Clay Smarslok | October 4th, 2019
Welcome to the beginning of the second quarter of the NFL season. We have now seen four games each from 30 teams and only three from the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers, due to them having a bye in week four.
With it being still pretty early in the season, anything can happen. You get a better idea of who players and teams are, but normally in October, the rust wears off for every team and should be seeing their best from here on out. But for rookies, it’s just a bit different.
Believe it or not, four games in an NFL career is a minuscule sample size. You get a feel for a player and how they are fitting into the league, but as the weeks go on, opposing teams can figure out weaknesses in some players and attack them (i.e. Lamar Jackson against the Chargers in the 2018-19 playoffs). But fortunately for me, we are going to ignore this and simply base it off of the first four weeks of the season, nothing more, nothing less.
In this four part series, I will be talking about two players who have proved me right, two that have proved me wrong and looking back at my pre-draft rankings of them in the process. The only caveat is that they had to have played in at least two games in the regular season, meaning Jachai Polite will not be making the list. One last time, things can easily change throughout the course of the season, but we will deal with that in the future.
Proved Me Right
WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins
Pre-Draft Ranking: 33rd Overall, WR4
Where he was drafted: 76th Overall
Pre-Draft Thoughts: Let’s speak frank… I did not really know who Terry McLaurin was for most of the 2018 college football season. When Ohio State played Maryland in the middle of November, he hit my radar, not much but I found out who he was with a 118-yard performance. He then kind of fell off my radar from that point on, until the Senior Bowl. Only being able to attend one practice due to some poor weather conditions, it was obvious who the biggest riser was for me, you guessed it. McLaurin looked like he didn’t belong going against some of the defensive backs there and even showing he could be an elite player on special teams. On that day, the first priority after the trip was to dig into Terry McLaurin film and it was outstanding to me, hence having him in my top 35 players. The route running, footwork, deep speed, hands, and even more were there for me. The biggest question was why he wasn’t used so much during his Ohio State tenure. But just off film and traits alone, I knew this was a kid I would want on my team.
Why I was right: For starters, he has only played in three games, missing week four against the Giants with a hamstring injury. But in the first three games of the season, against the likes of the Eagles, Cowboys, and Bears, the real Scary Terry has gone off for 253 yards on 16 catches and getting a touchdown in every game. The only other receivers to have touchdown in every game they have played in are Tyrell Williams (4) and TY Hilton (3). Not to mention, McLaurin has done it with Case Keenum as the quarterback. Imagine what he could do if you were to put him in a good offense with like I don’t know, Aaron Rodgers. Everything that fans of his knew he could do is still being done, beating coverages, getting over the top with great speed and making plays. Washington might not have a lot going for them, but knowing they got a player like McLaurin in the third round has to be a little glimmer of hope for them.
Once again, the lone bright spot for the #Redskins was Terry McLaurin.— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) September 24, 2019
His 82.9 overall grade is the highest among all rookie WRs in the NFL, per @PFF.
The dip of the shoulder to create separation and the contested catch are ridiculous. This kid is the real deal. #HTTR pic.twitter.com/GsSPIJt1HV
DE Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers
Pre-Draft Ranking: 3rd Overall, EDGE1
Where he was drafted: 16th Overall
Pre-Draft Thoughts: I jumped on the Burns bandwagon well before the 2018 college season got underway. Going through the summer evaluations, he was the number two player on my board behind only Nick Bosa. Then throughout the 2018 season, he continued to dominate with elite speed and bend off of the edge. With those elite traits as well as a knack for getting to the ball in the quarterback’s hands, outstanding pursuit and a bevy of pass rush moves, there was a lot to love about the prospect. On the other side, Burns was a little too lean for many in the drafting community, but I knew with his body type there would be no problem in adding a few pounds to fill out the frame of his and at the combine, he had his chance.
At the scouting combine, he showed up with an extra 20 pounds, give or take a few. With the extra weight, he dominated all of the drills, even showing he could move around in space. The performance he put on in Indianapolis only confirmed everything I had thought about him cementing his position in my top three prospects.
Why I am right: The tweet and clip below say it all. With 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL and another nine QB hits, he has shown that he has been more than worthy to be a first-round selection. Not only that, he should be the front runner for the defensive rookie of the year award. He has shown he can do everything he did at Florida State in the NFL and then some, with the extra weight. Most players that shine early, you want to be cautiously optimistic but there is no need to be cautious when it comes to Brian Burns. His skill set will only improve as time goes on and the rest of the teams that passed up on Burns should be worried, looking at you Green Bay and Atlanta.
Brian Burns is your defensive rookie of the month.— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 3, 2019
2.5 sacks through his first four games and has been generating consistent pressure pic.twitter.com/78l0K7fTXC
QB Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Pre-Draft Ranking: 80th Overall, QB5
Where he was drafted: 6th Overall
Pre-Draft Thoughts: Yes, I was one of the people that mocked the Giants for taking Daniel Jones sixth overall. Yes, the 80th overall seems to be on the lower side. But allow me to explain real quick… Most draftniks will put a quarterback bump in their rankings, I, on the other hand, do not. So with this ranking of Daniel Jones, he was ranked as a fringe third/fourth round player, but with a quarterback bump, there would have been no issue with him being picked in the second round by a team that needed him. Not trying to save face, okay maybe a little, but those are the facts in how I do my rankings just FYI. But back to Jones, there were things to like about his game. He had a nice, quick motion coming from the same background as the Manning’s, very underrated athleticism and pretty accurate but nothing REALLY jumped out to me. You knew with his background, his IQ of the game would be there, but there were little things like fading away on some passes, holding onto the ball a little long and fumbling. There were traits to build on but nothing that screamed first-rounder.
Why I was wrong: Daniel Jones has now played in three games, two starts. His first start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was better than anyone could have imagined. He threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to running for another 28 yards and two touchdowns, coming back from an 18 point deficit, all without Saquon Barkley. He proved a lot of people wrong that day, but the people that actually did not get carried away, still understood it was only one game, against a below-average defense and he still made some mistakes (sacked five times, two fumbles and a dropped interception). Not to rain on any parade but those are the facts. Nevertheless, he still showed that he played better than the 80th ranking I gave him. His second start was against another bad defense in Washington and he came back down to Earth in the process. He is obviously still a rookie and is allowed to make mistakes and as much as he has proved me wrong in some ways, he will still have some areas to work on to stay on this list.
S Darnell Savage, Green Bay Packers
Pre-Draft Ranking: 48th Overall, S5
Where he was drafted: 21st Overall
Pre-Draft Thoughts: Even though my ranking on Savage was a little lower, I was still a fan of his game. There was a lot to like, particularly against the pass. He was a rangy safety with elite speed and ball skills at the position and flashed the footwork if he were asked to play nickel back too. What worried me about him was as a tackler and his smaller stature against the bigger bodies in the NFL. That is not a knock on Savage because he played bigger than his size when I watched but the truth of the matter is that smaller bodies can tend to get hurt a little easier. During the Senior Bowl practices, he looked like a very good safety in coverage who could play downhill, knowing his speed can get him to the target quicker than most. So it was not that I disliked Savage as a player, he was the last of my round two ranked players.
Why I was wrong: Savage started out with a bang in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. He was all over the field breaking up a key third-down pass on Allen Robinson and just finding his way around the ball, even getting a quarterback hit. Then against the Vikings, he records a forced fumble and gets his hand on a pass to make it an easy interception for his teammate and also making plays like the one below. Finally, in week three he got his first career interception, which will definitely be the first of many. Going through it all, I understand I was lower on Savage than I should have been but I will own up to my mistakes. He has dominated early on this season, becoming the best rookie secondary player thus far.
It’s so much fun seeing @darnellsavage_ playing downhill, full-throttle football from the deep safety position. He’s completely fearless and is going to be a big-time player in this league for a long time. pic.twitter.com/WUwqImDu4k— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) September 18, 2019
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