Another year of draft evaluations are upon us with the NFLPlayoffs down to the final eight. The two topics merge into one here as the same players that were becoming household names last year at this time are now finishing their first NFL season, with several playing integral parts in their team’s postseason success. I’ll look at two rookies, one from each team in each playoff game and see how they might play a crucial part in this weekend’s games.
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Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
Von Miller came on the scene in Denver and performed pretty much as everyone expected. He’s a beast off the edges and will have to play spectacular in this game for Denver’s defense to have any chance. Miller racked up 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 4 pass defended, and 2 forced fumbles this season. He’s been playing with a cast on his hand here recently and in a game of inches its likely cost him. He missed swiping the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hand by an inch at least 3 times last week and he finally registered another sack after blanking the three previous games. In the Broncos first game against Tom Brady, Miller wasn’t able to get Brady to the ground. The intensity goes up this week though.
If Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil can become the duo that Denver imagined that they would be when they used the 2nd pick on Miller then Denver could force Brady into some bad decisions. Von could also benefit from Robert Ayers having another game like he had last week. Brady is a different quarterback when he feels the pressure. If Miller can get Brady thinking about him early and often, then he won’t be thinking about executing the offensive game plan and could force some throws. It’s happened before.
Nate Solder has played well in his rookie campaign. The Patriots have been dinged up along their offensive line this season and Solder has stepped in to play several positions. If he’s called on to fill a role in this matchup he won’t be a liability. At 6’8” he still remarkably manages to get good leverage and has great mobility. He will continue to improve in this league but also adds value at depth amongst an all important offensive line that protects Tom Brady and keeps this offense moving.
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Solder has added meaning in this game as he’s from Denver and played at Colorado University. It’ll be a great matchup to watch if he has to kick out and catch Von Miller on a blitz in this game. Rookies involved in key plays during the postseason are always a great watch. The Patriots have such a solid offensive line that even if Von Miller or Dumervil get pressure occasionally, you have to believe they can seal long enough for Brady to take advantage of the Rob Gronkowski / Aaron Hernandez matchup on the Broncos’ linebackers and safeties. Denver is also suspect in a banged up secondary.
New England Patriots win 31-20
Other Rookie Notes: Chris Harris has been a surprising undrafted rookie. He’s played a lot more than Denver expected him to this season and while he’s taken his lumps, he has also made some crucial plays. Orlando Franklin will have to provide Tebow time to make progression as he’s the blindside protector for the left handed Tebow. He’s had a great rookie campaign and will need to keep performing at a high level for this Broncos offense to get off the ground against New England. Quinton Carter came up with a big pick against Ben Roethlisberger last week and Denver could use another against Brady this Saturday. New England hasn’t used Stevan Ridley as much as I would have this season and Shane Vereen has been banged up for the most part of his rookie campaign. Both backs should see increased roles in 2012 and are a perfect blend of power and speed.
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Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock