After watching this past weekend’s NFL action we realized something: 2006’s rookie class might be the best ever. Of course time will tell as for how players pan out in the long term, but we can’t remember a class that had the immediate impact this one has. This season’s rookie of the year battle might be the most intriguing award race in professional sports over the past few years. With such a deep class that is making a huge impact on the entire league, we had to put together something about it. Here’s a brief breakdown of the players we think will have a lasting impact on the NFL and why 2006’s draft will be looked back at as one of the, if not the best ever. It’s too bad that Mario Williams will be the answer to a trivia question, not one of the impact players we remember.
No.2 Reggie Bush (New Orleans)- A steal for the Saints (after the Texans made one of the most mind-boggling picks in NFL history), Bush has meant as much to his new city as he has to his new team. He scares defenses so much that just the threat of him touching the ball has completely opened up the Saints offense. He’s already established a rookie record for receptions by a rookie at his position, his 86 catches rank 7th in the league and he’s finally hitting his stride as a running back after gutting the Giants defense for 126 yards and a touchdown this weekend. He has eight total touchdowns but we think that number will grow as he gets more acclimated to the speed of NFL defenses. He’ll end up being as good as advertised.
No. 3 Vince Young (Tennessee)- Once again, someone has proved that Merril Hoge knows nothing about football. After a rough start, Young has been incredible, especially with the game on the line. He’s led the Titans to six straight wins in which he has 10 total touchdowns and just three interceptions. Who cares about his unorthodox delivery or his atrocious wonderlict score? When he’s actually on the field, he’s damn good. Young also only needs And Mr. Hoge claimed he wouldn’t have even taken Vince in the first round and that the Titans were now “stuck with him.” Something tells me they’re alright with that. Yeah Merril we’ll say it, you’re a moron.
No. 5 A.J. Hawk (Green Bay)- Though his choice for a wife shocked us (Brady Quinn’s sister looks like a dude in drag), his play with the Packers has surprised us even more. The former Buckeye stand out has 117 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and an INT. He’s on a terrible team that can now build around him in the future. He’ll only get better at reading plays and should have an even better impact next season.
No. 10 Matt Leinart (Arizona)- It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the former USC golden boy in 2006. He opened the year with a loss to Young’s Texas team in the BCS title game, then he nailed Paris Hilton for a while, dropped out of the top five at the NFL draft, ended up having to back up Brenda Warner’s husband for a while and found out his ex-girlfriend was knocked up. Hey, at least we know he can play football. Since throwing two INTs in a week 10 loss to the Cowboys, he led the Arizona Cardinals to a 4-2 record, throwing six touchdowns and his QB rating has been over 89.0 in three of those six games. His total numbers aren’t stellar, a 74.0 rating, 2,547 yards, 11 TDs and 12 INTs in 12 games, but let’s not forget he’s playing for the Cardinals and behind the worst offensive line in football. He’s likely out for the year after spraining his left shoulder this past weekend but we think he’s going to be a great quarterback in this league for a long time.
No. 11 Jay Cutler (Denver)- In fairness to any players we overlooked on this list, anyone would look good following Jake Plummer. Seriously, that would be like having K-Fed as the opening act on your concert tour. Despite sitting out for 12 weeks, Cutler has come on and played very well, and now has led the Broncos to two straight wins. In his four games the Vanderbilt grad has a rating of 89.8, 771 yards, eight TDs against just four interceptions. He’s displayed a great, accurate arm, can throw on the run and (the only thing he really needs to do) can really hand the ball off well. We know he’s only played four games but we felt that in the spirit of the season we should mention this guy because he’s a native of Santa Claus, Indiana. We think the Broncos have found their quarterback and finally gotten that gigantic Jake Plummer shaped monkey off their backs for good.
No. 13 Kamerion Wimbley (Cleveland)- At 6’3 245, this Florida State product is the typical tweener DE/OLB that comes through every draft. Most of the time these “edge rush” specialist don’t amount to much in the league for a while, as they need to figure out how to play the position. But Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman proved that theory wrong in 2005 and Wimbley did it this year. He’s been an impact player on a terrible team, but his 59 tackles, 10 sacks and a forced fumble would be great numbers on any roster. He’s strong, fast and has a nose for the quarterback, three things you have to have as an edge rusher. We think he’s only going to get better and, like A.J. Hawk, gives his terrible team something to build around.
No. 21 Laurence Maroney (New England)- Though his numbers aren’t staggering – 672 yards and five TDs, 20 receptions for 198 yards and one TD – he’s had to split carries with Corey Dillon. Maroney keeps impressing us with his power, break-away speed and ability to grind out solid yards. He can also catch the ball coming out of the backfield, which is very important in the Patriots’ scheme. The sad part is he’s never had 20 or more carries in a game and we think that will change as early as next year.
No. 30 Joseph Addai (Indianapolis)- We have to admit, we thought this was a terrible pick when the Colts made it. In fact, we laughed at all the Colts fans we knew, which, to be fair, is nothing out of the ordinary. But the running back from LSU has proved us wrong, running for 1,017 yards and seven TDs on just 205 carries so far, and catching 37 balls for 296 and one TD. We don’t think he is the best back in this class but he might have been the best fit for the Colts. Obviously playing with Manning, Harrison and Reggie Wayne make life easier but to his credit, Addai has stepped up to the challenge and filled Edgerrin James’ shoes admirably.
No. 33 DeMeco Ryans (Houston)- We know everyone else has already said it but it’s our turn, so here goes: DeMeco Ryans was the best defensive player taken by the Texas at the 2006 NFL draft. As this is being written, the Alabama product is leading the NFL with 146 tackles and has 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an INT as well. Ryans has come in and given the Texans a reason to think they had a decent draft even though they completely wasted the top pick.
No. 50 Marcus McNeill (San Diego)- At 6’7 337, it’s hard to miss McNeill but for some reason everyone is overlooking him in the rookie of the year discussion. As ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli wrote last week, the mammoth left tackle from Auburn might be the key to the Chargers’ offensive success this season. McNeill has only allowed two sacks so far and has yet to collect a holding penalty while protecting Philip Rivers’ blindside during the quarterback’s first year on the job. Oh yeah, he also played the early portion of the season with a broken left hand. While he won’t win rookie of the year, he was chosen as a first alternate on the Pro Bowl team.
No. 57 Devin Hester (Chicago)- Though he’s only recorded eight tackles on the year, this Miami product has been a huge part of the Bears run to the best record in the NFC. He has already set the record for return touchdowns in one season with six and he still has one game left. He’s an impact player and a Pro Bowler as a rookie. And if you’re a Bears fan and you don’t have a shrine to him set up right next to your Rex Grossman dart board, what are you doing with your time?
No. 60 Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville)- Booter, a good friend of the Rumors and Rants crew and a UCLA alum, was mortified when Drew decided to leave school early. Now he’s like a proud papa as Drew has shot to the top of the rookie of the year heap. At 5’7 212, the diminutive Drew has become a force, running for 895 yards, a 5.8 ypc average and 12 touchdowns. He’s also caught 42 balls for 420 yards and two more touchdowns and he’s returned a kickoff for another. The amazing part is that Drew has done all of this while sharing carries with Fred Taylor. Clearly the little guy can play and he’s proved that size, in fact, doesn’t always matter.
No. 159 Mark Anderson (Chicago)- Another undersized defensive end, and another Alabama defensive stud, Anderson has surprised everyone. Though he’s only a fifth round pick with 27 tackles, he’s got 12 sacks so far, a Bears rookie record.
No. 252 Marques Colston (New Orleans)- The fourth to last pick in the entire draft, Colston currently has 70 catches and recently became the 10th rookie since 1970 to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark while missing two games due to injury. He also has eight touchdowns and has provided Drew Brees with a big target in the red zone. Not bad for a guy who was three picks from being Mr. Irrelevant.
So yeah it was a lengthy post but now you see what we’re talking about. Rookies have made an impact this season like no other class we can remember. Have there ever been so many game-changing first-year players in the league? We don’t think so, thus making 2006’s draft the best we’ve ever seen.
*Our apologies to anyone left off the list. We’re sure there are some great young guys who we’ve overlooked, these were just the guys who stood out to us.