Patriots vs. Bucs: Ryan Mallett and the 4 Best Rookies Playing Thursday

Adam Spencer@AdamSpencer4Correspondent IAugust 18, 2011

Patriots vs. Bucs: Ryan Mallett and the 4 Best Rookies Playing Thursday

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    Ryan Mallett had an outstanding debut for the New England Patriots last week.

    But, he wasn't the only one who excelled.

    Plenty of rookies on the Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had good NFL debuts.

    So, who will excel again this week when the two teams meet on Thursday night?

    Let's take a look at Mallett and three other rookies who will make an impact Thursday night.

4. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Clayborn, a defensive end out of Iowa, was the Bucs' first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

    He was selected to try to provide some life to the Tampa Bay pass rush that wasn't very good in 2010.

    Clayborn had two tackles in his debut, but no sacks.

    He'll be trying his hardest to get his first sack on Thursday night.

3. Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots

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    Stevan Ridley, from LSU, was very, very impressive in his professional debut.

    He ran the ball 16 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.

    Then, he added seven catches for 47 yards and another touchdown.

    He appears to have taken the Patriots running back position by storm and it will be exciting to see how he follows that performance on Thursday.

2. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Bowers, the second-round pick out of Clemson, got on the field last week but didn't make an impact.

    He'll be looking to change that this week. He needs to make a tackle or two and get some pressure on the quarterback to earn a spot on the roster.

    He has the potential to be a star in the NFL.

    It just depends on if he can get his injured knee to full strength.

1. Ryan Mallett, QB, New England Patriots

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    Mallett had an impressive NFL debut last week, going 12-for-19 for 164 yards and a touchdown.

    He also didn't throw any interceptions in what was probably the best debut for a rookie QB this season.

    If he can match that level of production on Thursday night, he might snatch the backup QB job from Brian Hoyer.

    We'll just have to see how much playing time he gets this week, since Tom Brady will be playing this time around.