After the Giants pulled off the improbable Super Bowl upset in 2007 Jerry Reese was lauded for the contribution of his rookie class.
Just like in 2007, the contribution of a team's rookies for a playoff run is critical. What starts as depth quickly becomes starting roles. Let’s look at how some of the rookies contributing to their teams effort in the upcoming Super Bowl and what our local draft gurus stated about them back in March of 2010 prior to the draft.
Maurkice Pouncey has had the most dramatic impact for his team by starting all 16 games and being elected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. Wonder had him rated 15th overall in the draft and a multiple pro bowl player rating of 1. Wonder laments that Pouncey is “L1, MEAN! Solid Pro. Holds up against a tough Nose Tackle. A stud all pro for years and years and years to come.” Pete had him rated 8th overall in the the draft and a pro player rating of 1 as well. Pete adds that Pouncey is “a pro now, mean, big, a no-brainer, prototypical center.” It’s obvious that both Wonder and Pete nailed it with Pouncey. And Pittsburgh will be in dire straits without Pouncey if he cannot go. The biggest question mark for the Steelers was their offensive line prior and during the season. Pouncey is a rookie and remarkably is the anchor of this line.
For the Packers the steadiest contributor has been Brian Baluga, who filled in for Mark Tauscher at tackle after week 4. Overall, Baluga has been unspectacular but steady. Wonder wasn’t as kind to Baluga with an overall draft rating of 43 and pro player ranking of 3 (solid starter). Wonder felt that Baluga “has a problem. Everyone loves him. Good solid player but overrated. Disappears, a little bit stiff.” Pete had Baluga rated 20th overall in the draft and a pro player rating of 2. Pete goes on to state that Baluga “reminds me of Robert Gallery.”
The most surprising contributor who was not on the active roster until November 9th after being placed on the PUP list prior to the regular season is James Starks. Wonder made these statements of Starks prior to the draft:
Interesting. A little stiff, but R5 and I like the way he runs. I think he will be motivated to play hard and run hard.
Overall Wonder ranked Starks 161st prior to this past draft and the Packers drafted him 193rd in the 6th round. By the way, Starks leads the NFL in rushing in the postseason with 268 yards. This brings back memories of a 7th round pick out of Marshall who led the Giants in rushing in the 2007 postseason. Bradshaw had 208 yards rushing on 48 attempts with a 4.3 yards average versus Jacobs who had 62 carries for 197 yards and a 3.2 yard per carry average. Remember, Bradshaw was the 4th running back on the depth chart at the start of the 2007 regular season behind Jacobs, Droughns and Ward. In today's NFL, these rookies are essential to a 20 game Super Bowl run. Imagine if the NFL goes to 22 games... how much more important will they be to your team when that happens?
Among the other rookies:
Green Bay TE Andrew Quarless, who has 4 receptions for 41 yards in the playoffs and 238 yards and 1 td in regular season. Quarless received opportunities after Jermichael Finley went down. Wonder commented on Quarless with “draft him on R4 for terrific value and he can make it.”
Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders, who had 4 receptions for 54 yards vs Baltimore. Wonder added that Sanders is “another guy for the slot. Get him R5 and you are stealing. He’d make my team.” Steelers took him in round 3 however.
Steelers WR Antonio Brown who hauled in 3 receptions for 75 vs Baltimore. Wonder was not as high in Brown as he is “fast but no NFL body, so not betting on him to making it in the NFL beyond specials.” The Steelers took him in round 6.
Finally the Packers took C.J. WIlson, a defensive end in the 6th round. He had 4 tackles and 1 sack versus the Falcons. Overall, Wonder ranked him 175th in the draft as a “possible 3-4 DE reserve.”
It will be interesting which rookie will put them over the top. Besides Bradshaw, looking back to 2007 there was the huge catch up the seam by Boss to start the 4th Quarter in XLII. And Steve Smith’s critical catch along the sideline on 3rd and 11 that he converted for first down prior to the game winning TD.
Finally, Ted Thompson , the GM of the Packers, has been getting a lot of praise for maintaining a competitive roster given all the injuries they have been hit with. He focuses “on stockpiling draft picks and exercising caution in free agency. It can take longer to develop a team that way, but Thompson believes it made the Packers deeper, more able to handle the assault of injuries they endured.” Take for example how he managed the DE/OLB position with “Erik Walden (who) Dallas selected as a defensive end from Middle Tennessee State in 2008. Three teams released him before Green Bay called. When Walden recorded three sacks in Week 17 against Chicago, he started for an injured Frank Zombo, who replaced an injured Brady Poppinga, who replaced an injured Brad Jones, who replaced an injured Aaron Kampman — football’s musical chairs for the mangled.” Now that is a Daisy Chain for the Not-For-Long NFL!