I'm generally much less concerned with the outcomes of NFL games, than I am in seeing how the young players are coming along. This inevitably leads to immense (and pointless) frustration, as I have to wait for injuries or desperation to drive teams towards experimenting a bit with the rookies. Too often, teams seem much more content to trot out the same old under-performing veterans, just because they feel that they know what they will get from these players, rather than to take some risks. Much like my views on marriage, I think a similar attitude applies to football players. Go with what you've got, until something younger and prettier comes along.
I am a bit annoyed by the Jets' release of Ryan Spadola. Despite the lack of interest that teams showed in him during the draft, he is still a very physically gifted player, with college production that puts most receivers to shame. When given a chance in the preseason, he statistically outproduced every single rookie wide receiver, and even ranked third amongst non-rookies. Basically, he performed about as well as any reasonable person could hope for, and truly appeared to be a legitimate player.
Then, in a rain soaked week 2 game against the Patriots, he dropped one pass (the only regular season pass to be thrown his way), and was never targeted again this season. At the same time, Clyde Gates dropped 3 passes in the same game, and has only been catching 43.1% of the 51 career passes thrown his way, and Stephen Hill is only marginally more reliable so far (47.9% for his career, but a somewhat improved 54.2% for 2013). People seem to be offering the "coaches must have seen something in practice that they didn't like" explanation for why Spadola was cut, though I find this difficult to take seriously. As long as Oniel Cousins has a job, I refuse to acknowledge that the majority of coaches have some sort of magical "eye for talent". It's entirely possible that the Jets will resign Spadola to the practice squad, or that he will amount to nothing, but I would prefer to see him land somewhere else.
In a similar way, I was surprised by the Seahawks decision to release Stephen Williams. Similar to Spadola's situation, it seems that Williams might suffer from the continued stigma of having been an undrafted player. While I have compared Williams to his former teammate Sidney Rice before (though the computer thinks he could be better than Rice, if given a chance), I wanted to add a bit more to this thought. Sidney Rice is currently engaged in a 5 year contract with the Seahawks that pays him, on average, $8.2 million per year. This is more than Victor Cruz makes (who will average $7.6 million on his new contract). Now, if we ignore Rice's 2009 season (1,312 yards and 8 TDs), he has only had one other somewhat above average year, which was in 2012, when he had 748 yard and seven TDs. Though somewhat hindered by injuries (which were a bit predictable), I find this situation to be rather odd. Rice's career, so far, is eerily similar to that of the somewhat disappointing Marcus Robinson. I'm not saying this with the intent of insulting Sidney Rice, but merely to suggest that the Seahawks wide receiver situation might not be as settled as they seem to think. Rice's status as a former 2nd round pick, and one great performance 5 years ago, seem to be outweighing his current reality. I had hoped that the Seahawks would give Williams more of an opportunity to develop.
I suppose the upside of this, is that there are now two somewhat intriguing wide receiver prospects out there, that any team could sign for practically no cost. Sadly, I don't really have any expectations of this happening though, since we seem to live in a world where teams would rather recycle former 1st round draft picks like Levi Brown, rather than admitting to a mistake and moving on. Ah, confirmation bias is alive and well.
While Kenbrell Thompkins' 273 receiving yards and 3 TDs might be pleasing to the fantasy football crowd, I still find him to be highly suspicious. Catching only 41.9% of the passes thrown to him is just a disturbingly poor result. While I will acknowledge that I find Catch Rates to be a debatable statistic, heavily influenced by the routes a receiver is running as well as who is throwing the ball, none of it seems to justify Thompkins' current issues. So far, he is credited with 5 dropped passes through five games, which is the second most for all receivers at this point. On the one hand, I am glad to see a team give an opportunity to an undrafted player, on the other hand, I would prefer to see Josh Boyce get more of an opportunity.
On a more positive note, I was quite happy to see the Patriots give an opportunity to defensive tackle Chris Jones this week. For the most part, this seemed to be the product of an Achilles tendon injury to Vince Wilfork, rather than actual confidence in Chris Jones, but I'll take what I can get. Chris Jones was a 6th round draft pick this year, by the Houston Texans, but didn't get to play much in the preseason due to minor injuries, and was promptly released. This caused me some minor annoyance, since he was a player I had selected in my battle versus Ozzie Newsome. Then, my spirits perked up, when he was signed by the Buccaneers...only to see him cut shortly thereafter. Again, I saw him picked up, this time by the Patriots, but at this point I was feeling a bit more pessimistic. A future in the CFL seemed to be looming. When he finally got significant playing time this weekend against the Bengals, he responded with 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks. It's amazing how these things work out when you give a gifted player a chance. I still think Jones is better suited to playing a disruptive role along the defensive line, rather than a space eating nose tackle role, but we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.
It's also been pleasing to see the Falcons giving increased opportunities to undrafted Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. While I should probably just be satisfied with this minor victory, I can't deny that I wish the team had made the switch earlier. This is one of those situations where it seems like there was no real downside to gambling on rookies. Was the team actually afraid that these players would perform worse than Stephen Nicholas, or the slightly more tolerable Akeem Dent? While I've focused on Worrilow much more than Bartu, it should be noted that Bartu also showed signs of rather impressive athletic ability with a -0.015 Kangaroo Score (which is actually quite a bit above average for a 4-3 LB), and a 0.885 Agility Score. I think Worrilow is still probably the more versatile of the two, though Bartu might have a slight athletic edge when it comes to rushing the passer. While there are no guarantees on how things will work out, I think getting these two some experience should pay dividends in the future.