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 player’s career.
I updated the progress of Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Terrell Edmunds and now Minkah Fitzpatrick in a midseason review of the 2018 rookies.
Here are how the Pittsburgh Steelers first three picks of the 2018 draft (and their first of the 2020 season) stack up statistically in their second season against their contemporaries. All the statistics were extracted from the Pro Football Reference so there may be some slight variances with other sources.
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. Not too exciting. This year he went on a rollercoaster ride. 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. He played five games that included the debacle in Cleveland. Rudolph threw four interceptions in that game. Mike Tomlin benched him after an early interception in the very next game. There he sat until the penultimate game of the season against the New York Jets. Mason relieved Devlin “Duck” Hodges and threw a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, a defender landed on him injuring his shoulder which required surgery. We’re comparing Mason Rudolph against the five quarterbacks picked ahead of him … all first-round picks. Right now, he is near the back of the pack.
Baker Mayfield (1st/1st overall) Baker Mayfield took a step back from his impressive rookie season. Preseason pundits picked the Cleveland Browns to be a playoff team. Mayfield did lead the sophomore quarterbacks in completions, passing yards, passing yards per game, and yards gained per pass completion. But, his 59.4% completion rate was on the low end. He threw 22 touchdown passes but also threw 21 interceptions. He had the second lowest percentage of on-target throws at 70.6% according to Pro Football Reference. Opposing defenses sacked him 40 times which did not help. He will have a new coach next season, his third in three seasons.
Sam Darnold (1st/3rd overall) Sam Darnold started 13 games for the Jets missing three with a foot injury in 2018. This season, he missed three games due to mononucleosis. Following the loss to then winless Miami Dolphins, Darnold claimed that, “The last couple weeks I’ve actually been seeing the field really well.” His improved vision translated into a better performance as the 1-7 Jets went 6-2 in the second half of the season. He led the Jets to three game winning drives in 2019. Darnold’s 75.2% of on-target throws per pass attempt was second among this group. Jets fans must be optimistic due the strong finish. Can Darnold pick-up in 2020 where he left off in 2019?
Josh Allen (1st/7th overall) Josh Allen helped get the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs. He led the NFL with five game-winning drives and four fourth quarter come backs wins. On the other hand, he fumbled the ball 14 times. His accuracy is questionable. He completed just 58.8% of his pass attempts. Only Josh Rosen exceeded his 20.3% bad throws per pass attempt among this group. Allen ran for 510 yards and added nine rushing touchdowns to his 20 TD passes. He also ran for 48 first downs. Josh played well enough so that he was one of two quarterbacks in this group to lead his team into the playoffs.
Josh Rosen (1st/10th overall) The Arizona Cardinals traded Rosen to the Dolphins before this season. His season was brutal and sat on the bench after week six. He started three of five games played this season (other than a brief appearance in week ten when he handed the ball off three times in one series late in the game). He managed an exceptionally low 52.0 quarterback rating. Easily the worst of the group, he threw just one touchdown and five interceptions in 109 pass attempts. His last significant appearance was week six in the 16-17 loss to the Washington Redskins when the Dolphins replaced him with Ryan Fitzpatrick who Miami started for the remainder of the season. Miami may keep him another season if they cannot trade him, but will he be a starter or a back-up?
Lamar Jackson (1st/32nd overall) Not only is Lamar Jackson the best quarterback of this draft class, he is the best in the NFL. Jackson is the quarterback on the AP first team All-Pro team and earned the AFC offensive player of the week five times this season. He led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and had the third best passer rating at 113.3. Many questioned his passing ability. He led this second-year group in percentage of on-target throws per pass attempt with 76.0% according to advance passing statistics. Lamar also had the least percentage of poor throws per pass attempt at 17.5%. He ran for 1206 yards, which was sixth best in the league, tacking on seven more rushing touchdowns. He leads the Baltimore Ravens who are the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.
Lamar Jackson overshadows the rest of this quarterback group. Josh Allen gets the nod as a distant second in the class. He played well enough to get his team into the playoffs including a head to head match-up with the Steelers. Sam Darnold is just behind. He did lead the Jets to a strong finish. Baker Mayfield along with the Browns talented roster have potential to be right up at the top but right now he’s an underperformer. Mason Rudolph played an essentially rookie season and it showed. Right now, he has shown enough to be a back-up but certainly not a franchise quarterback. Josh Rosen is the caboose. Next season should establish the pattern for their careers.
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) James Washington’s numbers lagged his contemporaries in 2018. Washington dramatically improved his receptions, receiving yardage and receiving yards per game in 2019. He has also stretched his yards per reception from 13.6 to 16.7 which is second among his peers and eighth in the NFL. There is room for improvement such as his low catch percentage at 55%. Also, he dropped five passes compared to just two last year. In year two, Washington has caught up with his contemporaries. If he continues to progress, we should be happy. One aspect the Steelers love is his channeling Hines Ward’s downfield blocking.
DJ Moore (1st/24th overall) Last season, D.J. Moore caught 55-of-82 targets for 788 yards and 2 TD’s for the Carolina Panthers. This season he caught 87-of-135 targets and four touchdowns. He gained over 100 receiving yards in four games which helped him lead the sophomore receivers with 1175 receiving yards in 2019. Moore increased his production from 49.3 receiving yards per game in 2018 to 78.3 in this year. In the league, DJ ranked ninth in receiving yards and seventh in receiving yards per game. Exceptionally good for a second-year receiver.
Calvin Ridley (1st/26th overall) Atlanta Falcons placed Calvin Ridley on injured reserve following his abdominal injury in week 14. He was on his way to a strong second season before missing the final three games. Ridley gained 866 yards on 63 receptions. An area he improved was drops. In 2018 he dropped ten passes which was 10.9% of the passes targeting him. This season, he dropped just three balls for a 3.9% drop rate. This led to Moore leading this group catching 67.7% of passes thrown to him.
Courtland Sutton (2nd/40th overall) In 2018, Courtland 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. This year, Denver was comfortable enough with their receiver depth to trade Emmanuel Sanders away. Sutton improved his catches per target from 50% to 58.1%. His yards per catch has dropped to 15.4. But he increased his receiving yards per game from 44.0 to 69.5 per game. That ranked him third among the sophomore receivers. He also gained over 1000 receiving yards. No sophomore slump for Sutton. He is now the Broncos number one receiver.
Dante Pettis (2nd/44th overall) Dante Pettis has fallen “completely out of favor” in San Francisco. Last year, Pettis injured his knee on a punt return in week four resulting in three missed games and 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 appeared in 11 San Francisco 49ers games. However, his 11 receptions and 109 receiving yards is at the bottom of this group. Pettis played just nine offensive snaps in weeks 11 and 12. He did not appear in a game afterwards. His injured knee from 2018 may still be lingering. However, coach Kyle Shanahan questioned his effort during training camp. Stay tuned.
Christian Kirk (2nd/47th overall) Christian Kirk missed three more games in 2019 due to an ankle injury early in the season. However, he was able to return and started 13 of the Arizona Cardinal’s games. Kirk matched the three touchdowns from last year, but they were all scored in the same game this year. He caught six passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort to Tampa Bay. His receiving yards per reception did dip from 13.7 in 2018 to 10.4 this year.
Anthony Miller (2nd/51st overall) The Chicago Bears increased Anthony Miller’s snaps and targets in the second half of the 2019 season. However, he only scored two touchdowns compared to seven last year. Miller caught more passes but his 41 receiving yards per game was among the lowest of this group.
DJ Chark (2nd/61st overall) D.J. 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, Gardner Minshew and Nick Foles threw to him. After injuring his quadriceps and missing five games last year, he played in 14 games this season. His eight receiving touchdowns leads this group and tied for ninth in the NFL. He gained over 1000 receiving yards. He improved his catching percentage from his rookie year by going from catching 43.8% of his targets to 61.9% in 2019.
Michael Gallup (3rd/81st overall) The Dallas Cowboys did not use Michael Gallup too much early last season. This season he doubled his receptions and receiving yardage going over 1000 for the year. So far this season, his 79.1 receiving yards per game led this group of receivers and was sixth in the NFL. His 58.4% catch per target rate is substantial improvement from last year’s 48.5%. He did drop 11 passes leading to a high 9.7% of dropped passes per target. Gallup’s six touchdown receptions is good production.
Wide Receiver Summary
Overall this is a strong group of receivers. Four gained over 1000 receiving yards. Five averaged over sixty receiving yards per game. DJ Moore led the group with 87 receptions for 1175 yards. Chark scored eight touchdowns while Gallup topped the group with 16.8 yards per reception and 79.1 receiving yards per game. Ridley caught 67.7% of passes thrown to him. Sutton gained over 1000 receiving yards. James Washington is progressing and has climbed from rock bottom to match-up favorably to Dante Pettis and Anthony Miller.
Defensive stats for the 2019 regular season:
|Jessie Bates III||16||1061||99||3||9||1||1||0||100||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 played 96% of the defensive snaps. He made 105 tackles tops in this group and second on the Steelers again. But his completion percentage ballooned from 59.5% to 72.5%. Quarterbacks enjoyed a huge 139.1 passer rating when throwing to receivers he covered. Edmunds missed 11 tackles but had the lowest missed tackle percentage at 9.5%.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st/11th overall) The Steelers gambled and traded a first-round draft pick for him just after the regular season started. That bet is paying off. As a Steeler, that includes his 96-yard pick-six and another touchdown from fumble recovery. He defensed nine passes and forced a fumble. He has a 50% completion per target rate since coming to Pittsburgh. Tops in the group. Quarterbacks managed just a 43.1 passer rating when throwing balls in his direction. By the end of the season, quarterbacks avoided his coverage area. The Associated Press selected Minkah to the first team of their 2019 All-Pro team.
Derwin James (1st/17th overall) Derwin 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. James returned and played the last five games of the season. James allowed 85.7% completed passes targeting receivers he was defending. Quarterbacks who targeted him achieved a 103.3 passer rating.
Jessie Bates III (2nd/54th overall) Jessie Bates led the rookies with 111 total tackles last year. He also intercepted three passes including a pick-six. Bates started all 16 Cincinnati Bengals games last season. This year, he played 99% of their defensive snaps. His 100 total tackles were second only to Edmunds among this group. 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 62.5%. Quarterbacks who targeted him achieved a 100.1 passer rating
Justin Reid (3rd/68th overall) Justin Reid had Houston Texans fans smiling in 2018. He intercepted three passes and defended nine plus added a 101-yard interception return for a TD. In 2019 Reid intercepted two and defensed five passes. Reid allowed 62.5% completed passes targeting a receiver he was defending. Quarterbacks who targeted him achieved a 98.8 passer rating
Ronnie Harrison (3rd/93rd overall) Ronnie Harrison started eight of 14 games but often rotated out in 2018. This year, Harrison started all 14 games he played in. He defended nine passes to go with his two interceptions. Harrison 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 55.3% this season. Significantly, he only allowed quarterbacks who targeted him a 68.8 passer rating. The lowest among the group.
Derwin James, who headed this class last year with Minkah Fitzpatrick, missed 11 games. Fitzpatrick is at the top all by himself and now wears the Black & Gold! Jessie Bates who the Bengals picked in the second round is very solid as is Justin Reid. Ronnie Harrison came on strong including sacking quarterbacks two times. He was stingiest on completion percentage and passer ratings for balls thrown to receivers he covered. Edmunds weakness in coverage showed especially in the passer rating statistic. I hope he can return to his rookie year levels in this respect. 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. Unfortunately, Edmunds had difficulty in coverage. I look forward to seeing how Minkah and Terrell look after working together in a full training camp in 2020. James Washington has progressed but needs to increase the percentage of targets he catches. Mason Rudolph received an opportunity to show us his talent with mixed results. Right now, I see him as more of a back-up ala Landry Jones than the future franchise quarterback. I hope that Ben Roethlisberger comes back with his arm in fine throwing condition in 2020.
We should have an idea of the progress of all four of these sophomores by the end of next season. Here we go!
Your Music Selection
I always like to include some music. I know that some of the Steelers draft picks break fan’s hearts. But who is to blame? Here is Ain’t That a Shame by Fats Domino.