They finally unleashed the Kraken in K.C. Another one of the NFL rookies struts his stuff, even though his celebration skits need help, big time. The Raiders realize they have a new weapon at TE. And a few other guys stood out as well. Let’s take a look at a few more Rookies who are making their mark for their NFL teams.
NFL ROOKIES Progress Report – Week 12
KEI-TREL CLARK #13 CB 5’10/180 Louisville Round 6, Pick 180 PP# 216
I am aware of a handful of Draftniks who had CLARK rated much higher than I did. And they look to be the ranking winners with this guy’s play this season. He is now starting in the Cardinals secondary and has shown well in coverage, as well as run-D support. In the loss to the Rams he was tied for the team lead in tackles for the Cardinals, with 6 solo, 9 overall. He even recorded a TFL.
If the team can hold onto their DB leader Budda Baker, who is making some contract noise, they are building a solid young group around him in their secondary. Clark is showing a lot more value than most 6th rounders.
DeMARCO HELLAMS #37 S 6’1/215 Alabama Round 7, Pick 224 PP# 206
It certainly looks like the Falcons knew what they were getting when they drafted HELLAMS near the end of the 2023 Draft. He struggled at ‘Bama trying to provide deep coverage, but he was a big hitter, with good overall talent. So he made the Falcons 53-man, played on Special Teams, and began to rotate into sub-packages in Atlanta. In reality, he’s a hybrid LB who plays in the box and dishes out punishment as a tackler.
He showed out at times against the Saints last Sunday recording 7 tackles, 4 of them solo, while delivering some big hits whenever he was on the field. He is developing into a valuable part-time performer for an up-and-coming football team. That Defense he was a part of never gave up a TD to the Saints. 24-15 was the final with the Saints settling for 5 FG.
ZAY FLOWERS #4 WR 5’9/180 Boston College Round 1, Pick #22 PP# 28
What do you do to help LAMAR JACKSON if you are the Ravens’ Management and Coaching regime? You get RASHAD BATEMAN back to full health and ready to play by the 2023 regular season, sign VFA Odell Beckham, and then Draft ZAY FLOWERS in Round 1 to fill your slot spot with quickness, open-field RAC, and good hands. Then you jack up the Offense a bit with a new OC TODD MONKEN. Everybody appears to be on board and the team’s Offense is now a bit more than running the ball and throwing short balls to the TE group. FLOWERS has been a weekly contributor to the Ravens’ scoring punch.
Last weekend was a good example of his value to his team. He played 67 snaps, which was 94% of the team total offensively. His big play was a reverse which he took 37 yards for a TD. He was targeted 7 times by LAMAR, catching 5 of them for 25 yards, and a second TD. Now all he needs to do is polish up his scoring celebrations a bit. I forgot to mention that for a guy his size, he plays tough and does the dirty work when required as well.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
LUKAS VAN NESS #90 ER/OB 6’5/270 Iowa Round 1, Pick 13 PP# 25
I think we all knew this guy was raw as steak tar-tar, after being mentored as a back-up most of his time at Iowa, where experience is everything in their system. But he was clearly a special athlete. So the Pack has brought him along with an increased playload as the schedule moved on. In their surprise Thanksgiving win over Detroit, he played 28 snaps, which represented being on the field 33% of his unit’s plays.
Slowly, but steadily, he is making more plays in his limited time on the field. He used his speed to get in on 3 Tackles, 1 solo, 1 for a TFL in Detroit. He also pushed the pocket to record 2 QBH. I would predict that he is being groomed to take over for Preston Smith, and his large veteran salary contract, and who will be 32 next season.
KARL BROOKS #94 DT 6’3/295 Bowling Green Round 6, Pick 179 PP# 183
Much to my frustration the Packers have seemed to devalue true DL for most of the past decade. Kenny Clark is the only true “star” in their front line of Defense, yet they complain each season that they can’t stop the run. Van Ness (above) is really an Edge Rush, a stand-up OLB in their base 3-4 scheme. So excuse me if I yawned a bit when they drafted BROOKS in Round 6. But he’s been a bit more than just a “guy” along the line, with good agility and a run-all-day motor. He will never be a Sack leader in the NFL, but he does a nice job pressuring the pocket and anchoring at the point of attack.
In the big upset over the LIONS, he recorded only 2 Tackles, and 1 solo, but pressured the pocket and recorded 1 QB-Hurry, as well as forcing a fumble and also recovering it. He played 40 defensive snaps, which was 36% of the team total. In a word, he’s a “contributor” along that DL.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
RASHEE RICE #4 WR 6’1/205 S.M.U. Round 2, Pick # 55 PP# 55
If you read this piece on a weekly basis then you know I have been harping on HC Andy Reid to give up on some of his under-achieving receivers like VALDES-SCANTLING & TONEY to get RICE in the game more often and make sure MAHOMES targets him. I had RICE rated in my Top 25 for a good part of last season until he faded into Round 2 after getting banged up physically after mid-season.
He has shown flashes all season, but still got playing time as a back-up, until last week. (The Chiefs Offense struggling to the point where I benched Mahomes from my starting Fantasy League QB slot, and put in BROCK PURDY 2 weeks ago.) Mahomes found RICE enough to target him 10 times, for 8 receptions, 107 yards, and 1 TD, the Chiefs’ Offense opened up and Mahomes looked like his old self. I will put it bluntly… if the Chiefs make RICE their Receiver1 they will become the clear AFC favorite to head to the Super Bowl… again.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
MICHAEL MAYER #87 TE 6’4/260 Notre Dame Round 2, Pick 35 PP# 13
I am not 100% sure whether he was ignored and not targeted much early this season because he wasn’t ready, or if vet QB GAROPPOLO just wasn’t comfortable targeting the Rookie very much. Now that Aidan O’CONNELL is the QB he has shown a willingness to target his fellow Rookie MAYER.
MAYER still blocks a ton, but he is also making some key catches each week. In the Loss to the Chiefs, he was targeted 4 times and made 2 catches for 27 yards. He’s now on his way to being a full-service NFL TE. His receiving role should only grow from here.
NEW YORK JETS
WILL McDONALD #99 ER/OB 6’4/240 Iowa State Round 1, Pick 15 PP# 34
I had McDonald pushed back into the second. round in my rankings because his frame/weight didn’t fit an NFL DE, and his athleticism didn’t seem to fit as an LB who needed coverage skills. And I still think that he was a reach this early, but I had forgotten the JETS’ quandary with BRYCE HUFF who is their leading defender in sacks per downplayed. HUFF will be a VFA in 2024 and the JETS seem to have McDonald slotted to take Huff’s role in their Defense, while HUFF gets some serious dollars elsewhere. And McDonald is now getting more snaps, and pressuring the pocket with his speed and bend. Like Van Ness above he is likely to play a bigger role in December games, not to mention 2024.
We are absolutely at the stage when Rookies are no longer considered Rookies by their coaches and are expected to pull a full share of the player workload. They are also needed in many instances to fill the jobs of vets who are seriously banged up after a dozen games. I am not going to predict potential Hall of Famers in this space quite yet, but many future starters are emerging with every game. Rites of passage are in full swing.
Be back at you next week with more Rookie tales to tell.