We are in the home stretch of the 2023 NFL regular season. So let’s catch up on some NFL Rookies who have seen more playing time recently and are being scrutinized carefully by their teams as we head into the Draft season. It is also known as the time of hope for teams, and their fans, who have had a rough 2023 season and will be looking to make some serious personnel moves over the next 4+ months.
NFL ROOKIES Progress Report – Week 16
EMARI DeMERCADO #31 RB 5’9/215 TCU URFA PP# NR 300+
DeMarcado was the backup to Kendre Miller the past couple of seasons at TCU, and now with the Cards behind James Conner. His versatility is his primary tool for NFL success. He is a tough runner who will get what is blocked and is a willing learner per his coaches.
Last weekend in the Cardinals’ losing effort he showed his value as a receiver. He was targeted with throws 8 times and made 7 receptions for 40 yards. Demercado also carried the ball twice for 10 yards. He was on the field for 23 offensive plays or 38% of the time. Nice find for the bottom of the roster when Cap time rolls around.
OWEN PAPPOE #44 LB 6’/225 Auburn Round 5, Pick 168 PP# 112
I had him rated as an early Day 3 prospect. He started for 4 years at Auburn and was team captain the last 2 seasons. In 2022 he recorded 93 Tackles. Almost moved him into my Top 100 after his Combine work. He ran the fastest 40-time of the LB group at 4.39. He left me with the impression that in today’s pass-happy NFL, he would make a solid pass-coverage LB.
Pappoe might not be the ideal size for some, but as you always see on game day he’s athletic and productive. He recorded 2 solo tackles last Sunday while playing on 35 defensive snaps, or 50% of their total snaps. Pappoe also played 8 Special Teams snaps, or 28%. I look for him to see lots of action in 2024.
STARLING THOMAS #24 CB 5’10/195 UAB URFA/Lions PP#199
I had heard some serious noise about THOMAS last Spring leading up to the Draft. But then he did NOT get a Combine invite. He went undrafted and was signed by the LIONS. He and Steven Gilmore, yes Stephon Gilmore‘s brother, battled it out for a backup CB job in their Camp. The LIONS kept Gilmore, cutting THOMAS, who was then picked up by the Cardinals.
THOMAS worked and waited in Arizona. Last week in the loss of DA BEARS, Starling started at a CB spot and was outstanding. He recorded 8 total tackles, 7 of them solo in Run-D support. His playing speed is up to snuff (4.4/40) and he may be starting for the remainder of the season. I would note that he recorded 15 PBU in the 2022 season at UAB.
BRANDEN AUBREY #17 PK 6’3/208 Notre Dame
You don’t see that many NFL players who are 28-year-old Rookies. But this guy has transitioned from college soccer at Notre Dame to pro football as a PK. He played the previous 2 seasons in the USFL and finally got a tryout in Big D with Mr. Jones’ team.
How well has he learned his new craft? well, after going 2 for 2 last weekend against the Dolphins he now sits at 33 for 33, 100% on field goals this season for the Cowboys. And he’s not just kicking close-range FG. He is 7 of 7 from 50+ yards, including a long of 60 yards. Last season the team signed another USFL standout in KaVonte Turpin who is their primary Return Specialist. And he is near the top of the NFL rankings as a Return Man.
I have two comments in summation here. The Cowboys have a very accomplished scouting group in their employ. Yes, historically Owner/GM Jerry Jones has looked to the flashy VFA signings for his team, but with Stephen Jones in charge as Director of Player Personnel, the team has built their current roster primarily through the NFL Draft process, which includes Rookie Free Agents, and a few Street Free Agents like AUBREY. How ’bout them Cowboys, and this AUBREY guy?!
I would also like to add that I have been disappointed the past 2 years that more USFL/XFL(’23 only) has not been signed to NFL Training Camp rosters of 90 players. Some NFL teams only scout those Leagues in a perfunctory manner and on a very limited basis. For a League that plays games for half of the year and is always short on talent, especially at this time of year when injuries have absolutely decimated half the 32 teams’ rosters, it feels like the NFL( thumbs its nose at these potential feeder leagues. We’ll see if that changes this coming year when the 2 Leagues have merged.
HUNTER LUEPKE #40 FB/TE 6’1/238 North Dakota State URFA PP#211
Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft the top pure FB prospect was Luepke, but since more than half the teams in the NFL don’t have a true FB on their roster he went drafted. I thought he would go in Round 7. The ever-astute Cowboys personnel Department was all over this guy as the Draft ended at Pick 259 with Desjuan Johnson of Toledo being Mr. Irrelevant. (And he is on the current RAMS roster by the way.)
Luepke signed with the Cowboys and won a 53-man roster spot for the 2023 season. He plays a lot of straight FB and flex-FB/TE, as well as Special Teams. On special teams & short yardage situations, he is a blocking demon. Against the Dolphins he had one reception for 8 yards, and 2 rushes for 3 yards. He played on 17% of their Offensive snaps & 42% of their Special Teams snaps.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
DEMARIO DOUGLAS #81 WR 5’8/192 Liberty Round 6, Pick 210 PP# 270
Earned the nickname “POP” in Training Camp. Recorded very impressive 2022 college stats with 79 receptions. Runs about a 4.40/40 but has exceptional quickness and ankle-breaking moves after the catch. It has been a miserable year for the Patriots, but they had a very productive 2023 Draft. And Douglas is near the top of that Draft list of contributors. Douglas has missed small snatches of playing time off and on much of the season but is currently sitting with 44 receptions, with 3 games to go.
He also did some serious return work while at Liberty. Out of 46 WR at the Combine DOUGLAS was ranked 9th in overall athleticism. I see big things ahead for him within the Patriots Offense, especially when they resolve their QB dilemma. Douglas is among 7 Rookie draftees who have been at least part-time starters this season for the PATS. Watching Douglas in action I think of the work of Wes Welker in the Brady Era.
That about does it for this week.
Cheers, and Happy New Year to you all.