As the season approaches the halfway point, rookies around the league are making their mark. In the NFC, four rookie wide receivers – Minnesota's PERCY HARVIN, Chicago's JOHNNY KNOX, Philadelphia's JEREMY MACLIN and the New York Giants' HAKEEM NICKS – have quickly adapted to the NFL, making significant contributions to their teams.
"I knew the game speed at this level was going to be faster," says Harvin, the Vikings' first-round draft pick (No. 22). "I'm a player who plays fast, so I was able to adjust by kicking my practice habits up another notch. The game becomes easier when you practice hard."
A look at these four outstanding NFC rookie wide receivers:
PERCY HARVIN, Minnesota (Round 1, No. 22 overall, Florida): The rookie out of Florida is tied for the NFL rookie lead with four touchdowns – two receiving and two on kickoff returns – and has been a big part of the Vikings' 6-1 start. He leads NFC rookies with 23 receptions (285 yards), 17 first-downs and five catches of at least 20 yards. Harvin has also returned 23 kickoffs for 685 yards for an NFL-best average of 29.8 yards per return. He has scored on returns of 101 and 88 yards and is the fourth rookie since 1970 with two kick-return touchdowns of at least 88 yards in his team's first seven games. Harvin is already the franchise leader with two career kick-return scores.
"Percy is an explosive player," says Vikings offensive coordinator DARRELL BEVELL. "He runs with the ball like a running back. He's got great balance, great speed and he's doing really good things for us."
JOHNNY KNOX, Chicago (Round 5, No. 140 overall, Abilene Christian): A fifth-round selection (No. 140) from Abilene Christian, Knox has gotten off to a fast start for Chicago. He is tied for the NFL rookie lead with four touchdowns – three receiving and one on a kickoff return – and became the first Bears rookie since Pro Football Hall of Fame running back WALTER PAYTON in 1975 to score a touchdown in four consecutive games. Knox, who ranks third in the NFL averaging 29.0 yards per KR, had a 102-yard touchdown return in Week 4, the longest in the league this year and the second-longest in franchise history. Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS had a 103-yard return for the Bears in 1967. Knox ranks second among NFC rookies with 21 receptions and is third with 266 yards.
"Johnny brings a lot to the table," says Chicago head coach LOVIE SMITH. "He has some good raw ability. He's got great speed. And he's really catching the ball well and running good routes. As a returner, we've gotten a lot of production from him. The guy has made progress every time we've put him in position to."
JEREMY MACLIN, Philadelphia (Round 1, No. 19 overall, Missouri): The Eagles' Maclin, a first-round draft pick (No. 19) from Missouri, ties for the NFC rookie lead with two touchdown receptions of at least 40 yards. In Week 5, Maclin had the best day of his young NFL career, catching six passes for 142 yards (23.7 average), including touchdowns of 51 and 40 yards. He is the fifth rookie since 1970 to have his first two career receiving touchdowns go for at least 40 yards and occur in the same game. Maclin also became the first rookie in franchise history with two TD receptions of at least 40 yards in one game. On the season, he ranks third among NFC rookies with 18 catches and is fourth with 246 yards.
"When the ball is thrown my way, I expect to make the play," says Maclin. "I have to keep working hard. I want to make the best of every opportunity so when my number is called, I'm ready to make the play."
HAKEEM NICKS, New York Giants (Round 1, No. 29, North Carolina): A first-round draft selection (No. 29) by the Giants out of North Carolina, Nicks is tied for the NFL rookie lead with four touchdown receptions. He has a TD catch in each of the past four games and is the first Giants receiver with a touchdown reception in four consecutive games since 1948 (BILL SWIACKI). Nicks has recorded TD catches of 62, 54 and 37 yards and is the only rookie in the NFL with three 30+ yard touchdown receptions. He leads NFC rookies with 315 yards (16 receptions) and his 19.7 yards per catch average is the highest in the NFL among rookies with at least 10 catches.
"We drafted Hakeem so we have a big-play receiver," says Giants tackle DAVID DIEHL. "He's made some huge plays out there and that's exciting to see."