2011 NFL Lockout: 10 Rookies Hurt Badly by Stoppage

Carlos SandovalAnalyst IIIMay 29, 2011

2011 NFL Lockout: 10 Rookies Hurt Badly by Stoppage

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers reacts during their game against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by C
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The NFL lockout is affecting everyone. The players aren’t getting the repetitions they need to stay in shape, and further learn their coaches’ offensive and defensive schemes. The coaches don’t get the valuable time they need to assess talent and assign players their roles, meaning the team cohesion won’t be as prime as they’d like.

    Of course, fans are affected because we won’t get to hear about all the free agency moves until there’s a deal done (if a deal will get done at all), and even worse, we might not get to watch as much football as we’d like.

    However, there is a specific group that’s particularly hurt by this lockout. That group would be the new generation of NFL athletes: rookies.

    The rookies are impacted the most because, well, they’re new to the NFL. They need the extra reps in order to familiarize themselves with a professional-football offense or defense, and it’s especially crucial considering the NFL is about ten times more difficult of a level than they had experienced before. The extra spring workouts and mini-camps with the coaching staff are necessary for success in the NFL.

    There are, unfortunately, certain rookies who are particularly being hurt by this lockout’s impact on their development as solid producers in the NFL. These rooks are players who need those extra workouts and reps the most, whether it be because they haven’t had a ton of experience in Division I college football, or because the experience they’ve had isn’t suitable for a typical NFL offensive or defensive scheme.

    So, here they are. Click away.

10. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Cam Newton attends the NFL PLAYERS Premiere League Flag Football Game at UCLA on May 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    Cam Newton was the first pick in the draft, and for good reason—he's a physical freak, at 6'5" and nearly 250 pounds. He also did extremely well in his only year starting for a Division-I college football team, as he took home Heisman Trophy in 2010. 

    But, of course, there's a problem with all that. 

    Cam Newton has only played one full season as a starting quarterback for Auburn University, and though he did well, he didn't develop as much as he could have at Auburn. 

    Now, he's going to have to play for the Carolina Panthers, under a rookie head coach in Ron Rivera, and with a team that has yet to establish their identity, coming off of a two-win season. 

    That's a recipe for disaster. 

    Let's be honest, dear reader: There is no established leadership in Carolina, and Ron Rivera hasn't even gotten the chance to speak with his players, thanks to this lockout. So, not only is Cam Newton without a ton of experience in football at a high level, but he'll also be thrown into a situation where he's most likely the team's starting quarterback, with minimal knowledge of his head coach's offensive philosophy. 


9. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Von Miller, #2 overall pick by the Denver Broncos holds up a jersey on stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Von Miller isn't in the same boat as Cam Newton, in the sense that Miller has had enough experience at the college level to have success in the NFL. Rookie linebackers generally have it a lot tougher than, say, defensive linemen, because they're forced to be more versatile in the NFL, thanks to the need to either rush the passer, read routes to drop-back into coverage, or read run-blocks to take down the ball-carrier.

    Considering the circumstances, Miller has it especially tough. 

    Miller was drafted by the Denver Broncos because the Broncos have, statistically or otherwise, one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. Despite having a superb passing offense, the Broncos finished off with just four wins because of their poor defense. 

    Basically, Miller's responsibility is to, well, anchor it.

    That's not the only imposition that Miller has to deal with. He's in the same dilemma that fellow first-round draft pick Cam Newton is in, in terms of the situation he'll be thrown into. The Broncos are clearly going in a different direction, with John Elway making the football decisions, and John Fox implementing his defensively-focused tactics that worked so well in Carolina.

    Regardless, though, there's a transition to be had in Denver, and with players having no idea as to what kind of plays Fox might run in Denver, Von Miller is stuck with trying to learn from a set of defensive players that were labelled as one of the worst in the NFL. 

    That's bleak.

8. Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack looks to pass against the  UNLV Rebels in the third quarter of their game at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada Reno won 44-26.  (Photo by Et
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Colin Kaepernick has also had enough college experience for him to do well in the NFL in any other year. He's shown a great deal of leadership at the University of Nevada—Reno, and the dude has a scary strong arm. 

    The problem he faces (as the majority of the rookies on this list do) is that of being acquired in a transition year in San Francisco. 

    The 49ers finished with the second-worst (or third-best, if you're a Niners fan) in the weakest (or eighth-best) division in the league. They managed to accumulate ten losses in the NFC West, which put up a losing team as their division winner in the Seattle Seahawks. During that horrid season, the Niners under-achieved and melted down, and fired Mike Singletary

    And while, sure, Jim Harbaugh is an upgrade, it's not as if the players know what kind of offense Harbaugh will be running (although it will likely be a clone of the system he ran in Stanford). Kaepernick is set to compete right away for the starting spot at quarterback, a position that has seemed to plague the 49ers for the past half-decade. 

    Colin Kaepernick is also playing the waiting game, thanks to this lockout. 

    In this case, things aren't all bad. Projected first-round pick in the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck, played behind Jim Harbaugh last season at Stanford, and is now teaching Kaepernick how to play in Jim Harbaugh's system

7. Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans

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    EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 6: Injured quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies watches the action from the bench in the third quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the g
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Jake Locker was the most controversial pick in this year's draft. Locker was thought by many to fall in the lap of a team anywhere between the late first round, or early third round of the NFL draft. His senior year was that lack-luster. 

    In fact, his senior season was a huge reason Locker is on this list. He didn't show the potential he had after the 2009 season, and his performance in 2010 didn't mitigate the severity of that statement. 

    Either way, Jake Locker has other issues that he might face during the lockout, aside from his own play.

    The Tennessee Titans are also a team in transition. Meltdown after crippling meltdown, the Titans were proving that they were headed in a somewhat-new direction. That was symbolized by the firing of Jeff Fisher, and the soon-to-be release of Vince Young. 

    Jake Locker will have to deal with a new coach, and a new offensive coordinator, meaning he won't get the support from other players to ease him into the offense.

    What does Jake Locker have going for him? Chris Johnson and some talent to work with on the offense; but if he can't use those weapons the way his offensive coordinator would like him to, it might not matter. 

6. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 05:  Jonathan Baldwin #82 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers catches a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 5, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    This is a bit of a different situation, in Kansas City with Jonathan Baldwin. 

    The Kansas City Chiefs played above any and all expectations in the 2010 season, finishing with a 10-6 record, and making the playoffs as the AFC West champion. 

    How does that factor in to how Jonathan Baldwin might be negatively impacted by the NFL lockout? 

    Despite the Chiefs' superb season, the team is still relatively young, and this success runs pretty shallow—2010 was the first year that the Chiefs had made the playoffs since 2006, when the team started the re-building process. Although Todd Haley has been coaching the Chiefs since 2009, there hasn't been enough of a team philosophy established through Haley's tenure (of just two years) so far.

    However, Jonathan Baldwin's junior season doesn't help him, either.

    Baldwin's performance fell off in 2010 at Pitt, and though his numbers were commendable (57 catches, for 822 yards), he under-achieved in comparison to his sophomore year, where he accumulated nearly 300 more yards in just four more passes than his junior year.

    Baldwin may not have it so bad, because the Chiefs aren't exactly in transition; however, this team is young, and doesn't have enough wily, veteran experience to help guide Baldwin, and ease him into the offense without Todd Haley around.  

5. Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  Robert Quinn #42 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after a sack with teammate Marvin Austin #9 against the East Carolina Pirates at Kenan Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by St
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Robert Quinn is an animal. 

    There's no way around it. To these eyes, Quinn was the best pick in the entire draft. 

    But he's here, in this list, for a reason. And that reason has nothing to do with him. 

    The St. Louis Rams are in the same boat as the Kansas City Chiefs. The Rams had a breakout year in comparison to their execrable season in 2009, which saw the Rams accumulate 15 losses out of 16 tries.

    This team, no matter how much anyone tries to spin it, is young. The entire team lacks a true veteran who has been there, done that. And without Steve Spagnuolo—the head coach, and former defensive coordinator for the Rams—Robert Quinn won't be able to ease into the defensive scheme.

    The current defensive unit for the Rams ranked 17th and 19th in allowed rushing yards and passing yards, respectively. This includes 10 outings against teams from the worst divisions in the NFL in the AFC West and the NFC West. Robert Quinn won't exactly be stepping into a system that needs minor changes. And sure, he's been brought in to anchor the defensive line, but the Rams still need to incorporate him into the defense by showing him the proverbial ropes. And with the youth they possess, comes inexperience, something that might plague the Rams when trying to incorporate quite possibly the best defensive player they will have for years to come. 

4. Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings

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    TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Christian Ponder #7 of the Florida State Seminoles throws for a first down during a game against the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Christian Ponder is the biggest gamble of the entire first round of the NFL draft. 

    And that's for so, so many reasons. 

    Ponder showed a lot of spunk coming out of his junior season, and while he didn't have a huge drop-off in 2010 at Florida State, he didn't exactly establish himself as the most NFL-ready quarterback in college football. With this lockout, he won't get the amount of practice reps necessary to bring him back to the level that he was at in 2009. 

    Oh, and of course, there's the environment waiting for him. 

    Ponder is set to play in the not-so-great shadow of Brett Favre, and his tenure in Minnesota. And while he has talent around him, the team is taking on a different coach in Leslie Frazier, who came on as interim coach after Brad Childress' firing. And sure, the Vikings' offensive players have had experience with Frazier as head coach, there's only been six games that the Vikings have had to familiarize with Frazier's philosophy. 

    And the hiring of a brand-new offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave doesn't help, either.

    Ponder won't get enough time to learn the offensive system that Musgrave wants to set in place at Minnesota, especially if this lockout spills into what is expected to be the start of the season.

3. Edmond Gates, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    If the Miami Dolphins played their cards correctly, Edmond Gates could be what pushes them over the top.

    That is, of course, dependent on whether the NFL lockout doesn't hinder his development. 

    Edmond Gates proved to be an explosive wide-out for Abilene Christian, and the Dolphins brought him in to solve the problem they have with deep throws. 

    But Gates isn't a Division-I draftee, meaning he hasn't had the experience of playing with elite college football teams. And though he has speed, regardless of his opposition, he hasn't had the challenge that forced him to play smarter, rather than faster. 

    Gates is raw talent. He's a speedy receiver who has above-average hands, but his route-running and vision is still well below that of a starting NFL wide-out. Without the reps he'll need under the coaching staff, this might not develop as well—or, at the very least, as fast—as the Dolphins would like. 

    Add that Brian Daboll is a first-year offensive coordinator in Miami, and Edmond Gates won't have enough time to make an impact in 2011 if the lockout continues through August. 

2. Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland Raiders

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    Taiwan Jones will be competing for a starting job against an effective Darren McFadden while the team transitions from the hard-nosed Tom Cable to the relatively unknown Hue Jackson, in a lockout year.

    That sentence, alone, is a near death sentence (no pun intended).

    While it's true that the Raiders showed flashes of brilliance last season, with hard-nosed running and staunch defense, the man who implemented such discipline in Oakland was fired, because Al Davis doesn't like to win unless it's in a flashy manner.

    Taiwan Jones is speedy as hell, so this is a case where the drafted player is raw talent, and needs only the vision and know-how to succeed in the NFL.

    Sadly, players can't work with coaches, and are forced to try and remember which plays the team ran throughout the season. But in this case, they can memorize all they want, because Tom Cable is not the guy calling plays, anymore.


1. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Nick Fairley, #13 overall pick by the Detriot Lions, holds up a jersey during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Things should be easy, for Nick Fairley, lining up with Ndamukong Suh. It should be easy for him to compliment what is already one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. 

    It won't be. Because while the Lions showed a ton of potential, and a hell of a lot of vigor, in 2010, the team is still terrifically young. The inexperience means that the players won't be able to hold any self-guided workouts that veteran-led teams (such as the New England Patriots or Indianapolis Colts) can. 

    There isn't much to this except that this team can't guide itself yet, and there aren't any coaches to walk them through, and develop the team further. 

    That's the reality of this lockout. No matter how much the players try, they can't replace (and thus, make obsolete) their coaches and coordinators. Nick Fairley can't do it, and neither can Tom Brady

    This lockout's putting a strain on the Lions the most, because of their youth. And that, dear reader, is upsetting. 

    Carlos Sandoval is co-host of weekly NFL podcast, The Pigeon Toe. You can follow him on Twitter, check out the latest weekly podcast!