Every Teams Top Performing Rookie: AFC
Okay so “a few days” turned into a couple of weeks. I can only apologise, but sometimes life gets in the way. Anyway here it is… finally, the AFC’s best rookies for each team. Enjoy!
Tremaine Edmunds – Linebacker: Tough one to start with. Josh Allen was up and down and it felt like we never got to see the finished product. Tremaine Edmunds was a much more consistent prospect, improving game by game. Edmunds looks set to become the Bills solution at a problem position.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Safety: Whilst Derwin James was the standout defensive back in this year’s draft, it shouldn’t overshadow the excellent job that Minkah Fitzpatrick did for the Dolphins. Minkah lined up at safety, slot corner and outside, meaning that despite injuries Miami were able to still play the best players at the best positions. It’ll be interesting to see if Fitzpatrick gets a more solid role under Brian Flores.
New England Patriots
Sony Michel – Running Back: Of the 400 running backs that the New England Patriots, Sony Michel emerged as the closest they had to a classic back. Michel just missed out on 1000 yards this season despite being part of backfield with a ton of pieces and broke the rookie record for rushing touchdowns in the post season.
New York Jets
Sam Darnold – Quarterback: Very nearly opted for Chris Herndon instead, but Darnold just pipped him. Darnold’s 2018 was heavily struck with injuries, but when he was on the field he flashed what a difference maker he could be. There are some concerns however. 15 interceptions in 13 games is a little concerning, but I do think we’ll see a much better Darnold after he’s had a full off-season and isn’t spending the year nursing injuries. It’ll be interesting to see what Gase can do with Darnold.
Lamar Jackson – Quarterback: Lamar Jackson was kind of a no-brainer. Despite his unorthodox style, Jackson came in and changed the fortunes of the Baltimore Ravens, making the playoffs and keeping John Harbaugh in a job. The offseason will be huge for Jackson as there is still a lot of work to be done and you can bet that defensive coordinators will come in to the 2019 season with a decent game plan to stop the Ravens QB. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that Jackson silenced the naysayers.
Jessie Bates – Safety: This one was another obvious choice. Bates started all 16 games in 2018 and never looked out-of-place as a starter, leaving the Bengals in a comfortable position to release George Iloka. In Bates the Bengals have a rock in the defensive backfield that can take advantage of the talent they have upfront. Whether there is some uncertainty in defensive schemes this year, the Bengals know that whatever happens Bates looks set to be standout player in 2019.
Baker Mayfield – Quarterback: There were a few question marks when Baker Mayfield was drafted no.1 overall, but Mayfield answered everyone with style and skill, to the point that not even Hue Jackson could slow him down (although he did his best). Mayfield finished the season with 3725 yards and 24 touchdowns. It seems that Mayfield will be the centrepiece for a Cleveland team that could actually finally be trending in the right way.
Jaylen Samuels – Running Back: It was a tough choice between the other Edmunds brother and Samuels, but Samuels play in his 3 starts just tipped it for me. When James Conner went down injured and LeVeon Bell was at home on the coach, Samuels was forced to come in and carry the work load in the backfield. Samuels picked up a total of 256 yards over the season on the ground and a further 199 through the, snagging 3 receiving touchdowns too. It’s possible that Bell could be replaced by a 2 players in Conner and Samuels.
Justin Reid – Safety: Coming out of the 2017 season, the secondary was a problem for the Texans. The Texans successfully managed to turn a weakness into a strength in 2018 with 2 great pick ups. Tyrann Mathieu in free agency and Justin Reid in the draft. Reid was a 3rd round pick, but was Houstons first pick of the draft. With Mathieu potentially out and if rumours are to be believed, Landon Collins coming in, Reid could have a more defined role as a deep safety.
Darius Leonard – Linebacker: As the role of the linebacker continues to evolve, it’s been tougher and tougher to find the right players for the right roles. This year however saw the start of an excellent crop with its rookie class, which looks like it might be replicated next year. At the top of all of these prospects was Darius Leonard who demonstrated an understanding for exactly what he’d been asked to do. The Colts really nailed the draft in 2018 setting them up for a great 2019.
Ronnie Harrison – Safety: The Jags were in a situation heading in to 2018 where they needed their veterans to step up if they were going to head back to the playoffs. Sadly that didn’t happen and the rookies that were brought in didn’t really impress. One exception however was Ronnie Harrison, who took over from Barry Church when it became clear he was struggling. Harrison came in and was impressive on a team that was desperate for a spark in the secondary. With Gipson likely gone, along with Church going towards the end of the 2018 season, it looks like Harrison will be heading for a starting role in 2019 and it’s well deserved.
Harold Landry – Outside Linebacker: A slow start for the Titans rookie edge rusher, but he improved consistently throughout the season. Landry racked up 18 QB pressures and 4.5 sacks, whilst only starting 3 games. The pressure will be on Landry in 2019, as he will no doubt be elevated to a starting position to replace the retiring Orakpo. An honourable mention should be given to Rashaan Evans, who also had a solid season.
Phillip Lindsay – Running Back: While everyone was looking at the potential of Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay snuck in the back door and was one of the most effective rookie running backs in the league. When the rest of the Broncos offence stuttered, Lindsay was solid, becoming the lead back on an offence that needed a spark. It is worth mentioning however that the Broncos draft was solid. Chubb, Sutton and Josey Jewell all had great seasons. Encouraging signs, if they can get the right guy under centre this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Nnadi – Nose Tackle: For those that like to look at stats, Nnadi had a quiet season. But the role of a nose tackle often goes unnoticed. With new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Nnadi will be tasked with a similar job in a 4 man front this season, with the key to the Spags defence being the importance of getting pressure with just that front 4. 2019 will be a very important season for Nnadi and the Chiefs who will be trying to figure out if he’s the right guy for them.
Derwin James – Safety: Derwin James is a jigsaw piece that magically fits everywhere. When I watch James I get a feeling that I’m watching someone truly special, who reminds me a lot of Charles Woodson. When you have a Derwin James, you can build a secondary around them. Take note all the teams that seem happy to let go of legitimate starting safeties.
Maurice Hurst – Defensive Tackle: There wasn’t one stand out player that leapt to mind when thinking of the Raiders rookie class. Hurst I wanted to give a nod to simply because he was a draft bargain. Hurst was considered to be too small for the position and this coupled with a heart condition saw a 1st round talent drop to the 5th round. In a season where the Raiders were heavily criticised for questionable moves, it’s worth remembering one very good one they made and the chance they took on him. Let’s hope they can do the same with their 3 first round picks this season.
So that’s the AFC (finally). What did you think? Did I miss someone? Let us know on twitter here or email us here. Sorry this took so long, my intention is to write more often during the off-season. Don’t forget to subscribe to the pod and listen out this week to hear our takes on free agency.