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Rookies of the Preseason

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With the preseason now over, it’s time to introduce my new format for the rookie articles going forward. Rather than focusing in-depth on just three, I’m going to choose a top seven and post a shorter review, allowing for an easier-to-digest look at the rookies making their mark. So with that, let’s crown the seven rookies of the preseason!

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Aidan O’Connell, Quarterback – Las Vegas Raiders

A solid showing, playing in all three games and finishing with 43 completions on 62 attempts for 482 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was rewarded for his outstanding preseason with a spot on the 53 man roster.

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Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Quarterback – Cleveland Browns

An impressive 37 completions on 58 attempts, 440 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Couple that with 96 yards and a rushing touchdown on five rushing attempts, and you see why DTR has jumped up from fourth on the depth chart to backup QB.

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Emanuel Wilson, Running Back – Green Bay Packers

An undrafted free agent topping the preseason rushing charts? Yep, that’s what happened with Wilson, who finished with 223 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. The 24-year-old made his case for a roster spot and got his wish on Tuesday.

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T.J. Bass, Offensive Guard – Dallas Cowboys

Another free agent who had a solid showing in his three games Bass played 130 snaps, allowing 0 pressures and 0 penalties across 80 pass-blocking snaps. That showing took him from buried on the depth chart to on the 53 man roster

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Nick Herbig, Outside Linebacker – Pittsburgh Steelers

Herbig had the NFL’s leading pass rush win rate in the preseason, as well as 3.5 sacks, eight stops, and one forced fumble. With T.J. Watt ahead on the depth chart, he’ll likely be a rotational option, but his speed and versatility will see him have opportunities this season.

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Steven Gilmore, Cornerback – Detroit Lions

You already have enough pressure when you are an undrafted rookie, but when your brother is Stephon Gilmore, you’ll get comparisons too. Luckily, Steven balled out! 131 snaps, two interceptions, four pass breakups, eight tackles, and a passer rating of 37.0 allowed. All stats that helped him get that roster spot

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Blake Grupe, Kicker – New Orleans Saints

Grupe, who has battled for the kicking job against Will Lutz, can hold his head high. One conversion from one attempt on extra points and five from six on field goals, with his only miss being a wide right on a 60-yarder He obviously impressed the Saints enough as Lutz was traded meaning Grupe is the new kicker.

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“I have not talked to Aaron”: Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst on Aaron Rodgers, Jets trade

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Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst has admitted that he has not talked to four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers since trading the team’s former franchise QB to the New York Jets.

“I have not talked to Aaron,” Gutekunst revealed in his pre-NFL draft press conference after the trade compensation was finalised on Monday.

“I have talked to Dave Dunn (Rodgers’ agent) quite a bit, but I have not talked to Aaron.”

“I think where our team is at, obviously, Aaron’s up there in age, and although he’s got some really good football in him, I think for us, as we got through the offseason, a trade made a little better sense for us.”

Gutekunst made headlines by drafting Jordan Love, Rodgers’ replacement, in the 2020 first round, just 18 months after signing him to a four-year extension. Green Bay was then put in a difficult situation, with the 39-year-old subsequently winning two MVPs.

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One contract extension later, a decision was finally made to move on this offseason. By trading Rodgers to New York, the Packers have moved up two spots in Thursday night’s 2023 first round, where they’ll look to surround their new quarterback with more talent.

Also in the package was a 2023 second-round pick, and a future second-rounder that can become a first-round pick, should Rodgers play in 65% of games for the Jets in 2023.

Love has made one start since joining the Packers after Rodgers missed a trip to Arrowhead due to testing positive for COVID-19, but there was enough optimism in the organisation for them to move on from their long-time QB.

“I think as we move forward we’re really excited for where Jordan could go, he needs to play, and having him sit another year would’ve really delayed where we’re going and what we’re trying to build.”

“I have so much respect for Aaron, and not only the person, but also the player that he is, and I have so much gratitude for what he’s done for this organisation.

“He’ll always be a Packer, he’ll be one of the best to have ever done it around here, and he will be missed there’s no doubt about it, players like that do not come around very often.

“At the same time, we are really excited about where we are headed and wish him nothing but the best”: Gutekunst said.

Gutekunst also responded to qualms about whether his young quarterback was ready: “We’ve seen steady growth through his first three years here, especially with the challenges of having no pre-season in his rookie year.

“The biggest thing was last year in practice a number of times, because of Aaron’s injuries, he took over a lot of time with the 1’s, and I just think we saw him grow and grow.

“He didn’t get nearly as many opportunities as we’d have liked last season during games, but when he did he was ready to answer the bell.”

Gutekunst then added: “I think it’s natural maturation as a person too.”

“What’s put on the plate of a starting quarterback in the NFL is significant, and there’s a lot to that, with challenges on and off the field, I think we started to see him grow into that role and feel more confident.”

Rodgers isn’t the first superstar player to be traded in Gutekunst’s tenure as GM, All-Pro Wide Receiver Davantae Adams became a Las Vegas Raider last offseason.

On whether trading away two potential future hall of famers was a risk, he responded: “There’s certainly an element of risk, but that’s part of the job right?

“Aaron was coming into the time of his career where it was ending and we had to prepare for the future and to move forward.

“It’s always risky, I mean we were 8-9 last year, we’re always trying to be better.”

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With the draft on the horizon, Gutekunst was quizzed on his strategy: “You’d love to say that every pick is the best player available because you truly don’t know what your needs will be until you get to the season.

“At the same time, it’s hard not to let those subconscious thoughts into your mind about what your roster looks like.

“We evaluate for our football team, rather than for the league, so subconsciously if you have a need it’s going to factor in.

“If we can, the best practice is the best player available because by the time we get to September, October, November what our needs are could be everything.”

He prefixed that by saying: “It’s a good draft overall, it’s one that we’re certainly excited about and one that we really believe that we’re going to be able to add to our football team and help us for 2023 and beyond.

“I think it is a good edge class this year, there’s a lot deeper of a class than there has been in recent years, tight end is another one that I think I’ve mentioned earlier.” Green Bay lost tight end Robert Tonyan to Chicago in free agency.

Gutekunst was then asked whether TE was a more premium position than 15 years ago, to which he replied: “I don’t think so.

“There was already so much demand on the tight ends, with not only the entire passing trees but also the run and pass blocking.

“It’s a very demanding position, obviously with the way Matt (La Fleur) uses multiple TE’s they’re very important to our offense, sometimes it can be scheme related, but for us, it’s a very important position.”

You can watch the 2023 NFL Draft on Sky Sports, with coverage of the first round beginning at 9 PM on Thursday night.

It will begin when the Carolina Panthers are put on the clock just after 1 AM. To stay up to date with all seven rounds, stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Week 13: Rookie Standouts

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Games going down to the wire, overtime ties, and the return of a controversial quarterback ensured that Week 13 had its surprises, but most games went the way of the betting favourites. Here are the rookies that stood out this week:

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Daron Bland, Cornerback – Dallas Cowboys

Despite the overwhelming 54-19 score line, the Colts had kept the game within a score against the Cowboys, but when Dallas scored early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-19, the Colts imploded in dramatic fashion. Indianapolis turned the ball over four times in the space of 13 minutes, and rookie Daron Bland had a hand (literally) in two of them.

Bland, who has filled in for injured corner Anthony Brown, has been steadily improving in recent weeks, with the exception of a poor performance against the Packers in Week 10, but his performance against Indianapolis was by far his best. After spending the majority of the game in tight coverage, Bland showed almost telepathic knowledge of where the ball was going on both interceptions, finishing with two interceptions and one pass break-up while allowing only two catches for nine yards on seven targets.

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Jalen Pitre, Safety – Houston Texans

A few weeks ago, the Texans made the decision to move Pitre to free safety, and they seem to be reaping the rewards as the rookie out of Baylor looks much more comfortable. During the game against the Cleveland Browns, he not only had one of his best games against the Browns but also broke a Houston Texans defensive record.

Pitre recorded a season-high 16 tackles against the Browns, breaking ex-Texan linebacker DeMeco Ryans record from 16 years ago of 15 tackles. Interestingly, in that game against the Raiders on the 3rd of December 2006, Ryans also had an interception, something Pitre also matched, as he picked off a pass intended for Amari Cooper by the returning Deshaun Watson, who incidentally was playing in his first game in 700 days due to injury and suspension.

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Christian Watson, Wide Receiver – Green Bay Packers

Christian Watson received his first nomination in my condensed Week 10 rankings after an impressive four receptions for 107 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Chicago Bears, Watson was able to continue this recent success as he showcased his ability as both a receiver and a rusher, scoring a pair of touchdowns.

His first, a 14-yard pass from Aaron Rogers on fourth down with only 17 seconds left in the first half, was likely the catalyst the Packers needed to mount their comeback, and his second was a simple jet sweep that completely fooled the defence, allowing him to turn on the afterburners for a 41-yard rush. Watson now has 8 touchdowns in the last four games, giving him the distinction of sharing the record for most touchdowns scored over a four-game span with Hall of Famer Randy Moss.

Honourable Mentions

Reed Blankenship (Philadelphia Eagles), Greg Dulcich (Denver Broncos), Garrett Wilson (New York Jets), Jack Sanborn (Chicago Bears), Brian Robinson Jr (Washington Commanders),

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Week 10 and 11: Rookie Standouts

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It’s been two weeks since one of my rookie roundups, thanks to a lovely bout of flu and sinusitis, and a lot has changed in that time. Firstly, I’m going to give a brief rundown of who would have made my week 10 rookies, and then let’s focus on week 11’s before our lineup of Thanksgiving football feasts later on.

Week 10 Standout Rookies 

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Christian Watson, Wide Receiver – Green Bay Packers 

8 targets, 4 receptions, 107 yards, 3 touchdowns. Nuff said 

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Myjai Sanders, Edge – Arizona Cardinals 

A breakout game against the leagues worst OL. Two pressures including a sack-fumble and three run stops. 

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Charles Cross, Tackle – Seattle Seahawks 

0 pressures from 42 pass blocking snaps makes this his best performance of the season. 

Right, let’s move on to the rookies that stood out in week 11. 

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Tyler Linderbaum, Center – Baltimore Ravens 

It’s very difficult sometimes to fully appreciate how important it is to have a solid, reliable center. They don’t play a flashy position, and they rarely show up on the stat sheets despite having to both initiate each play and manipulate the defensive front depending on the play call. Despite this, I thought it was about time we spoke about the standout centre from this year’s rookie class, Tyler Linderbaum.

Linderbaum, despite experiencing some early teething problems, has improved week after week to quickly become a dominant force for the Ravens, especially on rushing plays. Baltimore averages 162.8 rushing yards per game, and Linderbaum has an impressive 77.6 PFF rating in run blocking, including a 74.1 rating this past week against the Carolina Panthers.

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Chris Olave, Wide Receiver – New Orleans Saints 

On draft night, the Saints knew they needed a wide receiver, and Olave was clearly their guy as they traded up five spots to select the Ohio State alumni, giving up their own 16th pick as well as picks 98 and 120. I think it’s fair to now say that they have been able to ratify their decision as Olave continues to be a standout player on their offense. 

After finishing week 11 with five receptions for 102 yards (an average of 20.4 yards per reception) and a touchdown, the Saints rookie is now ranked in the top 15 in most of the major receiving statistics. He’s tied for 15th in receptions with 51, tied for 12th in first down conversions with 34, and is 10th in receiving yards with 760. A lot of his extra targets can likely be attributed to the injuries suffered by Thomas and Landry, but at least the Saints know they have a more than competent number one going forward.

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Aidan Hutchinson, Edge – Detroit Lions 

The Lions completely dominated the Giants this past week (much to the annoyance of this writer), but credit where credit is due, it was fully deserved. Defensively, the Lions stifled everything that the Giants had to offer outside of a few chunk plays that came after the Lions were already almost out of reach, and one huge contributor to that was Aidan Hutchinson. 

Hutchinson, who has since been crowned NFC defensive player of the week, has already made this rookie standout list before and week by week is proving his credentials in the race for defensive rookie of the season. Against the Giants, he finished the game with a pass defense, three tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. The interception was his second of the season, making him the second player in NFL history with two interceptions and five or more sacks in his first 10 career games 

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Five Things: Week 5 – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

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The Giants returned to our shores this week and shocked everyone with a 27-22 come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers. Let’s take a look at five things that stood out from London:

London Calling

The Giants must really love coming to London. Not only is the team now 3-0 in the city, but they’re also the only team to win three games in three different London stadiums (Wembley in 2007, Twickenham in 2016 and Tottenham this past weekend).

Despite being 3-1, the Giants opened as 7.5-point underdogs against Aaron Rogers and his Green Bay Packers team, and looking at the rosters, it was totally understandable. The Giants were without multiple starters, including starting defensive player Leonard Williams, and after the first half of the game went the way of the cheeseheads (and their huge following), the Giants rallied at half time. After shutting out Green Bay in the second half despite more injury woes, Big Blue scored two unanswered touchdowns via running backs Gary Brightwell and Saquon Barkley before Oshane Ximines sacked Rogers on the final play of the game.

Box of Tricks

The Wildcat formation was obviously something that the Giants had in their back pocket after successfully running it a few times last week. Due to injuries to both quarterbacks, that was a necessity last week; this week, it was more of an option to unsettle the Packers, and it worked.

Barkley lined up on his own 22-yard line, took the snap and darted through for 40 yards. Suddenly, the tails were up, and Big Blue had started to string something together. A few plays later, they found themselves on the cusp of the endzone. In what looked like a failed Philly special, Daniel Jones tossed it to Barkley, who then did the same to tight end Daniel Bellinger. Bellinger looked like he was going to throw the ball but decided to just barrel into the endzone for the Giants’ first touchdown of the game.

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2nd Half Shutout

Wink Martindale seems to use the first half as a learning session before executing his masterplan in the second half, and this time it was Rogers who was in the crosshairs. After Adoree Jackson was ruled out at the half with a knee injury, he was down to Fabian Moreau, Nick McCloud, and Justin Layne, three players who weren’t even on the Giants roster until after the preseason, but all three excelled in their next man up roles.

After completing 18 of 24 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, he was held to a paltry 7 of 15 for 76 yards and no touchdowns. The amazing thing at the end of all of this is that the only points scored by the Packers in the second half were done so by the Giants, as punter Jamie Gillian got to play a little bit of chase in the endzone before stepping out for a safety.

Slayton Shows Up

The Giants’ receivers had been the most underwhelming unit this season, and after the majority of the so-called big names had been ruled out by injuries, the Giants turned to fourth-year outcast Darius Slayton.

Slayton has found himself on the outside looking in since Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen took over and was touted as being an almost certain cut or trade candidate before the season.

Though he saw a return to the line-up last week, again he didn’t start as practice squad elevation Marcus Johnson started the game, but by the end, Slayton showed why it should be him next week. He led the team in both targets and receptions and comfortably had double the receiving yards of any other Giant receiver. With Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Wan’Dale Robinson unlikely to take the field together for at least a few more weeks, the Giants won’t think twice next time about relying on Slayton.

Coach(es) of the Year Incoming?

In their first year leading the team, general manager Joe Schoen, head coach Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, and defensive coordinator Wink Martingdale have had quite an eventful start to the season as the team has exceeded expectations to earn their 4-1 start.

Daboll and Schoen have overhauled the culture at the Giants, building a team that not only does the dirty, gritty work but genuinely looks like they are playing for each other. The old cliché is “next man up,” but this is a mantra they are playing by and, to a man, it is working.

The coordinators, as mentioned before, both got the absolute best out of the personnel at their disposal, whether it was Kafka getting creative with his play calling to bamboozle the Green Bay defense or Wink, despite missing key pieces, stifling Rogers’ air attack and holding the Packers’ dangerous rushing tandem of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to a combined 97 yards.

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Rookie Roundup: Minicamp and OTA’s

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It seems like an age has passed since the end of minicamp, but the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. July 18th sees the rookies from the Buffalo Bills and the Las Vegas Raiders as the first players to report for preseason training camp, with all players, both rookies and veterans, reporting by July 26th.All rookies will need to maximise the opportunities they are given this preseason, with rosters needing to be trimmed from 90 players at the beginning of camp down to the final 53 on the 30th of August.

As always, there will be a selection of rookies that had starting jobs from the moment their names were announced on draft day. However, there will be a few on the cusp of a starting role or trying to work their way onto the first team depth chart.

Let’s look at six rookies who, after their showings at OTA’s and minicamps in May and June, may have already started to force their way into contention.

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Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers (Round 2, Pick 2)

Wide receivers are frequently overlooked by the Green Bay Packers in the first two rounds. In fact, Watson was the first they have taken since Devante Adams, the man he could potentially have been drafted to replace. He hasn’t shown any signs of the pressure getting to him, however, as he quickly built a connection with the current MVP, Aaron Rogers, by catching a deep ball during their first practise together, before continuing his trial by fire by lining up opposite Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander. It’s a promising start that, should it continue during training camp and preseason, could result in a starting position.

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Boye Mafe, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks (Round 2, Pick 8)

Mafe looks like he will be continuing the upward trajectory his career has taken so far. After starting at Minnesota with limited opportunities, he ended his collegiate tenure with an outstanding performance in the Senior Bowl in which he had three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, one of which included forcing a fumble. Mafe has picked up where he left off and is already starting to catch the eyes of the Seahawks coaching staff, including Coach Carroll, who said, “He’s really talented. He’s the closest looking fit to Cliff Avril that we’ve seen. ” High praise indeed, being compared to the ex-Superbowl champion and Pro Bowler, and all this before he has put on the pads yet.

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George Pickens, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 2, Pick 20)

With Pickens only being able to play 4 games in his final season at college due to an ACL injury and given that multiple teams were apparently turned off by stories questioning his maturity and lack of discipline prior to the draft, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Pickens entered OTAs with a chip on his shoulder. Instead, he put his head down and got to work, making sure he could line up wherever the Steelers wanted him, something he did constantly during his tenure with the Bulldogs. It didn’t take long for him to show the Steelers coaching staff what he could do, making a spectacular bobbled catch on a pass that would have likely been too high for most receivers.

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Nakobe Dean, LB, Philadelphia Eagles (Round 3, Pick 19)

In what could end up being the steal of the draft, the Eagles were able to pick up the free-falling Dean after concerns regarding injuries and his perceived undersized body. Dean has immediately shown off both his versatility and football IQ by learning both the MIKE and WILL positions to ensure that he can contribute straight away. There has even been chatter amongst the local reporters that the rookie will end up wearing the green dot on his helmet, taking up the responsibility of communicating with the coaches and replaying the plays, which would also suggest he will be spending a lot of time on the field.

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Daniel Bellinger, TE, New York Giants (Round 4, Pick 7)

It is very rare to see a midround pick spend extended time with the starters, but that is exactly what has happened to Bellinger, and by all accounts, he has grasped his opportunity with both hands (pun intended). After being used as more of an extra offensive lineman at San Diego State and with the Giants’ signing veterans Seals-Jones and Akins in the offseason, it appeared that Bellinger would have to battle just to get a depth spot. However, he immediately impressed tight end coach Andy Bischoff. “He’s one of those rare guys today that can really do it all. He can block, he can protect, and what we want him to do is get open against man coverage. He can do all those things.”

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Isaiah Likely, TE, Baltimore Ravens (Round 4, Pick 34)

Standing out amongst a class of 11 rookies was always going to be a tall task, but that is exactly what the fourth-round tight end has done. Likely was the second tight end the Ravens drafted on day three and was taken only 11 picks after Charlie Kolar, but he seems to have separated himself from the pack by displaying his large catch radius and ability to get open. In the last minicamp session, Likely caught multiple touchdowns in red zone drills, but one, an incredible one-handed touchdown, caught the eye of Lamar Jackson, who remarked, “It was a tremendous catch, so the sky’s the limit.”