Another week of NFL football is over, which means another week of tape to watch on the NFL rookie class. It was a terrific week for defensive rookies like Derwin James, Fred Warner, and Darius Leonard. For the QB class it was a tough week as Sam Darnold struggled and Josh Allen looked like the worst starting QB in the NFL. Lots of rookies played themselves up the rookie power rankings and hopefully some *cough* DJ Moore *cough* played themselves into starting jobs. We also saw once again why you shouldn’t draft specialists, but more on that later!
Rookie of the Week
Derwin James, DW, Los Angeles Chargers
- Without question, the rookie of the week is Derwin James. It’s rare to see a rookie hit the ground running as quickly as James has and a lot of credit should go to the Chargers. They have deployed him perfectly taking advantage of his versatility. James was a top 10 player in the 2018 NFL Draft because of his size, athleticism, and versatility. My biggest worry was the team that drafted him would pigeon hole him as a standard safety, DW means defensive weapon. Thank goodness he slid to the 17th pick and Gus Bradley. At no point has Bradley been conservative with the way he has used James. Multiple times a game he has James blitzing off the edge and attacking the backfield. The Chargers have lined him up everywhere from outside corner to defensive line, that’s insane. He’s the early leader for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Drafting specialists is not something any NFL team should do, unless it’s someone truly rare like Shane Lechler, Ray Guy, or Michael Dickson. Did I just group Seattle’s rookie punter with the two greatest punters of all-time? I sure did. Week 2 of the NFL season is teaching tape for why you should never ever ever draft a kicker. Punters are less sporadic, but still you probably shouldn’t draft one. The Vikings drafted Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft and after two games they’ve already cut him. He missed three field goals in the Vikings 29-29 OT tie with the Packers. Two of those kicks were game winners. They basically threw away a fifth-round pick because they took a kicker.
Reporter: What went into the decision today to let Daniel Carlson go?
Mike Zimmer: Did you see the game?
Kicking is such a mental game. At this level most kickers are the same talent level and it comes down to a mindset, a combination of confidence and calmness. Kickers sit on the bench for most of the game and when called upon they are expected to deliver. There’s nothing in other sports like the kicker. The point is, it’s almost a crapshoot. Adam Vinatieri is the greatest kicker of all-time, he was undrafted. Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL right now, he was undrafted. Johnny Hekker is the best punter in the NFL right now, he was undrafted. Just look at the last five years of Pro Bowl specialists (in the chart below). Over the last five seasons, 16 specialists have made the Pro Bowl. Of those 16, eight were undrafted. Don’t drafted specialists, it’s not worth it.
|Specialist||Round/Pick/Year||Pro Bowl Year(s)|
|Johnny Hekker||UDFA/2012||2013, 2015-2017|
|Justin Tucker||UDFA/2012||2013, 2016|
|Dustin Colquitt||3/99/2005||2012, 2016|
|Pat McAfee||7/222/2009||2014, 2016|
|Adam Vinatieri||UDFA/1996||2002, 2004, 2014|
|Stephen Gostkowski||4/118/2006||2008, 2013-2015|
Rookie Power Rankings
Just to be clear, these power rankings aren’t from just this week of football. They take into account every snap of the regular season the rookies have played to this point. So a guy like Sam Hubbard was one of the 10 best rookies of Week 2, but he’s lower on the list because it’s not just about the week that was. I’ve also expanded the power rankings from 32 to 50 because of how many rookies hit the field each week. In brackets is where the played came in at on the power rankings last week.
Derwin James, DW, Los Angeles Chargers (4)
- What more can be said? James was the star of the game for the Chargers vs the Bills. He racked up 8 tackles, 3 pressures, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, and a pass breakup. He’s already the best blitzing DB in the NFL and it isn’t close. The way he’s being used is game-changing for this team.
Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers (2)
- Yet again, Fred Warner filled in terrifically for suspended LB Reuben Foster. The athleticism and instincts get him where he needs to be and the physicality finishes the plays. He kills anything near him. Putting him with Foster will be a lot of fun.
Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns (1)
- After his hot Week 1, Denzel Ward showed he could compete with the big boys. He shutdown every WR he lined up over that wasn’t named Michael Thomas. When asked to cover Thomas, he did a great job on the Pro Bowler. He didn’t give up any big plays and on the TD Thomas scored over him, he had good positioning.
Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts (6)
Darius Leonard does a great job not showing the blitz, timing it well and coming down very hard to get a huge sack. So impressive. #Colts pic.twitter.com/KB8V6f767I
— Andrew Aziz (@AndrewAzizSB) September 17, 2018
- Two games into his career and Darius Leonard is the best linebacker on the Colts defense and one of their best defensive player. Against Washington he helped shutdown the run and showed off great range in coverage. He was everywhere and finished with 19 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and a sack.
Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts (9)
- The Colts rookie class is showing up early and often. Quenton Nelson is their best offensive lineman. He was a wrecking ball against a stout Washington front seven. On multiple occasions Nelson destroyed defenders when pulling. In pass pro his hand use and anchor were impressive.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (5)
- It was a weird week for Saquon Barkley. Against the Cowboys his offensive line did him no favors, but he managed to outplay his numbers. Barkley broke first contact on what felt like at least half his touches. Although he only ran for 28 yards, the passing game was all him, he caught 14 balls for 80 yards. If he had more around him the numbers would be better. Don’t draft running backs in the first-round when your team is full of holes.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Miami Dolphins (13)
- Nobody saw this coming, the Miami Dolphins are 2-0. A big part of that is how well their defense is playing right now. They play sound assignment football with a ton of energy. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a massive part of the transformation. His football IQ is off the charts and he’s always in the right spot. Against the run he was coming up and sticking tackles, he also broke up a deep shot to Robby Anderson in the end zone.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos (14)
Phillip Lindsay froze Reggie Nelson so fast that Courtland Sutton couldn't even engage in time for his block. Lindsay is for real. #BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/iTqiehBIcL
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) September 19, 2018
- The two highest offensive skill positions on this list are Barkley, the second overall pick, and Phillip Lindsay, an undrafted free agent. Don’t draft running backs in the first-round. Lindsay has been incredible for Denver. His quickness, balance, and vision have made up for his lack of size and he’s creating massive plays. He ripped a 53-yard run vs Oakland and had 111 yards on 15 touches.
Jessie Bates, S, Cincinnati Bengals (21)
- All of a sudden the Bengals lead the AFC North. Their defense has been impressive and rookie Jessie Bates was a star on Thursday Night Football. His range and ball skills on the backend make him the perfect center fielder for this defense. He intercepted a pass and broke up one more.
Deadrin Senat, IDL, Atlanta Falcons (10)
- The work Deadrin Senat does in the trenches doesn’t always result in big numbers, but the rookie 1-tech defensive tackle has found a home beside Grady Jarrett. He did a great job vs Carolina eating up space and freeing up his linebackers. Senat also had a nice run stop.
Michael Dickson, P, Seattle Seahawks (3)
- It’s going to be hard for Michael Dickson to stay high on this list because he’s a punter. Against Chicago he wasn’t dominant the way he was in Week 1. He shanked one of his punts and his net average dropped a ton. On the other hand, he drop kicked a kickoff and an onside kick. He’s a freak of a punter.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Green Bay Packers (19)
- After years of issues at the cornerback position, Green Bay doubled down in the 2018 NFL Draft and it’s paying off. Jaire Alexander is a feisty nickel and backs down from nobody. Against the Vikings Alexander was hitting everything, he had 8 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and half a sack. Twice he stopped Stefon Diggs dead at the line of scrimmage on short throws.
Mike Hughes, CB, Minnesota Vikings (8)
- Mike Hughes really only slid down the rankings because he played less and couldn’t show off his skills as much. He should be starting over either Trae Waynes at corner or Mackenzie Alexander at nickel. Hughes did get to show his return skills off with a 46-yard kick return.
Will Dissly, TE, Seattle Seahawks (11)
- After a big rookie debut in Week 1, Will Dissly split time with Nick Vannett at tight end in Week 2. When on the field, Russell Wilson looks to him for a safety net. He came on big late and scored a TD, spiking the ball with a whole lot of energy despite being down.
Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos (20)
- The pass rush dominance isn’t there for Bradley Chubb yet, but he’s making up for it with awesome run defense. We knew coming out of NC State he wasn’t a freak pass rusher, but more of an all-around talent. Against Oakland he made a handful of plays vs the run and was setting the edge with ease vs fellow rookie Kolton Miller.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills (16)
- It’s been an awful train wreck of a season for Buffalo so far, but at least Tremaine Edmunds is looking good. Edmunds range, length, and athleticism are freaky. He’s always flowing to the ball and making plays vs the run. Buffalo should get more creative with him.
Kyzir White, LB, Los Angeles Chargers (26)
- Another Chargers defender being deployed in a fun way is Kyzir White. At WVU he played an overhang role so the Chargers put him at Will LB to take advantage of his size and athleticism combo. He’s a dude vs the run with his physicality. In coverage he had an INT off Josh Allen while downfield covering a tight end.
Genard Avery, EDGE, Cleveland Browns (17)
- At Memphis Genard Avery played both linebacker and edge rusher. So far as a rookie the Browns have used him as a rotational edge rusher. It has worked well. His twitchiness, power, and intensity have been showcased. Against the Saints he got a nice hit on Brees.
Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets (7)
- After the highs and lows of his Week 1 performance, the poor ball placement caught up to Sam Darnold against the Dolphins. He threw two interceptions. The first came on him not recognizing TJ McDonald playing underneath zone. On the second one he forced a throw on a crossing route to Terrelle Pryor in the end zone. He attacked the middle of the field well with Quincy Enunwa, but he needs to stop making poor decisions.
Donte Jackson, CB, Carolina Panthers (25)
- One of the more interesting games came from Donte Jackson. He struggled a bit early in coverage, but was a force tackling. Despite being a smaller guy, he has no problem coming up and hitting. At one point he missed a tackle on Tevin Coleman, but instead of giving up he chased him down and forced a fumble. He also made a nice read in coverage to come off his zone to find the ball and pick off Matt Ryan on a deep shot.
Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers (15)
Josh Jackson, CB, Green Bay Packers (23)
Connor Williams, OG, Dallas Cowboys (33)
Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos (22)
Da’Ron Payne, IDL, Washington (12)
Harold Landry, EDGE, Tennessee Titans (NR)
Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Cincinnati Bengals (NR)
Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears (NR)
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons (NR)
Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns (NR)
BJ Hill, IDL, New York Giants (18)
Kenny Young, LB, Baltimore Ravens (NR)
Justin Reid, DB, Houston Texans (29)
Will Hernandez, OG, New York Giants (28)
Harrison Phillips, IDL, Buffalo Bills (24)
Ito Smith, RB, Atlanta Falcons (NR)
Billy Price, C, Cincinnati Bengals (27)
Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears (NR)
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions (NR)
DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers (NR)
Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, New England Patriots
Ronnie Harrison, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars (NR)
Desmond Harrison, OT, Cleveland Browns (NR)
Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts (30)
Tracy Walker, DB, Detroit Lions (NR)
Justin Jones, IDL, Los Angeles Chargers (31)
Parry Nickerson, CB, New York Jets (32)
Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts (NR)
Jordan Wilkins, RB, Indianapolis Colts (NR)
Chase Edmonds, RB, Arizona Cardinals (NR)
Start the Rook
Mike Hughes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
- We saw what Mike Hughes can do on the football field in Week 1. His athleticism, physicality, and ball skills are impressive for a rookie. Maybe, Mike Zimmer wants to bring him along slowly, but Hughes could and should be starting right now. He’s more talented than both Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander. With his ability to play outside at corner or inside at nickel, it shouldn’t be long until we see him playing more snaps. This dude is the perfect Mike Zimmer DB.
Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Cincinnati Bengals
- One of the quieter steals of the 2018 NFL Draft was the Bengals getting Sam Hubbard in the third-round at 77th This guy was a top 50 player and he slid to a team with an already deep defensive line. He didn’t make much of an impact in Week 1, but he went off in Week 2. With Michael Johnson out, Hubbard played a ton of base defensive end for the Bengals. His hand use and ability vs the run were showcased. He even kicked inside on passing downs a few times. Hubbard should start at base defensive end the rest of the season.
Uchenna Nwosu, LB, Los Angeles Chargers
- The Chargers drafted a lot of physical, versatile, and athletic defenders. Derwin James and Kyzir White are both paying off already. In Week 2 we saw a bit of Uchenna Nwosu who picked up a sack. He was primarily an edge rusher at USC, but he’s a tweener in the NFL. Having him start at Sam LB is the Chargers best option. He’s a freaky athlete with impressive instincts who can rush the passer on third downs.
- Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions
- DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
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