Predicting 2018’s Rookie Stat Leaders
Jared Stanton – Lead NFL Writer
Four months down, three months to go.
With the second half of the NFL’s offseason now in full swing, fans can rejoice by knowing that the worst is almost over.
Teams will open up training camp to their rookies in a month’s time, and a week later, the veterans will follow.
By August, HBO’s Hard Knocks will have started, and fans will get their first live action since February in the form of the Hall of Fame game.
Then finally, by September the 2018 regular season will officially be underway!
While there is plenty to be excited about in the coming months, throughout the course of this article we are going to focus on one specific group of players – the rookies.
There is an abundance of hype surrounding this year’s class of NFL freshman, and with anticipation swirling as to how these guys are going to perform, I felt it necessary to share my predictions as to who will be the top rookie performers in 2018.
So, without further ado, I think it is time to dive in!
Of the five first-round quarterbacks entering the NFL this season, Sam Darnold has the easiest path to a week one starting job.
The Browns have Tyrod Taylor, the Cardinals have Sam Braford, the Ravens have Joe Flacco, and Jets only have Josh McCown.
Sure, Josh Allen only has A.J. McCarron ahead of him in Buffalo, but Josh Allen is going to be a bust.
Coming out of USC, Sam Darnold provides the Jets with a big, strong, fearless thrower who can look off safeties and deliver the ball with pace, timing, and precision on deep routes.
Also, a career 8.5 YPA from his time in college is proof enough that Darnold is unafraid to push the ball down field.
Due to the potential number of games started, along with the overall aggression that he is known to play with, Darnold is the obvious favourite to lead all rookies in passing yards.
There is little that needs to be said here, as Saquon Barkley could realistically be the best running back in the NFL within the next two years.
When thinking about the total package – college production, elite athleticism, and good football character – it is fair to wonder whether or not the NFL has actually ever seen a prospect of this calibre.
Throughout his time at Penn State, Barkley compiled more total touchdowns and yards from scrimmage than what Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, and Leonard Fournette did throughout their respective college careers, and as we all saw at the combine, he is faster than Devin Hester, stronger than Joe Thomas, quicker than DeSean Jackson, and he jumps higher than Julio Jones.
With the Giants’ offensive line looking to be much improved this coming season, assuming that Saquon Barkley with lead all rookies in rushing yards is about as safe swimming in three feet of water – with floaties.
As long as he can stay healthy, this choice is a slam dunk.
Similar to Sam Darnold, D.J. Moore simply provides the best combination of talent and potential to play right away at the wide receiver position.
At 6’0” 215lbs, he provides the Panthers with a strong, physical target who can line up anywhere on the field, and his athletic ability is top notch (4.4 40-yard dash, 39.5 inch vertical leap).
Reports coming out of Carolina’s OTAs have specifically included high praise for the former Terrapin, and Panthers cornerback James Bradberry had the following to say with regards to Moore:
“He’s everything as advertised… Explosive, has speed, runs good routes. He impressed me a lot throughout these first couple of OTA practices. He’s been catching the ball real well. He performs well in space, especially yards after the catch. That’s one thing as a defender, you really hate. It pretty much eliminates bad plays.”
With Torrey Smith now being four years removed from his last productive season, look for D.J. Moore to quickly assert himself as Carolina’s number two receiver during training camp.
As the offseason continues to progress, it is becoming evidently clear that D.J. Moore deserved to be the first receiver taken in this year’s draft.
Tackles – Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears
Like Saquon Barkley, this one is a lay-up.
There is a reason as to why Roquan Smith was considered an A+ pick at number eight, and there is a reason as to why draft analysts were quick to peg him as the next great Chicago Bears linebacker.
Coming out of Georgia, Smith is fast, nimble, intelligent, great in coverage, and is an extremely sound tackler.
He is going to see the field right away in the Windy City, and he is the perfect type of linebacker in today’s fast, athletic NFL.
Had there not been so many quarterbacks available, Smith would have arguably been a top three selection this year, and one hundred tackles this coming season should not be considered a stretch by any means.
Sacks – Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Bradley Chubb is another defender who would been a top three selection in any other draft.
Thanks in large part to the amount of quarterbacks that were available in round one, along with the Cleveland Browns making a puzzling pick at number four, Chubb was able to land in the perfect situation with the Denver Broncos, and offenses across the NFL should now be very worried.
With opposing teams focused on containing Von Miller, Bradley Chubb is primed to see a large number of one-on-one matchups in his debut season, and this means he will be able to take full advantage of his size, burst, violent hands, and relentless motor.
As a First-Team All-American last year at N.C. State, Chubb recorded 23 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, and across his final two seasons with the Wolfpack, he recorded 44 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks.
Make no mistake, this is a big-time pass rusher whose presence will be felt immediately in the NFL.
Interceptions – Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Miami Dolphins
Alabama has always been a pipeline rich with pro-calibre defenseman.
In spite of this, Minkah Fitzpatrick impressively enters NFL as one of the most decorated players in Crimson Tide history.
After carving out a significant role as a freshman in 2015, Fitzpatrick went on to become a 2x All-American, a Jim Thorpe winner in 2017, and a 2x National Champion throughout his three years in college.
Having played virtually every position in the secondary under Nick Saban, it is obvious that Minkah Fitzpatrick is a tremendous talent with an extreme level intelligence, however, in the NFL he projects to be an excellent centre fielder at the free safety position.
With tremendous speed, hip fluidity, sound hands, and along with his high football IQ, Fitzpatrick possesses all the skills necessary to be an Earl Thomas/Devin McCourty-type player down in South Florida.
As a college sophomore in 2016, Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted six balls and returned two of them for touchdowns, and as he patrols the numbers as a pure free safety in the NFL, it is realistic to expect the same kind of production in 2018.