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Rookie Meter: Williams proving doubters wrong

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Posted Oct. 12, 2010 @ 6:08 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Buccaneers WR Mike Williams has the athletic tools that NFL teams are looking for, but his college career raised tons of red flags, dropping him to the fourth round of April's draft. He wasn't even the first receiver the Bucs took — they drafted Illinois' Arrelious Benn in the third round.

Williams was a star at Syracuse in 2007, going 60-837-10 as a sophomore. He was academically ineligible for 2008 and decided to attend Springfield (Mass.) Technical Community College. After being reinstated by 'Cuse in January of 2009, Williams showed he hadn't lost a step that fall, going 49-746-6 in seven starts. But he then quit the team in November. Williams wasn't necessarily a Syracuse player, but a former Syracuse player when he entered the 2010 NFL draft. That's not what NFL front offices are looking for when they look at a player's "character."

Through four games, Williams is making all the teams that passed on him pay, leading rookies with three receiving TDs, but none bigger than his leaping grab in Week Five's comeback win over the Bengals.

With 1:26 to go in the fourth quarter and trailing by a TD at the Bengals' 20-yard line, Bucs QB Josh Freeman lobbed a pass down the right sideline toward the back corner of the endzone. Williams outjumped Bengals CB Johnathan Joseph to haul in the game-tying TD.

"I've got all the confidence in that guy to make the play one-on-one," Freeman told reporters after the game.

Williams went 7-99-1 in the game and has been Freeman's No. 1 target since Day One. The only rookies with more receiving yards than Williams are Lions RB Jahvid Best and Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez. Arguably the best rookie receiver through five games, Williams and the Bucs are a shocking 3-1.

Now, on to the Rookie Meter.

1. Lions RB Jahvid Best (first round, 30th overall)
Last week's ranking: 2

Best regains the top spot on the meter after the Lions' dominating 44-6 victory over the Rams. Best outdueled fellow rookie QB Sam Bradford in the Lions' big win, even though he didn't find the endzone. Best ran for 67 yards on 18 carries and had four catches for 37 yards. Through five games, he leads all rookies in receiving yards (254), rushing yards (241) and total TDs (five).

2. Rams QB Sam Bradford (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 1

The Lions' defense may have improved, but not enough to hold the Rams to seven points. Bradford, playing from behind, had to throw the ball a lot and lost his best weapon, WR Mark Clayton, for the season. He finished the game going 23-of-45 passing for 215 yards and two INTs. The rookie is still likely to compile enough big numbers to be a legitimate candidate for Rookie of the Year, but we saw on Sunday what happens to Bradford when the Rams have to become one-dimensional.

3. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (1, 12)
Last week's ranking: 3

Mathews is still splitting carries with Mike Tolbert but ran the ball well enough to prove that he is healthy, rushing for 59 yards on nine carries. While the Chargers dominated through the air, they will likely start giving Mathews the ball more now that he seems to be 100 percent. A Tolbert fumble near the goal line could give Mathews touches down there.

4. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 6

One play before his big TD grab, Williams set it up with a 15-yard reception. He also drew a pass-interference call on the goal line earlier in the game, leading to a Bucs score. His ability to bring in jump balls can increase his TD count this season. As long as Freeman and the Bucs continue to play well, Williams will rack up big numbers.

5. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 4

The top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suh picked off Bradford before rumbling for 20 yards. He had three tackles and still leads all rookies with three sacks. Suh is finding a way to be extremely productive from the DT position.

6. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Last week's ranking: 5

The Patriots had a bye in Week Five, and Hernandez will get a test from the Ravens' defense in Week Six. With WR Randy Moss gone, Hernandez could see his already high number of targets increase and may even be an option as a deep threat for QB Tom Brady. At some point this season, defenses will game-plan for Hernandez, and we will have to see what that does to his numbers. But for now, he is still on his way to making a run at being the first tight end to take home Rookie of the Year honors.

7. Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki (3, 93)
Last week's ranking: 7

Moeaki returned from a bye to lead the Chiefs with four receptions for 50 yards. This was the first game he did not have the most targets from QB Matt Cassel. Moeaki had a great leaping catch and stayed inbounds when the Chiefs were driving at the end of the first half. When the Chiefs' offense can get into the red zone more often, he will be a top target.

8. Eagles FS Nate Allen (2, 37)
Last week's ranking: 10

Allen had another very productive game on Sunday night against the 49ers, recording four tackles, a tackle for loss and two passes defended. He leads all rookies with nine passes defended and is tied with Seahawks FS Earl Thomas for the rookie lead with three INTs.

9. Raiders MLB Rolando McClain (1, 8)
Last week's ranking: NR

McClain returns to the Rookie Meter this week after a solid outing in the Raiders' big upset win over the Chargers. He finished the game with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss. He made his presence felt on the Chargers' final drive when he delivered a punishing blow to Chargers WR Buster Davis, keeping him from gaining any yards after the catch and forcing the Chargers to use a timeout. McClain is tied for second among rookies with 31 tackles.

10. Chiefs WR-RS Dexter McCluster (2, 36)
Last week's ranking: NR

The speedster will continue to hover around the Rookie Meter as long as the Chiefs do their best to get him the ball and allow him to rack up total yards. McCluster did not have big numbers, with one rush for three yards and two catches for 15 yards on four targets, but he is on the field almost every play when the Chiefs use three wide receivers. Of his five rushing attempts, he has two first downs and is still a huge weapon in the return game. Remember, a lot of this meter is based potential, and McCluster has plenty of it.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Jaguars DT Tyson Alualu (1, 10)
Chiefs FS Eric Berry (1, 5)
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (1, 24)
Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham (1, 21)
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (1, 18)
Rams OLT Rodger Saffold (2, 33)|
Bills RB C.J. Spiller (1, 9)
Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (1, 14)
Browns FS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Cardinals ILB Daryl Washington (2, 47)

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