We are now far enough into the season to watch more and more NFL Rookies earn serious playing time if not starter status. This is an annual rite-of-passage so to speak, and can be caused primarily because of injuries to veteran players, as well as excellence/improvement in weekly practice sessions for the Rookies themselves.
So, just when I thought I might be running out of NFL Rookies to talk about, another handful of them have emerged into game-day contributors.
2023 NFL Rookies Progress – Week Seven
DALTON KINCAID TE Utah 6’4/240 Round 1, Pick 23 PP#15
It seemed inevitable that KINCAID would earn more playing time because of his talent and work attitude. And sure enough, he contributed mightily against the Patriots due in part to a wrist injury to starting TE DAWSON KNOX in the game at Foxboro. By the end of the game, despite a loss by the BILLS, Kincaid had shown out, performing like the First Round Draftee he was. KINCAID was targeted 8 times, making 8 catches, for 75 yards.
Expect him to officially be the starting TE for the BILLS this coming weekend as KNOX undergoes surgery. The theory of “next man up” in sports is one of the reasons teams look to add quality depth whenever possible. Expect big things from KINCAID as Josh Allen gets more and more comfortable with the good route runner, with dependable hands.
TYSON BAGENT QB Shepard 6’3/215 URFA PP#223
His school was a D2 program in West Virginia. He started 4 years for them and won the Harlon Hill Award in 2021, which is often called the D2 Heisman. He left school with an NCAA record 159 TD passes in his 4 season career. I drank some of the Kool-Aid regarding him from JIM NAGY during Senior Bowl week. He didn’t excel in Mobile, but he did look like he belonged with the other 5 QB, who all came from D1 schools.
No one drafted him, but the Bears signed him as a college free agent, and he won himself the job as JUSTIN FIELDS’ backup in Training Camp. He replaced FIELDS last week after an injury knocked Fields out of the game, When the smoke cleared BAGENT led the team to a victory over the Raiders. BAGENT went 21/29- 162 yards- 1 TD- 0 INT. He also had 3 rushes for 24 yards. The clamor has begun for BAGENT to replace FIELDS as QB1 among many Bears fans. He will get the start this week at the Chargers on SNF. I can’t wait to watch this one.
STEVE AVILA OG TCU 6’3/330 Round 2, Pick 36 PP#61
I had some doubts about AVILA’s ability to play full-time at the NFL level, because of his massive size. But he has above-average mobility for that size and great strength. He is starting at LG for the RAMS and has been playing at a solid, if not exceptional, level of play each game. He moves defenders out on running plays and is more than adequate in pass pro.
What I like best about his play is his desire to find an extra block to make if his assignment has already been accomplished. I felt I saw multiple plays where he slid over to engage another defender who had beaten his man and was headed toward the pocket. That is special for an NFL rookies play at OL. In this year’s group of draftees, AVILA is already established as a “plug and play” Rookie with the look of a long-term pro starter.
ALEX WARD LS UCF 6’4/240 URFA PP# Unranked
Long snappers don’t get much attention unless they cause PK to miss or have blocked kicks caused by errant or slow-speed long snaps. WARD was a collegiate player for the Central Florida Knights. He had been invited to the Senior Bowl during the 2021 campaign, but passed on the invite and went back to UCF for the 2022 collegiate season. Going into the 2023 Draft he was one of 3 Long Snappers mentioned in the Ourlad’s Draft Guide.
He and Chris Still/Penn St, both went undrafted but both made NFL teams this Fall. I watched the tape of the RAMS/STEELERS game and thought he was right on the mark all game long. NFL teams like nothing better than finding a player for their PK/P/LS positions and having those guys last almost forever, so they do not have to scout around and try out multiple players every year. The RAMS got a good one.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
It has been a tough season for the PATRIOTS. Plagued by a seeming mountain of injured players every week missing games, especially along their already mediocre OL. But they look to have solved two problem spots that have plagued them at times over the past 3 seasons. They actually drafted both a Place Kicker and a Punter, and each made the team and has performed most of the games so far at an NFL level.
CHAD RYLAND PK Maryland 5’11/195 Round 4, Pick 112 PP#207
Ryland does not possess a booming leg. He showed good accuracy in college and has gotten off to a solid start this season with the PATS. In the exciting win for the Patriots over the Bills last weekend he was 2/2 on XP and 3/3 on FG attempts. This team has been on the hunt for a long-term answer at PK pretty much since Adam Vinatieri left the team during the BRADY era.
BRYCE BARINGER P Michigan State 6’1/215 Round 6, Pick 192 PP# Not Ranked
Baringer was the top Punter in the Big 10 in 2022, averaging 49.0-ypp on 50 Punts for the Spartans last season. He has a strong leg, has good directional control on his punts, and is a first-rate holder for the PK. Against Buffalo, he only punted twice last weekend. Posting a net average of 51.5 ypp.
This could secure the Pats’ kicking units for years to come.
DEMARIO DOUGLAS WR/RS LIBERTY 5’8/190 Round 6, Pick 210 PP# not Ranked
Back in Training Camp one of the pleasant surprise players from this week’s NFL rookies was DOUGLAS. Douglas caught 79 passes last season at Liberty, scoring 10 TD. He caught everything in sight and made tacklers miss in the pre-season. After making the 53-man roster DOUGLAS had ball security issues in the early season and Belichick relegated him on the bench for the next few weeks. But with the lack of Offense in the passing game DOUGLAS has seen playing time once again. And in recent games, he is emerging as a worthy successor to the EDELMAN/WELKER/AMENDOLA. Another one after years of valuable slot men during the Brady Era in New England.
He was a major contributor against Buffalo with 6 Targets, 6 receptions, and 54 yards gained. Douglas got one rush and took it 20 yards. He also had 1 punt return and that went for 25 yards. That’s 99 total yards. If he continues to exhibit ball security in his touches I would expect him to see plenty of playing time. Especially in the slot., for the remainder of the season.
That’s all for now boys and girls. Just as an aside, it’s my turn to turn out a One Round Mock Draft for next week in this space. Starting work on that tomorrow.