As training camp gets underway, which players might have a rookie card to remember in 2009?
by Chris Houston
The NFL regular season is still seveal weeks out. It's a time of many questions and few answers. As collectors ponder the new crop of rookie cards and fantasy football players start studying potential draft picks, everyone is looking for the 2009 answers to Adrian Peterson or Matt Forte.
Even Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Atlanta QB Matt Ryan set the world on fire last season with great rookie campaigns.
So who makes the list of NFL rookie breakout candidates in 2009?
It certainly matters to the NFL card collector who wonders which ones will be worth hanging onto and which might not be worth a dime once it's all said and done next February.
Who could be the rookie of the year? Hint: he played at Georgia but he's not a quarterback!
Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was the top overall pick. While Stafford certainly measures out to be the prototypical NFL quarterback, Detroit still has to answer many tough questions about the players they will put around the top pick of the 2009 draft. Stafford will no doubt get to play right away and perhaps even start for the Lions in the season opener. But his stock won't be high anytime soon unless he does what many other decent players have failed to do in Detroit and that's win. If for some reason Stafford could elevate the Lions to a level of excitement they haven't had in years--like even one playoff game-- then his stock would certainly rise. But let's face it: he's in Detroit where the Lions will need a complete public relations makeover to have any rookie cards become rare collectibles. Save this NFL card but don't pin your hopes on it anytime soon.
If you are going to put stock in a rookie quarterback the better choice would be Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. Not only does he play in a major media market but he is also well known after playing in the fish bowl for the USC Trojans. The guy is covering two coasts now and that certainly bids well on generating interest across the country for his rookie card.
Sanchez also has the skills set and ability to be a top five quarterback in the right situation. His arm strength and accuracy almost guarantee he will be in the starting lineup from day one. If the Jets can surround him with some productive receivers and a decent offensive line then Sanchez will have a greater upside than Stafford. In terms of the quarterback crop of 2009, Sanchez is the one to watch as a breakout candidate. It might be worth a few extra dollars to tap into his rookie card hype.
The first year player who has the possibility of being an impact player and his stock immediately rising is Knowshon Moreno. This is a former Georgia Bulldog who will be guaranteed minutes right away. The Denver Broncos selected Moreno with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and that was well below where some had projected him. Knowshon not only has the unique name going for him, but he also has the gift for breaking tackles and busting through the very tough defensive SEC. Running backs in that conference have fared well in the NFL throughout the years, particularly the guys from Georgia. Herschel Walker, Terrell Davis, Garrison Hearst and Rodney Hampton have all had some great individual success in the NFL. Moreno had the 5th best season ever by a Bulldog and finished fourth all time in rushing total yardage with over 2,700 yards in just 2 seasons. He will be joining a Denver Broncos football team that had a rushing attack by committee last season. Moreno will undoubtedly be the starter from day one barring a really bad decision.
Moreno will be playing in a system that starts Kyle Orton at quarterback. That could be good or bad for the rookie. My guess is the Broncos will rely heavily on the running game because Orton has been prone to mistakes with the Chicago Bears. If a prolific passer like Jay Cutler were still the quarterback in Denver and distracting defenses, Moreno would be a lock to be rookie of the year. Moreno is still one of the biggest breakout candidates in this year's first round crop (not to mention a great sleeper pickup for your fantasy football teams). Buy many of these cards and expect them to jump a 'mile high'.
Michael Crabtree is another that comes to mind when it's time to talk about the levels of excitement and enthusiasm for a rookie. The former Texas Tech wide receiver is considered by some to be the best overall athlete in the draft. Crabtree ended up with San Francisco as the 10th overall pick. Crabtree had 231 receptions in two seasons with the Red Raiders and brought the team to national prominence. He also had 13 straight games with at least one touchdown and five receptions. Add to that the fact the Crabtree is no stranger to the clutch catch and he looks every bit of a young Jerry Rice in terms of early speculation. Sometimes that speculation comes to fruition and sometimes not. There is no shortage of receivers who have worn the Rice-a-like label that didn't make the transition into the NFL. However, Crabtree doesn't fit into that category. My guess is he'll breakout by the midway point of the NFL season and his stock will continue to rise. Keep these cards on hand until his Hall of Fame selection.
Other exciting players who could breakout as a rookie? You have to throw in a second rounder from West Virginia. Quarterback Pat White may be one of the most electrifying players drafted. The Miami Dolphins picked White in the second round of the draft and some say it was a steal. Sometimes players who are apt to run first and pass second don't really translate well into the NFL. White is a Michael Vick type player with a cannon arm. At six feet tall, White is a bit undersized, but his ability to scramble may help him land on the first team eventually. His ticket might be as a receiver. The excitement surrounding White will be huge until he actually steps out onto the playing field. He could flop, of course, but right now, White is a card worth sticking in your back pocket if the price is right. Just don't be surprised if his rookie card depicts him as a quarterback and his second year card says WR.
The future also seems untapped for Denver rookie Robert Ayers. The former University of Tennessee standout was the 18th overall selection by the Broncos. Ayes was one of those guys who blossomed in his final college year and some even consider the guy a "one year wonder". But others who saw him play recognized his versatility and speed in the Southeastern Conference. He's 6'3 and 272 pounds and in the NFL he'll get playing time right away because of his quickness at defensive end or linebacker. He'll be on a team that's rebuilding so he might be one of the few bright spots on defense and fans will recognize that almost immediately. To say he will have a Reggie White type career is certainly premature at this point, but he certainly has the physical tools to do it.
Guys I am not particularly high on? Josh Freeman certainly comes to mind. The 17th overall pick by Tampa Bay is in a bad media market. Not only that but he tends to lack a touch on short throws. Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State was drafted by Arizona late in the first round. Wells has been injury prone and that won't help his path to NFL stardom.
Picking a breakout rookie candidate isn't always easy in the NFL. A lot of potential NFL stars have been knocked down in mid-flight by injuries, just being in bad situations or having to wait behind future Hall of Famers. Few saw Matt Forte coming on so strong last season and there will be more surprises in 2009. It's kind of like playing the scratch-off lottery, but opening football card packs or gobbling up a stack of rookie cards is a lot more fun.
Chris Houston has covered college sports as a member of the broadcast media for over 15 years.
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