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: November 10, 2006, 03:45:29 AM

Here is an interesting ESPN/Scout mid-season rookie report. Gradkowski shows well.

November 9, 2006

Todd McShay is director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. Numerous NFL teams have relied on his independent draft prospect evaluations since 1998.

The biggest fallout of the 2006 NFL draft was the Texans' decision to select defensive Mario Williams instead of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush. Little did we know that Williams and Bush -- and every other rookie for that matter -- would be upstaged by Marques Colston, a small-school wide receiver taken by the Saints 250 picks after they selected Bush No. 2 overall.
New Orleans was so impressed with Colston's play during training camp, it was willing to trade last year's leading receiver, Donte' Stallworth, to the Eagles. And it did not take long for the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Hofstra product to surpass Pro  Bowler Joe Horn as QB Drew Brees' primary weapon. Colston leads the Saints with 44 receptions, which ties him for 10th place among NFL leaders with the likes of Reggie Wayne (Colts) and Terrell Owens (Cowboys). The seventh-round steal is also averaging 15.9 yards per catch with seven touchdowns through eight games.
Colston isn't the only late-round value from the 2006 class. Here's a look at the rest of the rookies who round out this year's top-five second-day steals:

2. Mark Anderson, DE, Bears (fifth round)
Anderson serves as a pass-rush specialist in a rotation with starters Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown. He leads all rookies with 7.5 sacks and is just two sacks short of the league-leader Aaron Kampman (Packers).

3. Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Buccaneers (sixth round)
Gradkowski took over for injured starter Chris Simms and led the Buccaneers to two wins in his first three starts. The road has been bumpy at times but Gradkowski has impressed head coach Jon Gruden with his mental and physical toughness.

4. Dawan Landry, SS, Ravens (fifth round)
It didn't take long for Landry to unseat Gerome Sapp as the starting safety opposite Ed Reed. Landry has made some mistakes in coverage but remains the starter because of his aggressive approach and hard-hitting ability in run support.

5. Antoine Bethea, DB, Colts (seventh round)
The DI-AA product (Howard) has made a seamless transition to the NFL. Bethea began the season as the starting strong safety ahead of Mike Doss, who was nursing injuries. He moved to free safety for a couple of games when Bob Sanders suffered a knee injury and now Bethea is back starting opposite Sanders as a result of Doss being placed on injured reserve. Bethea continues to improve with more experience and is coming off his best performance to date with nine tackles and an interception in the win at New England.

Honorable Mention:
Leon Washington, RB, Jets (fourth round)
Jahri Evans, OG, Saints (fourth round)
Ko Simpson, DS, Bills (fourth round)
Stephen Gostkowski, PK, Patriots (fourth round)
Barry Cofield, DT, Giants (fourth round)
Jonathan Scott, OT, Lions (fifth round)
Ryan Plackemeier, PT, Seahawks (seventh round)
Mike Bell, RB, Broncos (undrafted)
Steve Weatherford, PT, Saints (undrafted)
Jon Ryan, PT, Packers (undrafted)

Best early returns

1. Nick Mangold, C, Jets
Fellow rookie D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been a solid starter at left tackle, but Mangold has made an even bigger impact as the team's full-time starting center. He took over for the injured Trey Teague in the preseason and has emerged as the leader of the Jets' offensive line. Mangold makes line calls as if he's a veteran and uses excellent technique to overcome his lack of ideal size at the point of attack versus bigger defensive linemen. The combination of Mangold and Ferguson gives the Jets an outstanding foundation to build their offensive line around for the next decade.

2. Joseph Addai, RB, Colts
Addai got off to a slow start but his role seems to be increasing on almost a weekly basis. He is far from the impact player that Edgerrin James was as the premier back in the Colts' high-powered offense, but Addai shares some similar qualities in terms of his versatility and speed. Addai was the fourth running back selected in the 2006 draft, but he currently leads all rookies with 490 rushing yards on 105 carries.

3. DeMeco Ryans, OLB, Texans
Ryans slipped on draft day due to his lack of elite NFL measurables, but it hasn't taken him long to silence his critics. An outside linebacker at Alabama, the Texans were wise to move Ryans inside to middle linebacker in their base 4-3 alignment, where he can use his instincts and motor to mask his lack of ideal top-end speed. So far so good. The 22-year-old rookie ranks fourth in the NFL with 73 tackles. That's eight more than the next best rookie, Ernie Sims, who was selected 24 spots ahead of Ryans.

4. Laurence Maroney, RB, Patriots
Maroney was one of the backs taken ahead of Addai, but he has been anything but a disappointment thus far. In fact, the former Golden Gopher standout has split time with starter Corey Dillon and still has rushed for 458 yards on 107 carries. His explosive second-gear is difficult to miss once he hits daylight. Adding to his value, Maroney currently leads the NFL with an average of 29.7 yards per kickoff return.

5. Ernie Sims, OLB, Lions
Sims has already emerged as the emotional leader for a Lions' defense that desperately needs more of his kind. The undersized rookie does a fine job of avoiding blockers and uses his closing burst to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. Sims has already turned in three 10-tackle performances in eight starts and leads his team with 64 total tackles on the season.

Honorable mention:
Vince Young, QB, Titans
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia
A.J. Hawk, ILB, Packers
Donte Whitner, DS, Bills
Matt Leinart, QB, Cardinals
Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens
Tamba Hali, DE, Chiefs
Marcus McNeill, OT, Chargers
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
Devin Hester, RS, Bears
Richard Marshall, CB, Panthers
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Jerious Norwood, RB, Falcons

Biggest early concerns

1. Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Eagles (14th overall)
The 14th overall pick has failed to crack the starting lineup for the Eagles and has notched just seven tackles through eight games. Even worse, he was drafted for his ability to penetrate yet Bunkley has been credited with only a half sack to this point.

2. Tye Hill, CB, Rams (15th overall)
Hill notched an interception versus the Broncos in the opener but his playing time and production have tailed off considerably from early in the season. He was the first true cover corner taken in this year's draft, yet there are several others drafted after him (Cincinnati's Jonathan Joseph and Carolina's Richard Marshall) who are making far bigger contributions.

3. Jason Allen, S, Dolphins (16th overall)
A holdout in training camp, Allen got too far behind on the playbook and spent most of his time early this season on special teams. He is beginning to see more time in Miami's sub-packages and recorded his first NFL interception in Week 9 versus the Bears. However, Allen has just three total tackles as the 16th overall pick from this year's draft. His inability to crack the starting lineup has proved to be a setback for the Dolphins' secondary in 2006.

4. Bobby Carpenter, LB, Cowboys (18th overall)
Carpenter showed promise early in his rookie season but has yet to find a niche. His struggles on special teams have only made matters worse. Head coach Bill Parcells has become increasingly frustrated with his rookie first-round pick, which explains why Carpenter has spent the last few games on the inactive list. Carpenter has yet to record a tackle as a pro.

5. Jimmy Williams, DB, Falcons (37th overall)
The Falcons had big hopes for this second-round pick, but Williams has been a nonfactor thus far. He rarely sees the field and his only two tackles on the season came back in Week 3. Williams seems too stiff at the cornerback position and likely will be moved to safety during the offseason.

Stunted growth

• Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers (6th overall) -- Suffered a broken leg in a Week 3 loss to the Eagles. He caught five passes in the season opener but did not record a catch in either of the next two games. Davis' return from injury is expected within the next two weeks.

• Chad Greenway, OLB, Minnesota (17th overall) -- Suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.

• John McCargo, DT, Bills (26th overall) -- Placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken left foot during a Week 5 loss to the Bears.

• DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers -- Suffered a broken right ankle in Week 5 versus the Browns and has not played since. He was averaging 5.3 yards on 5.9 carries prior to the injury. The team is hoping for Williams to return next week versus the Buccaneers.

Todd McShay is director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. Numerous NFL teams have relied on his independent draft prospect evaluations since 1998.


I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. --Umberto Eco
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