The kids definitely came out to play in week 1.
On Thursday night, we all got treated to a whale of a game from Kansas City Chiefs freshman running back Kareem Hunt. He was the catalyst in the Chiefs’ big comeback in a 42-27 triumph over defending champion New England.
He had 148 yards rushing and 98 yards receiving, along with three touchdowns as Kansas City came back from a 27-21 third-quarter deficit.
That kind of play would definitely put him up there among all-time great rookie performances in first games.
It certainly merits mention alongside two great running backs of recent memory who did the unthinkable in their debuts. Then Dallas Cowboys back DeMarco Murray rushed for 253 yards against St. Louis on Oct. 23, 2011. Or Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin recording 244 yards rushing in his first game, which also included TD runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards against Oakland on Nov. 4, 2012.
Hunt should be good fun to watch this year, as will 11 other potential early candidates for Rookie of the Year.
13. WR Kenny Golladay – Detroit Lions
Golden Tate may have had more receiving yards, but rookie and understudy Kenny Golladay stole the show for the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The first year receiver out of Northern Illinois (third round, 96th overall), caught four passes (on seven targets) for 69 yards and two touchdowns as Detroit whipped Arizona 35-23. His most impressive effort was a leaping grab of a 45-yard bomb from QB Matt Stafford for his second touchdown of the game, which gave the Lions a comfortable fourth-quarter lead. Before being drafted this year, Golladay played two superb seasons for MAC conference Northern Illinois Huskies. A transfer from North Dakota, Golladay amassed 2,285 yards and 18 TDs in two seasons (26 games). After the big game, Golladay focused on his mental errors — a good sign he is mature — and sought out his idol Larry Fitzgerald to offer words of wisdom (also a good thing).
12. LB Haason Reddick – Arizona Cardinals
It may have been a dismal day for the Cardinals and QB Carson Palmer, but one rookie on the team made the most of a golden opportunity. With veteran Deone Bucannon out for Sunday’s contest with an ankle injury (and maybe two more, according to reports), rookie linebacker Haason Reddick stepped into the breach against the Lions. The Temple product registered eight tackles in the game (second most on the team), six of them solo. A walk-on at Temple in his freshman season, Reddick blossomed into a great four-year man for the Owls. In 2016, he recorded 65 tackles in 14 games, along with 9.5 sacks and an interception. Invited to the NFL Scouting combine as a defensive end, he so impressed the Cardinals with his athleticism that they made him the 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft.
11. RB Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
As a top pick (fourth overall, 2017) running back Leonard Fournette has a lot to live up to with the Jaguars this season. Slotted ahead of veterans T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory in the Jaguars’ offensive backfield, he did just that in Jacksonville’s 29-7 dismantling of Houston on Sunday. The former LSU superstar became the first Jags’ runner to run for 100 yards in their debut, doing exactly that on 26 carries and scoring a touchdown. He completed his outstanding first day with three receptions for 24 yards. His one-yard TD run in the second quarter would turn out to be all the scoring the Jaguars would need to beat the Texans, as it opened up a 12-0 lead. Some in the football media were skeptical of Fournette being chosen so high in the 2017 draft (4th overall) due to the fact he missed nearly half his last season with ankle injuries. However, he was All-American in 2015 (1,953 yards rushing, 22 TDs) and so far he is making believers out of Jags’ staff and fans.
10. QB DeShone Kizer – Cleveland Browns
It’s a rarity lately, but the Cleveland Browns actually got something right in the draft. Now, the Cleveland Browns did lose their first game to division rival Pittsburgh, 21-18, but there was a silver lining to that cloud. Instead of naming Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan starter, the Browns did the sensible thing and insert rookie Kizer, who did his level best to be better than average Sunday. The Notre Dame product, selected 52nd overall in 2017, was 20-of-30 for 222 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. He also scampered for 17 yards and another score as the Browns kept it close against a superior Steelers team. Kizer was pretty much true to form, then, as he was a dual threat in two seasons with the Fighting Irish. He had 5,589 yards passing, including 45 TD strikes, as well as 1,029 yards rushing and 17 TDs in 25 games.
9. WR Cooper Kupp – Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made short work of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, whipping them 46-9. Along for, and enjoying the ride was rookie wideout Cooper Kupp, who had four catches for a team high 76 yards and the only receiving touchdown of the day from QB Jared Goff. We think that he was drafted in the third round, 69th overall, only because he played for Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference, and not in the Pac-12. He was a monster with the Eagles in four seasons there, setting NCAA FCS records for career receiving touchdowns (73) and receptions (428) as well as all-division leader in career receiving yards (6,464). That yardage was over 1,700 more than the previous record holder, Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice (maybe you’ve heard of him?). With numbers like that and in what looks like a dynamic offensive scheme (three wide receivers), a guy like Kupp could very well shine.
8. RB Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
Earlier this September, we tabbed Christian McCaffrey as our pick for early Rookie of the Year honors. After his rather good start to the season in a 23-3 win over San Francisco, we may just be right later on. The former Stanford star was solid in his debut, rushing for 47 yards on 13 carries in relief of starter Jonathan Stewart, along with catching five passes for 38 more yards. A touchdown would have been nice, but his dual threat numbers confirm why the Cats picked him eighth overall in the 2017 draft. In three years with the Cardinal, McCaffrey ran for 3,921 yards and 21 touchdowns, as well as catching 99 passes for 1,206 more yards and 10 TDs. McCaffrey may also be a solid punt and kick returner, as he piled up 34 punt and 56 kickoff returns in college, for a total of 1,859 yards and two touchdowns.
7. RB Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
In one of the surprises of the first week, the Vikings cruised past the New Orleans Saints 29-19. Even though he didn’t score a touchdown, rookie running back Dalvin Cook was instrumental in several scoring drives, carrying the ball 22 times for 127 yards in his debut. If he keeps it up, people will soon forget about the guy he replaced — and his opponent last night — Adrian Peterson. The former Viking, for the record, had a career low six touches for just 18 yards. Cook, who finished as Florida State’s leading rusher all-time and was drafted 41st overall, reeled off a 33-yard run and also caught three passes for 10 yards. And on another note, Cook broke Peterson’s record for rushing yards in a debut of 103. Outstanding.
6. QB Deshaun Watson – Houston Texans
Talk about pressure. Watson, who won a national championship with Clemson and was picked 12th overall by Houston, had to step into the proverbial Lion’s Den as the Texans starter on Sunday after starter Tom Savage got the hook. With bad memories of Brock Osweiler still lingering at NRG Stadium, the young pivot wasn’t outstanding in his inaugural game, but neither was he brutal in a 29-7 loss. And, he has been named starter for the 0-1 Texans start against Cincinnati Thursday. Watson completed 12 of 23 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown (one INT) in one-sided sack-fest. Jaguars defenders recorded 10 sacks, six against Savage, and also put 10 hits on Houston’s quarterbacks. So, the offensive line definitely needs to tighten up in front of the rookie, who, if all goes to plan will be the starter for the foreseeable future.
5. RB Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears
Score one for the pint-sized. Tiny Tarik Cohen, who was not on many people’s radar playing at North Carolina A&T of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, had one heck of a first game against Atlanta on Sunday. At 5’6″ and 181 lbs., he is not exactly elfin, but the fourth round pick (119th overall) juked and jived for 113 all-purpose yards as the Bears fell just short of upsetting the reigning NFC champions (23-17 final). Cohen, the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher, cracked off five runs for 66 yards (team high too), including a 46-yard scamper and caught a team high eight passes for 47 yards and a 19-yard touchdown. On a Bears team that must be creative in order to score this season, Cohen’s presence in the offensive backfield will be a boon.
4. LB Jarrad Davis – Detroit Lions
The Lions are a team on the rise and along for the ride in week 1 was first-year man and 21st overall pick Jarrad Davis, who became the first middle linebacker to start as a rookie for Detroit since Chris Spielman way back in 1988. Davis, who actually led the Lions out of the tunnel in their home debut, recorded a team-high nine tackles in Detroit’s 35-23 victory over Arizona. Davis, one of just three Lions defenders who didn’t take a down off, also recovered a fumble forced by sophomore defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. All in all, it was a great day of firsts for the Lions, as WR Kenny Golladay also impressed the Detroit faithful. He and Davis bear watching for the balance of the season.
3. CB Shaquill Griffin – Seattle Seahawks
On a veteran defence that includes LB Bobby Wagner, CB Richard Sherman and SS Kam Chancellor, among others, it was no mean feat for rookie CB Shaquill Griffin to stand out in Seattle’s disappointing 17-9 loss to Green Bay Sunday. Griffin, who was picked 90th overall out of the University of Central Florida, registered a team high 10 tackles (all solo) and a pass defence. In the process, he also earned high praise from veteran free safety Earl Thomas, who said Griffin “balled out” and that he “doesn’t play like a rookie.” Griffin replaced sixth-year man Jeremy Lane, who was ejected early in the contest with the Packers for throwing a punch. Thus, it remains to be seen how much Griffin will play going forward but if he does, Seahawks fans can expect much from the freshman.
2. LB T.J. Watt – Pittsburgh Steelers
His famous brother J.J. may be a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but T.J. Watt did something in one game — and his first, no less — that his big brother never has. T.J. had two sacks and an interception in Pittsburgh’s 21-18 victory over Cleveland Sunday, a feat never achieved by J.J. in 89 career games to date. T.J. was drafted 30th overall after a standout career with Wisconsin and has taken over right outside linebacker duties in front of long-time Steeler James Harrison. Watt’s interception in Sunday’s game was pivotal. With Pittsburgh leading 21-10 late in the third quarter and the Browns driving, Watt dropped into coverage in the right flat and picked off fellow rookie DeShone Kizer. That play also came after a contrite Watt had taken an unnecessary roughness penalty. “It was a dumb penalty, and I wanted to make it up somehow,” Watt said after the game. And how.
1. Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
There was no bigger stage for a rookie in week 1 than the one Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt was on last Thursday. The 86th overall pick out of Toledo was with his new team in Foxboro against the defending champs in a game few, if any, gave the Chiefs a chance to win. But win they did, with Hunt making mincemeat out of the Patriots vaunted defence on the way to the best week 1 debut by a rookie ever. Hunt rolled up 246 total yards on 148 yards rushing and 98 yards receiving. He also scored three touchdowns as the Chiefs came back to shock New England 42-27. Of his five receptions, one was a perfect 78-yard strike from Alex Smith that took the last bit of wind out of the Patriots sails. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do for an encore at home against Philadelphia this Sunday.