NFL's most impressive rookies in Week 1

BY foxsports • September 16, 2010

Not every rookie hits the ground running in All-Pro cleats. Debuts are just one game, and careers aren't often made or broken — injury aside — on a rookie's initial chance.

Take fifth overall pick Eric Berry of the Chiefs as an example. Drafted higher than Ed Reed (24th overall, 2002) and in the same spot as the late Sean Taylor (fifth, 2004) for his ballhawking ability in the middle of the field, expectations are through the roof around Arrowhead.

Berry's Game 1 assignment was Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. He allowed a 34-yard pass to Gates on third down that set up a 2-yard TD to Gates a few plays later — Berry was responsible for both, he admits — and later misread the play that became a 59-yard TD pass to Legedu Naanee.

"That was me, I made the wrong read and ... it was me," said Berry. "It won't happen again."

It was one of those "welcome to the NFL" moments for the fifth pick in last April's draft. Berry's first game wasn't a disaster, as he was second on the defense with six total tackles on the night. But those mistakes stuck with him after the game.

"The important thing is we won the game," said Berry. "That's always the most important factor. I've got to play better, and I will."

A bad showing won't diminish expectations and a great one might not raise them exponentially.

After an exciting opening week of the NFL calendar, we identified five rookies whose first impressions were lasting.

Week 1 Rookie Standouts

SS T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns

A second-round selection many questioned due to his injury history at Oregon, T.J. Ward continues to silence his critics, as he made a huge impact in the Browns' tough 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers. Ward was a steady defender throughout the preseason and carried it into his NFL debut, as he recorded a team-high 11 tackles and was involved in two Buccaneers turnovers. He plays with passion and energy and is always around the ball. If he can stay healthy, expect Ward to be one of the best defensive players in this rookie class.

RB/WR Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs

Plagued with the flu most of the week, McCluster was healthy enough to star in the Chiefs' "Monday Night Football" showdown with the Chargers. McCluster didn't get the reps he'd like on offense, due to illness, but he made an impact on special teams. McCluster returned a punt for a 94-yard touchdown, which was the longest in Chiefs' history and the longest TD return ever for McCluster. The Chiefs' rushing attack will be difficult to defend this year with the explosive tandem of McCluster and Jamaal Charles, not to mention the physical running style of Thomas Jones. But it's McCluster that the opposition can't forget about, because every time he has the ball in his hands he can take it the distance.

FS Nate Allen, Philadelphia Eagles

Not only does Allen have the difficult task of replacing, albeit a year removed, Philadelphia icon Brian Dawkins, but he's also the guy that many will remember as the player the team took with the draft-pick bounty it received in exchange for longtime Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb. Allen showed the Philly faithful that he's up to daunting task. He registered five tackles and an interception in his home debut. Although the Eagles lost to the Packers, 27-20, the initial impression that Allen made was positive, and it's obvious that he plays with a football IQ well beyond his level of experience.

DT Tyson Alualu, Jacksonville Jaguars

Bothered by a calf injury during the preseason, first-round pick (10th overall) Alualu was as advertised in the Jaguars 24-17 win over the Denver Broncos. Playing next to 2009 third-round pick Terrance Knighton took pressure off of Alualu and he responded with three tackles and a sack. Alualu was stout against the run and was a factor in the Jaguars defense holding a solid Broncos rushing attack to just 89 yards.

TE Tony Moeaki, Kansas City Chiefs

Known for his blocking at Iowa, the oft-injured Moeaki, who was a third-round pick in April, also has strong hands, but he didn't see much action during the preseason because of injury. However, in the Chiefs win over the Chargers on Monday night, he joined fellow rookie McCluster as one of the stars of the game. Moeaki caught three passes for 21 yards and the touchdown that ultimately led to victory. Health may always be a concern for Moeaki, but if he can stay on the field he will be a key contributor in Kansas City this season.

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