Luke Paul Chandler from New Era Scouting checks in with his week four rookie report.
The emergence of special teams rookies was key this week. The battle of field position has always been a game heavily featuring rookies, but some are stepping into the spotlight prominently among the veterans. Punter Durant Brooks has solidified his pre-draft status as the top punter of the class with a good game against the Redskins, but he is facing tough competition from the Broncos’ Brett Kern. The Broncos are heavily relying on not only Kern, but starting wide receiver Eddie Royal on punt return duties. Their coverage units also are suspect though, with Peyton Hillis, Spencer Larsen and Wesley Woodyard all struggling.
In Kansas City, an intriguing problem is developing at kick returner. Both Jamaal Charles and Dantrell Savage attempted to take the role, and both are doing well. For Savage, it’s clear he has to make his imprint on the Chiefs in this role, or he’s gone. He has slightly outperformed Charles, but he hasn’t been able to take the job full-time. Look for this budding competition to continue.
Offensive Rookie of Week
Steve Slaton, RB, Texans
10 rushes, 33 yards; 8 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD
The running lanes were just not there against the Jaguars, but Slaton still found a way to be an effective weapon for the offense. His touchdown reception came on a play where he was split out wide and was able to beat press coverage by the corner. He is showing solid route running and is beginning to understand the passing game more. Slaton is becoming a well-rounded, all-purpose back in head coach Gary Kubiak’s West Coast Offense.
Best of the Rest
2. Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos - Royal is benefiting from the presence of Brandon Marshall: he keeps facing single coverage. He can pick apart larger corners with his quickness, like he did this week against the Chiefs. Royal currently is tenth in the NFL in total receiving yards.
3. Jeff Otah, ORT, Panthers - It’s not a secret that the massive Otah is a powerful, nasty run blocker, but he’s hardly known for his pass protection. On a day when the Panthers passing game was posting huge numbesr, Otah was was a major factor until a leg injury took him out of the game in the third quarter. Otah’s ability to re-direct his blocker and shift his body was very crucial against a speed rushing Atlanta defensive line.
Defensive Rookie of the Week
Curtis Lofton, MLB, Falcons
8 tackles (7 solo)
The Falcons controlled the Panthers’ ground attack this past week, and they were led by Lofton. Lofton continues to be a strong run defender, particularly in pursuit to the outside. He can close quickly on the ball carrier and is physical enough to bring down larger backs, like the Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart. Lofton has some problems when teams run directly at him and in coverage, but as a two-down linebacker, he’s playing well.
Best of the Rest
2. Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs - Brandon Carr is making the big plays, but this week he played a smart game and controlled a difficult Denver air attack. He only allowed one pass completion over 11 yards, and had a fumble recovery.
3. Chris Horton, S, Redskins - Horton had another big interception on Sunday. On a pure hustle play, he dropped into coverage in the flat and jumped a telegraphed Tony Romo throw for an interception. His awareness and play recognition are very crisp for a rookie.
Special Teams Rookie of the Week
Dantrell Savage, RB, Chiefs
2 kick returns, 70 yards (51 long)
Savage has been pressing for recognition in Kansas City, and he has carved out a nice role for himself on kick returns. He currently is the second-ranked rookie in the league, averaging 29.5 yards per kick return. The smallish running back from Oklahoma State had little experience returning kicks in college but has adapted well in the NFL. With competition from Charles, Savage has started to separate himself. If Charles takes on a larger role in the offense, this job should become Savage’s exclusively.
Best of the Rest
2. Brian Witherspoon, DB, Jaguars - The lightning fast Witherspoon is becoming a dangerous threat on both punt and kick returns. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, which leads the league, and 15.8 yards per punt return. On a team struggling on offense, Witherspoon is doing all he can to set up great field position.
3. Durant Brooks, P, Redskins - Brooks is already one of the better punters in the NFC. He has been plagued by poor coverage units, but his two returns inside the 20 yard line helped push the Cowboys deep in their own territory.
Rookie on Rookie
Dexter Jackson, WR, Buccaneers vs Brett Kern, P, Broncos
The Broncos have been patient with Kern because of inconsistency. No one doubts that Kern has a big leg, but he has yet to master placing the ball. He had a booming kick of 51 yards, but also a kick of 26 yards Sunday. Coach Mike Shanahan described him as trying to over-kick the ball.
He is going to be facing the elusive Jackson, a second-round pick from Appalachian State. Jackson is a more natural kick returner than punt returner, shown by average of 4.9 yards per punt return. Jackson can be indecisive on punt returns and has yet to allow his natural speed to take over. He will need to perform better this week, or he could lose his job to veteran Michael Bennett.
Keith Rivers, OLB, Bengals vs Dallas Cowboys Offense
The Bengals first-round pick has played an up-and-down rookie season, with moments of big plays and big mistakes. He leads all rookies in tackles, and he faces off with one of the NFL’s most potent offenses this week. The Cowboys feature threats all over the field, and they will look to target the rookie linebacker with crossing patterns in the passing game. Rivers has yet to make a big impact against the passing game, so look for him to be targeted heavily.
Brian Witherspoon, DB, Jaguars, vs Pittsburgh Steelers Special Teams
The Jaguars undrafted free agent faces a much improved Pittsburgh coverage unit on Sunday night. The Steelers have improved this year on both leaky return units. In Week Three, the Steelers were able to hold the speedy Andre Davis of the Texans to 18.7 yards per return. Witherspoon is a similar speed-threat, and he could be in for a tough night. Facing the physical Steelers could slow down Witherspoon this week in this budding rivalry game.
Contact Luke at Luke@newerascouting.com.