A pair of sixth-round draft picks with connections to Boca Raton—each making his NFL regular-season debut—figured prominently in opening-weekend victories for their respective teams.
In Minnesota, a team of Hollywood writers couldn’t have scripted a more perfect start to rookie kicker Blair Walsh’s NFL career. The former standout at the University of Georgia, and a native of Boca, drilled a 55-yard field goal as time expired to send the Vikings’ game against Jacksonville into overtime.
Three minutes into the extra session, Walsh kicked what proved to be the game-winning field goal, a 38-yarder that gave Minnesota a 26-23 lead. Under the league’s new overtime rules, the Jaguars had an opportunity to respond since the Vikings scored on the first possession of the extra period. But Jacksonville couldn’t muster a first down on its drive, and the Vikings secured the win.
Walsh also added second-half field goals of 20 and 42 yards (he had no missed attempts), to go with a pair of extra points and strong work on kickoffs.
The Vikings caught some flak for drafting Walsh with the 175th overall pick (NFL teams rarely use draft picks on kickers or punters) and, later, cutting veteran kicker Ryan Longwell. But the move to the younger kicker with a cannon for a right leg (Walsh had 10 field goals of 50-plus yards in college) paid immediate dividends—in fact, the 55-yarder that sent the game into overtime would have been beyond Longwell’s range.
“I was very proud of the way he reacted,” Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said of Walsh after the game. “I’ve been around young kickers before and their eyes get real big. Because they want to make a good impression, like any young player. And he did not [get wide eyes]. He came out and did a great job for us.”
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Washington Redskins notched one of the big upsets of the day, shocking the Saints 40-32 behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor.
However, another rookie, this one from Florida Atlantic University in Boca, powered a Washington ground game that helped to make Griffin III’s job that much easier. Alfred Morris, a 5-foot-10, 219-pound bowling ball of a back, pounded his way to 96 yards on 28 carries. He also scored two second-half touchdowns for the Redskins—the second, a bruising 3-yard run late in the fourth quarter, came on the heels of a Drew Brees interception and helped to seal the win for Washington.
The former Owl, who had a long run of 18 yards against the Saints, demonstrated an impressive ability to shed tacklers and make decisive cuts—two keys to succeeding in the NFL at running back.
Morris, drafted by the Redskins with the first of their two sixth-round selections in April, rushed for 3,529 yards and 27 touchdowns during his career with FAU. He’s just the kind of runner that has excelled in the offensive systems preferred by Washington head coach Mike Shanahan over the years. Don’t forget: When Shanahan was at Denver, he drafted Terrell Davis in the sixth round in 1995. By 1998, Davis was the league’s MVP.