NFL Early Games Preview: Players to Watch

RB Darren McFadden (Otto Greule, Jr/Getty)

Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst Ed Thompson takes a look at the players who are taking the league by storm -- and a few who are sputtering -- as 16 teams prepare to clash in the NFL's early games of Week 3.

Raiders (1-1) at Bills (2-0)

Darren McFadden The rookie has electrified crowds with a four 20-plus-yard runs — tops in the league — while averaging 105 yards per game. But, as rookies often do, he's made some mistakes, including a pair of fumbles. McFadden's 210 rushing yards is fifth-best in the league.

JaMarcus Russell The Raiders need their QB to step it up if they're going to be better than a .500 team in 2008. Currently ranked 25th in the league in completion percentage (53.5 percent), his completion percentage drops to 44.4 percent in the red zone. One positive for the second-year player is that he hasn't thrown an interception, but he has fumbled twice, losing possession once.

Sebastian JanikowskiHis booming foot on nine kickoffs has produced six touchbacks. He's currently second in the league with a 71.8-yard kickoff average.

Thomas Howard: The versatile linebacker has a huge presence on the Raiders' defense with 11 stops, one sack, a forced fumble, and two passes defended this season.

Trent Edwards: The second-year signal-caller hasn't been intercepted yet this season. And his 70.9 percent completion average is the fourth-best in the NFL. Edwards' performance actually gets better as the game progresses, completing 65 percent of his first ten passes, but 80 percent once he's thrown at least 20 passes.

Lee Evans All eight of his catches this season have produced a first down, but he hasn't caught a pass inside the opponents' 20-yard line yet this year.

Brian Moorman: Five of his twelve punts have resulted in a fair catch, the second-highest total in the league. His 40.4 net yards per punt puts him in a tie for the eighth-best average in the league.

Terrence McGee He's making good things happen for the Buffalo defense. McGee has already logged 13 tackles (11 solo), six passes defended and a pair of interceptions.

Panthers (2-0) at Vikings (0-2)

Jon Beason:  Carolina's middle linebacker has made a team-best 18 stops and recovered a fumble during the first two games. 

Chris Harris:  The hard-hitting safety has forced a pair of fumbles and is tied for second-place on the team with 14 tackles.


RB Jonathan Stewart
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Jonathan Stewart:  The rookie running back is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and both of the Panthers' rushing touchdowns. While he's getting almost the same number of reps as DeAngelo Williams, that could change in the near future if Williams continues to perform at his current rushing average of 4.0 yards per attempt.

Chris GambleThe fifth-year cornerback out of Ohio State has defended four passes already this season. In 12 starts last season, he only defended six.

Adrian Peterson: If you watched Peterson against the Colts last Sunday, it was obvious that he was wearing down late in the game. Head coach Brad Childress has benched the ineffective Tarvaris Jackson in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte, so Peterson may not have to carry quite so heavy of a load on Sunday. He's already carried the ball 48 times for an NFL-best 263 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. And although he has just one rushing touchdown so far, 20.8 percent of his runs have moved the chains for Minnesota.

Chad Greenway: In his second season as a starter, the former Iowa Hawkeye leads the Vikings with 14 tackles, including ten in the opponent's half of the field.

Ryan Longwell The Vikings kicker has hit on seven of his eight field goal attempts this year, including a 53-yard shot.

Antoine Winfield The cornerback has made three of the Viking's 12 special teams tackles.

Dolphins (0-2) at Patriots (2-0)

Ricky Williams Can Williams get rolling against the New England defense in this divisional battle? It's not likely, but it sure would be great timing for Miami if he did. Averaging just 2.48 yards per carry, he probably wouldn't be getting many carries if teammate Ronnie Brown was doing significantly better than his meager 2.82 yards per carry. Williams' longest run is just eight yards, while Brown hasn't gotten further than 11 yards from the line of scrimmage. 


LB Channing Crowder
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Channing Crowder: Now in his fourth season out of Florida, Crowder has taken charge in the middle of the linebacker corps, posting a team-best 18 tackles.

Davone Bess:  The rookie wide receiver has averaged 25.5 yards on four kickoff returns. He also caught a pair of passes against the Cardinals last week and picked up 13 yards on a running play.

Ted GinnThe former first-round pick hasn't been very productive so far this season, averaging just 4.3 yards per punt return and catching just three balls for a total of 26 yards.

Rodney Harrison Is there a player in this league who loves to hit people more than Rodney Harrison? With 22 stops in his first two games of 2008, the 15th-year veteran looks as tough as ever.

Randy Moss:  The veteran appears to be a bit lost since Tom Brady was lost for the season. He caught just two passes last week against the Jets for a meager 22 yards, including one for a touchdown.

Wes Welker He continues to use his shifty route-running and quickness to find open spots in the opponents' defense. Welker has a team-high 13 catches and is averaging 9.5 yards per grab.

Stephen Gostkowski He's accounted for half of the Patriots' 36 points this season with five field goals and three extra point. New England has only scored three touchdowns this year, twice on runs by Sammy Morris, and once on a throw from Matt Cassel to Randy Moss.

Cardinals (2-0) at Redskins (1-1)

Kurt Warner: The Arizona quarterback is off to a fast start, leading the league in average gain per pass attempt (10.33 yards). Warner has thrown four touchdown passes in his first two outings, has avoided throwing an interception and has the second-best passer rating in the NFL (128.5) behind Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Relying heavily on his two highly-talented wide receivers, Warner has connected with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald for 23 of his 39 completions (59 percent).


WR Anquan Boldin
Kevin Terrell/Getty Images

Anquan Boldin: With 222 yards of receiving, Boldin is currently third in the league, and he's tied for the lead in touchdown catches with three in his first two games.

Larry Fitzgerald: The "other guy" in the Cardinals' receiving attack is averaging 20.4 yards per catch on nine carries, so defenses have to give him his due respect as a deep threat.

Steve BreastonAfter averaging 22.4 yards per kickoff return in his rookie season, Breaston has slumped a bit, averaging just 16.5 yards on four returns.

Santana Moss: His 12 catches for 201 yards includes two touchdown catches. He's made eight of those catches in the second half, averaging 19 yards per reception versus just 12.2 per catch in the first half.

Durant Brooks: The rookie punter out of Georgia Tech hasn't gotten off to a good start. His 28.3-yards net average is the second-worst in the NFL, and worst among punters with nine punts or more this season.

London Fletcher: The 11th-year pro is showing few signs of aging. He's currently ranked second in the league in tackles with 24, including 13 stops in the second half.

Texans (0-1) at Titans (2-0)

Matt Schaub: Although he's completed 75.6 percent of his passes -- second-best in the NFL — Schaub has a total of just one touchdown pass to date. He's completed all eight of his pass attempts once the Texans are in their opponents' territory. He just needs to spend more time on that half of the field and less time on his back. He's been sacked five times already.

Zach Diles:  The second-year linebacker has made a team-leading 13 tackles this year (11 solo). 


WR Andre Johnson
Brian Bahr /Getty Images

Andre JohnsonHe leads the team with ten catches for 112 yards, but his longest catch over the past two games has only resulted in a 24-yard gain. Schaub needs his deep threat to loosen up the opponents' defense a bit.

Mario WilliamsThe Texans have just two sacks so far, and both of them were logged by the third-year pro. Williams has also made six tackles from his defensive end position. 

Cortland Finnegan:  The Titans cornerback has been a force to be reckoned with, intercepting a league-best three passes in two weeks. He's made two of those three picks in the fourth quarter. And his seven passes defended is second-best in the league.

Chris Johnson Although he has just one more carry than LenDale White, the rookie out of East Carolina has rushed for 202 yards (5.9 yards per carry) versus just 99 (3.0 yard per carry) by White. Johnson has also caught five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.

Nick Harper: The veteran cornerback leads the Titans 13 tackles. He's also forced a fumble and defended two passes.

Albert Haynesworth Tennessee's top defensive tackle has been getting good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He's been credited with four quarterback hits and two sacks. He's forced a fumble and made four tackles.

Buccaneers (1-1) at Bears (1-1)

Earnest GrahamAveraging 8.3 yards per carry, Graham has already amassed 207 rushing yards and one touchdown. He's also caught four passes for 39 yards.

Ike Hilliard: Although his ten catches have only netted 86 yards for the Bucs, nine of them have given the offense a fresh set of downs.


DE Gaines Adams
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Gaines Adams While the Buccaneers' young defensive end has two sacks, that only indicates a slice of the actual pressure he's been putting on quarterbacks. The former Clemson star has six quarterback hits in addition to six total tackles during his first two games of 2008 

Barrett Ruud:  Tampa Bay's middle linebacker has made a team-leading 18 tackles, including 14 solo efforts. 

Kyle Orton: Orton joins Cincinnati's Carson Palmer as one of the only two-game starters who has yet to throw a touchdown pass. The best you can say about Orton at this point is that he hasn't hurt the Bears with turnovers. Ranked 24th in the league in passing yards (299) and 23rd in yards per attempt (5.64), Orton is seemingly content to let Matt Forte pave the way for the Bears offense.

Matt Forte: Where would the Bears be without the rookie out of Tulane? Forte has emerged as one of the top talents at the running back position in the early going, rushing for 215 yards while posting a healthy 4.67 yards per carry average.

Brad MaynardThe Bears punter has forced a league-best six fair catches out of his twelve punts. But his 34.8-yards net punting average is 23rd in the league.

Lance BriggsLeading the Chicago in tackles with 14 to date, Briggs also recovered a fumble in the season opener against the Colts and ran 21 yards for a touchdown.


Bengals (0-2) at Giants (2-0)

Glenn Holt: The third-year player is doing his best to help the Bengals' lackluster offense with his 30.0-yards average on seven kickoff returns.


QB Carson Palmer
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Carson Palmer: Will this be the week that Cincinnati rediscovers its passing game? QB Carson Palmer is sporting a third-worst 49.0-percent completion average and is no longer striking fear into opposing defenses as he did a year ago. His 37.1 passer rating is the worst among all NFL starters.

Dhani Jones: The Bengals linebacker has made 20 tackles already, fourth-best in the league.

Keith Rivers: The rookie out of USC has settled in nicely -- and quickly. With 18 tackles, he trails only Jones among Cincinnati's defenders.

Brandon Jacobs: Clipping off rushing yardage at a rate of 5.81 yards per carry, the Giants' leading rusher continues to batter his opponents with his hard-nosed running style. Although he hasn't scored a rushing touchdown yet, he's been consistent and has 209 rushing yards to show for his efforts, sixth-best in the league.

Plaxico Burress: Averaging 107 yards of receiving per game, Burress has given his team a new set of downs on ten of his 15 catches this season.

Justin Tuck: With three sacks in his first two games, Tuck is ensuring that quarterbacks won't get too comfortable when playing the Giants despite the absence of a couple of guys by the name of Strahan and Umenyiora.

John Carney:  The 44-year-old kicker has made all five of his field goal attempts for the defending World Champions.

Chiefs (0-2) at Falcons (1-1)

Erik Walden: Rookies hope to add value to their NFL teams by standing out on special teams, and Walden has certainly been getting noticed by his opponents. The former Middle Tennessee State linebacker has made five of the team's 13 solo tackles while playing on the coverage teams.


WR Dwayne Bowe
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Dwayne Bowe: The second-year receiver out of LSU leads the Chiefs with 11 receptions for a total of 139 yards and a touchdown. Nine of his 11 catches have been made in the second half.

Larry Johnson: Even though rookie Jamaal Charles has averaged 4.4 yards per carry during the eight attempts he's been granted so far, the Chiefs keep feeding the ball to the veteran, who has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 34 opportunities. .

Jarrad Page: The Chiefs free safety leads the team in tackles with fourteen, and he's also forced a fumble, recovered one and defended a pass.

Matt Ryan: The Falcons rookie has completed just 47.8 percent of his passes, second-worst in the league. He's thrown two interceptions and has been sacked five times.

Michael Turner: If the Falcons running back can't torch the Chiefs defense this weekend, his dominating 220-yard performance in Week 1 could be written off as a fluke. Turner has the third-best average in the league at 7.28 yards per carry and has scored two rushing touchdowns.

Michael Jenkins: Remember him from the highlight reel on opening day when he caught that 62-yard pass from Ryan for a touchdown? That's the only pass he's caught this year. The Falcons need him to step up and make some plays.

John AbrahamAfter three sacks in the season opener, Abraham tacked on another last week and leads the league.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

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