The New Kids in the League
Issue 5, Volume 110
By Krish Gupta
Going into the 2019 season, NFL fans already had a list of rookies to look out for: Kyler Murray. Nick Bosa. Josh Jacobs. And if a fan were to wake up today from a coma dating back to September 3, they would find that the list of most successful rookies thus far is strikingly similar, besides a few breakouts. Kyler Murray. Yawn. Josh Jacobs. Yup. Nick Bosa. Of course. Gardner Minshew? Hold up. Double take.
Gardner Minshew, drafted with the 178th pick, was on no one’s radar going into the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars seemingly had their quarterback situation figured out, with Philly’s miracle worker Nick Foles at the helm. But when Foles broke his collarbone in Week One, a guy named Gardner with a curly mustache took the reigns and mesmerized the football world. Ever since, Minshew has been stunning for Jacksonville, with 13 passing touchdowns and two interceptions before his Week Nine matchup. Unfortunately, despite exceptional performances in the majority of his games, Minshew was benched for Week 10 with the return of Foles after a subpar Week Nine game. Minshew headlines a group of late-round afterthoughts turned stars.
Terry McLaurin is another unexpected bright spot, drafted in the third round by the Washington Redskins. McLaurin has blossomed into the top receiver for the Redskins, and already has five receiving touchdowns despite Washington’s quarterback carousel; McLaurin has already caught passes from three different quarterbacks in his young NFL career.
Another pass catcher that has been a pleasant surprise for his team is the Seahawks’ D.K. Metcalf, picked at number 64 overall. He has enjoyed a career year from Russell Wilson, with 403 yards receiving to go with four touchdowns on the season.
Other rookies have risen stock in recent weeks and look to break out in the last half of the season. Hunter Renfrow has established himself as a potent threat in the Oakland Raiders offense. The fifth-rounder will look to build on his national-title winning Clemson career and continue to develop a rapport with quarterback Derek Carr.
Another rookie that has shone in recent weeks is the second round Eagles running back Miles Sanders. Sanders is a triple threat for Philadelphia, returning kicks, running, and catching passes. Heading to the Eagles’ bye week, Sanders is riding high.
The Early Picks
The fateful night of the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville was not devoid of drama (Daniel Jones, anyone?), but the dust has finally settled and talented rookies have proven that they were worth a valuable pick.
The first player off the board, Kyler Murray, has been everything the Cardinals wanted. He has seamlessly transitioned into Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense after leading the high-octane Oklahoma Sooners offense back in college. A year after Arizona went 3-13, Murray has the Cards at that same number of wins just over halfway through the season.
The number two pick out of Ohio State, Nick Bosa, has perhaps been the most successful rookie thus far. He has been downright scary for opposing defenses and has been a vital cog for the defense of the undefeated San Francisco 49ers. Bosa has already racked up seven sacks to go with an interception as well as 25 tackles. He emerged from the Niners’ Week Four bye especially ferocious, tallying six sacks and the impressive interception in the five games since. He is in the discussion for the Defensive Player of the Year, and should be a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The next three picks, Quinnen Williams, Clelin Ferrell, and Devin White, have proven to be solid but unspectacular assets for their respective teams. Williams has been on the rise of late and should become a top talent for the Jets. Ferrell just has one sack in the seven games he’s played. White has been solid for the Buccaneers thus far and many predict him to be a breakout candidate in the second half of the season.
At number six overall, the Giants’ picking quarterback Daniel Jones was the storyline of the draft. Jones has shown signs of excellence, with an electrifying debut and another inspiring performance against the Lions. However, his inexperience has shown, magnifying his turnover and ball security problems. The NFL world largely anticipated the Giants to select Dwayne Haskins, but they passed on Haskins for Jones and the Redskins scooped him up. With very limited playtime thus far in the season, Haskins has been erratic at best. Needless to say, the Giants are happy with Jones at the helm.
Other first-rounders who have been superb for their teams include Josh Allen (seventh overall), Devin Bush (10th overall), Brian Burns (16th), Dexter Lawrence (17th), Darnell Savage (21st), Josh Jacobs (24th), and Marquise Brown (30th). Jacobs has been a workhorse for the Raiders and is the current frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It seems a little early to run a bust column, but there are some players that have potential to become cautionary tales of draft day mishaps.
The number four overall pick for the Oakland Raiders, Clelin Ferrell has underwhelmed in his first season as a pro. He hasn’t been bad, per se, but he certainly doesn’t have the look of a defensive superstar, which is what teams would expect from early-round defensive picks. Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, in contrast, have proven that they were worth the early picks.
Haskins, selected number 15 overall by the Redskins, is another potential bust. He has been just another mediocre thrower on the Redskins’ quarterback carousel. He owns an atrocious 42.2 QB rating with four interceptions, despite not starting a single game.
The Big Picture
Swamped with stats and labels, many rookies don’t get the credit they deserve. Through just eight or nine games, it is ridiculous to expect rookies to immediately adjust to the NFL. Sophomore season breakouts are extremely common (see DJ Chark), and many players emerge even later (Chris Godwin). Inevitably, the upper echelon of the 2019 rookie class will change in the years to come as players transition from college to the big leagues.
Many rookies this year have wowed the league with unexpected maturity and some have already climbed into the top tier of NFL players. Fresh out of college, these young talents have charged their teams with optimism for the future.