Most Surprising/Disappointing NFL Rookies So Far
Rookies have a hard time adjusting to the NFL in a year not affected by Covid-19. These rookies had all their offseason training to get used to life in the NFL knocked out by the global pandemic. Through the first 9 weeks of the season some rookies look like they belong and some are still adjusting to the NFL speed. In this article I will only be looking at 1st round picks that have played to their draft status and some that are not playing to it yet. Being a rookie in any professional sport is hard and to do it with no offseason training is even harder. Just because they are over performing now does not mean they are a superstar. And just because they have disappointed to this point, that does not make them a bust. We will start with the rookies who are playing well this season.
QB Justin Herbert, LA Chargers
Justin Herbert has played like he belongs in this league through his first 7 career starts. No one expected to play this season with veteran QB Tyrod Taylor on the roster. But after a freak medical accident Herbert was thrust into action and hasn’t looked back. Though he has only one win on his resume he has done his share of putting his team into a position where they can win.
The Chargers defense has blown 3 17+ point leads this year in their first 8 games. Hebert has made some big time throws in some tough moments for the Chargers. The one area Hebert can improve on is turning the ball over. With 5 interceptions (which could be more if not for drops) and 3 fumbles so far that ball security has not been great the rookie. If it weren’t for Joe Burrow, Herbert would be the clear front runner for offensive rookie of the year. He is on pace to break Baker Mayfield’s record for TD passes by a rookie (27). The Chargers have found their next franchise QB in Justin Herbert.
Verdict: Pleasantly Surprising
CB C.J. Henderson, Jacksonville Jaguars
C.J. Henderson stats will not pop out at you but he has been consistent at the CB position for the Jaguars. After trading Jalen Ramsey to the Rams last year at the deadline, the Jaguars drafted Henderson to fill that hole in their secondary. In his first game he had an interception and a couple passes defended but has cooled down a bit.
Coming out of college some scouts questioned his toughness but through his first 8 weeks of his NFL career that has not been a problem. Giving up 29 completions on 35 targets is not great but playing on a bad defense with little experience as a rookie, the numbers could be a lot worse. Playing in a division with Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and A.J Brown he will be forced to develop fast. Although he may never become Jalen Ramsey, Henderson has all the makings to have a long, successful career.
Verdict: Pleasantly Surprising
WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Jefferson has been the best 1st round receiver taken in this year’s draft. Out of the first round WRs chosen in 2020, Jefferson has the most receiving yards and receiving TDs and is 2nd in yards per reception. He has topped 150 yard in a game twice but also has 4 games with 50 receiving yards or less. As this Vikings offense starts to find a rhythm with Dalvin Cook that will lead to more opportunities for them to use play action and use that play big ability Jefferson has showcased during his rookie year.
Jefferson has done the best job possible replacing a dynamic playmaker in Stefon Diggs. Right now he is on pace for 1,254 receiving yards and 6 TDs. Viking fans should be happy with their young skill players in Cook and Jefferson leading that offense. Next we are going to take a look at a few underperforming rookies through 8 games.
Verdict: Pleasantly Surprising
LB Isaiah Simmons, Arizona Cardinals
Simmons had all the hype coming into the year as a playmaking athletic freak of a linebacker. And so far through 8 games that has not been seen other than a few flashes. Outside of his interception against the Seahawks his season has not been what people predicted. In 5 of the 7 games Simmons has played in this year he has recorded 1 tackle. In the other 3 games he recorded 3 and 4 tackles.
The linebacker that every scout praised while at Clemson is not the same linebacker the Cardinals drafted. The Cardinals have not given their linebacker much time to see the field to showcase his upside and abilities. His defensive snaps played in games this year ranges from 5 to 32. If Simmons can consistently see the field, then expect to see his production and impact go up for this Cardinals team seeking to reach the playoffs. Want proof? He played 5 snaps against Seattle and intercepted Russell Wilson to set up the win.
WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders
Ruggs III has not been consistent enough in his 5 career games played. Having missed 2 games with knee/hamstring injuries and then only catching 10 out of 11 targets, the rookie wideout has not impressed. His 22 yards per catch is the highest out of the WRs taken in the first round but he has only a third of the catches Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb have. Some of his impact won’t show up on the stats because of how his speed changes the Raiders offense.
Teams have to respect the speed of Ruggs III and this opens up the underneath for Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. As Ruggs III starts to win the one on one battles more expect his consistency and production to go up. Derek Carr will look Ruggs III way because when he does his passer rating is 101.3. The rookie has made an impact on the Raiders offense even if may not show up always. But once the stats come look out for this offense to put up some major points. Remember the Raiders beat the Chiefs and that was Ruggs III best game of his career.
LB Jordyn Brooks, Seattle Seahawks
When the Seahawks picked Brooks in the draft I was shocked because of who was on the board still. Patrick Queen who was selected one pick after Brooks by the Ravens has been the far superior rookie LB to this point. Brooks has 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, no sacks, forced fumbles or passes defended and has missed a couple games with an MCL sprain. Patrick Queen on the other hand has 48 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles (recovered both) and 1 pass defended.
The Seahawks have Bobby Wagner so maybe they thought Brooks would be a better fit than Queen but that Seahawks defense could use Queen over Brooks right now. In the past, Seahawks rookies don’t often play a major role right away so Brooks is being asked to learn and provide depth for now. He is another rookie that has not played much so far in his career playing only in 50% of the defensive snaps or less every game he has appeared in. He is learning and watching one of the best to do it in Wagner so let’s see how he develops over the next couple years.