Shocka: Rookies upstage tight ends
September, 24, 2009
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
As training camps got underway this summer, many of us were excited about the tight end talent shared by all four Black and Blue teams. We figured we were in for quite a show, considering the athleticism of the players, the schemes of their teams and the quarterbacks they had throwing to them.
But what fun would life be if it were that predictable? Two games into the season, the tight ends we first featured in August have been overshadowed by a pair of rookie wide receivers. First, let’s take a look at what our original heroes have done thus far:
Olsen, for one, has gotten the defensive attention normally reserved for No. 1 receivers. Pettigrew didn’t start the Lions’ season opener at New Orleans. I have no reason to doubt all four players will have central roles in their teams’ passing game by the end of the season. It’s just a point of statistical fact that to this point none of them have matched the production of Chicago receiver Johnny Knox or Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin.
Below, you’ll see how Knox and Harvin stack up so far. I’ve bolded the numbers that either lead NFL rookies or are tied for the top mark:
Although some people had high expectations for Harvin, you rarely see more than a handful of wide receivers produce during their rookie seasons. More often than not, it’s a position that can take an entire year to master. (See Bennett, Earl.) So when you talk about a player coming out of nowhere, I think Knox ranks at the top of the NFL list so far this season.
Even the man who drafted him, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, admitted it is “very unusual” to get such an immediate payback from a fifth-round draft choice -- especially from a small school like Abilene Christian. “There’s probably only a 50-50 chance he’s going to make the team, let alone come in and play,” Angelo said.
How random is it that Knox leads the Bears in receiving yards? I’ll let Angelo explain to you how the Bears settled on him as a draft pick:
“We didn’t really get interested in Johnny until late in the process. We went down to the Texas-versus-the-Nation all-star game in El Paso, and we noticed him down there. From my perspective, that’s really where he jumped out at us. He got himself invited to the [scouting] combine in part because of his good performance at that all-star game -- during the week of practice and in the game itself. When he got to the combine, he ran one of the fastest times. That’s a pretty good feat given all the talented players who are there.
“We were in the fifth round of the draft and [coach Lovie Smith] looked at the board along with the scouts and said, ‘How about this Johnny Knox?’ He said, ‘We really don’t have anybody like him.’ We all talked together and we thought given the other players that we were considering that he had the traits we look for at the position. He was probably a little bit more unknown given his level of competition, but we knew that with Jay [Cutler] being on board, he could be another potential weapon, so we went ahead with it.”
I think that could be the catchphrase for the early part of September in the NFC North: “What about this Johnny Knox?”