Rookie Report Card: Week Three

Dan Meylor

brownI’ve decided to put my own spin on the concept of a rookie report card. Going forward, the Rookie Report Card will be exactly what it sounds like, a report card.

Not only will I cover my expectations for the player coming into the league and how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2014 potential and long term upside. Each week I’ll cover at least two rookies and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week.

The series continues with a closer look at John Brown and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

John Brown, WR ARI
Week Two Stats: Four receptions, 52 yards, two touchdowns

Coming out of Pittsburg State University, Brown wasn’t very well known before the NFL draft process started.  In fact, he wasn’t on the radar of most dynasty owners until the scouting combine in February where he posted a blazing 4.34 second time in the 40-yard dash which was second among all receivers behind only Brandin Cooks (4.33).

During his three seasons on campus at Pittsburg State in Kansas, Brown dazzled on a weekly basis.  In his time there, he hauled in 185 passes for 3,387 yards and 34 touchdowns and added five more scores in the return game.

In college, Brown was consistently the fastest guy on the field.  He displayed lightning quick explosion off the line of scrimmage, routinely beating defensive backs at the snap.  Playing primarily as an outside receiver with the threat to take the top off defenses with his blazing speed in college, Brown also was a dependable possession receiver when asked to play that role.  Due to his quickness and incredible balance along with sharp rout running skills, he had no problem getting separation on short and intermediate routes for the Gorillas.

Although his numbers were impressive and his college tape showed a dynamic playmaker both on offense and as a returner, some still didn’t believe Brown would be an impact player on Sundays.  After all, he’s only 5’10” and 179 pounds and did his damage against division II competition in the Mid-America Conference.  There were also many that questioned his toughness and skills after the catch – saying he didn’t like to go over the middle and because of his size, he couldn’t break tackles.

At this point, those concerns seem to be unsuitable.

Brown received glowing reviews throughout training camp and was a play-maker for the Cardinals once the preseason kicked off.  He led the team in receptions (10) and receiving yards (165) while also hauling in a touchdown and easily captured the number three receiver job in Arizona over Ted Ginn Jr.

Through three games of his NFL career, Brown has looked like a natural running routes and has displayed very consistent hands.  In week one, he scored on a wide receiver screen, eluding tackles and zigging through defenders on the way to a 13-yard touchdown – completely dispelling the thought that he wouldn’t be good after the catch.  Then, he scored twice on Sunday against the 49’ers, once on a deep post route down the middle of the field and the other on what looked like busted coverage.

Overall on the short season, Brown has only nine catches on 15 targets for just 109 yards with those three touchdowns.  Although he profiles due to his speed and short area quickness as an ideal slot receiver, he’s played primarily outside the numbers because of the Cardinals’ coaching staff wanting Larry Fitzgerald in the slot as much as possible and that won’t change in the short term without an injury to another receiver.

With Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as the primary targets in the passing game, it’s unlikely that Brown sees enough looks to be anything more than a boom-or-bust WR4 with bye week flex appeal for dynasty owners for the rest of 2014, but his long-term upside is through the roof.

Fitzgerald is due an $8-million bonus in March to go along with an $8-million salary in 2015.  Most likely, the Cardinals will ask him to take a pay cut and if he declines, they’ll be forced to move on without their star receiver.  That could create an ideal opportunity for Brown to crack the starting lineup and be on the field full-time in 2015.

If Brown excels in his limited role this season and proves he can be a reliable outside receiver, he could become the featured slot man in three receiver sets for Arizona next year.  Such a role in Arizona’s pass happy attack would make Brown a WR3 going into next season with WR2 upside.

Rookie Report Card
Player: John Brown
Performance To Date 2014 Potential Long Term Upside
C C+ B+

Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB BAL

Week Two Stats: 18 carries, 91 yards, one rushing touchdown

If you read Jaron Foster’s excellent profile of Taliaferro last week, you know his story.  He started his college career at Lackawanna Junior College and played his final two years at Coastal Carolina where he tallied 356 carries for 2,086 yards (5.9 YPC) and 32 touchdowns and added 27 receptions in 27 games.

Taliaferro has impressive size at 6’ tall and 229 pounds.  In college, he was a hard-nosed, between the tackles runner that showed great determination with the ball in his hands, always finding the first down sticks and goal-line in short yardage situations.  Although he’s a big tailback he’s also very nimble considering his size, consistently using his plus vision to find the crease in the defense and quickly change direction behind the line of scrimmage in the zone blocking scheme which made him a perfect fit for the Ravens’ offense.

When Baltimore picked him in the fourth round of the draft, many dynasty owners quickly became interested in Taliaferro.  He was entering a very good situation considering the off the field problems for Ray Rice as well as the injury and relative ineffectiveness of Bernard Pierce.

In the preseason, Taliaferro was impressive.  He led the league in carries (65) and rushing yards (243) but only averaged 3.4 yards per carry behind the second and third string offensive lines.  Even so, he was incredibly determined running the ball and was good in pass protection.

When week one came, Taliaferro was buried behind Pierce and Justin Forsett on the depth chart.  He was only on the field for three of the Ravens’ 88 offensive snaps and didn’t even see the field in week two.

Week three was much different however.  With Pierce inactive because of a thigh injury, the Baltimore coaching staff decided to make Taliaferro part of a running back rotation with Forsett against the Browns.  Early in the game though, it was clear the rookie was the preferred option for the Ravens.

Taliaferro got a majority of the carries in the game, carrying 18 times compared to Forsett’s 11.  He ran hard – averaging five yards per carry – and got all three carries in the red zone for the Ravens, punching in his only goal line opportunity.

It’s obvious at this point that the Ravens see Forsett as a strictly a change of pace runner and third down receiver out of the backfield which opens an opportunity for a primary ball carrier in Baltimore going forward.  It’s unclear whether Pierce has the trust of the Baltimore coaching staff to continue to get a majority of the carries when healthy or if Taliaferro did enough on Sunday to earn a role when that time comes but as far as I could tell, the choice is easy for John Harbaugh and Gary Kubiak.

I saw each of Taliferro’s carries in week three and came away impressed.  Outside of a missed chance on a fourth-and-one carry early in the fourth quarter, he played relatively mistake free and was powerful between the tackles which is exactly what the Ravens need at this point.  Personally, I haven’t been impressed with Pierce since his rookie year so it’d be very difficult for me to bench Taliaferro in favor of Pierce when he gets healthy.

Before the season, I saw Taliaferro as a quality short yardage back that could move a pile and be a good between the tackles runner in the Ravens’ zone blocking scheme and that hasn’t changed.  He has potential in the short term as a flex play in PPR leagues and RB2 in standard leagues (especially if Pierce continues to be on the shelf due to injury) and he has the upside in the long term to become a regular RB2 no matter the scoring system if he earns the starting role and a piece of the passing game, which he’s very capable of doing.

  Rookie Report Card
Player: Lorenzo Taliaferro
Performance To Date 2014 Potential Long Term Upside
B- B+ B+


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