Each year in the NFL, injuries occur, and with the salary cap structure in place, a team’s entire roster is expected to contribute. Rookies are no longer viewed as projects, where they can sit on the bench and learn for a year or two.
Monday night’s contest between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants will shine the spotlight on four rookies, who will be counted upon to give each team an offensive boost down the stretch. And while these rookies got onto the playing field in very different ways, each has something to prove as the march towards the playoffs continues.
The Washington Redskins have two outstanding rookies, who are their primary offensive contributors since training camp broke in quarterback Robert Griffin III and running-back Alfred Morris. Morris is ranked second behind Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin in rookie rushing with 982 yards on the ground. He has contributed six rushing touchdowns on the the season for Washington.
Griffin ranks third amongst rookie rushers with 642 yards rushing, and while some of his ground yards are a result of his ability to scramble, the Redskins have, at times, taken advantage of his skill-set with designed rushes.
Undoubtedly, the Giants’ game-plan revolves around stopping the ‘skins two young stars.
Defensively, the Redskins are most likely looking at film of veterans like Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Manning and Bradshaw have two Super Bowl rings to their name, while Nicks and Cruz were prime contributors to last year’s Super Bowl victory.
As the regular season enters December, NFL teams’ rosters are stretched to the limit and reserve players are thrust into the limelight, and in some cases, the performance of these players can make or break a team’s season.
Back in 2007, when Bradshaw was a rookie, the running-back was given an opportunity for playing time with an injury to halfback Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw was one a several key rookie contributors on that Super Bowl team along with names like Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, Aaron Ross, Jay Alford and Michael Johnson.
Last year, the Giants draft class did not contribute as much as previous classes have; arguably safety Tyler Sash may have been the biggest contributor with much of his work done on special teams. But after the Super Bowl victory, several of the team’s starters or key reserves were released or not re-signed. Specifically, tight end Jake Ballard, who was a key cog in the passing attack, was released by the team after an injury. Also, top reserve running-back Brandon Jacobs was let go in a cost cutting move, when he refused to take a salary cut.
Another reserve, DJ Ware, was released after this year’s training camp, when the team decided to go with Andre Brown as Ahmad Bradshaw’s primary backup. Statistically, the Giants released two of their top three rushers from last year, but the team believed that the running-back position was bolstered by the drafting of first round pick David Wilson of Virginia Tech.
Another vital offensive contributor was speedy wideout Marion Manningham, whose key 38-yard catch kept alive the game-winning Super Bowl XLVI drive. Manningham left as a free agent and signed a contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Although the Giants were confident in Dominik Hixon and his ability to fill the third receiver role, the team did spend its second round pick on Rueben Randle from LSU. Hixon, who has an injury history, went down with an injured ankle a few weeks ago and was unable to go in Sunday’s Green Bay contest.
Both Randle and Wilson have been used primarily on special teams, with Wilson being an effective kick returner. Randle has been shaky in the punt return game, however, the rookie wide-out did catch a 16-yard touchdown pass from Manning on Sunday. It was Randle’s first NFL touchdown.
Wilson was relegated to the bench after an opening game fumble during the opening night loss to the Dallas Cowboys. It was also reported that the coaching staff was not enamored of Wilson pass protection skills, but no one can deny the former Hokie’s potential game-breaking ability (4.49 seconds/40 yards).
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Wilson on Monday, “It’s his time. The timing as far as where he’s coming from couldn’t be any better, I don’t think.”
Although the team signed both Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin to the roster yesterday, it is expected that Wilson will be given the opportunity to become the primary back-up to Bradshaw. But that role will not be handed to the former first-round draft pick, as the signings of the two veteran running backs makes clear.
Wideout Randle has made the most of his opportunities recently, he caught two passes on two targets in the past two Giants’ games. Earlier in the season, he had 82 yards on six catches in a home victory over the Cleveland Browns. He also had a 56 yard catch on the road against the Dallas Cowboys in week 8.
While the Redskins will rely heavily on the production of their rookies; the Giants will also need contributions from their top two picks in order to create more distance between themselves and the second-place Redskins in the NFC East.