Rookie Watch At The Quarter Mark: Offense

By Simon Carroll

With a quarter of the regular season already in the books, Simon Carroll takes a look at the standout rookie at each position so far and how they compare to their pre-draft scouting report. We begin with the offense:

Quarterback: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow, QB, LSU Tigers

Height: 6’3”.   Weight: 215lbs

PRO’S: Has an elite understanding of the quarterback position. Innate feel for the game- knows exactly what is required on any given snap. Ideal height & weight for the NFL with a robust physique. Ultra-smart QB and elite reader of defenses. Routinely takes advantage of mismatches once he’s diagnosed the opposition’s intentions. Able to manipulate safeties with his eyes. Has plenty of experience in a pro-style offense and is comfortable under center or in the shotgun. Shown evidence of changing plays at the line of scrimmage and altering protections which will impress scouts. Pocket movement might be the best in this draft class - subtle footwork and climbing the pocket as the pressure mounts is impressive. Put on the 2019 Alabama tape for evidence. Keeps his eyes downfield even under duress and will patiently stand in there & wait for the play to develop. Ultra-productive against some of the elite teams in college football. Has good accuracy on throws of all levels and can fit the ball into the tightest of windows. Mechanics are clean and release is quick. Able to scramble for first downs with some comfort.

CON’S: Body of work is probably the biggest concern; Burrow transferred from Ohio State and only has one full year of elite game tape. Surrounded by playmaking talent could raise questions as to whether he’s just a one year wonder. Arm strength is fine but not elite, and sometimes has to float deep balls rather than drive them downfield. Against pro-calibre defenses this could give safeties that extra time to make a play on the football. Accuracy and arm strength drops a touch when throwing on the move. Has enough about him to break contain & scramble, but athleticism is not a game-changing attribute.

SIMON CARROLL: “With Tua’s injury concerns, Joe Burrow has a legitimate shot at being the first name called out in the 2019 NFL Draft. With a litany of pro-style traits it’s easy to imagine him making the jump relatively quickly. There’s no better candidate in this draft class for teams looking for their next franchise quarterback”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Aaron Doster (Associated Press)

Absolute no-brainer to begin this article folks. The only rookie at his position to start week 1 and play all four games so far, Joe Burrow has looked every bit the franchise quarterback.

Bengals fans will be impressed with his composure behind a fragile o-line and his ability to compartmentalise mistakes and bounce back immediately. This designed QB run on his debut was an excellent piece of play-calling from Zac Taylor, allowing the former LSU Tiger to make amends for the pick he threw on Cincy’s previous drive:

Despite playing for a winless team Burrow ranks in the top ten for passing yards, has just two picks and holds a better completion percentage than Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Pre-draft fears of his body of work and ability to operate within an offense that maybe doesn’t possess the comparative level of talent he’s used to appear to be unfounded. After 4 weeks, I’m anointing Burrow a bona fide star.

Running Back: James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

James Robinson, RB, Illinois State Redbirds

Height: 5’9”. Weight: 219lbs

Pros: Robinson has outperformed his initial 2-star recruiting rating (Rivals and Scout). The Redbirds standout has exceptional production that is a major factor in the NFL attention to this point. His senior season saw him total 1,899 rushing yards in 2019 at 5.22 per carry and 18 touchdowns. That contributed to an appearance at the East-West Shrine event and the only small school running back invited to the Combine. A power-through-contact runner, Robinson thrives on lowering his shoulder and driving for yards after contact. Though he lacks top speed, once free on the second level he is tough to bring down. He showed at the Combine that he has lower body explosion with a 40” vertical. The violence on the boundary to finish runs typifies his physical style. His stout, broad build will be able to continue to handle a high workload should he earn that role. Robinson is built with a low center of gravity that contributes to his good balance and advantageous pad level. His decision making and vision are generally good.

Cons: His Combine dash of 4.64 was among the slowest among participants and reflective of his film. There is a lack of overall speed in Robinson’s game. As a result, he is corralled in the backfield more often than wanted on film. Though his offensive line was notably overmatched, Robinson struggled in an opportunity against FBS opposition in Northern Illinois early in the 2019 season. The Illinois State prospect often wants to head laterally to the edges but will struggle to find success heading outside in the pros. He hasn’t been utilized much at any point as a receiver out of the backfield. His contributions to the passing game in 2019 led to 16 receptions at only 5 yards a time on average.

Rebecca Rennie: “The production is good but it’s difficult to locate much in Robinson’s game, skills and traits that stands out in order to replicate his success at the small school level. He’s well built, tough and physical, which could earn him a roster spot, but not a great deal to bang the table for. He should be drafted, but would expect it to be late on.”

NFL Comparison: Peyton Barber

Prediction: 7th Round

Rookie Watch
Credit: Jaguars Wire (USA Today Sports)

Probably the most unlikely name on this list, James Robinson’s ascendency to RB1 in this Jaguars’ offense has allowed many casual observers to forget this franchise cut a running back that had more than 1,300 scrimmage yards last year. The ‘Tank for Trevor’ may still be on, but nobody has told Robinson that; the former Illinois State Redbird (yeah I had to Google it) has turned heads not just starting, but thriving in DUVAL County.

An undrafted free agent rookie from an FCS school, you have my colleague Rebecca Rennie to thank for the scouting report. And as you can see, the traits that stood him in good stead at college have translated to the pro game. Robinson is a physical, bowling ball of a running back that keeps his pads low and his feet churning. It’s not glamorous, but at 4.8 yards a carry who cares?

The most surprising aspect of his development has come as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield – his 161 receiving yards are twice as many as he amassed the whole of his final year at Illinois State.

Wide Receiver: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU Tigers

Height: 6’3”.   Weight: 192lbs

PRO’S: The consummate all-rounder. Line him up across the formation, send him on any route - all Justin Jefferson does is produce. Ultra-smart footballer who creates separation with sufficient athleticism but also excellent body control, route-running and innate feel for the soft spots in coverage. Elite hands - makes the quarterback look good with ridiculous catches away from his body that look simple to bring in. Physical at the point of catch and with the ball in his hands too - wins contested catches and will dog defenders with his determination for the extra yard after contact. Clever use of angle with the ball in space to make the most of yards after the catch.

CON’S: Sudden and sharp off the line, but not as good deep speed. May get dinged in the pre-draft process when it comes out his forty time. Could get pigeon-holed as a WR2 or slot receiver in the NFL. Not particularly effective at high-pointing the football despite his good hands. Brings tenacity and effort to blocking, but a lack of technique.

SIMON CARROLL: My favourite receiver in this draft class, Jefferson is a production machine who doesn’t go into hiding when adversity rolls his way. People will say his ceiling is lower than some other prospects, but I don’t care - quarterbacks will love him for what he brings to an offense. He’ll be in the league for a long time”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Hannah Foslien (Getty Images)

A tough choice here – CeeDee Lamb has done very well to carve himself out a consistent role in a stacked Dallas offense, and was very much considered. But it’s no coincidence that The Minnesota Vikings finally looked capable of moving the ball when Kirk Cousins started hitting his newest weapon in week 3. Seven catches for 175 yards and a score against a stout Tennessee defense was Justin Jefferson at his very best, lining up across the formation and garnering separation like we saw every Saturday at LSU.

Jefferson has some similarities to his predecessor Stefon Diggs – their route running is their greatest asset, and it’s why you can expect JJ to be a consistent producer in this offense opposite Adam Thielen. The only surprise is how little his number was called upon in weeks 1 and 2.

As noted pre-draft, his deep speed isn’t quite what Cousins will be used to when Diggs was around, but it doesn’t stop him getting the yards; only DK Metcalf (25.2) has a better yards per reception than Jefferson (21.8) out of all receivers with ten or more catches.

Tight End: Harrison Bryant, Cleveland Browns

Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic Owls

Height: 6’5”.   Weight: 242lbs

PRO’S: Athletically gifted receiving tight end who predominantly worked out of the slot for FAU. Loves to attack the seams and terrifies linebackers with his speed. Ghosts into the deep field effortlessly and routinely gets beyond his man on sideline and corner routes. No dropoff in speed when hit in stride. Takes advantage of soft cushion provided to him to make hay on comeback and shallow routes. Big catch radius allows him to snag balls away from his body. Excellent tracker of the ball in the air - catches the ball over his shoulder with ease. Productive in the red zone. Plays situational football and consistently fights for the line to gain. Very quick to get to the second level and engage DB’s on running plays.

CON’S: Comparatively big but frame looks slight & might need to add more muscle mass. Offers effort in run blocking but without frequent success. - knows where he should be but struggles with hand placement and footwork at the point of attack. Non-factor in pass protection; just not stout enough to combat sustained edge pressure. Lack of physical edge as a receiver - plays like a true wide-out rather than a tight end. Route running needs more refinement and diversity.

SIMON CARROLL: “Ultra-productive at college, Bryant often put the offense on his back and came up with the goods. He’s raw but effective in the passing game and in this regard has a high ceiling, but carrying out traditional tight end duties will never be his forte. Where he gets drafted is anyone’s guess - it only takes one team to fall in love with his playmaking ability and he breaks into day two”.



Rookie Watch
Credit: Frank Jansky (Getty Images)

Harrison Bryant claims this spot by the sheer fact that there has been little to no production from rookie tight ends throughout the first quarter of the 2020 season. A notoriously difficult position for rookies to make an immediate impact was exacerbated by the lean draft class and landing spots for these tight ends.

Seven receptions, 59 yards and a score across four games doesn’t amount to much, but Bryant deserves credit for forcing his way onto the field. Not only does he have Austin Hooper and David Njoku ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s also on an offense with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. To have played 52% of all offensive snaps under these conditions shows what this coaching staff think of him, and with Njoku’s injury that’s only likely to increase.

Bryant went a round later than I thought he would, likely because he’s raw. But he’s proven to be a useful depth piece for Cleveland and will see more of the football as his growth continues.

Offensive Tackle: Mekhi Becton, New York Jets

Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville Cardinals

Height: 6’7”.   Weight: 369lbs

PRO’S: Huge, long ‘dancing bear’ with nimble feet and maybe unparalleled power in this draft class. Arms are freakishly long, allowing him to hold out opponents well away from the pocket. Upper body strength allows him to explode into defenders with his first punch. Much like Wills, his speed off the line of scrimmage is head scratching. Good footwork and low pad level despite his height aids his leverage. So smooth on the move - can pull or get in front on outside zone runs and attack downfield when he has the opportunity. An absolute behemoth with the aggression in run blocking and quickness & length in pass pro.

CON’S: Hand technique needs to be cleaned up. Can overreach with his weight over his toes, leading to balance issues. Often relies on his brute strength to see him home when his fundamentals could be improved. Likes to get his hands on jersey and needs to show more patience in letting the play develop. At 369lbs Becton may already be too big for NFL tastes, and his weight control will need to be improved after fluctuating wildly at Louisville.

SIMON CARROLL: “Mekhi Becton is a bigger, maybe quicker version of Jedrick Wills who has shown he can play on the left side at Louisville. The reason why he’s not the number one tackle prospect is because he’s raw and needs to clean up more in his game, but the ceiling for Becton is off the charts. If he controls his weight and adds polish he’ll be one of the best blind side blockers in the NFL”.


Rookie Watch
Credit: Getty Images

The Jets have predictably been a hot mess, but don’t lay the blame at the feet of their new big blind side protector. Despite the pre-draft belief that Mekhi Becton would have quite a steep learning curve he has been the standout piece of an otherwise porous offensive line.

After a standout season at Louisville, Becton wowed onlookers at the combine with his ridiculous speed for a 6’7”, 369lb dude. His measurables and athleticism were off the charts, but technique and refinement needed work. No such worries so far in his NFL career – Becton has allowed just one sack and had one penalty in four games for The Jets, and at 76.9 was the third-highest graded rookie through the first three weeks:

One thing to look out for with Becton would be the lack of concern from The Jets regarding his health; he suffered a shoulder injury in week 3 and still played against The Broncos last Thursday. He lasted just seventeen snaps before getting hurt again. With Adam Gase’s job on the line they’re desperate to protect Darnold as much as possible, but who’s protecting the protector?

Interior Offensive Line: Michael Onwenu, New England Patriots

Michael Onwenu, IOL, Michigan Wolverines

Height: 6’3”.   Weight: 350lbs


PRO’S: Big and WIDE - it takes an age to run around Onwenu with his arms by his side, let alone extended. Has the power and strength that his frame suggests. Great pad height and good knee bend - attacks from low and drives up into the defender in run blocking duties, and takes them for a walk. Remarkable athleticism for his size - quick and aggressive out of his stance. Quick enough to reset his feet and recover when beaten early on a play. Good length for an interior lineman - holds danger away well in pass pro. Unbelievable anchor - like his feet are set in cinder blocks. He’s going nowhere.


CON’S: Short area quickness gives him enough lateral movement and recover ability, but blocking out and in space is a problem for him. Not comfortable without a guy in his face. Likes to find someone and will go reaching if it’s not there. Lack of patience letting the pass rusher come to him - ends up playing over his toes and off balance. Grip strength is a concern, and too easy for defenders to disengage from. Fails to sustain the block throughout the play.


SIMON CARROLL: Of all the day three interior linemen in this class, I think that Onwenu has the most upside. He has the size and strength needed for the NFL, and acceptable athleticism considering his measurements. If he can improve his hands and learn to be disciplined throughout the entirety of each play then he’s going to be a huge steal for someone. Best suited to a West Coast Offense where the ball comes out quick.”



Credit: Fred Kfoury III (Getty Images)

Sometimes it’s nice to be right. One of the steals of the draft, Onwenu has proven to be a perfect fit in Josh McDaniels’ varied offense. The Patriots are renowned for shaping their gameplan around the personnel they have available, so it was no surprise to see them roll out the jumbo package early and often this season to take advantage of their super-sized rookie.

A big man with positional versatility, Onwenu was used early as an extra lineman and also at right tackle. He even lined up as a full back and a tight end on occasion – and perhaps made as much of an impression there as fellow rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.

He impressed, and in week 3 became a starter at left guard. Onwenu’s ability to block for Cam Newton has been a valued addition to this line as he allowed just one hurry against The Raiders. He went a lot later in the draft than I ever would have imagined, and it still makes me shake my head now. The Patriots’ recent drafting record has been middling at best, but in Onwenu they have unearthed a gem.

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Simon Carroll


previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.