SB Nation's NFL Draft team of Matthew Fairburn and Dan Kadar have been poring over the film and parsing the stats to figure out which rookies are succeeding and which aren't.
Five in the spotlight
Each week, for good or bad, we'll be pointing out five rookie performances breaking down what they did good and where they may need to improve.
Eric Reid, safety, San Francisco 49ers: The expectation for Reid was no big deal. Just come in and replace All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson on an expected Super Bowl contender. If Reid plays like he did against the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco should be in good shape. Reid played every snap of the game and also intercepted one of Aaron Rodgers' passes. Niners Nation has a succinct write-up on Reid here. Reid is if nothing else, a technician. He's a by-the-book wrap-up tackler and doesn't often go for a highlight reel hit. Because of that, he doesn't whiff on tackles either. On Sunday, the majority of Reid's work came in coverage. That makes sense considering the pass-happy Packers were the opposition.
Against the Seahawks on Sunday, look for Reid to play in the box a little more to help stop Marshawn Lynch. He may need to get more physical and aggressive with his play, which he's capable of doing.
Dion Jordan, outside linebacker, Miami Dolphins: Because he was the third overall pick, and first defensive player selected, there is built-in expectation with Jordan. But if you watched the Dolphins beat the Cleveland Browns, two things stand out. First, you must not have gotten any other games in your coverage area. Second, Jordan barely saw the field. Jordan played just 17 snaps, and according to Pro Football Focus, 14 of them were pass-rush plays. Even when he was on the field, it wasn't until late in the game. Jordan had a sack called back because of a penalty, but was barely a part of Miami's defense. That may be due to how little he played in the preseason while coming back from a shoulder injury.
Moving forward, the Dolphins want to run a "speed" formation on defense more often. It's a scheme that would get Jordan on the field with blitz-happy ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Those three on the field together will give the Dolphins an athletic group that can get into the backfield or drop into coverage.
"We can do a lot of things with those guys on the field," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle told reporters after the game. "We had a lot of fast guys on the field with that particular group. We can cover with those guys because they are all athletic; you might have seen Dion dropping into coverage a few times. We just scratched the surface with that."
Eddie Lacy, running back, Green Bay Packers: Lacy, Green Bay's best hope for a running game, quickly found himself benched last Sunday after fumbling the ball in the second quarter against the 49ers. Lacy got back into the game in the second half, but wasn't much of a factor rushing 14 times for 41 yards. Lacy wasn't on the bench for just the fumble, though.
The Packers showed faith in Lacy at the start of the second half, giving him the ball in four out of the first five plays of the half. That alone helped open up the field for Aaron Rodgers and the passing offense. For the Packers to be successful this year, it's on Lacy to give some legitimacy to the run game. To do that, he'll have to stay on the field and generate more than 2.9 yards per carry.
Matt Elam, safety, Baltimore Ravens: By now, it's old news that the Ravens got torched by the Denver Broncos. Strangely, Elam played a criminally low 13 snaps. As Baltimore was giving up touchdown after touchdown to Peyton Manning, Michael Huff was struggling at free safety. One of Huff's main responsibilities was to cover tight end Julius Thomas. Either Thomas is the next superstar tight end (which is possible), or Huff's best days are behind him (which is probable).
Most of Elam's snaps came in the fourth quarter. That could be an indication that the Ravens were throwing in the towel or they're going to use Elam more going forward. Against the Browns, look for Elam to get more than 17 snaps. His impact could be greater, and probably not worse than Huff's.
Kenbrell Thompkins, wide receiver, New England Patriots: In the preseason, there was no more ballyhooed undrafted player than Thompkins. One of the reasons Thompkins went undrafted out of the University of Cincinnati was inconsistent hands and field awareness. Those issues were prevalent against the Buffalo Bills. Playing a staggering 91 downs, Thompkins had 13 targets, but caught just four passes for 42 yards. One of the incompletions came when Thompkins didn't drag a second foot inbounds. On a slant in the end zone, Thompkins was pushed out of bounds before coming down with the pass. Another incompletion came on a short screen where Thompkins let the ball slip out.
The field awareness is the biggest area of improvement for Thompkins. With Tom Brady as his quarterback, it's something Thompkins will have to master if he wants to continue that many snaps. Against the New York Jets, Thompkins will likely face a tougher defensive back than Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin.
Geno Smith, Quarterback, New York Jets: On the surface, Geno Smith couldn't have been thrown into a tougher situation. The Jets were one of the worst teams in the league a year ago, and Smith doesn't have a ton of weapons to work with.
Still, he played surprisingly well in his first NFL start against a solid Buccaneers defense. He was poised in the pocket and showed good anticipation on a lot of throws. He made a few rookie mistakes, which is to be expected, but he was confident and rebounded well.
Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers: Before long, Star Lotulelei will be considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. On Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, Lotulelei lived up to the hype, looking every bit as disruptive and powerful as he did at Utah. The Panthers' front seven looks like a different animal with Lotulelei clogging the middle. He found himself in the backfield often and was a handful for Seattle's guards all day.
Late in the game, Lotulelei missed a read, giving the Seahawks enough room up front to get the game-clinching first down. Some point to conditioning as an issue for Loutlelei, but he remained effective late into the game on Sunday now that he's a part of a legitimate rotation at defensive tackle.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings: So much for Cordarrelle Patterson filling Percy Harvin's old role on the Vikings' offense. Patterson saw only five offensive snaps in Minnesota's season opener. The coaches don't seem to trust him in anything more than a special teams role at this point. With Christian Ponder throwing him the ball, Patterson may not put up the best numbers as a rookie.
Montee Ball, Running back, Denver Broncos: Despite being drafted in the second round, Montee Ball received only eight carries in Week 1 for the Broncos. Most of those came with the game well in hand, and Ball didn't look too impressive with those carries. He didn't look decisive hitting the holes and showed why Denver chose to go with Knowshon Moreno. In the first half, Moreno got 25 of the team's 31 snaps at running back.
Rookie of the Year
We'll be closing out the rookie report every week with a hastily decided Rookie of the Year pick. Awards are important, and the only way to properly judge things of great importance. Here is our current choice for Rookie of the Year:
Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
Congratulations, you were the most solid rookie of the week. That's a nice way of saying no rookies really had an outstanding game. Throwing for 256 yards puts Smith on pace for just more than 4,000 yards passing, and why not extrapolate things after one game? Smith also had the most rushing yards of any rookie in Week 1 with 47. He played particularly well in the fourth quarter, completing 7-of-11 passes and stood in the pocket even while getting sacked five times. For that, Smith is our current Rookie of the Year.