Ryan Mathews—RB—San Diego Chargers
Mathews had his best day on Sunday, in what has been an otherwise disappointing year. But he showed in the win versus Denver what everybody saw when he was drafted in the 1st round from Fresno State. With 26 carries for 120 yards and 3 touchdowns, Mathews showed he has the ability to be a star in the NFL. I just worry that his best performance comes in the final game of the season versus a very bad Broncos team. Fluke or opportunity? I guess the Chargers coaching staff is going to have to decide that.
Carlos Dunlap—DE—Cincinnati Bengals
Dunlap continued his sack explosion on Sunday with another 1.5, capping off an amazing streak in which he compiled a sack in 6 straight games, and 7 of 8. The 2nd round pick from Florida finished the season with a total of 9.5 sacks (second to Ndamukong Suh’s 10 amongst rookies), and all this after not recording his first one until week 10. That’s a truly impressive series of games for a rookie. It’s pretty obvious that big things should be ahead next year for Dunlap as he reminds me so much of Jevon Kearse. Bengals fans just hope that his first off-season as an NFL player is an uneventful one.
Joe McKnight—RB—New York Jets and John Conner—FB—New York Jets
Apparently it’s easy to put up stats and have fun when nothing is on the line. Or maybe it’s just easy versus Buffalo. Either way, McKnight and Conner had by far their biggest opportunities to touch the ball on Sunday and both produced great games. McKnight, a 4th round pick from USC, carried the ball a whopping 32 times for 158 yards versus the Bills, good for a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Coming into the game he had 7 carries. Conner, a 5th round pick from Kentucky, had zero carries coming into the game but received 8 and rushed for 44 yards, including a 16 yard touchdown run. Conner had a great year as the starting fullback for the Jets, so this was a nice way for the team to show their appreciation to him.
Rob Gronkowski—TE—New England Patriots
Gronkowski finished off what was a spectacular rookie year with another great game on Sunday versus Miami. The 2nd round pick from Arizona caught a season high 6 passes for 102 yards and another touchdown, his 10th of the season and tied with Antonio Gates for most touchdown’s in the NFL by a tight end. Gronkowski finished with 42 catches for 546 yards and was easily Tom Brady’s favorite red zone target. I think I see Pro Bowl’s in the future for this young guy.
Dezmon Briscoe—WR—Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Briscoe, drafted in the 6th round from Kansas by the Cincinnati Bengals and later released, had a very nice game for Tampa Bay on Sunday in a win versus New Orleans. Forced into action because of multiple injuries, the rookie caught 4 passes for 65 yards and a beautiful touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. Tampa Bay had an unheard of 24 different rookies on their roster at some point in the season, and still managed to win 10 games, which is a credit to their scouting department and young coaching staff. Briscoe is another example of being able to put the correct guy in the correct situation. The Buccaneers have a bright future ahead with the ability to find talent that they have shown.
Shout-Outs To: Tramaine Brock, CB, San Francisco 49ers (1st 4 career tackles), Alex Joseph, LB, San Francisco 49ers (1st career tackle), Larry Asante, DB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1st career interception), Eric Norwood, DE, Carolina Panthers (1st career sack and forced fumble), Corey Peters, DT, Atlanta Falcons (1st career sack), Austin Howard, T, Philadelphia Eagles (1st career start), Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (1st career sack), Brandon Lang, LB, San Diego Chargers (1st career tackle and sack), Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos (1st career receiving touchdown), Kevin Matthews, C, Tennesse Titans (1st career start), Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1st 9 career carries), Jeff Cumberland, TE, New York Jets (1st career catch), Isaiah Trufant, CB, New York Jets (1st 2 career tackles), Taylor Price, WR, New England Patriots (1st 3 career catches), Levi Brown, QB, Buffalo Bills (1st 3 career pass attempts and 1st 2 completions)