2018 Top 3 Rookie Draft Picks
Last year, I compared the statistics of the Steelers top three draft picks with their contemporaries selected by other teams in the 2018 NFL draft. Of course, it may take several seasons to determine the true trajectory of any draft pick’s career.
Here are how the Pittsburgh Steelers first three picks of the 2018 draft stack up statistically against their contemporaries after Week 9. I will update this again at the end of the season. Let me know if there are other players drafted in 2018 you want tracked against these Steelers sophomores in the comments section.
Passing stats for the 2019 regular season:
|Name||G||GS||Snaps||Snap %||Cmp||Att||Cmp %||YDs||TDs||INTs||Sack||Y/C||Y/G||Rating|
stats via Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each listed quarterback for the 2019 season:
Mason Rudolph (3rd/76th overall): The Steelers placed Rudolph on the inactive roster for all 16 games last year. This year, he overtook Joshua Dobbs as the back-up in training camp. He relieved an injured Ben Roethlisberger in week 2 and became the starter due to Ben’s injured elbow. The Baltimore Ravens concussed him, and he missed one game since then. He is being measured against the five quarterbacks picked ahead of him … all first-round picks. Midway through the season, he has the best completion percentage, the least interceptions & least sacks. His 10 TD passes is second as is his quarterback rating. In Pittsburgh, the question is whether he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback or just a placeholder.
Baker Mayfield (1st/1st overall): Last year, Mayfield nearly led the Cleveland Browns on a game winning drive to beat Baltimore in the final game of the season. His impressive 93.7 quarterback rating led all the rookies and included 4 game winning drives and 3 come from behind victories in the fourth quarter. In 2018, he led this group with 27 TD passes. Now, he leads the group in completions, total passing yards, passing yards per game, yards per completion, but also interceptions with 12 and sacks with 23. There were big expectations for the Browns especially with the acquisition of Odell Beckham to complement an already talented set of receivers. So far, that has not translated into wins as the Browns stand at 2-6 and in danger of another losing season if they don’t turn it around quickly. That starts with their franchise quarterback.
Sam Darnold (1st/3rd overall): Darnold started 13 games for the New York Jets missing 3 with a foot injury in 2018. This season, he missed 3 games due to mononucleosis. Currently, he is on pace to exceed the 15 interceptions he threw last year. Following the loss to then winless Miami Dolphins, Darnold claims that, “The last couple weeks I’ve actually been seeing the field really well.” Let’s see if his improved vision translates into a better performance in the second half of the season for both Darnold and the 1-7 Jets.
Josh Allen (1st/7th overall): Josh started 11 of 12 games played for the Buffalo Bills, including starting the final 6 games with a 3-3 record last year. In addition to passing he ran the ball 89 times for 631 yards & 8 rushing TD’s in 2018. In 2019, he is on pace to run even more but currently his yards per attempt has dropped from 7.1 to 4.0 per rushing attempt. He is on pace to match his rushing TD’s plus has already matched his passing TD’s with 10 this season. He is also completing more of his passes. In 2018 he had a 52.8% completion rate and right now he is at 60.9%. He has matched his TD pass production from last year and his interceptions per passing attempt percentage has dropped from 3.8% to 2.9%. His progress is part of the reason the Bills stand at 6-2 at the midway point this season.
Josh Rosen (1st/10th overall): In 2018, Rosen became the Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback after his debut in week 3. Opponents sacked Rosen 45 times which was the seventh most in the NFL last year. The Cardinals traded him to the Miami Dolphins before this season. He has started 3 of 5 games played this season and has managed an exceptionally low 52.0 quarterback rating. Easily the worst of the group. His last appearance was week 6 in the 16-17 loss to the Washington Redskins when the Dolphins replaced him with Ryan Fitzpatrick who the Miami have opted to start since then. Rosen threw two interceptions and was sacked 5 times in that game. Rosen’s future is uncertain. Miami may keep him another season due to his contract, but will he be a starter or a back-up?
Lamar Jackson (1st/32nd overall): Lamar Jackson appeared in all 16 Baltimore Ravens games in 2018. He started their last 7 games finishing 6-1. In his 7 games as a starter he completed 92 of 158 passes for 1,114 yards, 5 TD’s & 3 interceptions. In those some games he ran the ball 119 times for 556 yards and 4 TD’s. He did fumble 10 times in those 7 games. This season, Jackson has started all 8 games. The Ravens are 6-2 with signature wins against the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. He’s completed 153 of 238 passes for 1,813 yards, 12 TD’s & 5 interceptions. His 95.4 quarterback rating leads this group. On the ground, he has added 637 rushing yards & scored 5 TDs. His yards per attempt has increased from 4.7 to 6.4 yards per run. So much for NFL defenses adjusting to him. Lamar Jackson is not only Baltimore’s franchise quarterback, he is a legitimate contender to be league MVP if he maintains this pace.
Mason Rudolph joins four of the five quarterbacks picked in the first round as their team’s regular starter. Miami has benched Josh Rosen. Lamar Jackson has supplanted Baker Mayfield at the head of the class. Which way is Sam Darnold’s arrow pointed? We shall see. Josh Allen continues solid work through the air and on the ground.
Receiving stats for the 2019 regular season:
stats via Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each listed wide receiver for the 2019 season:
James Washington (2nd/60th overall): Washington’s numbers clearly lagged behind his contemporaries in 2018. Now he is on pace to nearly double his receptions, receiving yardage and receiving yards per game. He has also stretched his yards per reception from 13.6 to 16.4 which is tops among his peers. Two concerns are that he has the lowest catch percentage at 45.2% and has not scored yet. Washington has caught up with two of his contemporaries both who were drafted ahead of him. One aspect the Steelers love is his channeling Hines Ward’s downfield blocking.
DJ Moore (1st/24th overall): Last season, Moore caught 55-of-82 targets for 788 yards and 2 TD’s for the Carolina Panthers. His long reception was 82 yards. Not a bad start for the top drafted wide receiver in 2018. This year he should easily exceed his reception and receiving yardage from his rookie season. He has increased his receiving yardage per game from 49.3 to 70.5 yards per game. He just needs to score a bit more often. He had 7 receptions for 101 yards his last game against the Tennessee Titans. That made up for his season low 38 receiving yards in the prior game.
Calvin Ridley (1st/26nd overall): Ridley’s 10 touchdown receptions ranked sixth in the NFL in 2018. He is picking up where he left off for the Atlanta Falcons last year. He is on pace to match his receptions and yardage from his rookie season. He has four touchdown receptions and a respectable 64.7% receptions per target rate.
Courtland Sutton (2nd/40th overall): In 2018, Sutton was a long ball threat that averaged 16.8 yards a catch. He only caught half of his 82 targets but settled in as the number two Denver Broncos receiver following the trade of Demaryius Thomas. Sutton has improved his catches per target from 50% to 65.7%. His yards per catch has dropped to 15.7. But he tied for the lead in receiving yards per game with 76.9. He also leads this group with 692 receiving yards which is 10th in the NFL among all receivers. He also has four TDs so far. No sophomore slump for Sutton. He is now the Denver Broncos number 1 receiver.
Dante Pettis (2nd/44th overall): Last year, Pettis injured his knee on a punt return in week 4 resulting in three missed games and then the season finale. He finished the season strong with 20 catches for 359 yards and 4 TD’s in his last 5 games. This year, he has appeared in all 8 San Francisco 49ers games. However, his 11 receptions & 109 receiving yards is at the bottom of this group.
Christian Kirk (2nd/47th overall): Unfortunately, an injured foot cut Kirk’s rookie season short. He finished with 43 receptions and 3 TD’s in 12 games played. He also returned 21 punts averaging 7.8 yards a return. In 6 games played this season, Kirk has 34 catches but his yards per reception dropped from 13.7 in 2018 to 9.7 right now.
Anthony Miller (2nd/51st overall): The Chicago Bears only targeted Miller 3 to 5 times a game but he scored 7 TD’s on his 33 receptions in 2018. That’s a TD every 4.71 catches! So far this year defenses shut out Miller from the end zone. In six games he only got 1-3 targets per game. He did have one start with 9 targets and another game with 7 but his 16 receptions just put him on pace to match last season’s output. With no TD’s it is doubtful if he will match the 7, he scored last year.
DJ Chark (2nd/61st overall): Chark only had 33 targets in 11 games played for the Jacksonville Jaguars with quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler throwing him balls in 2018. This year, its Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen throwing to him. After injuring his quadriceps and missing five games last year, he has appeared in all 9 games this season. The change in quarterbacks’ suits Chark. His six receiving TD’s are tied for second in the NFL. He also leads this group of second year receivers in receiving yardage and tied for first in receiving yards per game. The 692 receiving yards has him 10th in the NFL among all receivers.
Michael Gallup (3rd/81st overall): The Dallas Cowboys did not use Gallup too much early last season. He did have 6 of his 33 receptions in the last two games including the game winning TD against the New York Giants. In the playoffs, Gallup caught 8 passes for 137 yards and a TD in two games played. So far this season, his 75.7 receiving yards per game is third among this group of receivers. His 63.0% catch per target rate is substantial improvement from last year’s 48.5%.
Wide Receiver Summary
James Washington is progressing and has climbed from rock bottom to match-up favorably to Dante Pettis and Anthony Miller. Washington is stretching the field and has the best yards per catch average. He does need to improve his catch percentage. DJ Chark is at the top with his 6 TDs, 692 receiving yards & 76.9 receiving yards per game. Courtland Sutton is not far behind matching his yardage and has 4 TD’s. Calvin Ridley and then Michael Gallup round out the top of this class.
Defensive stats for the 2019 regular season:
|Jessie Bates III||8||544||99||0||2||0||0||0||63||0/0|
stats via Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each listed safety for the 2019 season:
Terrell Edmunds (1st/28th overall): Edmunds started 15 of 16 games played & was up and down in coverage in 2018. His 78 total tackles ranked second on the team. He made some impact plays but was not dominant. This season he is on the field for 98% of the defensive snaps. He is on pace to have over 100 tackles. But his completion percentage ballooned from 59.5% to 77.3%. Edmunds may be being overshadowed by flashier teammates such as the next safety on this list. If he starts defending more passes, all should be fine.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st/11th overall): Fitzpatrick showed versatility by playing safety and cornerback. He defended 9 passes with 2 interceptions as a Miami Dolphin last season. The Steelers gambled and traded a first round draft pick for him. That bet is paying off. As a Steeler, he has 4 interceptions that includes his 96 yard pick-6. He has defensed 6 passes. He has a 56.3% completion per target rate since coming to Pittsburgh. He could develop into the best Steelers safety since … Troy Polamalu.
Derwin James (1st/17th overall): James made 111 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 pass breakups and 3 interceptions last season. His performance was good enough to make the first team All-Pro team his rookie season. Unfortunately, he did not get out of the starter’s block this season. The Los Angeles Chargers placed him on injured reserve after suffering a stress fracture to his right foot. He is out of a walking boot and eligible to return to the active roster. He is just not ready yet.
Jessie Bates III (2nd/54th overall): Bates led the rookies with 111 total tackles last year. He also made three interceptions including a pick 6. Bates started all 16 Cincinnati Bengals games last season. So far, he has played 99% of their defensive snaps. He leads this group with 63 total tackles. He is a wrecking ball. He knocked Los Angeles Rams WR Brandin Cooks out with a helmet to helmet hit. His completion percentage per target is 65%.
Justin Reid (3rd/68th overall): Reid had Houston Texans fans smiling in 2018. He had three interceptions and credited with 9 passes defensed plus a 101-yard interception return for a TD. In 2019 Reid has one interception and two passes defensed. His completion percentage on targets is currently 67.7%.
Ronnie Harrison (3rd/93rd overall): Harrison started eight of 14 games but often rotated out in 2018. He missed the last two games after injuring his knee. Now Harrison can hardly get a breather. He has played in 94% of the Jaguars defensive snaps. His 66 interception return yards is eighth in the NFL. He had defensed 5 passes to go with his 2 interceptions. He recovered a fumble and is the only safety of this group with a sack (2). He has also reduced his completion percentage on targets from 77.8% in 2018 to 54.5% this season.
Derwin James, who headed this class last year with Minkah Fitzpatrick, is on injured reserve. Fitzpatrick is at the top all by himself and now wears the Black & Gold! Jessie Bates who the Bengals picked in the 2nd round is very solid as is Justin Reid. They have better catch percentage than Edmunds right now. Difficulty remains in direct comparisons as teams may use their safeties differently which impacts expectations.
The top three Steelers 2018 draft picks compare more favorably to their contemporaries than a year ago. Plus, Pittsburgh now has Minkah Fitzpatrick for the Steelers 2020 first round pick. The Steelers paired Terrell Edmunds with Fitzpatrick; it will be nice to see how they complement each other as they play together more. James Washington has progressed but needs to improve the percentage of targets he catches. Mason Rudolph is now a regular starter. Will he have the goods to be Big Ben’s replacement? I feel better about these picks than at the same point last year. Here we go!
Your Music Selection
I always like to include some music. Here are two songs written and performed by Hank Williams who died way too young in the backseat of a car on his way to a gig. First is Hey Good Lookin’ . The second is Jambalaya on the Bayou.