Texans start most rookies in Week 1

Not counting punters and kickers, there were 35 rookie starters in NFL lineups for opening day, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Updated: September 12, 2006, 2:30 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

There is a clever commercial currently airing on television, a national spot for a well-known investment and money management firm, and it suggests that opportunity doesn't knock but rather waits.

Cincinnati rookie linebacker Rashad Jeanty isn't familiar with the commercial but he certainly understands its message.

In 2003, Jeanty signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League to help support his needy family. Since then he has waited. It took three years before opportunity ended its waiting period and talent scouts from several NFL franchises auditioned him this past spring. The wait apparently was worth it, as the athletic linebacker -- who played just two seasons at Central Florida before dropping out of school to sign in the CFL -- earned a free-agent contract.

And then he earned a spot in the Bengals' opening-day lineup, starting at strongside linebacker in the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, ahead of 2005 first-round draft choice David Pollack, who missed practice time in training camp with a hamstring injury.

Not counting punters and kickers, there were 35 rookie starters in NFL lineups for opening day, according to the official game books compiled by the league. And Jeanty, who recorded two solo tackles and whose play earned the praise of coach Marvin Lewis, was the lone undrafted player of the bunch.

The 35 rookie starters were four more than the league had in 2005, but that's close to the average for the past five years. In addition to Jeanty, a 6-foot-2, 245-pounder who played defensive end in the CFL (13 sacks the past two seasons in Edmonton), the Bengals had another rookie starter: first-round pickJohnathan Joseph, who filled in for injured left cornerback Deltha O'Neal (and who also played well).

Not surprisingly, the Houston Texans, who finished with the league's worst record in 2005, had the most rookie starters, with five. In addition to first-round defensive end Mario Williams (three tackles, no sacks) and second-round middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans (game-high 13 tackles), the Texans also started left tackle Charles Spencer (third round), tight end Owen Daniels (fourth) and tailback Wali Lundy (sixth).

Four teams -- New Orleans, Green Bay, San Francisco and Oakland -- each started three rookies. There were a dozen franchises, including seven playoff teams from a year ago, with no rookie starters.

More than one-third of the 32 choices in the first round started in the openers, including six of the top 10 players selected. The breakdown, by round, of the other opening-day rookie starters: eight from the second round, three from the third round, three fourth-rounders, five fifth-round choices, three from the sixth round, one seventh-rounder and one undrafted player (Jeanty).

"You have to keep telling yourself, when you're a [low-round] pick like me, that it's just football, and that once the game starts, all the draft-round labels and small-school [stigmas] are gone."
Marques Colston, Saints WR
The seventh-round starter, New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston of Hofstra, was the 252nd player chosen overall in the 2006 draft, just three from the final selection. He is believed to be the lowest-chosen player to start on opening day since the NFL reduced the draft to seven rounds in 1994. Colston had four catches for 49 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown grab that proved to be the winning score.

"You have to keep telling yourself, when you're a [low-round] pick like me, that it's just football, and that once the game starts, all the draft-round labels and small-school [stigmas] are gone," Colston said.

The most popular position for rookie starters was linebacker, with eight. The others: safety (six), tight end (five), offensive tackle and offensive guard (four each), defensive end and defensive tackle (two apiece), and then wide receiver, center, running back and cornerback (one each).

There were few standout performances on the offensive side -- outside of the Saints' first-round tailback, Reggie Bush (141 all-purpose yards) -- but rookie defenders certainly made some plays on the opening week. In addition to Ryans' 13 tackles, Detroit weakside linebacker Ernie Sims posted 10 tackles, New Orleans strong safety Roman Harper had five tackles, one sack and one quarterback hurry, and Indianapolis strong safety Antoine Bethea registered six tackles and a pass deflection.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.