Rewind to six months ago and the NFL's biggest debate was not "Patriots or Colts" or "Rosenfels or Schaub," but rather, "Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell?" The Raiders had the first pick in April's NFL Draft and observers were split over which gunslinger Oakland should and would choose. Middle-aged talking heads with too much makeup on lost their voices arguing on cable TV shows for weeks, draftniks broke down the velocity of each kid's arm and the mental capacity of each kid's brain in thousand-word manifestos, and America waited — patiently — until Oakland finally made a decision on draft day.
Fast forward to mid-October, and neither Quinn nor Russell has taken a
regular-season snap. Though there was talk of Quinn getting some burn as early
as Week 2, the Derek Anderson Show has emerged in Cleveland and is apparently
here to stay for now. At 3-3, and with the struggling 0-7 Rams ahead on the
schedule, the Browns are a dark-horse AFC playoff contender with Anderson at the
Meanwhile, the Raiders offense has been all but silent in losses to San Diego and Kansas City after a promising 2-2 start. The Daunte Culpepper Honeymoon period is pretty much over, but it looks as though Josh McCown — not the rookie Russell — will be taking snaps when the Raiders take on the Titans this weekend.
Though Quinn and Russell have yet to do anything as NFL players, a host of
other rookies have made an impact already. There's an old adage around NFL draft
circles that you're usually supposed to wait 3-4 years before judging a draft
class. Well, there's nothing quite like jumping the gun. Six months after Draft
Day and seven weeks into this NFL season, let's break down some of the early
winners and losers from the 2007 NFL Draft:
The Honor Roll: The A's
Minnesota: Imagine what Adrian Peterson would be doing if the Vikings
had even an average quarterback handing him the ball. A week after gashing the
Bears for 224 yards and three touchdowns, Peterson was met by an
eight-in-the-box, dare-you-to-pass Cowboys defense.
Though Peterson (12 carries, 63 yards, 1 touchdown) got his when given the rock, Tarvaris Jackson struggled to keep the Dallas D honest, going a putrid 6-for-19 passing for 72 yards. Peterson's faced eight-in-the-box all season, is given fewer carries than Chester Taylor when they're both active, and is still the NFL's leading rusher with 670 yards through six games.
The knock on him leaving college was that he ran "too upright." for
the next level. Peterson's not only the best running back among rookies, but
he's more than likely one of the best running backs in the entire league. Oh,
and he's returning kicks, too. Hands down, he's the Offensive Rookie of the
Year. Sidney Rice and Marcus McCauley have been solid as well. Great draft for
Cleveland: The most underrated unit in the entire league? It could very well be that Cleveland Browns offensive line. Joe Thomas, the third overall pick, has been starting at left tackle all along, protecting Derek Anderson's blind side. They said the kid was a can't-miss NFL talent. They were absolutely right. Cornerback Eric Wright has played well, too. They're two stars in the making. Quinn's an added bonus.
Buffalo: Marshawn Lynch's numbers aren't dazzling, but the impact he's
made can't be overstated. An absolute workhorse, the first-year stud out of Cal
has already developed into the Bills' most consistent and reliable offensive
performer. Lynch carried the ball a combined 40 times for 163 yards and scored
two touchdowns in wins over the Jets and Ravens.
With bone-crushing runs into the line and finesse moves in the open field, he's the perfect back for Steve Fairchild's Mike Martzian offense. Meanwhile, in a season where fellow quarterbacks Quinn, Russell, Drew Stanton, Kevin Kolb and John Beck (all drafted earlier) have yet to step on the field, Trent Edwards has already started two games and played well on national TV against Dallas. His 71.3 quarterback rating is OK and he's gained the respect of teammates. Not easy for a rookie.
Edwards vs. J.P. Losman is quite a predicament; one the front office didn't think they'd have to deal with this year. That's not a bad thing. Edwards could very well end up being the guy in Buffalo. Taken late in the third round (92nd overall), he could end up being this draft's true steal. Dwayne Wright's been solid in some limited action as a change-of-pace back as well. They're a Grade-A draft class already — and that's even minus the gem of the group, LB Paul Posluszny, who is out for the season with an injury.
Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
Kansas City: Nobody who spent the summer watching HBO's "Hard
Knocks" reality show could have been too impressed with Dwayne Bowe. He
showed up late to camp, dropped passes and took longer than expected to learn
the Chiefs offense. The lesson, as always? Don't pay too much attention to
reality television. Bowe's been an absolute star, already elevating himself to
the top of the Chiefs depth chart at wide receiver. In Kansas City 's
season-turning, 30-16 win at San Diego in Week 4, Bowe caught eight balls for
164 yards, galloping for a 51-yard touchdown score. On the year, he's already
got 29 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns. His college
pitch-and-catch partner Russell hasn't thrown an NFL pass yet, but Bowe's caught
DeMarcus Tyler and Turk McBride haven't done much yet but are sure to be contributors on the defensive line for years to come. Toss in safety Tyron Brackenridge — undrafted by the Chiefs in April and signed as a free agent — and you've got quite a class of newcomers.
San Francisco: The Niners have been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this year, going 2-4 with a sputtering offense. It's not been because of their rookies. Joe Staley's been a starter since opening day and Patrick Willis has been one of the few bright spots on the Bay this year. The 11th pick out of Ole Miss has been as good as advertised, leading the Niners with 63 tackles and holding down the middle in the San Fran defense.
Indianapolis: It's as if the media has completely ignored the 6-0 defending Super Bowl champions, relegating them to an afterthought in the seemingly assumed New England Patriots championship season. The boys in blue are just fine with all that. Flawless on the season, the Colts have done just what they've done for years — win football games.
Along the way, Indy's gotten some great production from a pair of rookies on
offense — LT Tony Ugoh and WR Anthony Gonzalez. Ugoh's been fabulous. Asked to
protect the blind side of the greatest quarterback of the generation because of
Tarik Glenn's somewhat surprising retirement in August, the kid's responded.
He's been a star on the line, both in protection and in creating holes for
Joseph Addai and Kenton Ketih. The Colts boast the third-ranked offense in the
NFL and feature the No. 6 rushing attack. Ugoh's a major reason why. Gonzalez,
meanwhile, has caught 13 balls for 178 yards. Daymeion Hughes has played well in
spot duty at corner as well.
Baltimore: You can't ask for much more than what Baltimore's gotten out of its two prized rookies, OG Ben Grubbs and special-teams star Yamon Figurs. Baltimore has lost three starters on the offensive line to injuries in the first seven weeks, so it's a testament to the Ravens' current patch-work offensive line that Willis McGahee is the NFL's No. 2 rusher. Grubbs was expected to contribute right away. He has. Figurs, meanwhile, is already one of the most explosive return guys in the league in place of the injured B.J. Sams. The Kansas State speedster has responded well, taking back a punt for a score in Baltimore's Week 3 three-point win over Arizona and averaging a hefty 29.9 yards per kick return in six weeks of action.
Washington: Universally overlooked by the pundits following the draft for having only two selections in the first five rounds, the Redskins sure have hit the jackpot with that one pick. When you're the starting strong safety on the NFL's third-ranked defense, you're probably doing something right. LaRon Landry's doing more than just that — he's making a difference every week. People aren't talking much about the 'Skins D — but this was one of the very worst units in the league last year. They're currently the eighth-best pass defense and fifth against the rush. The hard-hitting Landry has 35 tackles and half a sack. One of four first-round picks in the defensive backfield for Washington , look for Landry to make a play or two in this weekend's clash with New England. Sixth-round pick H.B. Blades has done well in spot duty as well.
Green Bay: Though first-round pick Justin Harrell's been relatively quiet and second-round pick Brandon Jackson has missed most of the season with an injury, the Packers have gotten solid production out of a trio of rookies — receiver James Jones, kicker Mason Crosby and running back DeShawn Wynn. Wynn's been the surprise. He was often times relegated to a last rushing option behind receiver Percy Harvin and quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida last year. With the Packers, he hasn't exactly become a fantasy football breakout star either. But he's the starting running back on a 5-1, division-leading squad. Taken 228th overall, he's already had several game-breaking plays, including a key touchdown against the Giants in Week 2. Solid pick. Solid draft.
The Academically-In-Good Standing's: The B's
New York Giants: After taking a few games to adjust, first-round pick Aaron Ross has been one of many bright spots for the Giants defense. In the last four weeks — all wins — Ross has made 13 tackles and intercepted three balls. Seven weeks into the season, he's been a steadier performer than fellow rookies Darrelle Revis and Leon Hall (both drafted earlier). Steve Smith's season was cut short and Zak DeOssie has played well in his spot duty as long snapper.
Panthers LB Jon Beason
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Carolina: Jon Beason, considered undersized by some critics entering the draft, has been an absolute beast at linebacker for the undermanned Panthers. The rookie out of Miami leads Carolina in tackles with 45, and is a three-down guy at the weakside linebacker spot. He's stepped right in and made a significant impact for a 4-2, division-leading team. Ryan Kalil's seen some time on the O-line. Dwayne Jarrett's been a minor disappointment at wideout, but Ryne Robinson has shown flashes as a return man.
Houston: The NFL's youngest player, Texans first-round pick Amobi Okoye, has been better than just solid in his rookie year. Starting at defensive tackle, Okoye recorded four sacks in his first four games, and has 19 tackles on the year. One can only wonder how good the Texans would be right now if their offense wasn't decimated by injuries. Wideout Jacoby Jones was made the No. 2 receiver in the preseason, but an injury has kept him out since the Week 3 loss to Indianapolis.
Pittsburgh: Expected to get instant production from rookie linebackers LeMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, the linebacker quartet of veterans Clark Haggans, James Farrior, Larry Foote, and James Harrison have been arguably the best unit in the league. Woodley's come along a bit faster than Timmons, but neither rookie's really been given the chance to soar. Third-round pick Matt Spaeth already has three touchdown receptions as the team's second tight end. And then there's the punter, fourth- round pick Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner has been a rock for the Steelers, averaging 44.4 yards per punt and nailing 12 inside the 20. Nice production from this crew so far, and it's only expected to get better.
Dallas: First-round pick Anthony Spencer has performed well in limited duty and James Maarten has seen some action on the line. The real pleasant surprise has been kicker Nick Folk. The sixth-round pick played the role of hero in the miracle Week 5 win in Buffalo, connecting from 53 yards ... twice. He's 13-for-15 on the year and perfect on extra points, a nice improvement from the Vanderjagt/Grammatica duo from last season.
Tampa Bay: Though fourth overall pick Gaines Adams hasn't exactly lit the NFL on fire, he's growing as a player each week. He had his best game as a pro against the Titans in Week 6, recording five tackles and a sack. The real highlight of this draft class, though, has been fourth-rounder Tanard Jackson. The rook's been one of the many bright spots on the Buccaneers defense, starting at free safety for Monte Kiffin's complicated D. A Syracuse guy, he has 29 tackles and an interception on the year.
New England: More like an "Incomplete" than anything else. With Brandon Meriweather battling an injury all season, it's tough to accurately grade the selection just yet. None of the other Patriots draft selections have done much. But you know who has? Randy Moss. And if you want to get cute, he could be considered a fourth-round selection from this year's draft. If that's the case, he's the greatest fourth round pick ... ever. Nice work, Mr. Pioli. Again.
Cincinnati: Though Leon Hall has struggled at times, seventh-round selection Nedu Ndukwe's been quite the surprise. When the Bengals were absolutely ravaged by injuries to linebackers in the first few weeks, they turned to the rookie safety to help play the role of band-aid. Nduwke, the third-to-last pick in the entire draft, has since moved back to safety and done more than just provide a quick heal. He's been downright solid. With the Jets on the move and looking to score late in Sunday's 38-31 Bengals win, Marvin Lewis sent the rookie on a blitz. He absolutely manhandled Chad Pennington, knocking the Jets back deep into their own territory. The Notre Dame grad has 14 tackles and two sacks on the season. Not bad for a guy two spots away from being Mr. Irrelevant.
Tennessee: Sure, rookie running back Chris Henry's done next to nothing. And yes, the troika of receivers taken in April hasn't done much either. But rookie safety/corner Michael Griffin's been solid and wideout Chris Davis has chipped in as well. Their real contributions? Filling in for Pacman Jones in the punt and kick-return games. Griffin, the Titans kick returner and backup corner, has been good on kicks, averaging 24.6 yards-per-return on 16 kicks. Davis has returned 13 punts for 140 yards.
St. Louis: The 0-7 Rams have played much of the season without their Pro Bowl starting left tackle, quarterback and running back. Brian Leonard, the first-year back out of Rutgers, has been solid in relief of Steven Jackson, averaging over four yards per carry, and broke the 100-yard mark in the 34-31 loss to Arizona. Adam Carriker has started at DT and has had his problems in the early going. He's coming along, though, and should improve as the season progresses.
Atlanta: Can't ask for much more out of a rookie class than getting contributions from multiple draft picks week in and week out. Though Jamaal Anderson, Chris Houston, David Irons, Martez Milner and Laurent Robinson haven't exactly taken the league by storm, each gets significant PT and produces for the Falcons. There are high expectations for Justin Blalock, too. Six regulars taken in one draft? Sounds pretty good to me.
The Muddy Middle: The C's
Detroit: When in the lineup, Calvin Johnson's been one of Jon Kitna's most reliable targets. His uncapped potential was on display Sunday versus Tampa when he took a reverse, shed multiple tacklers, and willed himself to the end zone for a game-winning score. With Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald, and Mike Furrey alongside him on the Lions wide receiver depth chart, CJ21 is not necessarily Kitna's first option. But he's made the most of his opportunities, scoring three touchdowns in just five games. Other than that, though, it's been slim pickins from this draft class. Drew Stanton's still a question mark, and none of the other Lions draft picks have really made a great impact.
Jacksonville: Last year's draft class featured two instant contributors — Maurice Jones-Drew and Mercedes Lewis. The Jags got another one this year in Reggie Nelson. The starting free safety on the NFL's second-ranked defense, Nelson's been everywhere for the Jags this season. One of those guys who seems to be in on every play, the high-motor Nelson already has 20 tackles, a sack and an interception. He and Sammy Knight have been terrific at the safety spots for Jacksonville. Other than Nelson, though, it's been a lot of wait and see. None of the other rookies on the roster have made a significant contribution.
Bears TE Greg Olsen
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
Chicago: Greg Olsen's been a key target in the Chicago offense over the past three weeks. Since Lovie Smith gave the rock to Brian Griese, Olsen's caught 13 balls for 158 yards and scored a touchdown. Considered a disappointment at Miami, the "Workout Warrior" who stole the show at the NFL scouting combine in February has been a key part in the Bears' offense's re-emergence. Look for even more from him as the season goes on. There were expectations for a Darren Sproles/Leon Washington-like role in the Bears offense for Garrett Wolfe. He hasn't done much in limited action.
Denver: The Broncos loaded up on defensive-line talent in April's draft. Jarvis Moss, their first-round selection, looks to be coming around a bit. Solid in last Sunday's season-saving win over Pittsburgh, he could be the shining light in this otherwise non-descript draft class.
Arizona: The jury's still out on Levi Brown, but he's learning as he goes. The real treat of the Arizona '07 draft class has been return man Steve Breaston. Taken in the seventh round, the former Michigan Wolverine has been a return threat since opening week. Breaston broke a 73-yard punt return for what ended up being the difference in Arizona 's 21-14 win over Pittsburgh . On the year, he's averaging a very respectable 22.5 yards per kick return and 11.2 for punts. Most importantly, he hasn't fumbled once all year. Buster Davis — the third-round selection — was cut in the preseason. DT Alan Branch has done nothing.
Seattle: Josh Wilson, the 55th pick overall, has gotten some significant P.T. for the Seahawks. He should be a fixture for years to come. Baraka Atkins and Courtney Taylor have gotten minutes, too. No real superstars in this bunch.
Miami: Sure, it looks as though Brady Quinn could have helped. But let's wait until John Beck gets in there before we pass judgment on that decision. Ted Ginn's returned one kickoff for a touchdown — only to have it taken all the way back on a holding penalty. He'll have every chance in the world to perform at wideout now that Chris Chambers has been traded. Samson Satele's been solid at center, starting right away on the Miami O-Line. The rest of the Dolphins' picks have yet to make any real impact. Like everything else in the Cam Cameron era thus far, this draft class has been an early disappointment.
San Diego: Both Craig Davis and Eric Weddle are getting significant playing time. Neither's been the game-changing playmaker they were hyped as coming out of school. With Chris Chambers now with the Chargers, look for even less from Davis. Brandon Siler — the seventh-round pick — has actually been a very pleasant surprise, forcing a key fumble in San Diego's Week 6 win over Denver.
Academic Probation: The Bottom Four
Philadelphia: This grade can easily change once we see more from Kevin Kolb and Tony Hunt. But for now, both are buried on the bench and non-factors in the Eagles' disappointing 2-4 season.
New Orleans: First-round pick Robert Meachem showed up to camp 15 pounds overweight and then missed time with an injury. Usama Young's still buried on the depth chart and third-rounder Antonio Pittman was waived before the season even began.
New York Jets: With great expectations to contribute mightily entering 2007, first-round pick Darrelle Revis and second-rounder David Harris have been disappointments for one of the league's most underwhelming teams. Revis held out well into camp and hasn't been nearly as good as Giants corner Aaron Ross. Two costly penalties in last weekend's game vs. Cincinnati played major roles in the game's outcome. The Harris pick was lauded by everyone. He's been OK — but not great — thus far. Jacob Bender, under consideration to fill in for Pete Kendall after the longtime guard was traded to Washington, still hasn't recovered from being manhandled by Justin Tuck on a three-play preseason drive against the Giants.
Oakland: The Raiders had 11 picks, with seven in the first four rounds. Only tight end Zach Miller has served as a significant contributor. They've already waived third- round pick Quentin Moses, and the selection of Michael Bush so early on the second day will be questioned if he never makes it on to the field. Oh, and on top of all that, the Raiders traded the league's best receiver in 2007 for a fourth-round selection, cornerback John Bowie, who hasn't made much of an impact at all. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, and yes, no one doubts that Oakland had to get rid of Moss. But could they really not get more than a fourth-round pick? Crazy to consider, knowing what we do now.
Some Early Awards
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jon Beason, Carolina
Unsung Performer of the Year: Tony Ugoh, Indianapolis
Special Teams Rookie of the Year: Steve Breaston, Arizona
Marques Colston "Almost Mr. Irrelevant" Player of the Year: Nedu Ndukwe
"Thrown into the Fire" Rookie Standout: Trent Edwards, Buffalo
Russell or Quinn? We've got plenty of time to debate about that. For now, it's been all about the other first-year guys. And from the looks of it now, the class is still an open book.Peter Schrager is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.