We're heading into the 3rd week of the NFL season and already some rookies are having a profound effect on their teams. In this article I'm going to review what I consider the top 5 rookies of the season. I'll lay out their performance thus far and what I imagine week 3 will have in store for them.
*Please note that these ratings are only given based off the effects of the rookies on the field, not necessary their individual talents.
Trying to shed the image of Michael Vick from their minds, the Atlanta Falcons chose quarterback Matt Ryan in the first round of the draft. Ryan was immediately given the starter role, as well as the highest paying contract in NFL history. There was a lot of pressure for him to become Atlanta's QB of the future.
Come week 1, Ryan made his NFL debut as the Falcons faced the Detroit Lions. His first professional pass ended up being a 62 yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins. Thought the Falcons mainly attacked the Lions on the ground, Matt still played a pivotal role in how his offense performed.
He ended the night 9 of 13 for 161 yards with 1 touchdown and a QB rating of 137, outplaying rival Jon Kitna.
Next up for the Falcons and their new leader were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team who made it to the playoffs last season. Ryan would finally face a challenge in Tampa Bay's powerful defense.
Though he played a much more freshmen game then the one against Detroit, Matt Ryan did the best he could. He was sacked 4 times and intercepted twice. He ended the day with 13 completed passes out of 33 attempts, with a QB rating of 29.6. So far, he's had one good game and one bad game but I expect him to continue developing as long as the coaching staff keeps as much pressure off of him as they can.
In week 3 Atlanta will face another easy opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs. This should allow the running game to once again do the brunt of the work and for Ryan to continue developing with easy passes.
4. Joe Flacco - QB - Baltimore Ravens
When both Troy Smith and Kyle Boller were pronounced unable to start, the Baltimore Ravens were forced to start QB Joe Flacco, a rookie out of Delaware. Though the Ravens have only played one game this season, a 17-10 victory over divisional rival the Cincinatti Bengals, their rookie quarterback has proven to make their offense more effective.
In his first ever NFL game Flacco threw 29 passes, completing 15 of them for 129 yards. He also charged up the field 4 times for 37 yards and scored an impressive rushing touchdown. Keep in mind, Baltimore's coaching staff tailor fit their plays to match Flacco's experience. The 6' 6", 230 pound rookie even made an impressive block on a double reverse that led to Baltimore's second touchdown of the game.
I'm not quite ready to start singing his praises or dub him the next Big Ben, but his presence in the pocket and overall performance was impressive for his first start. Up next for the Ravens are the Cleveland Browns, who should provide a better challenge for the rookie and the blooming offense he has control of.
With the 13th pick in the 2nd round, the Bears selected running back Matt Forte, a rookie out of Tulane College. As the preseason wore down it became clear that with problems in the current running game and questions at the QB position, Forte would have to step up and become the centerpiece of this Chicago offense. He did just that.
The Bears' season opener was against the dreaded Indianapolis Colts, an AFC juggernaut and the team that defeated them in their most recent Super Bowl appearance. Chicago was hungry to prove that had they been able to run the ball and stop the run more efficiently, they would've won that game.
Instead of flaunting their quarterback of choice, Kyle Orton, the Bears decided to show of their brand new RB. Matt Forte ended up rushing up the middle of the field for a 50 yard gain, ending in the Bears' first touchdown and lead of the night. He ended the game with 23 carries for 123 yards and his lone touchdown, averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
With that impressive victory over their Super Bowl rivals, Chicago went into week 2 with confidence their defense and running game would defeat the 1-0 Carolina Panthers.
Forte would once again be the center of Chicago's offensive game plan. He carried the ball 23 times again, this time for only 92 yards and no touchdowns. His longest carry was a rush up the middle for 18 yards.
The Bears will next face Tampa Bay, a team nearly identical to Chicago in several ways. Their defense is their strength, they're having QB issues and they will probably rely heavily on their running game. Once again, Matt Forte should get plenty of carries and account for most of his teams yardage.
2. Eddie Royal - WR - Denver Broncos
In the 2nd round the Denver Broncos had the 11th pick and chose rookie wide receiver Eddie Royal out of Virginia Tech. You can bet they're not regretting that pick.
In his first professional game, Royal's team faced their divisional rival the Oakland Raiders. In that game Eddie proved to be all over the field for his offense. He even made a single passing attempt, which ended up falling incomplete.
His other accomplishments included rushing twice for 9 yards and racking up 146 receiving yards on 9 catches. That's an average of 16.2 yards a catch, his most important a 26 yard catch that ended as both his and Denver's first touchdown of the season.
Week 2 saw the Broncos facing another divisional rival, this one much more dangerous then the first. Once again, Eddie would shine. Though he only caught the ball 5 times for 37 yards, his catches were pivotal, leading to Denver's touchdown and winning 2 point conversion.
The Broncos will face the New Orleans Saints next week, a game which is sure to be another shootout. Expect this rookie to once again make key catches in key situations, even if he has to compete with Brandon Marshall to do it.
1. Darren McFadden - RB - Oakland Raiders
Finally, we come to the #1 rookie of the 2008 NFL season, Darren McFadden. Selected as the 4th overall pick in the 1st round, McFadden went all the way from Arkansas to Oakland. Many questioned the Raiders' decision to go with the young running back. Last year's offensive scheme had already been centered around their running game, so it appeared a waste to select another runner so high in the draft when their defense was struggling.
However, the Raider Nation would come to find that draft pick was indeed a sound choice. McFadden's first game would be against the Denver Broncos. Though it ended badly for them and McFadden took a back seat to Justin Fargas, the rookie still managed to have a successful debut.
McFadden would carry the ball 9 times for 46 yards, an average of 5.1 yards a carry.
Next up for the black and silver would be the Kansas City Chiefs, a team coming off a fresh loss to the New England Patriots. The pivotal moment of this game was when #1 RB Justin Fargas pulled his groin, forcing McFadden to step up as lead running back.
McFadden exploded onto the scene by carrying the ball 21 times for 164 yards and a touchdown. He averaged out at 7.8 yards a carry, his longest being a 50 yard rush up the middle. Though that play resulted in a fumble, it showed the RB's explosive and speed. Because of McFadden's play, the Raiders won the game 23 to 8.
The rookie will next face the Buffalo Bills, a team that may finally prove to be a challenge for him. If Fargas returns, he may well take back his place as the #1 but one thing is for sure, McFadden will get plenty of carries either way.