Deshaun Watson leads impressive 2017 rookie class

Print

Not many players can steal the spotlight like a rookie. The fresh faces provide us with something new to discuss as we watch their career paths unfold in the beginning stages.

The 2017 NFL Draft was long rumored to be one stocked to the brim with tantalizing talent. Thus far, they've lived up to the billing. In fact, some of the rookies in this year's crop aren't just excelling, they're putting out efforts to match some of the league's very best. The Next Gen Stats help us quantify just how good some of the best rookies have been.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans


It feels like it was in another reality that we watched the Houston Texans rookie quarterback struggle as a passer despite securing a win in his career debut on Thursday Night Football. Remembering Tom Savage taking the field as the team's Week 1 starter feels like nothing more than a fever-dream. With those two contests squarely in the rearview mirror, Deshaun Watson has been one of the NFL's most exciting quarterbacks in the early months of the 2017 season.

As we are set to enter Week 7, Deshaun Watson leads all quarterbacks with 15 touchdowns on the year, despite not starting in Week 1 and not throwing for a score in Week 2. Since then, Watson has been nothing short of lights out.

The most impressive note in Watson's NFL resume is his immense proficiency on some of the most difficult passes. Watson leads all quarterbacks with a 107.3 passer rating on tight window throws (less than a yard of separation). For a player who saw his arm strength the subject of criticism throughout the draft process, landing atop a key passing static such as this must be satisfying.

Deshaun Watson's strong play has the Texans squarely in the hunt for another AFC South title sitting right alongside Tennessee and Jacksonville with a 3-3 record. Houston's offense is packed with playmakers for Watson, such as DeAndre Hopkins and speed threat Will Fuller. Sustaining his level of statistical dominance seems like an unlikely feat. However, given what we've seen out of the wildly impressive Watson through his first six games, it would be unwise to rule anything out.

Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs


Unlike some of the other players in this group, Kareem Hunt wasted no time in revealing himself to be a special player by carving up the Patriots in the 2017 season opener. Ironically the lone player here to not get drafted in the first round, Hunt is the NFL's best rookie through six weeks.

Explosive plays are what first introduced the world to the Chiefs' new star running back. He ripped off long run after long run in his first three games. Hunt has three touches this season where he's eclipsed 20 MPH, tied for the most in the NFL with his teammate Tyreek Hill and Falcons running back Tevin Coleman.

As the season wears on, Hunt continues to show us he's more than just a big play back. He's ranked inside the top-two in average yards gained after defenders close within a yard of him all season. Hunt averages 5.25 for the season, while the NFL average sits at 3.7 among backs with 20 or more carries. In an age of football where the true future back is nearly extinct, Kareem Hunt is already proven to be one of the best.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars


Unlike Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette came into the NFL with all the hype and fanfare after going fourth-overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The bruising 228-pound specimen from LSU wasn't just meant to take the starting running back job in Jacksonville, he was designed to give them a whole new identity.

The early results for the shift to a Fournette-centric attack have been nothing but positive. Backed by a defense that's stifling opposing passing games with waves of pressure and an elite shutdown corner duo, the rookie runner is the tone-setter for the Jaguars. Fournette averages 3.84 yards after a defender closes within a yard, ranking 26th among backs with 20-plus rush attempts.

What's made Fournette a true difference-maker and not just another grind out the clock back is his insane athletic ability. The LSU product was a rumored freak of nature during his college days and posted a series of impressive pre-draft measurables at his Pro Day. He's wasted no time showing it off at the NFL level. Fournette owns the two fastest recorded speeds among ball-carriers this season. He hit 22.05 MPH on his long Week 5 touchdown run and then nearly bested it with a 21.8 MPH time on his Week 6 score.

Draft picks don't always work out just as the team making it intends. However, in the case of the marriage between Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars, a harmonious union was achieved with this monstrous back firmly entrenched as the offensive centerpiece.

Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns


We haven't quite seen as much of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, as Myles Garrett missed the Browns' first four games with an injury. What we have seen so far in his first two career outings has been nothing short of brilliant.

As the rookie pass rusher gets back up to speed, Cleveland has left him on pitch count by using him on just 37 and 50 percent of their defensive plays the last two weeks. But when he's on the field, he's a massive presence of disruption. Garrett recorded pressure rates of 13.3 and 22.2 percent against the Jets and Texans, crushing the NFL average of 8.5.

Cowboys breakout star DeMarcus Lawrence currently leads the league with a 17.9 pressure rate among edge rushers with more than 100 pass rush attempts. Garrett only has 33 on the year but carries a pressure rate of 18.2 percent. The Browns don't have much in the way of overall team optimism at the current moment, but they can rest soundly assured that the front office hit a home run with their top pick this year. Everything looks in place for Garrett to ascend the pantheon of the NFL's best pass rushers.

Who will be next?


A pair of Titans rookie wideouts have flashed ability in limited action. Taywan Taylor owns the fifth-highest recorded speed (21.4 MPH) among ball carriers this season. Corey Davis is still in the middle of a multi-week absence with a hamstring injury but averaged a whopping 3.55 yards of separation on his 13 targets when he played.

Despite leading all running backs this season with 50 targets, Christian McCaffrey is off to a slow start as a runner, to say the least. The healthy return of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil could help him get going soon.

The Saints defense appears to have taken a step forward this season, thanks in some part to their rookie corner Marshon Lattimore. After allowed a 135.4 passer rating in the first two weeks, Lattimore has allowed a mere 53.8 percent catch rate and 35.1 passer rating on his 73 coverage snaps since.

If he can make it back before the end of the regular season after going on IR this week, Washington's Jonathan Allen can build on what was an excellent start. His 16.2 pressure rate was a top-10 mark among defensive lineman and a boost to a surprisingly frisky unit.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has gone out for more plays than Martavis Bryant in each of the Steelers' last four games and takes 57 percent of his plays from the slot. He averages 3.25 yards of separation on his targets this season.

To check out more of the Next Gen Stats data for yourself or get a definition for some of the stats, check out the NGS site

Matt Harmon is a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

Print

Fan Discussion