NFL WEEK 7
Bucs rookie Sammie Stroughter had his coming-out party of sorts last week against the Panthers, returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. For his effort, the seventh-round pick was named NFC special teams player of the week. But there have been several other first-year players around the league who have made big impacts. And no, the biggest star hasn't been Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who struggled last week (five interceptions) after a world-beating start to the season. We take a look at a few of the impressive rookies, and (surprise!) none was picked in the top 10.
Johnny Knox, WR/KR, Bears
While the 49ers' Michael Crabtree may have had the most publicized contract talks and the Vikings' Percy Harvin, a former Gator star, gets plenty of hype (deservedly so), it is Knox — a fifth-round pick out of Abilene Christian — who is on the brink of history. With a touchdown in four straight games, Knox can become the fifth rookie wideout since 1970 to score in five straight. Harvin has three more catches (20), but Knox has more touchdowns and yards per catch (13.2), and he has caught the attention of Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco. "Can you please tell Johnny Knox I said hello," Ochocinco said in a conference call. "I think the world of him and what he's doing out there. I look forward to meeting him (today)."
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos
The Broncos have one of the league's top rushing attacks, and Moreno, a former Georgia star, is a major reason why. Moreno, the first running back drafted this year (12th overall), leads Denver with 381 yards rushing (3.8 yards per carry), with 20 percent of his rushes resulting in first downs. And Moreno has come up big in key moments for the undefeated Broncos, racking up 88 yards rushing and 36 receiving in an overtime win over the Patriots. "There's nothing he can't do," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said.
James Laurinaitis, LB, Rams
You may not have noticed him much because he's on the woeful Rams, but Laurinaitis, a former Ohio State standout, has become a leader on the St. Louis defense, tallying 45 tackles (second among rookies) and two interceptions (also second among rookies). Though the Texans' Brian Cushing has more tackles (48), Laurinaitis (a second-round pick) has been a big hit for the Rams, who now have their first true middle linebacker since London Fletcher.
RAIDERS (2-4) over Jets (3-3)
The Raiders ride momentum from a win over the Eagles, and Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has another rough day.
Number of the week
28 Consecutive games in which the Steelers defense hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher. Pittsburgh faces the Vikings and RB Adrian Peterson, above, this week.
Colts QB Peyton Manning has five consecutive 300-yard passing games to start the season. With a 300-yard performance today against the Rams, Manning can tie Steve Young (1998), Kurt Warner (2000) and Rich Gannon (2002) for the most consecutive 300-yard passing games in NFL history.
What they're saying
"I think people have definitely counted us out. I think there's a lot of negativity around our team. I've heard people say that this season is over and we've got no chance. That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous."
QB Matt Hasselbeck on the perception of the Seahawks
Where's the 'D'?
When you think of the Ravens, you typically think of LB Ray Lewis. You think of one of the league's top defenses. Not so fast. Baltimore has given up a combined 77 points in the past three weeks and ranks 17th in total defense after finishing second last year, under the direction of Rex Ryan (now the Jets coach). The Ravens had gone 39 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher before the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and Bengals' Cedric Benson completed the feat in back-to-back weeks.
Bengals RB Cedric Benson, an emerging candidate for comeback player of the year, has said the Bears blackballed him after releasing him, trying to prevent the former first-round pick from signing with another team before joining Cincinnati in September 2008. Benson — who ranks third in the AFC in rushing — has a chance to get back at his former team today. "I know he's had this date circled for a long time," Bears LB Lance Briggs said. "He was a little worried we were cheap-shotting him. Now he can get revenge on everyone who he thought cheap-shotted him in our training camp."
With the Packers re-signing RB Ahman Green, it probably brought back fond memories for Green Bay fans. Green played seven years with the Packers before signing with Houston in 2007. He can further etch his name in Packers lore, needing just 46 yards to surpass Jim Taylor as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.
Debut of the week
With the lengthy holdout over, 49ers rookie WR Michael Crabtree will make his much-anticipated debut in his home state, as the former Texas Tech star will play against the Texans in front of about 30 family and friends. Talk about a long layoff: Crabtree hasn't played in a game, or taken a hit, since Jan. 2, when Texas Tech lost 47-34 to Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl.
Times wires, the Associated Press, SI.com, ESPN.com and the Tacoma News-Tribune contributed to this report.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.