2013 NFL rookie watch: Ziggy Ansah, Jonathan Franklin have breakout games

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to the raw defensive end from BYU that was considered a project?

We heard it all before the draft. He was too raw, too inexperienced and didn't have the technique to play right away. He would need a few months to get himself ready to play against NFL linemen. But the upside is there. He's talented enough to warrant a top 10 pick, but the risk is monumental.

The Detroit Lions made what was viewed as a risky pick, drafting Ziggy Ansah No. 5 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. People thought he would need time before becoming an impact player. But he hasn't needed much time at all, already establishing himself as one of Detroit's sparks on the defensive line. Maybe it's because he's surrounded by talented players or maybe it's because people underestimated (I know, hard to imagine) how physically gifted Ansah really is. Either way, he appears to be well on his way to becoming the player the Lions hoped they were getting with the No. 5 pick.

Ansah leads off the rookie watch this week, and here are other first-year players rising and falling after Week 3.

Three up, three down


Ziggy Ansah, Defensive End, Detroit Lions: After playing just over 20 snaps in Week 1, Ezekiel Ansah has eclipsed 50 snaps each of the last two weeks and has been getting better with each game. His playing strength is off the charts, and that's showing up in the running game. The pass rush technique will come with time, but he is already pushing the pocket and disrupting plays. On Sunday against the Redskins, Ansah had two sacks. If he keeps playing at that level, Detroit will look awfully smart for taking a chance on him in the top five.

Larry Warford, Guard, Detroit Lions: While we're talking about the Lions, it makes sense to mention guard Larry Warford, who slipped to the third round in the draft due to concerns about his athleticism. He hasn't transformed into a quick-footed guard overnight, but Detroit hasn't needed him to. Instead, he's held his own in pass protection and been his usual self in the running game. Warford is a powerful players and that seems to be translating nicely to the pro game.

Johnathan Franklin, Running back, Green Bay Packers: Ok, so Jonathan Franklin coughed up the ball late in the Packers' loss to the Bengals, costing his team the game. But let's not let that undo all the positive things Franklin did in Week 3. With Eddie Lacy and James Starks sidelined, Franklin got his chance and took advantage. On a season-high 43 snaps, Franklin carried the ball 13 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. Even more impressive was the fact that Franklin held up in pass protection, which was a big concern for some after a shaky preseason. It wasn't just a flashy numbers game for Franklin. He picked up tough yards against an impressive defense, showing off the vision and decisiveness that made him one of our top ranked running backs heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.


Eric Fisher, Offensive Tackle, Kansas City Cheifs: The transition from left tackle to right tackle has not been a smooth one for No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. He's been a complete mess in pass protection, and that continued on Thursday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's obviously way too early to write Fisher off, but he has to get things figured out or his rookie year could get away from him in a hurry. On Sunday, Fisher allowed a sack and two hurries to add to his season totals.

Johnthan Banks, Cornerback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Entering the season it was obvious Johnthan Banks would be targeted often. Playing across from Darrelle Revis makes that inevitable. In Week 3, the results were as bad as they have been for Banks. Tom Brady picked on him all afternoon, and Banks allowed four catches on seven passes thrown in his direction. He was also beat for a touchdown. He'll have better days ahead, but Sunday was a low for the rookie.

D.J. Hayden, Cornerback, Oakland Raiders: Speaking of rookie cornerbacks getting victimized by all-time great quarterbacks, D.J. Hayden was had a night to forget on Monday Night Football against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. He was only thrown at five times but he allowed a catch on every one of those throws. The good news is that Hayden won't have to face Manning every week. Hopefully he learned something on Monday night.

Rookie of the year


Geno Smith, Quarterback, New York Jets

After a rough outing against the Patriots on Thursday Night Football in Week 2, Geno Smith bounced back with his best game of the season, shredding the Bills for 331 passing yards and three total touchdowns. Not many people expected Smith to be this good this early. But with a rock solid defense, Smith is getting put in a position to win football games. That always reflects positively on the voters.


Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers blew out the Giants 38-0 in Week 3, and Star Lotulelei picked up his first sack of the season. He may not have been quite as disruptive as he was in the first two weeks of the season, but he didn't need to be. Right now, Lotulelei is the front-runner for defensive rookie of the year, and it will take an impressive performance to unseat him.

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