Rookie Watch: Youth serving Titans' D
The Titans could still use a stud defensive player, and it really could be at any level. But thanks to good drafting of late, Tennessee has a solid nucleus on that side of the ball -- at all three levels.
This season, the Titans added Jurrell Casey to the middle of their defensive line and Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers to the linebacking corps. Casey made an immediate impact as an active run defender. A stout presence on the inside, Casey isn't just a stay-at-home plugger. Instead, Casey shows initial quickness and very good movement skills for his size.
Although he has yet to make my Rookie Watch, Ayers also made an immediate impact at strongside linebacker. Ayers' skill set is much like a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he isn't quite stout or physical enough for that duty on an every-snap basis. This role fits him quite well, and although he has some work to do in coverage, he is solid against the run and an effective blitzer with some dynamic qualities.
After spending the majority of the season behind Barrett Ruud at middle linebacker, McCarthy has burst onto the scene of late. He is extremely productive and would likely be high on the list below if not for his small body of work.
Again, the addition of one elite player could really put Tennessee's defense over the top, but when you factor in players such as Derrick Morgan, Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner and another rookie defensive tackle, Karl Klug, from the past few drafts, there is a lot to be excited about going forward.
|Ranking||Player, position (draft position)||Last week|
|Von Miller, Broncos LB (first round, No. 2)
Miller has 11½ sacks. Three more and he will tie Jevon Kearse for the rookie sacks record. Miller is a Pro Bowler in my eyes, and even though he has fallen out of the Defensive Player of the Year race, his hold on the Defensive Rookie of the Year award is still strong.
|Cam Newton, Panthers QB (first round, No. 1)
After playing a nearly flawless first half, Newton made a few terrible decisions in the third quarter that allowed Atlanta to get back into the game. Growing pains are part of being a rookie quarterback in this league, but his decision-making does need work.
|A.J. Green, Bengals WR (first round, No. 4)
Week 14 was not a spectacular one for Green, but he more than held his own against one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Johnathan Joseph. And it so happens that I just filled out my Pro Bowl ballot -- and Green was one of my three AFC wide receivers.
|Aldon Smith, 49ers LB (first round, No. 7)
Smith is right on Miller's heels for sacks and he too could challenge Kearse's record. To me, he is the only guy who could possibly knock Miller off as the defensive rookie of the year, but he just doesn't log that may snaps for the Niners. But wow, he gets a lot accomplished on a per-snap basis.
|Tyron Smith, Cowboys OT (first round, No. 9)
It wasn't Smith who was asked to keep Jason Pierre-Paul at bay Sunday night. For the most part -- yet again -- Dallas' rookie right tackle did his job consistently against the Giants. And by the way, Smith is the youngest player in the NFL.
|Andy Dalton, Bengals QB (second round, No. 35)
Dalton might be hitting a bit of a rookie wall. He hasn't done anything to stand out of late, but he also hasn't played all that poorly for the most part either.
|Jabaal Sheard, Browns DE (second round, No. 37)
Again, Sheard was not the problem for Cleveland in a losing effort. His consistency week to week is respectable. And, like I mentioned with Miller and Green, I voted for Sheard on my Pro Bowl ballot.
|J.J. Watt, Texans DE (first round, No. 11)
Watt didn't shine in Houston's dramatic last-minute victory over Cincinnati, but the Texans' defense as a whole played a very good game. Still, there really isn't anything to dislike about Watt's overall game.
|Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins LB (first round, No. 16)
In the Redskins' close loss to New England, Kerrigan had a somewhat slow day at the office. Washington visits the Giants this week. Kerrigan could redeem himself against New York's suspect edge protection.
|Julio Jones, Falcons WR (first round, No. 6)
Jones started slowly and struggled early with drops, but he finished with two touchdowns in the Falcons' come-from-behind win in Carolina. His dynamic qualities were on full display.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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