Since we are still waiting for injury reports and different storylines to emerge for the Super Bowl, I thought I would use this week to focus on something different – How did the first-year guys do? To do so I put together my perfect team of rookies based on their play in 2019. Therefore I did not consider players who missed the majority of the season due to injury or simply didn’t have enough time to showcase their talent.
Since 11 personnel is the new base offense nowadays, that is the personnel grouping I used, while adding in a flex spot for another deserving rookie. Defensively I used a 4-3 front and added another flex – for an extra defensive back in this case. Then finally I named four special team performers like you would on a Pro Bowl ballot and for each side of the ball, I added a few key backups.
This is my squad.
Quarterback: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
We start with things with the number one overall pick. Murray completed 64.4 percent of his passes for over 3700 yards and 20 TDs compared to 12 INTs, while adding over 500 yards and four more scores on the ground. Despite all the size concerns and being sacked 48 times, he only lost two fumbles all year long. To think of how limited the talent was around him, especially when Christian Kirk was out and Kenyan Drake was still in Miami, the fact that they only scored less than 17 points three times all year is pretty remarkable.
Running back: Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
If I had to make a choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year, this would probably be my guy. Jacobs amassed over 1300 yards scrimmage in just 13 games, including 61 first downs gained and whilst averaging just over five yards a touch. The Raiders offense was built around the dynamic rookie and he was the key to Oakland’s 6-4 start despite a limited group of receivers and one of the most conservative quarterbacks out there in Derek Carr.
Wide receivers: X - D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks), Z - A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) and SLOT - Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers)
For my wide receiver trio, I reunited two former Ole Miss Rebels as my guys on the outside. My clear first choice was Brown, who was the only rookie to surpass 1000 receiving yards and he averaged a ridiculous 20 yards per catch. He was borderline uncoverable through the final six weeks for Tennessee, where he had four of his five 100-yard games and scored five of his eight touchdowns.
On the opposite end, I went with Metcalf as my X, because he is more of that prototype with Brown benefitting more from being off the line. The Seahawks targeted him three times or less in three separate games, but his combination of size and speed made him tough to defend and while it doesn’t really count here, we saw what he is capable of by going for 160 yards against the Eagles in the Wildcard Round.
Moving inside, I went with a guy in Samuel, who might not quite have the pure receiving numbers the other two had but gives his offense a lot of versatility. Whether it was catching a slant over the middle and taking it to the house, getting to the edge on jet sweeps or just the physicality he ran with once the ball was in his hands, Samuel was a crucial piece to Niners’ success with almost 1000 yards and six TDs from scrimmage.
Tight end: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Fant easily was the most productive rookie tight end with 40 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns. He might have gone under 20 yards in seven different games, but also broke out for a 115 and 113-yard performance and a quarter of his receptions went for 20+ yards. We saw him burn defenses vertically but also pick up yardage quickly after catching screen passes or dump-offs in the flats.
Offensive tackles: Cody Ford (Buffalo Bills) and Jawaan Taylor (Jacksonville Jaguars)
While I liked the 2019 offensive tackle class as a whole and still see promise in it – especially with my number one guy Jonah Williams missing his entire rookie campaign – it was by far the worst group to pick from for this. Ford started all but one game for Buffalo at right tackle and while he got flagged eight times, his size and power were on display quite a bit.
The best rookie tackle overall probably was Taylor, who was largely projected as a top ten pick for the Jaguars, but instead, Jacksonville grabbed him a round later due to concerns about his knee. When Cam Robinson is healthy, they have an excellent combination of young book-ends.
Guards: Elgton Jenkins (Green Bay Packers) and David Edwards (Los Angeles Rams)
Moving one spot in from either side – I was very high on Jenkins as a center coming out of Mississippi State, but instead, he slipped right into left guard and played as well as any rookie linemen outside of my choice for center. The Rams O-line was a mess through the first half of the season, which opened up room for some young blood. Once Edwards and fellow rookie Bobby Evans were inserted into starting lineup, the rushing attack went to a different level and Jared Goff was sacked just once a game over the last seven.
Center: Eric McCoy, New Orleans Saints
In the middle of this group, we have the star of the show – if you like giving the big guys some love. McCoy had one of the best seasons for a center in recent years. He fit in seemingly thanks to his ability to lock horns with defenders in the run game and his ability to act as a communicator early on in his pro career. If anything the rookie was an upgrade over the recently retired Max Unger.
FLEX: Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
For my flex spot I went with another rookie running back I was pretty high on. The Eagles capped Sanders’ number of touches whilst Jordan Howard was available, but after Philly’s loss in Dallas, he averaged 97.4 yards from scrimmage per game and 5.9 yards a touch. Sanders clearly became the most dynamic weapon on an offense that was hampered by injuries.
QB - Gardner Minshew (Jaguars)
RB - Devin Singletary (Bills)
WR - Terry McLaurin (Redskins) and Darius Slayton (Giants)
TE - Dawson Knox (Bills)
OL - Dalton Risner (Broncos) and Garrett Bradbury (Vikings)
I know the Jaguars had a rather disappointing 6-10 season and Minshew needed to earn the starting gig twice, but I don’t want everybody to just forget about the season he had. He threw 21 touchdowns compared to just six picks and outside of two blowout losses to the Texans and Chargers, Jacksonville was +16 in point differential with the rookie at the helm.
I also don’t think general NFL fans would really know who Singletary was if he didn’t show out on the national stage on Thanksgiving at Dallas and at Houston in the Wild Card Round. His 5.1 yards per carry were tied for sixth among all players with at least 100 attempts and he consistently picked up yards after contact.
At wide receiver, I just could not decide between McLaurin and Slayton, so I listed them both. McLaurin really was the only bright spot on the Redskins offense with over 900 yards and seven TDs on 15.8 yards per catch and Slayton converted two-thirds of his receptions into first downs while playing about the same percentage of the Giants’ snaps, providing several big plays.
At tight end, it was slim pickings since Noah Fant actually was the only rookie at the position to go over 400 receiving yards, so I went with the guy who came the closest and produced most consistently. Knox failed to catch a pass just once all year while averaging 7.8 yards per target and putting in some good work as a run-blocker.
With the tackle situation being the way it is, I chose Risner, who quietly played a very solid season at left guard for Denver after excelling at both tackle spots for Kansas State. And finally, I added Bradbury because of the versatility he gives me thanks to his athleticism and agility that can be utilized on different run schemes.