The future looks promising for some of my favorite players from the 2018 NFL Draft following their rookie campaigns. [Note: the ranking from my final 2018 Big Board is listed in parenthesis]
Josh Allen, Bills QB (2)
Last week (v MIA)
17/26 (65.4%), 224 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT // 9 carries, 95 yards, 2 TD
52.8%, 2,074 yards, 10 TD, 12 INT // 89 carries, 631 yards, 8 TD
Officially 5-6 as a starter, Josh Allen went 5-5 in games he started and finished this season, and he saved his best performance for last. Outside of a poor decision at the end of the first half that led to a Reshad Jones pick-six (it looked like he simply didn’t see the Pro Bowl safety), Allen was absolutely dominant against the Dolphins with five total touchdowns. Of course, no one wanted to highlight the fact that he tied Fran Tarkenton and Deshaun Watson for the most touchdowns in a game for a rookie, but Allen shattered expectations in 2018, and the future is extremely bright with Buffalo set to add pieces around him in an important offseason.
Jaire Alexander, Packers CB (8)
Last week (v DET)
DNP – groin
66 tackles, 1 interception, 11 passes defended, 0.5 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss // 4 punt returns, 25 yards
We unfortunately didn’t see Jaire Alexander in the season finale, and it’s no mistake that Green Bay’s defense fell apart in a shutout loss to the Lions. People think the Packers don’t have much besides Aaron Rodgers to sell to a new coach, but Alexander proved to be a defensive building block as a shutdown, playmaking cornerback, and the only knock on him is durability.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals WR (11)
Last week (@ SEA)
DNP – IR (foot)
43 receptions, 590 yards, 3 TD // 3 carries, 35 yards // 21 punt returns, 164 yards
Christian Kirk missed the final quarter of the season with a broken foot, but he will open 2019 as the team’s No. 1 receiver if Larry Fitzgerald retires as expected. I hope a new coach features Kirk in a variety of ways—particularly on downfield passes where he excelled as a rookie—and the key will be Josh Rosen’s development. Also, the Cardinals will have a chance to add a big-bodied compliment to Kirk in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins TE (13)
Last week (@ BUF)
1 reception, 18 yards
22 receptions, 202 yards
Five out of the nine rookies in the Rookie Report will have a new coach in 2019, so we’ll have to see who ends up in Miami to unlock Mike Gesicki’s potential. The former Penn State star is a double-digit touchdown threat at a towering six-foot-six with 4.54 speed and a 41.5-inch vertical, but he will probably need to continue improving as a blocker to become a full-time player next season.
Kerryon Johnson, Lions RB (14)
Last week (@ GB)
DNP – IR (knee)
118 carries, 641 yards, 3 TD // 32 receptions, 213 yards, 1 TD
Detroit won’t be getting a new head coach, but offensive coordinator is now vacated, and I think Matt Patricia wants to build a team that runs the ball and plays defense like we’re seeing in Seattle and Dallas right now. That would be good news for Kerryon Johnson, who can also excel in passing situations thanks to his ability as a receiver.
Josh Jackson, Packers CB (18)
Last week (v DET)
1 tackle, 1 pass defended // 1 punt return, 0 yards
49 tackles, 10 passes defended, 1 tackle for loss, 1 TD // 2 punt returns, 0 yards
He was back in the starting lineup with Jaire Alexander out for Week 17, but Josh Jackson played just 62% of the snaps behind undrafted rookie Tony Brown (100%) and veteran Bashaud Breeland (96%) at cornerback. It doesn’t even seem like a possibility, but I think Todd Bowles would be a good hire in Green Bay if they want to let Aaron Rodgers basically handle the offense, as the defense could quickly become a force with Alexander and Jackson on the outside.
Nick Chubb, Browns RB (19)
Last week (@ BAL)
9 carries, 24 yards // 2 receptions, -4 yards
192 carries, 996 yards, 8 TD // 20 receptions, 149 yards, 2 TD
I’m still a little disappointed that Cleveland didn’t feed Nick Chubb enough in last week’s close loss to the Ravens, as the stout front had shown vulnerability against the run in December. And to make matters worse, Chubb had a 1,000-yard season erased on his final carry, which lost five yards with more than six minutes to go in the game. Still, the rookie was arguably a top-five player at the position in 2018, and the team has zero reason to go after Le’Veon Bell despite what Jarvis Landry putting the thought out there.
Lorenzo Carter, Giants OLB (21)
Last week (v DAL)
3 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 pass deflection
43 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 4 pass deflections
Overall, I thought New York had an excellent draft last year, and it could honestly be one of the best in recent memory if Lorenzo Carter—who showed flashes as a rookie—reaches his full potential in 2019 and beyond. For his part, Carter wants to be more than a pass-rusher, and it sounds like he is ready to attack the offseason. A jump like we saw from Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants (16.5 sacks in Year 2 after 4.5 sacks as a rookie) is certainly possible.
Anthony Miller, Bears WR (28)
Last week (@ MIN)
2 carries, 7 yards
33 receptions, 423 yards, 7 TD // 6 carries, 26 yards // 6 kick returns, 139 yards
The final rookie on the list is the only one that will appear in the playoffs this season, as Anthony Miller and the Bears take on the Eagles to finish up the Wild Card Round. The Memphis product says he hasn’t bene 100% all season, and he probably isn’t exaggerating based on his exit from last week’s win due to a shoulder injury (and he already had a brace that didn’t prevent apparent re-dislocation). Miller stepping up this weekend would be huge for Chicago.