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. 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.
Overreaction is natural after week 1. We spend all offseason discussing the same players in new situations with updated playcallers and rosters. Week 1 is a shock to the system, and we react accordingly. I don’t want to rank solely based on draft slot. This list will become more clear with larger sample sizes, but until then….
1. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
2019 stats: 53.70 comp% | 308 pass yards | 2 TDs | 1 INT | 13 rush yards | 100% of snaps
For three quarters it did not go according to plan for the No. 1 overall pick. Murray looked rushed. Frazzled. Off-target. This led to failed drives and multiple 3-and-outs, limiting his chances of stringing completions together.
Then in the 4th quarter, 13:41 to go in a 3rd and 14 situation, Larry Fitzgerald laid out for a 41 yard gain on a rainbow shot from Kyler. That jumpstarted everything. Murray settled in and took that extra moment in the pocket versus pressure. The result was completion after completion, laser after laser. Then Murray threw his changeup, a touch pass to David Johnson down the seam for a 27 yard score. The ability to throw with different velocity and trajectory in a debut is highly impressive.
If Kyler Murray and the Cardinals can erase the slow start, the early missed vertical shots to Christian Kirk, the batted passes, and instead continue the positive play they showed in the final two periods… electricity.
2. Ravens WR Marquise Brown
2019 stats: 5 targets | 4 catches | 147 rec yards | 2 TDs | 18% of snaps
Looking at the stat line, I anticipated a simple performance Brown winning on two long broken plays. Blown coverages. Sequences that weren’t translatable game to game. That is not the case. There is little doubt that if Brown played closer to 75-percent of his snaps, rather than the measly 18-percent due to positive gamescript, he would have recorded another two or three highlight-worthy plays.
By now you’ve seen then 47-yard touchdown, where Brown crossed the defender’s face and ran away from chasing Dolphins. You’ve also seen the 83-yard bomb with the defense out of position. But a simple 16-yard reception stood out most, as a catch five yards downfield at a full stop with his back to the defense, turned into 11 extra yards with just two or three strides. Brown breezes by defenders. His game is eerily similar to DeSean Jackson.
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3. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
2019 stats: 9 targets | 6 catches | 131 rec yards | 1 TD | 73% of snaps
When rookies don’t look like rookies, the potential for a massive rookie season is there. Many of Hockenson’s receptions started in motion, as an H-back or standing up in the slot. A piece to move around. The Lions seemed to use him in tandem with Danny Amendola, with one receiver taking the deeper route and the other working underneath.
Hockenson’s key play was a block in pass protection. From the opposite side of the formation, Hockenson was asked to peel back, anticipate, aim and prevent a free running Terrell Suggs from hitting his quarterback. Hockenson took the front shoulder and allowed Matthew Stafford to climb the pocket and hit Amendola for a long touchdown. Hockenson found soft spots as a pass catcher, moved easily and already is an important piece of the offense. He makes them more multiple.
4. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
2019 stats: 23 carries | 85 rush yards | 2 TDs | 1 rec | 28 yards | 74% of snaps
Jon Gruden and the Raiders do not view Jacobs as a rookie. The first snap of the game was his. The goal line work was his. What I loved most was his lone catch of 28 yards. Jacobs worked out of the backfield, found a short soft spot, immediately exploded upfield and split two closing defenders. The result was about 25 yards he created on his own.
That type of opportunity was not typical for Jacobs at Alabama. He only logged 20 receptions his entire final season. Now, he’s already a feature back.
5. Bills RB Devin Singletary
2019 stats: 4 carries | 70 rush yards | 5 rec | 28 yards | 70% of snaps
Just nine touches on a 70-percent snap share is a bit perplexing, but an easy conclusion can be drawn to Singletary possibly doubling his touches in the near future. His debut included three runs of 15-plus yards, as he ran the Bills power perfectly. A successful juke of Marcus Maye inside the 5-yard line might have placed Singletary higher.
6. Titans WR A.J. Brown
2019 stats: 4 targets | 3 rec | 100 yards | 42% of snaps
During the game, Tony Romo suggested Brown offers a similar receiver profile to Anquan Boldin. A powerful 51-yard catch and run backed up that comparison, as he bullied defenders with a stiff arm and moves in open space. Brown’s volume was limited in this game, and it might be limited all season attached to this offense. But it is possible he emerges as the team’s primary target. His blend of fluidity and power is difficult to find.
7. Seahawks WR DK Metcalf
2019 stats: 6 targets | 4 rec | 89 yards | 77% of snaps
As an outside receiver, Metcalf saw plenty of Dre Kirkpatrick and Williams Jackson, and recorded catches against both. Versus Kirkpatrick, Metcalf’s aggressive, explosive cuts allowed him to create separation or gain the position advantage. On a separate snap, Metcalf shielded Jackson away from the vertical shot. His somersaulting 3rd down conversion came out of structure, as he cut up the field with eyes on Russell Wilson. That’s three impressive plays created in three different ways. That’s a good start.
8. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew
2019 stats: 88.0 comp % | 275 yards | 2 TDs | 1 INT | 6 rush yards | 81% of snaps
Minshew’s mental makeup is just different. Imagine being inserted in the first quarter for an injured prized free agent… and looking unfazed. Minshew displayed patience, taking the extra beat to allow his receiver to create as much separation as possible. He was unafraid to throw vertical shots. He bought himself time outside of structure. See it, throw it, or make a play. I can't wait to find out what his ceiling is. This was not a quarterback looking to checkdown.
9. Eagles RB Miles Sanders
2019 stats: 11 carries | 25 rush yards | 1 rec | 2 yards | 48% of snaps
The stat line did not do the performance justice. Sanders received the first carry of the game for a gain of 2 yards. He was also trusted in pass protection early, and did nothing to break the confidence the team displayed in him. Unfortunately, he often dealt with contact behind or at the line of scrimmage. A holding call eliminated a 21-yard touchdown run that showed attention-grabbing fluidity.
10. Redskins WR Terry McLaurin
2019 stats: 7 targets | 5 rec | 125 yards | 1 TD | 93% of snaps
If week 1 is any indication, McLaurin is going to see quite a bit of volume this year as the Redskins work back into games. His long touchdown showcased speed against a taller, longer corner. Mismatch. But McLaurin also displayed contested catch skills, as he Moss’ Ronald Darby along the right sideline.