Welcome to the Rookie Report for the 2019 season! Every week, I’ll update this index of rankings based on the accumulation of rookie season performances. I’ll repeat that part: This isn’t a separate list each week based solely on the most recent game. It’s a continuation for the entire season. And it is not based on fantasy success or projection, more so overall performance. As you can tell, I’ve kept the list to skill position players. That should be self-explanatory based on the website and the limit of hours in a week.
I will repeat, this is not a fantasy football ranking. It's based on in-game performance.
1. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew
66.7% comp | 1,279 yards | 9 TDs | 1 INT | 124 rush yards | 7 fumbles
The layer of newness covering Gardner Minshew has shined off and what now stands is a potential quality starter at the professional level. He deserves to be the story of the NFL through five weeks, even in losing efforts.
The Panthers opened with a beautifully scripted touchdown drive. Gardner Minshew needed three plays to respond, culminating in a 37-yard dime to DJ Chark over a trailing Ross Cockrell. The following three quarters showcased Minshew diagnosing coverages pre- and post-snap and connecting with open receivers in stride with proper timing. And in tight coverage, Minshew gives his receivers a chance to win. I will repeat previous statements, the game and chaos that comes with it is not too big for Minshew.
There are blips Minshew needs to avoid, namely seven fumbles in four and a half games. I know he hasn’t lost them all, but fumble recoveries involve plenty of luck based on bounces so focusing on total fumbles is valid. Dropped interceptions have gone in favor of Minshew as well, including an easy one missed by James Bradberry on Sunday. But if this is a “low” performance from Minshew, the Jaguars should be thrilled.
2. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
63.7% comp | 1,324 yards | 4 TDs | 4 INTs | 206 yards | 2 TDs | 1 fumble
I won’t go as far as to suggest you should spend two hours of your life watching Cardinals-Bengals, but this was Kyler Murray’s best performance of his young career. Murray played a bit timid in previous outings, which was only exacerbated by pedestrian outside receivers and generic playcalling. On paper, Murray’s game is anything but boring, yet somehow that’s what it turned into following an impressive second half in Week 1 against the Lions. Flashes turned into sustained entertainment in Week 5.
A few standout moments: 3rd & 10 in the second quarter, the Bengals bring five. The Cardinals match up well enough up front, but with little room to step up while maintaining the timing of the play, Murray unleashes a laser 12 yards downfield while taking a step back. Same series, 3rd & 9, Murray stands *tall* in the face of a looping Geno Atkins to connect on a 20-yard throw with Trent Sherfield on the receiving end. Thus far we had not seen Murray absorb these kinds of hits, taking that extra moment in the pocket when facing contact in order for big plays to connect. That changed on Sunday against the Bengals.
In key moments, Murray played his trump card: mobility. 4th & 2 in the first quarter ended in a bootleg touchdown from the six-yard line. A 19-yard run at the end of the first half that resulted in a field goal. A 24-yard run with less than 50 seconds to go to set up a game-winning field goal. This type of sustained success makes you believe Kyler Murray can be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
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3. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
88 attempts | 430 rush yards | 4 TDs | 6 rec | 77 rec yards | 56.8% snaps
Josh Jacobs is the best player on the Oakland Raiders’ offense. For that statement to be proven true against one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Bears, speaks to Jacobs’ early career success.
Entering Week 5 I certainly didn’t expect the Raiders offensive line to handle the Bears front. A first-quarter toss on 3rd & 1 allowed Jacobs to follow Kolton Miller to the outside, where the tackle enveloped the corner. Jacobs’ movement in the open field at 220-pounds forced HaHa Clinton-Dix to slip and fall in the open field. The 20-yard carry ended with Jacobs dragging Khalil Mack for the final five yards.
The Raiders run blocking has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2019 season. Jacobs’ vision helps him maximize those empty spaces to run through, then his balance and power allow him to pick up extra yards on final contact.
That formula, good blocking and good running, was not expected in Jacobs’ rookie season, but the results speak. It should continue to be a priority for Jon Gruden to incorporate Jacobs in the receiving game; he is outstanding out the backfield. Nine total targets for the season won’t cut it.
4. Giants QB Daniel Jones
64% comp | 760 yards | 4 TDs | 3 INTs | 78 rush yards | 2 TDs | 3 fumbles
Some quarterbacks embarrass themselves against a Mike Zimmer led defense. Daniel Jones left two or three plays on the field that could’ve changed the game, but he was far from embarrassing.
Zimmer is known to confuse opposing passers. Load the box, send rushers from multiple alignments, get home. That frightens the line and the quarterback, then when extra protection is installed, drop and confuse the quarterback in coverage. Repeat.
Jones missed Sterling Shepard on a deep touchdown in the first quarter. As a delayed blitz neared, Jones’ throw landed one stride too far. He responded in the second quarter. A two safety look turned to single high post snap, and Daniel Jones hit Darius Slayton perfectly over a trailing Xavier Rhodes and in front of an oncoming safety. It could not have been placed more perfectly.
That Shepherd throw, another in the back of the endzone that forced the receiver out of bounds, a sideline shot that saw Shepherd land out of bounds, and a sack on 1st & Goal that could have easily been avoided were a few of the bad moments. Jones and Deshaun Watson are totally different players, but Watson is the most recent example of missing a handful of big plays in one game and then in the next week connecting on all of them. Jones can do that next week. Above all, his mistakes did not tank or rattle is play.
5. Redskins WR Terry McLaurin
31 targets | 19 rec | 308 yards | 3 TDs | 92% snaps
After missing a week due to a hamstring injury, McLaurin returned to possibly the most difficult matchup in the NFL: Stephon Gilmore. The rookie opened with a 12-yard completion on a comeback with Gilmore draped on his back. In fact, McLaurin caught all of his opening three targets, all in man coverage versus Gilmore for gains of 12, 17 and 22 yards. Unfortunately, those were the only results of McLaurin’s day. Woe is the talent on a crumbled team.
6. Ravens WR Marquise Brown
39 targets | 21 rec | 326 yards | 3 TDs | 57% snaps
Brown exited Week 5 early with an ankle injury that was later deemed “nothing serious.” But due to the limited day, his game can be whittled down to one play. On 2nd & 10 from the 11-yard line, Brown lines up on the right side with Nick Boyle to his left and Gus Edwards to his right. The Steelers are in zone and Brown finds a soft spot, Lamar Jackson puts it right on his body and Brown hangs on for a touchdown while being driven to the ground by Joe Haden.
In the last couple of weeks, Brown’s downfield opportunities have been limited. That is concerning, as Lamar Jackson’s passing success has diminished in that same span.
7. Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf
26 targets | 12 rec | 267 yards | 2 TDs | 76% snaps
It happened. Metcalf opened with a four yard catch on the right side of the formation. If you’ve followed this feature, you know 90% of Metcalf’s routes originated on the left side, just like at Ole Miss.
Metcalf’s stellar moment began on said left side. A 40-yard touchdown for a receiver who ran a 4.33 forty, a route directly down the middle of the Rams Defense. Easy. The Seahawks continue to use Metcalf in ways he wins, not overextending him.
8. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
19 targets | 11 rec | 166 yards | 2 TDs | 67% snaps
The Lions were on bye in Week 5 and Hockenson exited Week 4 with a concussion, but his full body of work forces him on this list. He’s an integral part in the Lions Offense as a blocker and even field stretcher down the seam.
9. Titans WR A.J. Brown
19 targets | 12 rec | 250 yards | 2 TDs | 49% snaps
Imagine watching A.J. Brown produce incredible individual efforts in Week 4… and then fail to make him a priority in Week 5. That is the Titans in 2019.
Yes, the matchup change was drastic, going from the Falcons to the Bills. But in a losing effort where the Titans scored just seven points, Brown saw a season-low two targets and did not receive his first until the end of the first quarter. There were other opportunities in this game for Brown to be targeted, Marcus Mariota just failed to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, that is the situation a talent like Brown is stuck in.
10. Bears RB David Montgomery
69 carries | 225 yards | 2 TDs | 9 rec | 72 yards | 54% snaps
With Chase Daniel starting at quarterback, the easy prediction slated the Bears to heavily rely on David Montgomery and the running game. The Raiders expected as much, and the result was Montgomery seeing 11 carries for a lowly 25 yards.