C.J Spiller, you are not at Clemson anymore.
The heralded rookie disappointed Bills fans and fantasy owners alike in the season opener against the Dolphins. He had more yards on his one kickoff return (11) then he had on the ground (seven) or receiving (eight). Spiller gained less than one yard per carry in his NFL regular-season debut.
Spiller, the No. 9 overall pick in April's draft, impressed in the preseason and had Bills fans salivating over his potential. We knew he would share carries with RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, but the two veterans combined for the same amount of carries (seven) as the rookie had, meaning the Bills do believe in Spiller being their guy.
Spiller's speed allowed him to run around defenses in college, and the few times he tried to get to the edge in Week One, the Dolphins' new-look defense was there to stop him. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan brought an attacking defense to Miami this offseason with an emphasis on an improvement in setting the edge, and they showed off some of the new scheme with Spiller as their guinea pig.
The Bills' offensive line's inability to slow down the Dolphins did not do Spiller any favors. The Dolphins racked up three sacks, eight QB hits, 10 tackles for loss and held the Bills to 50 rushing yards. One of those tackles for losses came when Spiller tried to cut to the outside only to be run down by college teammate Chris Clemons for a loss.
It won't get easier in Week Two for Spiller as the Bills travel to Lambeau Field to take on a Packers defense that ranked first in the league against the run last season. Luckily for Spiller, very few rookies shined in their first week in the NFL.
The rankings below are based on guys most likely to take home the Rookie of the Year hardware at year's end, so while Week One is seriously taken into consideration, so is the potential from what we saw in the following rookies' debuts.
1. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (first round, 12th overall)
Last week's ranking: 1
The preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year made a couple of rookie mistakes in his NFL debut. Mathews, playing in rainy conditions in Kansas City, lost a fumble and knocked into QB Philip Rivers on a play-action play forcing Rivers to fumble. The Chiefs' defense had a fabulous game, especially the front four, and Mathews finished the game with 75 yards on 19 carries, almost four yards a carry. But the Chargers showed how much confidence they have in making Mathews their horse for the season, proving he can be extremely productive this season.
2. Rams QB Sam Bradford (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 8
Yes, Bradford threw three picks, including a crucial one toward the end of the game, but 55 pass attempts for a rookie? My goodness. The Rams clearly expect Bradford to carry them to victories this season. When the offensive line improves and he can find a dependable WR option — looks like it will be veteran Mark Clayton — Bradford can put up Rookie of the Year-type numbers.
3. Lions RB Jahvid Best (1, 30)
Last week's ranking: 5
Both of Best's touchdown runs were impressive as the league got a glimpse of the speed he brings to the field. His rushing stats were low (20 yards on 14 carries) and that can be attributed to a stout Bears defense as well as minimal holes created by the Lions' O-line. Best had five catches for 16 yards, but it's a little surprising he only got 14 carries with RB Kevin Smith out.
4. Bills RB C.J. Spiller (1, 9)
Last week's ranking: 2
As mentioned before, Spiller had a debut to forget. But he stays in the top half of this list for two reasons. For one thing, not enough rookies had strong outings in Week One. But the main reason is that, while he didn't have a big day, we saw how much the Bills plan to use Spiller in the offense. If the offensive line comes together, Spiller can have big games. He led the Bills with seven carries and was targeted by QB Trent Edwards six times, more than both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.
5. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 6
Williams stayed true to his status as a sleeper rookie with a touchdown in Week One. The biggest surprise on the preseason list, Williams led the Bucs with five receptions and nine targets. He recorded only 30 yards receiving, but his touchdown showed his athleticism, the strength and awareness to fight to knock Josh Freeman's pass in the air and grab it to cut the Browns' lead to four en route to an eventual Bucs victory.
6. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (1, 24)
Last week's ranking: NR
Similarly to Spiller and Bradford, Bryant makes the list because we saw in Week One how his team expects him to contribute right away on offense. It took him a little while to get going, but Bryant had eight catches for 56 yards and, most importantly, was targeted a team-high 12 times. When the Cowboys' offense gets in sync and defenses key on Miles Austin, TE Jason Witten and the running game, Bryant will have big games.
7. Chiefs FS Eric Berry
Last week's ranking: 4
Berry was welcomed to the NFL with the tough task of covering Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates throughout the Monday-night thriller. Gates beat him for a TD, but Berry showed his physicality during the game and racked up six tackles. The Chiefs had confidence in putting Berry on the Chargers' best receiving option and he will be in position to make big plays this season. He also only has to cover Gates one more time this year.
8. Raiders MLB Rolando McClain (1, 8)
Last week's ranking: 3
McClain had six tackles in his debut, but the Raiders gave up 205 yards rushing on 39 carries to the Titans. McClain was brought in to help improve the run defense, but obviously the Raiders have more issues to work out when it comes to stopping the run. McClain will get his chances this season to rack up the tackles and make some plays in the middle of that defense.
9. Chiefs WR-RS Dexter McCluster (2, 36)
Last week's ranking: NR
Like a few of his rookie counterparts, McCluster fumbled in his NFL debut. He also had the most electric play out of all the rookies, and one of the top plays of Week One with his 94-yard punt return for a touchdown. McCluster, who was a game-time decision, will be a special-teams weapon for the Chiefs. He had one carry and was targeted four times by QB Matt Cassel, so the Chiefs will do their best to get him the ball in open space.
10. Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 9
McCoy recorded three tackles and forced a fumble in the Bucs' season-opening victory over the Browns. The Oklahoma product wreaked havoc in the middle, helping bring pressure from the interior toward Browns QB Jake Delhomme, who threw two costly interceptions.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Jaguars DT Tyson Alualu (1, 10)
Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham (1, 21)
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (2, 42)
Dolphins LB Koa Misi (2, 40)
Titans DE Derrick Morgan (1, 16)
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (1, 18)
Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (1, 14)
Browns FS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Redskins OLT Trent Williams (1, 4)