. The Panthers are dealing with a bevy of injured running backs and a new group of receivers, but Benjamin is certainly on the right track.