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Green Zone League Articles

First Games for the First Overalls
By Keith Van Wagner
Special to gzl-football.com

In week one, top draft pick Geno Smith had a tough day against an opportunistic Dallas Cowboys defense in his first game. San Francisco lost the game as Smith both struggled and shown flashes of the dominance that is sure to come.

Here is a look at the first games of each of the four top overall draft picks so far.

Andrew Luck, the GZL’s first number one pick, performed well in his first game as a pro. The Chiefs had taken Luck at 1.1 and the Stanford QB was the consensus pick. Standing 6’4” and weighing 235 lbs, Luck had the prototypical size. Though he was a rookie, the Chiefs decided to start Luck right away. Even before stepping on the field he had the feel of an elite field general, with a cannon for an arm (96 THP) and amazing accuracy (92 THA) for a young player.

In his first game, Luck faced a rebuilding New York Jets team. The Jets were without young Mark Sanchez, and instead were relying upon journeyman Jim Sorgi to lead them. The inexperience at the quarterback position showed, as the two teams spent much of the time trading field goals. The Jets did, however, take an early lead on a Shonn Greene touchdown run, making it 7-0. Luck rallied the Chiefs in the second quarter, driving the team on three scoring drives, two for field goals and another for a 51 yard Jamaal Charles run.

The Chiefs went into halftime up 13-10 and never looked back, finally winning 19-13. Luck performed quite well for a rookie effort, completing 18 of 27 passes for 247 yards. Though he did not throw a TD pass, he did lead the Chiefs to 5 red zone possessions. Perhaps an indicator of Luck’s inexperience, however, the Chiefs managed only 3 FGs from these possessions.

Luck also was not picked off in the game, and was only sacked once, by MLB Keyaron Fox. His passer rating was an impressive 95.8. TE Tony Moeaki was Luck’s security blanket in the contest, catching 5 passes for 74 yards, including Luck’s longest pass of the day, a 40 yarder. Luck also hit on 30-plus pass completions to WRs Sinorice Moss and Dexter McCluster.

Though the rest of the season would be at times trying for Luck, his first game was an excellent effort and showed why the Chiefs took him first overall.

In 2012, another Quarterback was taken first overall, Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert was snagged by the Chargers who the previous year had been helmed by former first round pick Christopher Henderson. Despite Henderson’s strong play, the Chargers traded him to the Titans where he has started ever since.

Very much like Luck the year before him, Gabbert was a clear top QB and highly coveted. Coming out of Missouri, Gabbert had a very strong arm (95 THP) and exceptional accuracy (88 THA) and also was made to start right away.

In week one, the Chargers faced the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that had made the playoffs in the two previous seasons. The experience of the Bengals was obvious from the start as the team got off to a quick 14-0 first quarter lead. The Chargers rallied back and managed to close the gap to 21-13 by halftime. The Bengals, however, exerted control over the young Chargers, blanking them in the second half. Ultimately, the Bengals won, 34-13, in large part due to the strong performance of HB Cedric Benson. Benson rushed for 153 yards and 2 scores in the rout.

Gabbert struggled against the fierce Cincinnati defense, but did manage to connect on 16 of 29 passes (55.2%) for 229 yards. This included a 34-yard strike to Vincent Jackson and a 33-yard completion to Sidney Rice. However, the Bengals picked Gabbert off twice and sacked the rookie signal caller 5 times, including two by Keith Rivers. The Chargers offense failed to materialize and made only one trip into the red zone and managed one FG for its efforts.

Of the four first overall picks, three have been QBs. The lone exception to this is CB Morris Claiborne, taken by Tampa Bay in 2013. At 6’0”, 188 lbs, Claiborne had good but not exceptional size. However, his physical attributes made him an obvious choice for number one overall. Blessed with blazing speed (95 SPD), agility and acceleration, along with good hands and instincts, the Bucs drafted the LSU alum to anchor its secondary for the next decade.

As a rookie, Claiborne’s first game took place in Tampa with the Arizona Cardinals in town. The contest was a high scoring affair with a lot of fireworks offensively. QB Josh Freeman threw for 397 yards and 3 TDs while Christian Ponder passed for 298 yards and 3 TDs. By halftime, the Cardinals held a slim 20-17 lead. The Bucs added a FG in the third and the two teams were tied as the 4th quarter began. The final frame saw a flurry of scoring, and the Bucs pulled out a tight win, 34-27.

Claiborne’s play during the game was uneven, as is to be expected as a rookie CB. Claiborne helped the team’s efforts by recording 7 tackles from his corner position, and was able to deflect one pass. However, the rookie, who was working against such WRs as Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones, gave up 5 catches allowed.

QB Geno Smith entered the 2014 draft and most teams were salivating at the chance to select the West Virginia sensation. Though a fast specimen (65 SPD), Smith has the tools to dominate at the next level (96 THP, 86 THA). His skills were so intriguing that the 49ers selected Smith overall, just a year removed from picking QB Brandon Weeden with a top 10 selection.

Despite his natural abilities, Smith had a very difficult day in his first game against the Cowboys. Dallas jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead before the Niners got on the board with an Adam Jones interception return. The Cowboys rebounded, adding two FGs to make it 20-7 at the half. Smith was unable to generate any offense in the second half and were shut out the rest of the way, with a final score of 37-7.

Smith proved to be erratic in his first game as a pro, but managed a few bright spots. Despite completing only 16 of 36 passes (44.4%), Smith threw for 312 yards against a veteran secondary. Unfortunately, Smith threw two INTs and was also sacked 6 times, including 3 by Ryan Kerrigan. But in Smith’s bleak rookie outing, he did show a penchant for hitting the long ball. Taylor Price, who caught 6 passes for 132 yards, had one Smith completion for 46 yards. Smith also completed passes of 44 yards, 36 yards, and 33 yards, respectively.
Though not an outstanding game, it is clear that Smith has what it takes to be a force in the league for years to come.
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