Part of the fun in monitoring NFL Rookies is when unheralded guys jump up and grab some headlines, along with a starting job, for accomplishments above and beyond what our scouting reports said about their realistic chances in the NFL. Got a couple more of those over-performing guys in this week’s column. And one. rather major disappointment so far in his Rookie season.
NFL ROOKIES Progress Report – Week 14
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
TYREE WILSON #9 DE/ER 6’6/275 Texas Tech Round 1, Pick 7 PP# 4
To date, it might be safe to say that WILSON must be considered one of the more disappointing members of the Rookie First Rounder Club this season. The Raiders have certainly been one of the more talent-needy teams in the NFL. But WILSON is still only seeing regular work as a passing down Edge Rusher. I have watched parts, or all of, 5 Raiders games this season, and in every one of them, I have merely sighted Wilson on a handful of instances where he is having an impact on the action.
He came into the 2023 NFL calendar with questions about health after having surgery to repair an ankle/foot injury late last season at Tech. He played multiple slots in the Tech defense with the design being to utilize his size and speed and to confuse Offenses with a complex game of “Where’s Waldo” lining up.
Perhaps some of his disappointing play this season is due to limited, fairly unimaginative roles for him. Just to highlight the overall underachievement to date let’s use stats from the 0-3 Loss to the Vikings. Wilson saw the field for 37 defensive snaps or 51% of the total possible. He recorded 4 Tackles, 3 of them solo.
He also recorded a Sack and 1 QBH. OK for some, but disappointing for the 7th player picked in the Draft. Let’s hope for Raiders Nation that his trajectory is now upward and the 2024 season will produce bigger things from him.
IVAN PACE #40 ILB 5’10/230 Cincinnati CFA/PP# 269
I had mentioned PACE earlier this season as a seriously over-performing URFA. Things have not changed, and this guy should be getting some serious consideration as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 3-0 Win over the Raiders was far from a thing of beauty, even from an overall defensive standpoint, but you cannot overlook another very productive day for PACE. PACE led the Vikings with 13 Tackles, 6 of them solo. He recorded 1 Sack, 1 QBH, and 1 PD. He also played every defensive down with 54 snaps. The only thing small about this guy is his height. He is an evolving leader on this team.
NEW YORK GIANTS
TOMMY DeVITO #15 QB 6’1/210 Illinois URFA PP# NR 300+
After graduating high school as a 4*Star college recruit the future looked bright for DeVito as a football player. But things never went well overall for him at Syracuse. Perhaps a case of being asked to do too much, too soon. He performed better at Illinois but was still not special enough to garner much NFL scouting attention.
Devito was lumped into a crowded pageful of QB prospects without a draftable grade from scouts. He went into Giants Training Camp pretty much as a Camp Arm. I happened to be watching one of the Giants’ pre-season games and I thought he looked pretty good leading an offense of roster bottom feeders against a defense from the other team that also featured no one of note.
Fast forward to late November when Daniel Jones went down for the remainder of the season, after already having missed games earlier in the season. Tyrod Taylor didn’t last long replacing Jones, and so the next man up was DeVito. And he’s still starting and leading the G-Men to 3 Wins in 4 games.
I don’t know what the Giants are going to do with Jones’ massive contract for next season, but I would bet right now that Tommy will be around as a legit backup contender. He is doing his job, and doing it well, engineering a home W over the Packers in a nail-biter. He topped off a nice performance with a walk-off drive, culminating in a winning FG.
For the day he passed for 17/21- 81% completions- 158 yds- 1 TD pass- 0 INT. He also rushed 10 times for 72 yards. You can’t win a ton of games in today’s NFL with only 158 yards passing, but you don’t lose many with Zero Interceptions and 0 Fumbles by your QB.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
JA’AYIR BROWN #27 S 5’11/200 Penn State Round 3, Pick 87 PP# 118
Just over 2 weeks ago the 49ers’ hard-hitting, play-making S Talanoa Hufanga went down with an injury, which led him to a spot on the Injury List for at least 4 weeks. Next man up was Rookie JA’AYIR BROWN a Rookie from Penn State. Brown was a leader in the locker room and the secondary for the Nittany Lions. Lost of plays and lots of FBI with this guy. But he was mediocre at the secondary and guys like me booted his draft ranking out of Day Two of the Draft and into Round 4.
I guess the Niners looked at the game tape again and said he plays better in pads than he runs in track shorts. Looks like a big win for this team’s roster right now. Brown is making almost as many plays as Hufanga had been producing. He played run defense and roamed the secondary in a big road win against the division-rival Sea Hawks. Brown played 59 snaps, which was 100% of the 49ers defensive snaps. He recorded 6 tackles, 5 of them solo, and recorded 1 PD and 1 Int. I guess that when Hufanga comes back healthy he gets his job back, but BROWN is gonna see snaps regularly somewhere in that secondary going forward.
TYJAE SPEARS #32 RB 5’10/195 Tulane Round 3, Pick 81 PP# 69
SPEARS has measured up as a solid alternating RB with Derrick Henry, who may be running at about 80% of what he was a few hundred carries ago, and a banged-up body (to some degree). Spears runs with quickness and shiftiness. He is also emerging as a very dependable receiving target. Spears and Henry are complimenting each other very nicely. He is a very physical ball-carrier for a guy under 200 lbs.
In the seemingly miraculous come-from-behind victory over Miami on MNF, Spears had 7 carries for 29 yards (4.1 ypc). But where he stood out was as a receiver. Mr. Levis targeted him 8 times, with Spears catching 6 of them for 89 yards. He showed good hands, nice route running, and very good YAC ability.
I will quote my friends over at OURLADS on their wrap-up comment about SPEARS in their 2023 Draft Guide, writing that “Spears is an ideal compliment to a power back and fit into any scheme”. They nailed it! There are concerns about his knees being of limited tread-life due to missing cartilage post-surgeries. Let’s hope his career is not too short, cause he’s fun to watch.
WILL LEVIS #8 QB
Just wanted to drop in a couple of lines regarding Mr. Levis, who was handed the starting reigns in Tennessee about a month ago. The kid is still looking good (not great) and confirming the wisdom of HC Mike Vrabel in handing over that starting role to him. He had a solid night statistically on MNF in a come-from-behind victory over the Dolphins, in Miami, no less. LEVIS was 23/38, 61%, for 327 yards with 1 TD & 1 INT.
But to be honest with you the most impressive part of his performance, to my eyes, was his grit and determination to overcome some mistakes and lead his team to a big Win. I like his style and demeanor. A big help in his development has been the play and support coming his way from DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is still one of the best ball trackers and catchers in the NFL.
Adios for another week. The season is coming down to the stretch run, but I still expect more Rookie action worthy of talking about in the coming weeks.