YOUNG PLAYERS MAKING THEIR MARK IN
As the NFL season approaches the halfway point, young players around the league are making their mark.
At quarterback, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft – St. Louis' SAM BRADFORD – seized the starting job in training camp and hasn't looked back. Running back JAHVID BEST, a first-round pick (No. 30) by Detroit, leads all rookies with 534 scrimmage yards. Tampa Bay's MIKE WILLIAMS, the team's fourth-round selection (No. 101), tops rookie wide receivers with 28 catches and 365 yards in addition to his three touchdown catches. And Dallas' DEZ BRYANT, also a first-rounder (No. 24), is tied with Best among NFL rookies with five total touchdowns, including a three-TD performance this past Monday night against the Giants.
Defensively, safety EARL THOMAS (first round, No. 14) of Seattle leads NFL rookies with four interceptions (tied for second among all players) while safety NATE ALLEN (second round, No. 37) of Philadelphia has three INTs. Detroit defensive tackle NDAMUNKONG SUH, the second overall pick in 2010, tops all rookies with 4.5 sacks.
Several NFC players are also enjoying sensational sophomore campaigns, including Green Bay linebacker CLAY MATTHEWS, who leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, and wide receiver HAKEEM NICKS of the Giants, who is tied for first in the NFL with eight touchdowns and tied for second in the league with 45 receptions. Second-year Philadelphia running back LE SEAN MC COY leads the Eagles in rushing yards (477) and receptions (38) and is tied for the NFC lead with five rushing touchdowns.
A closer look at some of the NFC's outstanding young players:
SAM BRADFORD, St. Louis (Round 1, No. 1 overall, Oklahoma): The No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft has started all seven games and has guided the Rams to three wins, already surpassing the team's total for 2009. He leads all rookies in attempts (260), completions (146), yards (1,483), touchdowns (nine) and passer rating (71.4). Bradford is one of only four quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall since 1970 to start and win three of his team's first seven games in his rookie season (TERRY BRADSHAW, STEVE BARTKOWSKI and JEFF GEORGE).
"Sam's a guy who's had great success," says FOX analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback TROY AIKMAN. "He won the Heisman and he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He's a great talent. I like his demeanor and I like this athleticism. I think he can be a real superstar."
JAHVID BEST, Detroit (Round 1, No. 30, California): Best was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September and has been an impact player for the Lions. In Week 2 against Philadelphia, he became the first rookie in NFL history with at least 75 rushing yards (78), 150 receiving yards (154) and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in a single game. Best scored the club's first five touchdowns to start the season, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since DUTCH STERNAMAN of the Decatur Staleys in 1920.
"He wants to do everything perfectly," says Lions running backs coach SAM GASH. "To me, he has already beaten the learning curve for rookies. He's not a guy who thinks he knows everything; he wants to learn everything. And man, I wish I was as fast as him."
MIKE WILLIAMS, Tampa Bay (Round 4, No. 101, Syracuse): A fourth-round selection out of Syracuse, Williams leads NFL rookie wide receivers with 28 catches for 365 yards and has three touchdown catches. He has started all six games and recorded at least two receptions in all six contests. Williams had a TD catch in three of his first four career games, becoming the first Buccaneers rookie to accomplish the feat.
"Mike and I are continuing to develop chemistry," says Tampa Bay quarterback JOSH FREEMAN. "We continue to get better the more and more we work with each other. Mike understands I have a lot of faith in him no matter what the situation is. If there's an opportunity to get him the ball, I'm going to try to do that because I know what kind of player he is and what kinds of plays he can make."
DEZ BRYANT, Dallas Cowboys (Round 1, No. 24, Oklahoma State): Bryant has been been a versatile performer for the Cowboys. In addition to Bryant's 22 receptions for 265 yards and three touchdown catches, he also leads the NFL in punt-return average (16.9) and is tied with DEVIN HESTER for the most punt-return touchdowns (two). Bryant is only the second rookie in franchise history with two punt-return touchdowns in a season (KEVIN WILLIAMS, 1993), and his 93-yard PR-TD against the Giants was the second-longest in club history (DENNIS MORGAN, 98-yard punt-return touchdown at the Rams on 10/13/74).
"Dez is a spectacular player," says Dallas head coach WADE PHILLIPS. "I think everyone can see that. He has a knack for being able to stay on his feet."