Several rookie defenders had a huge week 2. Others were not so great.
This is a new installment in the Rookie Watch series. We will be looking at how several defensive rookies faired on a week to week basis. The idea being that you can follow the progression of these rookies and pick them up for your IDP teams before they blow-up.
Week 2 Rookie Fallout
Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker played 100% of the defensive snaps against the Washington Redskins. Leonard had an absolutely monster game with 18 total tackles, 15 solo tackles, one sack, one pass defended, and one forced fumble. The man was all over the field. This was the follow up to a nine-tackle debut in week 1. Leonard was arguably the top defender in the NFL in week 2. If he is still available in your leagues, he will not be for long after this performance.
— Andrew Aziz (@AndrewAzizSB) September 17, 2018
Leonard’s teammate, linebacker Skai Moore, did not have a good week. After playing in 47% of the Colts week 1 defensive snaps, Moore only played in six total defensive snaps in week 2. Meanwhile, Colts starting middle linebacker Anthony Walker played in 38 defensive snaps.
This regression does not give IDP players a sense of confidence in Moore. Moore does have the abilities to be a starting middle linebacker in the league, as is discussed in an earlier edition of the Rookie Watch. However, he should not be rostered except in deeper IDP leagues. Observe from afar and jump if there is a Walker injury or a progression in snap count.
Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker Kenny Young stepped into the spotlight after linebacker CJ Mosley was lost to a bone bruise against the Cincinnati Bengals. In Mosley’s absence, Young produced eight tackles, five solo tackles, one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit.
In his first NFL game, young had four solo tackles and a sack. Young will have his chance to shine, stepping into a starting inside linebacker role. He should be picked up in all IDP leagues. Find more on Young and his potential here.
After playing just four snaps in the Atlanta Falcons loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Falcons rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun took on a more prominent role in the Falcons win against the Panthers. The Falcons lost starting middle linebacker Deion Jones to a foot injury suffered during the loss to the Eagles.
In Jones’ absence, Duke Riley slid into the middle linebacker and Oluokun took more snaps at weakside linebacker. In those snaps, Oluokun tallied four tackles, two solo. Oluokun also took snaps from Riley on the last drive of the game, likely due to a bad missed tackle my Riley. Watch Oluokun closely. Riley lost his starting weakside linebacker job last season due to missed tackles. If this happens again, Oluokun could be in line for a starting role while Jones is on IR.
Los Angeles Chargers rookie safety Derwin James stuffed the stat sheet against the Buffalo Bills. James led the Chargers with eight total tackles, seven solo, two tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass defended. James now has two sacks and three passes defended on the season. He showed why he can be on of the best young safeties in the league. He is likely not available in most IDP leagues, but if he is available, GET HIM NOW!
Another 3 & out for the #Bills offense. Josh Allen sacked again. #Chargers Derwin James virtually untouched on this 2nd down play. Incomplete pass on 3rd & long ends drive after the sack: pic.twitter.com/M1qYYSLK4x
— Nick Wojton (@Nick_Wojton) September 16, 2018
While James’ rookie linebacker teammate Kyzir White did not have near the tackle day with only four, he did demonstrate one of his best attributes entering the NFL, his pass coverage. Read more about White’s strengths in Rookie Watch: Can Rookie Linebacker Kyzir White Shore-up The Chargers Run Defense?
White intercepted the first pass of his career and defended three passes to go along with it. White also led the Chargers linebackers in snap count, certifying his starting role as the weakside linebacker. He should be on rosters in all IDP leagues.
Buffalo Bills rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds had another good game in week 2. Edmunds finished tied for the BIlls lead with seven total tackles for the second straight game. The Bills have an ugly offense, so Edmunds should have plenty of opportunities to rack up stats. He is another rookie that should not be available in IDP leagues and should be snatched up if he is.
Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander had a great day against the Minnesota Vikings. He finished the day with eight tackles, seven solo, and 0.5 sacks. Alexander also had an interception negated due to a questionable roughing the passer call. Alexander is only of interest in leagues where the defensive backs are separated into safeties and cornerbacks.
IF you are in a league with these settings, watch him. Alexander and his fellow rookie Josh Jackson could be thrown at a lot with Aaron Rodgers as the Packers quarterback and opposing teams playing catchup.
2018 fourth overall pick and Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward has had a great start to his career. He has six tackles in back to pack games. Ward also has two interceptions and three passes defended. The rookie has a lot to learn, however. Michael Thomas beat Ward for two touchdowns.
Like Alexander and Jackson, Ward will likely see more targets until he proves himself. And again, he should only be on rosters in leagues that separate the defensive backs.
Though it may not show in the box score, Saints rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport had an impact against the Browns. Davenport only had three total tackles but was disruptive to the Browns running game. Davenport is still working his way back after losing time in the offseason due to thumb surgery. He should continue to garner more and more snaps. Continue to watch him and pounce when he is on the verge of exploding.
Miami Dolphins rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had a great game in week 2 against the New York Jets. Though the stats are not mind-blowing, with only three total tackles, Fitzpatrick played great in pass coverage. Fitzpatrick’s stats on the season are not the best, but if he continues to play well and be all over the field, he will continue to get playing time and more chances to rack up those stats. Fitzpatrick is another guy to pick up in deep leagues and watch closely as he starts to make more plays on the ball.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is gonna be a STAR pic.twitter.com/G1K2HaW0ch
— James👨🏾💻 (@ScriptsByJames) September 9, 2018
Despite the Denver Broncos struggles against tight ends and Josey Jewell’s strengths in pass coverage, the rookie linebacker has not played much in 2018. Jewell played 20% of the Broncos defensive snaps against the Oakland Raiders, accruing two tackles. He did bite hard on some play-action fakes, which allowed pass catchers to get open in the middle of the field, but he did a good job in pursuit of the ball. Jewell should be integrated more into the defense as the season wears on, especially if the Broncos continue to struggle to cover tight ends. Keep careful observation of Jewell.
The Oakland Raiders have struggled to produce a pass rush in the first two games of the season. Rookie defensive end Arden Key has been one of the bright spots along the Raiders defensive line. Find out more about Key here. Key had two hits on the quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos. Ultimately, Key accounted for two tackles, one tackle for loss.
Key has been tasked with helping to fill the hole left by Khalil Mack. He demonstrated his pass rushing abilities in 2016 with LSU. Key has demonstrated that ability at times during the offseason and training camp but has yet to do so in the regular season. Watch from afar.
Denver Broncos rookie outside linebacker Bradley Chubb has been relatively quiet to start his career. He has produced back-to-back games with three tackles. One can argue that his presence helped free up Von Miller for a three-sack day in week 1 and another sack against the Raiders. Many consider Chubb to be the best edge rusher in the 2018 class.
I expect him to continue to progress and put some sacks on the board sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Chubb is an outside linebacker which is not nearly as valuable as inside linebackers. but If he becomes a Von Miller type, he will be valuable. Stash Chubb and hope he progresses.
Oakland Raiders rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst had one tackle against the Denver Broncos. That one tackle was a big one as it was the only sack the Raiders had on Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Week 2 was Hurst’s first start of his career due to a P.J. Hall ankle injury.
If Hall continues to sit with injury, Hurst will have more opportunity to produce. Hurst was thought to be one of the better pass rushers in the draft, but a heart condition dropped him down draft boards. Stash Hurst in IDP leagues that split defensive lineman into defensive ends and defensive tackles.
After posting zero tackles against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie safety Terrell Edmunds posted four tackles against the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, Edmunds had some bad moments, with Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt blowing through Edmunds for a touchdown. The Steelers defense has been awful. Against the Chiefs, they gave up four passing touchdowns. Edmunds is a sit and watch until further notice.
San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Fred Warner has been one of the best defensive players in the NFL in the first two weeks. Warner has a combined 22 total tackles in two games. He has also been good in coverage. Once thought to be a backup to weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith when Reuben Foster is on the field, Warner has likely played himself into the starting lineup. Despite Foster’s return in week 3, Warner should be on rosters in all IDP leagues.
— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) September 16, 2018
Leighton Vander Esch
Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had a good week 2 after a bad debut. Vander Esch was given the start at the strongside linebacker against the New York Giants. He started over Damien Wilson, who struggled against the Carolina Panthers in week 1. Against the Giants, Vander Esch posted seven tackles. His snap count also jumped from 17 in week 1 to 28 in week 2. You can expect Vander Esch to continue to produce if he continues to start. Stash Vander Esch in all IDP leagues.
Chicago Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith only played eight snaps in week 1 against the Packers. This was due to his holdout over his rookie contract. Smith was impactful in those snaps with three tackles and one sack. Smith was given his first NFL start in week 2 and he delivered. Following his week 1 performance, Smith was able to produce seven tackles, all solo, as well as a pass defended. Smith is one of the premier linebackers of this class and should already be owned in all IDP leagues. Expect bigger and better numbers as the season progresses.
The Seattle Seahawks inspirational rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin has had a rough start to his career. He is shifting positions after all. After playing mostly as an edge rusher in college, Griffin is being asked to shift to an off-ball linebacker role. Griffin started in his first ever game as a pro, replacing an injured KJ Wright at weakside linebacker. He struggled. Griffin took bad angles, overpursued, was out-leveraged, and just overall did not play well.
Due to his struggles, the Seahawks signed admitted inside trader Mychal Kendricks to start on Monday night. Thus far in his young career, Griffen has four total tackles in two games. He is athletic and talented enough to do well in the NFL, just not right now. Griffin is a rookie, after all, struggles are expected. Though he should not be rostered right now, keep an eye on Griffin to see if he makes the adjustments necessary to excel.
Tennessee Titans rookie linebacker Rashaan Evans missed week 1 due to injury. He did not play a defensive snap in week 2. The Titans will likely ease Evans and will play him behind Will Compton. Watch Evans with interest to see if he overtakes Compton.
Like Evans, Titans rookie outside linebacker Harold Landry made his debut in week 2. Landry had two hits on the quarterback while putting up zero tackles. Landry will continue to have a bigger and bigger impact on the Titans pass rush as the season progresses. Watch and wait.
Some of the rookies listed above have already demonstrated the ability to be a star in the NFL. Some have struggled. Keep an eye out with the IDP Guys on these rookies throughout the season. This article series should help give you an edge in picking up these rookie defenders before they are ready to break out.