Rookie Watch: Mathews can do it all
In the first edition of the Rookie Watch, I thought it fitting to profile the player I think is most likely going to be the offensive rookie of the year, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. He enters my rankings at the top of the list, and I don't expect him to fall from that perch in terms of the impact he makes on his team during his rookie campaign.
The upgrade at the running back position during the preseason for San Diego has been stunning. Mathews shows a burst LaDainian Tomlinson has not in several years. And Mathews runs with anger and aggression, rarely being brought down by the first tackler. He is quick and decisive.
Mathews can churn out the tough yardage and move the chains or he can hit the home run. He also has soft hands and intriguing receiving skills. Chargers coach Norv Turner should not hesitate to dump a huge workload on Mathews' shoulders. That is what he was drafted to do, and Turner has a history of turning talented runners into stars.
In their regular-season opener, the Chargers travel to Kansas City for a matchup on "Monday Night Football." Mathews and safety Eric Berry, who opens the season at No. 7 on my list, get to battle head to head, as Berry is sure to spend some time near the line of scrimmage to help the Chiefs' ailing front seven.
This looks like a very favorable matchup for Mathews in his NFL debut. I am predicting a Chargers win and about 125 total yards from the rookie running back. It will be the first of many big days for Mathews at this level. He is going to be a star.
|RANKING||PLAYER, POSITION (Draft position)||LAST WEEK|
|Ryan Mathews, Chargers RB (First round, No. 12)
The Chargers traded a bunch of picks to move up from No. 28 to No. 12 and take Mathews in the April draft. They will get their money's worth from the running back.
|Ndamukong Suh, Lions DT (First round, No. 2)
As bad as the Bears' offensive line has looked in the preseason, Detroit's opener against Chicago sets up extremely well for Suh, the best player in the draft. Rarely do rookie defensive tackles make massive contributions, but this guy isn't like most rookie defensive tackles.
|Jahvid Best, Lions RB (First round, No. 30)
I loved Best as a draft prospect, but I like him even more now after watching him this preseason. His speed, versatility and playmaking abilities are off the charts. With the Lions sure to be playing from behind this season, Best should play a lot. Maurice Jones-Drew comparisons are coming.
|C.J. Spiller, Bills RB (First round, No. 9)
Even in his first regular-season game as a pro, Spiller is going to have to carry the offense. He'll be the player Miami keys on. Not to take anything away from Lee Evans, but someone has to get him the ball -- and therein lies the problem. Spiller is already the most dangerous player on this team.
|Brandon Graham, Eagles DE (First round, No. 13)
My prediction for defensive rookie of the year, Graham is in a great situation playing opposite Trent Cole. As Mark Tauscher and Aaron Rodgers will quickly find out in the opener, Graham is NFL ready.
|Mike Williams, Buccaneers WR (Fourth round, No. 101)
Williams is primed to be Tampa Bay's No. 1 wide receiver to start the season. So far in camp and the preseason, it sure seems like the NFL game and lifestyle agree with him. This guy is for real.
|Eric Berry, Chiefs S (First round, No. 5)
Berry should spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage in an attempt to slow down Mathews this week. But Berry, an exceptional cover man, also will patrol the deep half of the field and find himself matched up alone on Antonio Gates.
|Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers C (First round, No. 18)
The Steelers have an unbelievably rich tradition at the center position, from Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson to Jeff Hartings. That tradition has been lacking of late, but Pouncey will change that immediately. He is next in line.
|Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers DT (First round, No. 3)
The third overall selection gets a great opportunity to make an immediate impact as the Bucs play host to the Browns in Week 1. His upfield ability and explosiveness could give the Browns' blocking schemes fits.
|Rolando McClain, Raiders ILB (First round, No. 8)
The Raiders open at Tennessee. That means plenty of opportunities for McClain to try to bottle up Chris Johnson. It will be a very steep opening-week test. McClain is in a position to really rack up tackle numbers in 2010 -- starting in Week 1.