Ranking the Rookies: Week 2

Josh Norris

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.

1. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

2019 stats: 57.4 comp % | 657 yards | 2 TDs | 1 INT | 17 rush yards | 100% snaps

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Bear with me as I take this section to complain about Kliff Kingsbury. This game was there for the Cardinals to win if the head coach shifted his mentality near the goal line. He was passive, verging on puny. From a coach who wants to be aggressive in the numbers of plays he runs, Kingsbury elected to kick field goals as a massive underdog rather than rely on his quarterback to convert plays in a condensed field.

To drive that home even more, Murray converted two 4th downs at other points in the game... with the composure of a veteran. The first was a keeper off tackle, first down, yet it was called back due to Kingsbury calling a timeout. No problem. On the field, the Ravens showed an all-out blitz. With Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald turning towards their quarterback in apparent confusion, Murray stayed calm and hit Damiere Byrd on the backside for the conversion.

The next step for the team is to eliminate drive destroying snaps. Missed snap counts. Poor communication. Missed play calls. Pointless penalties. Broken plays. These mistakes on early downs kill a drive before they even begin. I know Kyler Murray racked up rushing yards in college, but it does not seem to be a focus in the NFL. He is moving to pass, not running to pick up yards.

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2. Ravens WR Marquise Brown

2019 stats: 18 targets | 12 rec | 233 yards | 2 TDs | 42% snaps

After playing just 14 snaps in a bizarre week one game script, Brown is now entrenched as a full-time player to the tune of 13 targets, eight receptions and 86 yards. His speed and style made an impact immediately. On the Ravens’ third snap, Lamar Jackson hit Brown over the middle; gain of 18. Fifth snap was a sprint out on the left side. The next play was a quick screen, basically an extended handoff, from the right slot. The drive ended in a touchdown throw with Brown acting as the misdirection. That’s three different alignments on the first drive. Five targets in the opening two series. 

And in a pivotal moment of the Ravens’ win, 3rd & 10, up by six with three minutes remaining, Brown once again was the target Jackson trusted in. With a corner in his left hip pocket, Brown hauled in a bucket catch for a 41-yard gain. Tight coverage, big play, Ravens win. Brown is already among the most electric receivers in the NFL.

3. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs    UP 1

2019 stats: 35 carries | 184 yards | 2 TDs | 1 rec | 28 yards | 58% snaps

It’s not a surprise to see Jon Gruden use Josh Jacobs almost exclusively as a single back or behind a fullback with Derek Carr under center. Easily his most memorable play was a 51-yard romp. Jacobs loves to press at his tackle then cut upfield. The blocking on this run was great, as Jacobs first felt contact from an extended defender five yards downfield. He clears it, then ruins the safeties’ angle and also beats that extended tackle attempt. Many backs would settle for the 41-yard run and tiptoe out of bounds. Not Jacobs, as he plows back inside and into the cornerbacks attempting the tackle and carries him for an extra 10 yards.

Through two games it is clear that in order to bring down Josh Jacobs, you need to tackle him flush. He will often create against arm or extended tackles. And while his week 1 highlight catch and run was a bright spot, he was not targeted in the passing game this week.

4. Redskins WR Terry McLaurin      UP 6

2019 stats: 16 targets | 10 rec | 187 yards | 2 TDs | 91% snaps

Last week I highlighted McLaurin winning small (creating separation and sustaining it) and big (catches through contact with corners in his pocket or at the top of routes). He carried that trait into week 2 and is already emerging as Washington’s best receiver.

Byron Jones shadowed McLaurin, if that’s any indication of the Cowboys respect for the rookie receiver. In that matchup, McLaurin hauled in gains of 20 and 27 yards. He added a 4th & 4 conversion near the goal line and a short field touchdown in garbage time. It’s all extremely impressive.

5. Seahawks WR DK Metcalf      UP 2

2019 stats: 13 targets | 7 rec | 150 yards | 1 TD | 85% snaps

The Seahawks are using Metcalf exactly how he was used in college: glued to the left side with everything built off the vertical threat. This allows Metcalf wo focus on the same releases. The same routes. The same footwork over and over again.

Most of Metcalf’s targets were of the back shoulder or jump ball variety, which again makes sense; you’re counting on a rare athlete to out-athlete the cornerback. It showed up on his opening target, as Metcalf adjusted at full extension off his back shoulder with the ball nearly skimming the ground. Few humans can make that play.

The Seahawks added a wrinkle, with tight end Will Dissly lining up wide left, shifting Metcalf to the slot. This affords Metcalf more space to operate and perhaps more natural separation. More importantly, vertical shots from the slot are widely underused in the NFL. Metcalf’s 28-yard touchdown actually landed from this alignment.

6. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson     DOWN 3

2019 stats: 12 targets | 7 rec | 138 yards | 1 TD | 74% snaps

Hockenson dropped from nine targets to three targets in the second game of the season. While not totally his fault, it is fair to wonder if week 1’s game against the Cardinals will be Hockenson’s easiest and most favorable of the season. Despite being a rookie, Hock apparently went to Matthew Stafford on the sideline and stated “I can beat him, come to me.” Bold, rookie. I love it.

7. Bears RB David Montgomery     UP 4

2019 stats: 24 carries | 80 yards | 1 TD | 2 rec | 33 yards | 41% snaps

Nice hesitation cuts at the line of scrimmage to create on his own. Presses, forces edge to work in, then jump cuts out.

After seeing fewer snaps in Week 1 than Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, David Montgomery led the team in backfield touches with 19. It was a clear objective by the coaching staff: get Montgomery more involved. The chunk gains were not there, as Montgomery was often limited to three- or five-yard gains. Yet even on those short runs, he is creating on his own. He loves the jump cut, pressing inside, even against unblocked edge players, then pushed it outside in a flash. Plus, he has five carries inside of the 10-yard line through two games. More touchdowns are on the way. Matt Nagy wants his backs to feel comfortable with one route, and so far it’s vertical for Montgomery. Two such targets in two games.

8. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew

2019 stats: 77.6 comp % | 488 yards | 3 TDs | 1 INT | 62 rush yards | 91% snaps

Let’s take a moment to appreciate Minshew, a sixth-round rookie who got little run during the draft process, thrust into the starting job in the season opener. With all of that in mind, Minshew is play outstanding football. The issue: there are peaks and valleys in each game. You can see Minshew thinking on the field. He’ll make multiple pumps, changing his mind on the fly, which leads to holding the football for too long and limited play success. Yet when his back is against the wall, Minshew shines. In that hurry up, panicky pace, Minshew led the team down the field with only a two-point conversion standing in their way for a victory. It was a mix of throws and scrambles. He’s entertaining, and sometimes that’s all supporters can ask for.

9. Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman     UP 2

2019 stats: 7 targets | 4 rec | 61 yards | 1 TD | 76% snaps

The Chiefs continue to replace Tyreek Hill with surprising ease. Hardman played the majority of week 1 without the production to show for it. The Chiefs tried to get him involved much earlier against the Raiders, first with an outside breaking route downfield from a tight alignment. That was followed by a tunnel screen, a manufactured touch, later in the first quarter. Then the second quarter struck. From a slot alignment, Hardman split the safety and corner for a 42-yard touchdown. Easy speed, perfect throw. Then in the third quarter from a similar alignment, Hardman scores a 72-yard score, this one called back for a holding penalty. 

One was a 3rd & 20. One was a 3rd & 14. If there is a miscommunication by the secondary, Hardman and Mahomes can capitalize.

10. Bills RB Devin Singletary     DOWN 5

2019 stats: 10 carries | 127 yards | 1 TD | 5 rec | 28 yards | 50% snaps

Singletary’s usage dipped in this game and he also suffered a left hamstring injury that could keep him out for a bit of time. Still, in limited opportunities, Singletary showcased his fluid movement and hit an impressive back juke against Jabrill Peppers in the open the field, the kind we all tried in Madden as a kid.

Honorable Mention: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, Eagles RB Miles Sanders, Vikings RB Alexander Mattison, Titans WR A.J. Brown, Cowboys RB Tony Pollard.

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