Here are the rookies who caught our eye with their performances in Week 5 of the 2014 NFL season.
Branden Oliver, RB, San Diego Chargers
A shorter running back with the jersey number 43 running wild for the Chargers? San Diego hasn't seen that since Darren Sproles' final season in 2010. But in a 31-0 whitewashing of the Jets on Sunday, the Chargers got a little flashback in the form of Oliver, the undrafted free agent out of Buffalo who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Oliver added 68 receiving yards and another score on four catches, prompting Antonio Gates to call Oliver "Sproles, but with more power." Like Sproles, the 5-foot-8 Oliver has a bowling-ball running style, good speed and nice agility in short spaces. He was the main man in Week 5 because of injuries to Ronnie Brown and Ryan Mathews, but if he keeps going like this, the vets will struggle for snaps even when they're healthy.
This wasn't a fluke, either. Chargers teammates were talking Oliver up in the preseason, and it seemed a matter of time before he'd get a shot to really show what he could offer.
“He’s capable of being at that position and helping us win,” Gates said after the game. “He’s answered so many questions.”
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
With a half-decent quarterback in Kyle Orton, it's possible that Watkins could see an end to the boom-and-bust start to his season. He caught eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 against the Dolphins, but other than that, it's been a lot of misfires from EJ Manuel and even more wondering what might be if Buffalo had someone who could throw the ball accurately. Watkins had seven catches for 87 yards on 12 targets against the Lions on Sunday, and in an integrated passing offense, he should be a scary thought for all opponents.
"Watkins has been impressive," said Bill Belichick on Tuesday ahead of the Patriots' Week 6 trip to Buffalo. "He’s big, he’s fast. He has great hands. I thought the catch he made on the ball at the end of the Detroit game was one of the best ones I’ve seen where he kind of tipped it to himself from behind him to in front of him where he could catch it. Anyway, he’s got great range, big catch radius. He’s a big target and then he’s got good ability to handle the ball wherever it is. He’s strong, he’s physical, he can impact the deep part of the field and he’s a dangerous runner after the catch on short and intermediate type routes. He’ll be a big challenge for us."
Belichick is referring to this play, in which Watkins was playing at an entirely different level. Buffalo and New England are tied atop the AFC East with 3-2 records, and the Bills will rely heavily on Watkins winning matchups against Belichick's defense to take first place outright.
(H/T: Vice Sports)
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
The Giants' first-round pick had missed the first four games with a hamstring issue, but he made a big splash once he finally saw the field, catching the go-ahead touchdown in a 30-20 win over Atlanta in which the G-Men were once down, 20-10.
"Words can’t even describe," he said after the win. "To be out this long and have to deal with the adversity I’ve had, I just want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play and allowing me to score in my first game. It’s just great to get that under your belt, it’s like you get that off of your chest."
Not only did Beckham bring in that touchdown, but he caused all kinds of trouble for cornerback Robert Alford, drawing four penalties.
Corey Linsley, C, Green Bay Packers
Linsley has been a bit of a revelation for the Packers this season. The fifth-round pick from Ohio State started his first NFL game at Seattle, which is about as bad as it can get for any offensive lineman. He's also stood up well against the defensive lines of the Jets, Lions and Bears. In last Thursday's beatdown of the VIkings, Linsley continued to play well -- he's developing strength against the run, and he hasn't allowed a quarterback sack or hit while playing in all 297 of Green Bay's offensive snaps.
Ego Ferguson, DT, Chicago Bears
The Bears selected two defensive tackles in the 2014 draft as part of the redefinition of their offensive line. Will Sutton is still getting the hang of things, but Ferguson is starting to become a major player. Ferguson isn't just getting to the quarterback and helping to stop the run -- he's also batting passes down, as he did on consecutive plays against the Panthers; one of those deflections led to a Lance Briggs interception of Cam Newton.
Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams
Amazing that on a line with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, a rookie is the Rams' most disruptive pass-rusher this season, but that's what Donald has been. Against the Eagles' depleted offensive line, Donald once again displayed his highly effective combination of strength, speed and developing moves. He had two hits and two hurries against Philadelphia, and this is a player ready to cause problems for opposing linemen for some time to come.
K'Waun Williams, CB, Cleveland Browns
The undrafted rookie out of Pittsburgh had started the season quietly, but he played a season-high 37 snaps on Sunday and held his own in the slot for the most part. According to Pro Football Focus, after surrendering a first-quarter touchdown to Titans receiver Kendall Wright, Williams allowed just 7.1 yards per reception the rest of the day. He also had five tackles and came up with a sack.
Philly Brown, WR, Carolina Panthers
Brown has caught 10 passes for 105 yards in his rookie campaign, but that's not why he's on our list this week. He's on our list this week because of this amazing touchdown, in which he took an illegal hit from Chicago's Teddy Williams before he could catch the punt. The hit caused a flag and a fumble, and Brown was alert enough to realize that the play wasn't dead -- he picked the ball up and raced 79 yards for a touchdown.
(H/T: The Big Lead)