Welcome to the Rookie Report for the 2019 season! Every week, I’ll update this index of rankings based on the accumulation of rookie season performances. I’ll repeat that part: This isn’t a separate list each week based solely on the most recent game. It’s a continuation for the entire season. And it is not based on fantasy success or projection, more so overall performance. As you can tell, I’ve kept the list to skill position players. That should be self-explanatory based on the website and the limit of hours in a week.
I will repeat, this is not a fantasy football ranking. It's based on in-game performance.
1. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
2019 Stats: 64.5% Comp | 1,768 yards | 7 TDs | 4 INTs | 266 rush yds | 2 TDs
For the first time all season Kyler Murray was able to take a back seat in a result that ended in points for the Cardinals. The conductor was given a day off. In this column I’ve been critical of Kliff Kingsbury’s lack of creativity in the passing game beyond early-season success through his slot concepts. Now it’s time to praise the first-year head coach for his run-game creativity. He empties the box, adds in a quarterback run threat, dials up multiple pulling offensive linemen and switches up attacking the inside and outside sections of the defense.
Credit to Kliff for his aggressiveness as well after some early season passiveness, namely on fourth downs. A 4th and 3 on the opening drive, Kyler converted with a middle of the field laser. Murray already effectively uses his mobility and passing skills in unison. In one moment Murray dropped his eyes to run on a 3rd and 6 while being spied by a safety. In a flash he reset inside of the pocket and connected with Larry Fitzgerald on a crosser for 12 yards.
Overall, this is a great sign. Kliff elevating the running game, Kyler elevating the passing game. The result is a team with an even record despite a lack of talent at a multitude of positions.
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2. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
2019 Stats: 554 rush yds | 4 TDs | 9 rec | 87 yards | 57% snaps
Josh Jacobs is entrenched as a top 10 running back in the NFL. Two of his opening three carries against the Packers exhibited why. On the first play of the game, Jacobs hit the left corner, turned upfield and ran over talented safety Adrian Amos like a steamroller. Gain of nine, half of which came after contact. It was the kind of broken tackle that is rare at the NFL level.
The third play of the game showcased even more magic. Despite nine or so defenders in the box, Jacobs emulated a slalom skier and weaved into open gaps, accelerating away from nearby defenders and creating even more space. The 42-yard run was a magnificent individual effort by Jacobs. Two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, his legs were wrapped by an unblocked linebacker. Broken tackle. Multiple defenders stood within one yard of Jacobs, yet his movement made them look frozen. They thought, he moved.15 yards downfield, Jacobs dished a powerful stiff arm and threw a defender out of bounds, gaining another 20-plus yards on his own.
I reject the idea that “running backs don’t matter,” just don’t tell Twitter. The Raiders Offense would be significantly limited without Jacobs involved.
3. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew
2019 Stats: 61.5% Comp | 1,697 yards | 10 TDs | 2 INTs | 173 rush yds
Last week we discussed the Saints possibly creating the defensive plan for confusing Gardner Minshew. This week, the Bengals did not execute it and displayed the difference between a great team (New Orleans) and an injured bad team (Cincinnati). One play stood out: With the Jaguars in 11 personnel to open the 4th quarter, the Bengals stayed in their base defense with one safety over top. Off play action with five yards of cushion, Chris Conley was easily able to gain inside position. He turned a 12-yard catch into a 47-yard gain.
Per Ian Rapoport, Nick Foles can return in Week 11 and the plan is for him to be activated at that time. From the outside looking in, it would be surprising to sit Minshew for Foles despite the money tied into the latter.
4. Washington WR Terry McLaurin
2019 Stats: 40 Targets | 24 rec | 419 yards | 5 TDs | 82% snaps
The weather destroyed any chance of a solid performance from anyone associated with either passing game. For McLaurin, it meant just one catch on two targets despite Washington trailing for the entire game. McLaurin’s body of work this season has been exceptional.
5. Titans WR A.J. Brown
2019 Stats: 31 Targets | 20 rec | 337 yards | 2 TDs | 52% snaps
Brown’s success this season has been built off big plays, usually constructed by individual effort. Sunday’s game against the Chargers did not feature any of those signature highlights… but perhaps that’s a good thing. With Marcus Mariota at quarterback, Brown averaged fewer than four targets per game and just over two receptions per contest. In one Ryan Tannehill start, the Titans fed Brown eight targets and six receptions. He should be seeing even more volume than that. Brown verges on a rare line of size, movement and vision.
6. Giants QB Daniel Jones
2019 Stats: 61% Comp | 1,144 yards | 6 TDs | 7 INTs | 121 rush yds | 2 TDs
Daniel Jones is performing like a rookie. Moments of promise are demolished by decisions of destruction in the form of uncertainty. Let’s begin with the bright spots.
Jones’ best throw of the day against the Cardinals was a 28-yard finesse ball to Rhett Ellison, over the top of a trailing safety and dropping it just before another closing defender. The placement was perfect. Jones seems to be at his most patient on routes over the middle, all five of his completed passes that traveled over 10 yards in the air were targets over the middle.
Now to the bad. On his third drop back, the Giants trotted out three wide receivers and a tight end, in a 2x2 formation. The concept was simple: verticals with the three receivers with Evan Engram using the receiver on his side as a pick to break outside at the sticks five yards downfield. It ran perfectly, Engram was wide open as his man was blocked by the seam receiver. Jones just did not see him. At the same time, the Cardinals sent two extra rushers, creating a six on six matchup upfront. Instead of locating the open receiver, Jones focused on the rush, turned his eyes to his own endzone and was sacked for a loss of eight. Slow eyes, slow processing and an inability to recognize the blitz pre-snap.
The next play he forced an interception into double coverage.
Jones has a fumbling problem, even on simple sacks. Six fumbles in six games, three on Sunday. Not all were lost, but fumble recoveries are mostly luck rather than skill. The remainder of Jones’ season should focus on eliminating the negatives. Growth in that area would be massive for the team heading into year two.
7. Seahawks WR DK Metcalf
2019 Stats: 40 Targets | 20 rec | 389 yards | 2 TDs | 76% snaps
On the spectrum of spectacular, which Metcalf is very capable of, the performance against the Ravens is one to forget. It was a promising start, as Metcalf caught a 37-yard pass along the left sideline on a double moved that included the opposing corner being called for illegal contact. The Seahawks just failed to create anything offensively for much of the game, and the most head-in-hands moment was Metcalf’s unprovoked fumble. Down by 10 with just under four minutes to go, Metcalf catches the ball near the line of scrimmage, attempts to switch the ball from his right arm to his left and… just drops it? Short circuited.
8. Ravens WR Marquise Brown
2019 Stats: 39 Targets | 21 rec | 326 yards | 3 TDs | 42% snaps
Brown missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury, but head coach John Harbaugh is optimistic the speedster will return in Week 9 following the bye. His skills have been needed, especially with Mark Andrews dropping multiple opportunities last week.
After opening the season with 147 yards and 86 yards, Brown has failed to break the 50-yard mark since.
9. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
2019 Stats: 30 targets | 18 rec | 219 yards | 2 TDs | 65% snaps
His receiving impact might not be felt each week, but Hockenson already looks like a veteran player at the position. When you consider how long it takes many tight ends to develop into the NFL game, that is a massive compliment. Since that Week 1 blowup for 131 yards and a touchdown, Hockenson has combined for 88 yards and a score in five games. The Giants and Raiders over the next two weeks could help those totals.
10. Cowboys RB Tony Pollard
2019 Stats: 209 yards | 1 TD | 4 rec | 28 yards | 19% snaps
The nine players at the top of this list separated themselves. The final spot is a heated contest each week. Pollard nabs it this time thanks to a spectacular individual effort to pick up 11 yards after waving off multiple defenders in the backfield, planting his fist on the ground and exploding upfield.