If you'd checked the NFL stats on Sunday morning, you'd have seen the Saints' Drew Brees as the No. 1-rated passer, the Bengals' Chad Johnson atop the list for receiving yards, Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis tied for the interceptions lead, Buffalo's Aaron Schobel tied for the sacks lead, Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans first in tackles, the Jets' Justin Miller tops in kickoff returns and the Bears' Devin Hester the punt return leader. What do these players have in common? All were second-round picks. Why are so many bypassed players doing so well? "That's easy," says Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the 60th pick this year. "Most guys who get picked in the second round feel they got disrespected. The teams that passed on me, even Jacksonville in the first round, spit in my face. And I'm out to prove every week I'm better than every running back picked before me." Ryans agrees: "We all have a chip on our shoulders. I thought I was the best linebacker in the draft. Now I have a chance to prove it every Sunday." And in a year of breakout first-round picks, I'd argue that the three best rookies in '06 were second-rounders:
Marcus McNeill LT, Chargers
How often has a rookie manned the toughest position on the O-line from Week 1 for the league's best attack? "You'd have no idea he was a rookie," says coach Marty Schottenheimer. "You can't trick him, and he's very disciplined and quick." According to the coaches' film breakdown McNeill (right), the 6'7", 336-pound left tackle out of Auburn taken 50th in April, has allowed only two sacks. Other noteworthy '06 second-rounders on offense: Greg Jennings (No. 52), Brett Favre's new deep threat in Green Bay; Dallas's Anthony Fasano (No. 53), a Mark Bavaro--type blocker; and Jones-Drew, the rookie leader in all-purpose yards (1,874) and TDs (13).
DeMeco Ryans LB, Texans
Interesting how the 33rd choice (four years, $4.2 million) has outplayed the No. 1 pick, teammate Mario Williams (six years, $54 million). "I don't think the adjustment from college to pro football has been that great," says Ryans, a three-year starer at Alabama. "I've played against so many of these guys before." More standout second-rounders on D: Cleveland ILB D'Qwell Jackson (No. 34) and Oakland OLB Thomas Howard (No. 38), each second on their team in tackles, and Chicago FS Danieal Manning (No. 42), a starter for the NFC's stingiest unit.
Devin Hester KR-PR, Bears
There's no award for best first-year special-teamer, but a player who's returned two kickoffs, three punts and a missed field goal for TDs can't be overlooked. "He's the best rookie in the league by far," former Packers G.M. Ron Wolf says of the speedster out of Miami (left). Think how many clubs blew it by not taking this game-breaker before pick No. 57.
December 25, 2006
ONLY ON SI.COM Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.