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Rookies of the Week – Week 1

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The return of the NFL season really had everything. Shock results, devastating injuries, struggling superstars, and outstanding rookies.

Let’s look at my standout seven from Week 1.

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Will Anderson Jr, Edge – Houston Texans

Emotions may have gotten the better of Anderson pre-game, but he was zoned in as soon as he stepped on the field to start his NFL career. The versatile rusher, who lined up predominantly on the left side, recorded four tackles, three hurries, two quarterback hits, and a sack against the normally elusive Lamar Jackson.

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Jalen Carter, Defensive Line – Philadelphia Eagles

Now that’s why he was touted as potentially going first overall! A 92.1 overall PFF grade puts Carter as the 2nd overall defensive tackle, and it’s not hard to see why. In a monstrous performance, Carter had eight pressures, one sack, and one assisted tackle. It’s no wonder that Mac Jones will be seeing him in his nightmares.

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Zay Flowers, Wide Receiver – Baltimore Ravens

Does Lamar Jackson have a new favourite weapon? Flowers continued his strong preseason with an outstanding showing against the Texans, and much like the later mentioned Bijan Robinson, he was making defenders miss all over the place. Nine catches on ten targets for 78 yards led the Ravens, while he also had two rushes for nine yards.

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Xavier Gipson, Wide Receiver – New York Jets

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of! No one saw the Jets game winner being an undrafted rookie free agent, but here we are. He forced his way into contention due to his electric preseason on special teams, which caught the eye of head coach Robert Salah. Now, thanks to his 65-yard walk-off punt return touchdown, he can now say he is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

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Puka Nacua, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles Rams

If you were asked to predict the only rookie receiver to go over 100 yards this weekend, I can guarantee no one would have mentioned Puka Nacua. With Cooper Kupp now on IR, the Rams needed someone to step up, and their fifth-rounder did just that. 14 targets, 10 receptions, and 119 yards. Job done.

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Anthony Richardson, Quarterback – Indianapolis Colts

Richardson wasn’t perfect by any means, as he played conservatively and had an ugly interception, but he is now the proud owner of two NFL records. Against the Jaguars, Richardson not only became the youngest player ever with a passing and rushing touchdown in the same game, but he also became the first rookie in history to have at least 200 passing yards, 40 rushing yards, a passing touchdown, and a rushing touchdown.

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Bijan Robinson, Running Back – Atlanta Falcons

A shared snap count with Allgeier didn’t count against Bijan on Sunday, as he finished with 10 rushes for 56 yards while adding six receptions on six targets for 27 yards and a touchdown in the passing game. Add in five forced missed tackles, including that disgraceful stop-start on an attempted tackle from Frankie Luvu, and you’ve got yourself a debut.

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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 12: Rookie Standouts

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Thanksgiving week always brings us a feast of games, and this year was no different, with three exciting contests on Turkey Day itself. The weekend didn’t disappoint either, with multiple shock results and a couple of overtimes sprinkled in for good measure. Here are three rookies that stood out among the pack:

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Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver – New York Jets

What a difference a week makes. After being frustrated by last week’s abysmal quarterback performance from Zach Wilson, there was a new man under centre this week, and Mike White was able to turn things around thanks in part to his main target, Garrett Wilson.

Wilson continued his stellar year by catching five passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown, a 51-yard catch and run, was somewhat fortuitous as the Bears’ Eddie Jackson, who was covering Wilson, suffered a foot injury on the play, which put him on the ground; however, it was still an outstanding midair catch, and as they say, they all count. Wilson’s second score wrestled the lead back from the Bears just before halftime, and the Jets took care of the rest, shutting the Bears out in the second half.

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Brian Robinson, Running Back – Washington Commanders

Another week and another stellar performance from the Washington running back, who, along with Taylor Heinicke, has been a major part of the Commanders’ recent resurgence, and both players’ fortunes could be a major factor in a late playoff push for yet another NFC East team.

Robinson finished the day with 105 yards on 18 carries, including a long of 21 yards. He also had two catches on three targets for 20 yards and a touchdown. In the last three games, all wins for the Commanders Robinson has now recorded 248 rushing yards on 59 carries at an average of 4.2 yards per carry. With two upcoming games against the Giants, who allow the second-most yards per carry, Robinson will be confident in his ability to maintain his ground dominance.

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Trent McDuffie, Cornerback – Kansas City Chiefs

It’s safe to say that it’s been a fractured season for first-rounder Trent McDuffie. Following a hamstring injury in Week 1, the cornerback was placed on injured reserve before being activated at the start of November. Though it is highly unlikely that McDuffie will get close to a defensive rookie of the year nomination, it could very well be a case of what might have been.

Since his return, McDuffie has stayed mostly under the radar while playing some of the best football of any of the rookie cornerbacks. This past week, he only allowed two catches for 13 yards on six targets and had a pass breakup. In his four games since his return from injury, he’s been targeted 19 times and only allowed 10 receptions.

Honourable Mentions

Kayvon Thibodeaux (New York Giants), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers), Jake Ferguson (Dallas Cowboys), Malcolm Rodriguez (Detroit Lions), Skyy Moore (Kansas City Chiefs)

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Week 8: Rookie Standouts

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We’re almost at the halfway point of the season, and as expected, many rookies are getting opportunities due to trades, injuries, and inconsistent form. Here are three rookies that stood out this week.

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Isaiah Likely, Tight End – Baltimore Ravens

As discussed in my first ever Full10Yards article, Isaiah Likely was the Ravens’ second tight end drafted on Day 3, but in minicamp and OTAs, he had already started to separate himself from the pack. The biggest issue that Likely would face, though, is being behind two-time pro bowler and all-pro Mark Andrews.

So, when Andrews, who was already dealing with a knee injury, landed awkwardly on his shoulder and was ruled out after 10 snaps, it was Likely’s time to shine, and shine he did. Likely slotted straight into Andrews’ shoes, catching six of his seven targets for 77 yards and a touchdown, in which he showed great body control to keep himself in bounds. With Andrews now dealing with multiple injuries, this breakout couldn’t have come at a better time for the Ravens.

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Malcolm Rodriguez, Linebacker – Detroit Lions

The Lions are currently sitting at the bottom of the pile in the NFL overall standings, and despite some initial optimism spurred on by their stint on NFL Network’s Hard Knocks, they look to be yet again not getting anywhere near the postseason.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as Aiden Hutchinson has already made this list before, and though production has slowed, he’s still been a disruptive force. Now you can add Hard Knocks’ favourite Malcolm Rodriguez to the list.

He was arguably the best defensive player for the Lions in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, as he recorded his first-ever NFL sack, jointly led the team with seven tackles, and recovered a fumble forced by fellow rookie Kerby Joseph.

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Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver – New York Jets

With questions swirling about the future of Jets quarterback Zach Wilson after another rough showing, it’s another Wilson who took the headlines this week. Garrett Wilson made the most of his limited targets (seven) and showed exactly why he should be the team’s number 1 receiver and should be targeted more often, especially seeing as the Jets threw the ball 41 times.

Against a New England Patriots cornerback unit that includes rookies Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, both of whom are in the top ten for the lowest completion rate, Wilson took his lowly seven targets, caught six of them, and recorded an impressive 115 yards, making him the 2nd Jets rookie ever to have two 100 yard plus games in a season, behind Ring of Honor member Al Toon.

Honorable Mentions

Sauce Gardner (New York Jets), Greg Dulcich (Denver Broncos), Martin Emerson (Cleveland Browns), Ikem Ekwonu (Carolina Panthers), Tomon Fox (New York Giants)

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Week 5: Rookie Standouts

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As we now move into the second quarter of the season, we’re starting to see some rookies start to cement their place in the standings for Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year. In week 5, these were the rookies that stood out.

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Dameon Pierce, Running Back – Houston Texans

My first returning player to these rankings, and he’s done it back to back! After last week’s amazing effort against the Los Angeles Chargers, Pierce took a deserved spot on this list despite being on the losing side. This time, however, he drove the Texans to their first win of the season after a low-scoring close affair against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Not only did Pierce punch in the go-ahead touchdown that gave the Texans their first win of the season, but he also had 3 receptions for 16 yards and 26 carries for 99 yards. These are not amazing numbers if you just look at the basic stats, but when you take into account that 97 of those yards were after contact, it’s just ridiculous. In fact, just watch this angry run below.

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Sauce Gardner, Cornerback – New York Jets

Sauce has been unlucky to not appear in these rankings yet, but there was no way I could ignore him as he helped the Jets defence dominate the Miami Dolphins from their very first play from scrimmage.

Teddy Bridgewater, who was playing in the place of the injured Tua Tagovailoa, lined up to take his first snap of the game and an unblocked Sauce unloaded on him, driving him to the dirt and forcing an intentional grounding penalty and subsequent safety as Bridgewater threw the ball in the endzone.

Sauce finished the game with 5 tackles, 1 pass defended, and his first career interception. He also finished with an allowed passer rating of 34.2, which is worse than if the Dolphins QB had just spiked it every play.

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Breece Hall, Running Back – New York Jets

So not only do I have my first returning player, but I also have two players from the same team for the first time this year. If Sauce helped the Jets dominate the Dolphins defensively, then Hall was the standout on offence as he displayed why he could be the next dual-threat running back weapon.

In what can be considered his breakout game, Hall had a monstrous day, picking up an incredible 100 yards on a measly 2 receptions, as well as having 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown, his first in the NFL. The twenty-one-year-old Hall, who was drafted in the second round by the Jets, is now leading all rookies in scrimmage yards and is on the verge of breaking into the top ten among all NFL players.

Honorable Mentions

For the first time this season, I wanted to give a couple of honorable mentions to a trio of cornerbacks who just missed out on a spot. Those are Tariq Woolen (Seattle Seahawks), Jack Jones (New England Patriots), and Derek Stingley (Houston Texans).

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Week 2: Rookie Standouts

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Week 2 is now in the books and what a week it was. With last second heroics, head scratching coaching decisions and comebacks galore, it’s time once again to look at three rookies that made big contributions to their teams’ results this week. Let’s get into it. 

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Aidan Hutchinson, Edge – Detroit Lions  

Hutchinson was held to a solitary tackle in his NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles but commented afterwards that he had learnt a lot. He’s obviously a quick learner because he exploded against the Washington Commanders. In the first half, he became the first Lion rookie ever to record three sacks in a game and the fourth youngest ever to do so. 

The 2nd overall pick has now shown the rest of the NFL that he’s the real deal, and though he may not get three every week, the sacks will likely continue to come as he gains more experience. 

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Jaylen Watson, Cornerback – Kansas City Chiefs 

It’s not often a seventh-round pick gets a spotlight as a rookie, but when you now own the record for the longest go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown by a rookie, I think it is well deserved. 

Jaylen Watson was thrust into Thursday night’s game after an injury to first-rounder Trent McDuffie and knew he was likely going to have a busy evening as the Los Angeles Chargers would more than likely target his side of the field. That much was true, but Watson would only allow 5 completions from 12 targets before his game-sealing pick 6, and as the dust settled on the Chiefs’ 27-24 win, Watson deservedly won AFC Defensive Player of the Week. 

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Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver – New York Jets  

As the Browns scored to extend their lead to 30-17 with 1:55 left in the game, Garrett Wilson felt responsible as he had dropped a pass from Joe Flacco that would have been enough for a first down and extended the drive. Had the game petered out after the Browns touchdown, it would have been a bittersweet day for Wilson with his touchdown and 75 yards, but there was more drama to come. 

The last two minutes of this game turned into insanity, and after the onside kick was recovered, Wilson had a chance to make amends. He gladly took the opportunity, catching a 15-yard pass to score his second touchdown of the game and complete the unlikely comeback.