Updated Sept. 13, 2011 @ 5:18 p.m. ET
Cam Newton, welcome to the NFL.
The No. 1 pick had a phenomenal performance in his NFL debut, despite leaving the desert with a 28-21 loss. Newton threw for 422 yards, the most ever by a rookie in a debut, passing none other than Peyton Manning.
Newton's debut was by far the most intriguing of all the rookies in Week One considering all the hype surrounding him, positive and negative. He was an extremely polarizing prospect coming out of Auburn, but one thing everyone agreed on was that there was no denying his athletic abilities.
One of the concerns about Newton was whether or not he could make the throws in a pro-style offense. Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski allowed Newton to operate often from the shotgun, where he is comfortable, and a 77-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the first quarter was a quick silencer to his critics.
As some NFL evaluators reminded PFW, though, it was just one game, and Newton benefited from the Cardinals having a few breakdowns in coverage with their young corners. But Newton's performance made the Panthers look smart for taking a chance on him, and it also makes you wonder about the future of QB Jimmy Clausen, who was inactive.
The Panthers still need to do more around Newton to get him some wins in his rookie campaign, but his debut was nothing short of sensational.
Some other noteworthy debuts of players not yet on the meter: Redskins DT Chris Neild had two sacks and a forced fumble, undrafted Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had four catches for 83 yards and a score, OTs Nate Solder and Tyron Smith kept their quarterbacks out of trouble against good defenses, and, before exiting with an injured wrist, Bengals QB Andy Dalton completed 10-of-15 passes for a score.
1. Broncos OLB Von Miller (1st round, 2nd overall pick)
Last week's ranking: 1
Our No. 1 rookie lived up to it on his first play as a Bronco, as he forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow Denver rookie Rahim Moore. Miller missed out on notching a sack in his debut but did a solid job helping pressure Raiders QB Jason Campbell. Miller finished with five tackles on the night in a Denver loss. He remains No. 1 on the meter for now, but if players below him make Week One performances commonplace (see: Cam Newton), it will be tough for Miller to hold on to the top spot if he doesn't pile up big plays on his own.
2. Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: 2
As bad as the Falcons played, Jones put up good numbers in his first game, catching five passes for 71 yards, including a long of 32. Jones was helped by the fact the Falcons aired it out a lot, but getting good production against a Bears defense is never something to ignore.
3. Panthers QB Cam Newton (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 7
See above. It's important to point out it was just Week One and that Newton will get a much stiffer test in Week Two against the defending champs, but for now, Panthers fans can feel comfortable that their No. 1 pick has made Carolina a better offense and fun to watch.
4. Saints RB Mark Ingram (1, 28)
Last week's ranking: 3
As expected, Ingram led the Saints in carries in the opener, although with Drew Brees chucking it often, the running game was on the back burner. The former Heisman winner had 13 rushes for 40 yards, but what will be remembered by him and everyone who watched is the one yard he didn't get, which could have sent the game into overtime.
5. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 4
If you're going to have one catch, it might as well be the game-winner. Bruce Gradkowski caught the Browns napping and hit Green for a 41-yard touchdown, giving the Bengals a surprising win.
6. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 6
Watt made an impact early, as the Texans cemented themselves as the team to beat in the AFC South with a 34-7 rout of the Colts. Watt collected five tackles, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery in the win.
7. Bills DE Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 5
Dareus didn't do much on the stat sheet (two tackles), but he was impressive against the Chiefs, helping the Bills pull off one of the stunners of the day — a 41-7 win. Dareus did jump offside on fourth down, giving the Chiefs a first down in the fourth quarter, but the game was already out of reach.
8. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 10
Kerrigan was a playmaker in college, mainly getting sacks and ripping the ball out, but he never scored a touchdown at Purdue. It didn't take long for him to find the endzone in the NFL. Kerrigan avoided a cut block, snuffed out a quick pass by Eli Manning, batted the ball into his own arms and walked into the endzone.
9. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 8
As a cornerback, it wasn't Peterson's best game, as the Cardinals' secondary was shredded by Cam Newton for 422 yards. The rookie still has a lot to learn. But Peterson showed why he was one of the more electric players in the draft, taking a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. He added five tackles on defense.
10. Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Last week's ranking: NR
Taylor had a very impressive debut in a losing effort. The Baylor alum notched six tackles — two for loss, and a quarterback hit — and showed he should improve the Browns' defensive front.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically):
Titans OLB Akeem Ayers (2, 39)
Colts RB Delone Carter (4, 119)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Packers WR-KR Randall Cobb (2, 64)
Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Rams TE Lance Kendricks (2, 47)
Broncos SS Rahim Moore (2, 45)
Dolphins C Mike Pouncey (1, 15)
Cowboys OT Tyron Smith (1, 9)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)
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