Heading into the final month of the season, our highlighted rookies have mostly met or exceeded expectations to start their careers. Can they finish strong in 2018? [Note: the ranking from my final 2018 Big Board is listed in parenthesis]
Josh Allen, Bills QB (2)
Last week (v JAX)
8/19 (42.1%), 160 yards, 1 TD // 13 carries, 99 yards, 1 TD
52.5%, 992 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT // 48 carries, 254 yards, 4 TD
Josh Allen is 3-3 as a starter so far, but he could easily be 4-2 if not for leaving the loss against the Texans early, and the rookie has already picked up wins over Minnesota and Jacksonville to start his career. Last week, Allen looked like the most dominant player on the field against trash-talking Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars, and that was in large part due to his ability as a runner. Also, the strong-armed quarterback made a couple impressive throws—including a 75-yard touchdown to Robert Foster—with pressure bearing down on him, and winning games while surrounded by the worst supporting cast in recent memory will only boost Allen’s confidence in 2019 and beyond. Besides ignorantly putting stock in his completion percentage at Wyoming, the biggest mistake evaluators made was overlooking the mobility and intangibles of Allen, who looks like an emerging superstar.
Jaire Alexander, Packers CB (8)
Last week (@ MIN)
7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
48 tackles, 1 interception, 9 passes defended, 0.5 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss
The Vikings were able to expose Green Bay’s banged-up secondary a bit in Week 12, but Jaire Alexander held his own for the most part, and he made one of the best defensive plays of the year to earn him the NFL Way To Play award. The Packers might not make the postseason this season, but they have to feel good about Alexander as a franchise-changing talent in the secondary, and it will be fun to see him line up against Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs for years to come.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals WR (11)
Last week (@ LAC)
4 receptions, 41 yards // 1 punt return, 26 yards
40 receptions, 536 yards, 3 TD // 2 carries, 12 yards // 18 punt returns, 150 yards
Arizona’s second-round pick didn’t have a big game against the Chargers, but the entire offense struggled, and over the past two weeks, Christian Kirk has accounted for nearly half (49.0%) of the team’s receiving production with 118 yards as Josh Rosen has thrown for just 241 combined yards in back-to-back losses. Kirk is likely going to see a lot of Jaire Alexander this weekend, so it will be fun to see two of the league’s top rookies—both of whom are very tough players—battle at a snowy Lambeau Field.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins TE (13)
Last week (@ IND)
1 reception, 5 yards
18 receptions, 156 yards
I was hoping Mike Gesicki would get more involved coming off the bye with Ryan Tannehill back under center, but he had his worst game of the year, losing a fumble in a 27-24 loss. Fortunately, the turnover didn’t end up costing Miami points at the end of the first half because Andrew Luck tossed a pick on the following play, but Gesicki has yet to find the end zone or go for 45+ yards in a game. The six-foot-six target will hopefully have a miniature breakout in December to give him momentum heading into 2019.
Kerryon Johnson, Lions RB (14)
Last week (v CHI)
DNP – knee
118 carries, 641 yards, 3 TD // 32 receptions, 213 yards, 1 TD
Football fans weren’t able to get a look at Kerryon Johnson for his first Thanksgiving appearance due to a knee injury, and it doesn’t look like he will suit up this week either. I’m sure the Auburn product wants to get back on the field to chase 1,000 rushing yards, but Johnson has certainly shown enough to feel good about him as the team’s offensive centerpiece next year. For now, he will try to play some Red Dead Redemption 2 and heal up.
Josh Jackson, Packers CB (18)
Last week (@ MIN)
38 tackles, 5 passes defended, 1 tackle for loss, 1 TD
Josh Jackson struggled more than Jaire Alexander on Sunday night against Minnesota’s star wideouts, but his transition was always going to be a little tougher as a one-year starter at Iowa, especially since he still has work to do as a man-to-man cover corner. Still, the Packers have gone with Jackson as a full-time player on the boundary with veteran Tramon Williams transitioning to safety, which suggests they view their second-round pick as a cornerback. It will be interesting to see how playing time is divided when Kevin King (hamstring) and Bashaud Breeland (groin) return.
Nick Chubb, Browns RB (19)
Last week (@ CIN)
28 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD // 3 receptions, 44 yards, 1 TD
122 carries, 663 yards, 6 TD // 9 receptions, 92 yards, 2 TD
Saquon Barkley is deservedly the favorite for 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year, but don’t sleep on Nick Chubb, who is averaging 98.0 rushing yards with six total touchdowns in five starts since Carlos Hyde was traded. I said on more than one occasion that the Browns needed to get Chubb more involved as a receiver, and his pass-catching skills were showcased on last week’s highlight touchdown catch that probably didn’t get the recognition that it should have. Houston’s loaded front will be a tough matchup on Sunday, but Chubb already looks like an elite NFL back.
Lorenzo Carter, Giants OLB (21)
Last week (@ PHI)
2 tackles, 1 deflection
30 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 2 deflections
A hip injury might force Lorenzo Carter to miss Sunday’s game against the Bears, but New York fans should feel great about the potential he has shown as an all-around edge defender that can get to the quarterback, play the run, and drop back in coverage. Carter will really be a force when he adds polish to his game.
Anthony Miller, Bears WR (28)
Last week (@ DET)
3 receptions, 41 yards
29 receptions, 398 yards, 5 TD // 3 carries, 15 yards
Chicago used a more conservative passing attack with Chase Daniel under center last week, but Matt Nagy did add some trickery, and Anthony Miller was able to throw and complete his first NFL pass—for eight yards—to the backup quarterback. The Giants don’t have anyone that can defend Miller in the slot this week, so that might be a matchup that the Bears exploit with Daniel likely getting another starter as Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) continues to recover.