Coming down to the wire it has been another good year for NFL Rookies. For some of these young men, the stats after this past weekend’s games are a major measuring stick. I say that because Game 17 allows players to pad their stats when comparing them with players who only had a 16-game schedule just a few years ago.
We won’t even go there comparing the 12 & 14-game schedules of yesteryear. I will do some final regular season numbers in the weeks following the end of the regular season.
NFL ROOKIES Progress Report – Week 17
It has been a mostly down year for the Cards, especially in the W/L columns. But they have mined some Rookie gold this season and the impact player from Week One on has been WR MICHAEL WILSON their 3rd Round Draftee from Stanford. Wilson got some serious attention last Jan/Feb during Senior Bowl week in Mobile.
He was a migraine headache for most of the DBs trying to cover him all week down there. He broke out early in Training Camp and has been a steady receiving force all season for the Cards. In their big upset of the EAGLES last Sunday he had 4 catches, on 6 targets, which included a receiving TD.
The Bears have made a lot of progress in their play quality when you compare December’s play to September’s efforts. And a lot of their improvement has come from progress made by their Defensive Rookies. And none of them have developed more than GERVON DEXTER/DL, who was drafted in Round 2. In the Bears W over the Falcons DEXTER recorded 4 Tackles, 3 of them solo, including 1 1/2 Sacks and 2 QB Hits.
He’s listed at 6’5/-312 lbs. and his long frame is also a challenge for opposing QBs to find throwing lanes when he stands tall in their faces. He did his work playing only 25 snaps in their schemes last weekend. Could you give me more of him Coach?
Given a seemingly endless number of injuries, it has been nothing short of a miracle that the BROWNS move toward the playoffs next week with some serious positive momentum. The VFA JOE FLACCO signing back in November was ignored, or scoffed at, around the League. But he has been a revelation working for, and with, HC Kevin Stefanski. I checked team rosters recently and counted 7 starters on the team’s injury list.
Rookies have also played a large role in the team’s resilience and last week featured another Rookie filling the gap when S/RONNIE HICKMAN jumped into a front-line role and played like a seasoned vet. HICKMAN ended the game with 4 tackles, 3 of them solo, while also making an interception, while showing well all game with his coverage work. Once again, another backup fills a hole to help facilitate a victory. By the way, HICKMAN was undrafted last April and won a job during Training Camp as a College Free Agent.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
They say Andy Reid is one of the most patient Head Coaches in the NFL. I might say that at times he crosses the line as stubborn. It took way too long, in a struggling season offensively in K.C., but finally, he has unleashed stellar Rookie WR RASHEE RICE, and Mr. Mahomes seems to be relishing the situation. RICE, along with 2nd year RB PACHECO, was the primary receiving weapon in a much-needed victory at home versus the Bengals.
RICE was targeted 6 times and had 5 receptions, for 127 yards including the 64-yard long catch and run that somewhat opened up the Chiefs’ Offense. Through 16 games, RICE now has 79 receptions for 938 yards and 7 TDs. As I projected after he was drafted, this guy is gonna be Receiver One for the Chiefs starting now.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
It has been a big season for the RAMS with a flock of Rookies making their mark in the City of Angels. They have 2 strong Rookie of the Year candidates from their 2023 Draft Class.
First of course is WR PUCA NAKUA who stepped in early in the season with Cooper Kupp nursing a bad ankle injury. Last weekend he corralled 5 catches for 118 yards. Through 16 games he is in 8th place amongst all receivers with 101 receptions for 1445 yards, including 5 TD. He has almost certainly wrapped up the Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Less celebrated, but just as instrumental in the RAMS playoff run has been the RAMS’ surprising 3rd Round selection, KOBIE TURNER/DT who plays on the Nose most of the time despite being only 6’2/288. But he has used a high rev motor and quickness to penetrate into the pocket via gap shooting skills. Last weekend he recorded 5 tackles, 3 of them solo, and 2 1/2 Sacks to tie a Rams Rookie single-season record of 9 Sacks set by his current teammate AARON DONALD. Nice company for the Rookie Turner.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
To say it has been a rough year for the Patriots would be an understatement, and many are predicting an imminent divorce between Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. But the irony here may be that this looks like the best Rookie class Little Bill has procured in a decade or so.
Their OL has been pathetic this year, although, of course, a mediocre QB situation has gotten most of the attention and blame. A bright spot has been a massive RG taken in Round 4 named SIDY SOW/RG out of Eastern Michigan, who stands 6’5, 318 lbs. When everyone is healthy he, OC David Andrews & last year’s LG draftee COLE STRANGE have formed a productive and efficient IOL.
When it comes to Defensive Rookies they truly command the scrutiny of BELICHICK who cut his NFL coaching teeth as a DC under Bill Parcells with the Giants. The team has one of the most diverse and complex Defensive schemes in the NFL. And it requires serious mental acuity to learn its nuances on a game-by-game basis.
The PATS Round 2 Pick was KEION WHITE, whose athleticism and versatility remind me a lot of Willie McGhinest a Parcells/Belichick favorite. WHITE has been required to learn a vast number of roles for the PATS including DE/Edge/OB slots, rotating in those roles down after down. He has gotten more proficient and seen more playing time as the season progressed.
Last weekend he played 42 defensive snaps, or 61% of their defensive total. He had 3 tackles and 1 QBH. He could be making a big leap next season, no matter who his coaches are.
The Titans have been forced by the injury bug to look to next season and that has provided additional playing time to guys who have up until now been making a living on Special Teams units. One such guy earned a starting job last weekend when the team started 5 Rookies on Offense and 2 on Defense.
The biggest, pleasant surprise, was one of those defenders by the name of OTIS REESE, who at 6’3/215 is a hybrid S/LB who was a College Free Agent from Ole Miss, tho he started his collegiate career at the Naval Academy. REESE was all over the field Sunday producing 9 total tackles, 6 of them solo efforts.
He also was playing Special Teams where one of his tackles came from. Reese is a 25-year-old Rookie, but that may not prevent him from becoming a player favorite for HC Mike Vrabel.
Going to be an interesting last game of the season this weekend. Happy New Year to all!