Rookie Watch: Jordan Reed breaks out, Eddie Lacy continues to shine in Week 7
Serious injuries dominated headlines in Week 7. As discussed last week, the carnage we've seen this season has opened the door for young players to step in and play all over the NFL -- one rookie linemen even shared his (NSFW) motto about such things.
And it isn't just young, developing teams leaning heavily on rookies to win games. Division-leading Green Bay and Cincinnati have rookie running backs buoying their respective offenses. The Patriots, decimated by injuries, have key rookies at receiver, defensive line and cornerback.
For other teams, those needing to rely on their young player simply because the roster is bereft of talent, the results have been more mixed. Young pass-rushers Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan have had feast-or-famine seasons while Chicago's Jordan Mills' struggles on the offensive line have held back the Bears' offensive evolution.
Here are the best and worst from Week 7.
• Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: It isn't a coincidence that the talented Florida product broke out in the same game in which Robert Griffin III finally looked like the dynamic signal-caller we saw last season. Reed caught nine passes for 134 yards and touchdown against a woeful Bears defense. For the season, Reed has caught 26 of his 30 targets, and RGIII looked for him a season-best nine times Sunday with Reed hauling in all nine. A former quarterback in college, Reed isn't particularly big or overpoweringly athletic for an NFL tight end, but he has a feel for getting open and is deceptive in the open field. The NFC East had better get used to watching the RGIII-Reed duo for a long time to come.
• Rookies at MetLife Stadium Sunday: This was a game dominated by rookies. Pats first-year corner Logan Ryan took fellow rookie Geno Smith to the house on a pick-six in the first quarter. Geno Smith reacted by out-dueling Tom Brady (no, seriously) to win in overtime. Jets safety Antonio Allen had nine tackles and a pick-six of his own off Brady. And defensive tackle Chris Jones sacked Smith twice to go along with 10 tackles. Receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were quiet for New England, although Brady's uncharacteristically inaccurate day was punctuated by a missed sideline throw to Dobson that would have been a touchdown.
• First-year feature backs: Running back has been the most loaded rookie position all season, despite questions coming into April's draft about the potential number of high-impact players at the position. Eddie Lacy had 110 yards and a touchdown on a whopping 27 touches for the Packers, while Zac Stacey also had 20+ touches for St. Louis, racking up 87 yards and a score. Le'Veon Bell showed his promise against an intimidated Ravens front with 99 yards on 20 touches. Oddly, it was Giovani Bernard -- facing the worst defense of the bunch -- who disappointed with just 62 yards on 12 touches. Bernard, in his defense, continues to be underutilized in Cincinnati's offense.
Honorable Mention: Devin Taylor, DE, Detroit Lions; Shamarko Thomas, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers; DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans; Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers; Earl Wolff, S, Philadelphia Eagles; D.J. Fluker, OT, San Diego Chargers; Joplo Bartu, OLB, Atlanta Falcons.
• Matt Barkley, QB Philadelphia Eagles: You can't be too hard on a quarterback forced into action due to injury in a game against the division leader. That being said, Barkley threw three interceptions and at least two more that could -- and probably should -- have been intercepted. As you'd expect, he looked tentative and unsure of his reads and was unable to make use of Chip Kelly's trademark pace. Luckily for the Eagles, Michael Vick should be back in action soon, but Barkley didn't do himself any favors in the race to be Philly's starter in 2014 and beyond.
• Jordan Mills, OT, Chicago Bears: Chicago's offense under new coach Marc Trestman was humming despite Mills' struggles. Now, with Cutler sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury, the uneven play of the rookie linemen could become a much bigger problem. Mills was beaten consistently against the Redskins, giving up six hurries and a sack against Ryan Kerrigan primarily. Josh McCown played pretty well with Cutler hurt, but doesn't have the same quick release and arm strength to fit in throws when the pressure is on. That could magnify the problems Mills has had in pass protection as McCown is poised to face some powerful front sevens. Chicago plays Green Bay, Detroit and Baltimore coming out of a Week 8 bye.
• David Amerson, CB, Washington Redskins: The rookie corner from North Carolina State will be glad when the Redskins are done playing teams from the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers torched Amerson in Week 2 and Chicago was able to get after him in Week 7. When you play corner and you are the second-leading tackler on your team, that tends to be a bad thing. It means you're either giving up completions, or the opposing running back is breaking into the second level. In this case, it was both. Matched primarily on Alshon Jeffery, Amerson struggled to deal with Jeffery's speed and size as the second-year wideout finished with four catches for 105 yards.
Honorable Mention: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Miami Dolphins; Darius Slay, CB, Detroit Lions; Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota Vikings.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1.) Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: Lacy leads all rookies in rushing yards, despite missing essentially two games with a concussion, not to mention Green Bay's early bye week. Green Bay relies more on Lacy than any non-QB offensive rookie, and he's produced in a big way since returning from that head injury.
2.) Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets: The numbers aren't going to wow anyone -- although his QB rating is just a point lower than Tom Brady's -- but wins will. The Jets have a shot at making the playoffs if their defense continues to play well and Geno can avoid mistakes. Late wins against Atlanta and New England are résumé-builders.
3.) Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: It's hard to fault Bernard for a lackluster game Sunday when Andy Dalton was playing so well, but this will be the problem for Bernard all season: he has a tendency to get lost in the offense. Even so, he's already becoming one of the NFL's most versatile weapons out of the backfield
Honorable Mention: Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1.) Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills: Week 7 wasn't particularly stunning for Alonso, but his impact on the Bills defense is undeniable. Buffalo finished 23rd against the pass last year and is 12th this season thanks in large part to Alonso's coverage ability. The rookie out of Oregon remains tied for the league lead in interceptions, a big reason the Bills lead the league in that category -- Buffalo has as many picks already this season as it did all of 2012.
2.) Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets: The ferocious lineman from Mizzou remains the top rookie according to Pro Football Focus, and his placement as second on this list has not pleased some of you on Twitter. Richardson is good. Really good. But he doesn't make enough impact plays in the passing game at this point to be in the top spot.
3.) Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals: The top-three remains intact for another week despite Mathieu's quiet game against the Seahawks. Given the way Carolina's defense is playing and Star Lotulelei's impact, Mathieu needs to get back to making big plays to hold his spot here. The Honey Badger will get his chance against a trio of upcoming scuffling teams: Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville. Honorable Mention: Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers.