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 third season against their contemporaries. All the statistics were extracted from the Pro Football Reference so there may be variances with other sources.
Passing stats for the 2019 regular season:
stats via Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each listed quarterback for the 2019 season:
Mason Rudolph (3rd/76th overall): Rudolph did not play until his second season. In 2019, he went on a rollercoaster ride. He relieved an injured Ben Roethlisberger in week 2 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. In 2020, he had one start in five games played. He’s earned a role as a back-up but has not proven to be a starting caliber quarterback. His on target throw rate is 72.0%. We’re comparing Mason Rudolph against the five quarterbacks picked ahead of him … all first-round picks.
Baker Mayfield (1st/1st overall): Baker Mayfield suffered a sophomore slump from his impressive rookie season. In 2020, Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994. The Browns lost to the Kansas City Chiefs the following week, but the close score has Cleveland fans feeling optimistic. Mayfield leads this quarterback group in completions, passing yards, touchdowns, passing yards per game, and yards gained per pass completion over the past three seasons. but also threw 43 interceptions which also leads this group. His 21 interceptions in 2019 was second most in the NFL. However, in 2020 he only threw eight interceptions. His 72.6% of on-target throws only exceeds Rudolph and Josh Rosen according to Pro Football Reference. The Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) named him the 2018 All-Rookie team.
Sam Darnold (1st/3rd overall): Sam Darnold started 13 games for the Jets missing three with a foot injury in 2018. In 2019, he missed 3 games due to mononucleosis. Darnold missed four games in 2020 due to shoulder soreness then reaggravating the injury. He leads the group with 98 sacks. The Jets must figure out a way to protect him otherwise their number three overall pick may not last long in the league. Darnold’s 73.7% of on-target throws per pass attempt was second among this group. What do you do if you are New York Jets management? Keep him or seek a trade him before his value starts to bottom out?
Josh Allen (1st/7th overall): Josh Allen helped get the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. He led the NFL with five game-winning drives and four fourth quarter come backs wins in 2019. In 2020, he’s a pro bowler and the AP placed him on their second team All-Pro team. Josh Allen is second in completions, passing yards and passing yards per game. His 67 passing touchdowns is third. He’s added 1562 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Allen’s 76.5% of on-target throws per pass attempt leads this group. Overall, Buffalo mafia is happy with their franchise quarterback.
Josh Rosen (1st/10th overall): The Arizona Cardinals traded Rosen to the Dolphins after starting 13 of 14 games played in his rookie season. In 2019, his season was brutal and sat on the bench after week six. He started three of six games played. In 2020, The Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa and waived Rosen in September after failing to find a trade partner. Tampa Bay signed Rosen to their practice squad, but the 49ers signed him to their roster late in the season, but he played no games in 2020. In two seasons he’s managed an exceptionally low 63.5 quarterback rating and is at the bottom of this group completing just 54.8% of his passes. Easily the worst of the group, Rosen’s 67.6% of on-target throws per pass attempt is last in this group.
Lamar Jackson (1st/32nd overall): Lamar Jackson has contributed to the Ravens past three playoff appearances. In 2019, the AP named Jackson to their first team All-Pro team and he earned the AFC offensive player of the week five times that 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 leads this group with a 64.0% completion rate and a 102.6 quarterback rating over three seasons. He’s third in the group in percentage of on-target throws per pass attempt at 73.2%. He also had the least percentage of poor throws per pass attempt at 18.1%. In three seasons, he’s ran for 2906 yards, tacking on 19 rushing touchdowns to his 68 touchdown passes.
ADVANCE PASSING COMPARISON
I’ve mentioned the “on-target throw” metric while comparing the quarterbacks. Here is a chart with select advance passing accuracy statistics. Pro Football Reference began tracking On-target throws in 2019 and includes passes that would have hit the receiver (catchable) per pass attempt but excludes spikes and throwaways. The other stats include all three years 2018-19. I’ve included a stat line for Ben Roethlisberger for comparison to these youngsters over the past three seasons:
After three seasons, three quarterbacks emerge at the top as contributors to their team’s success. Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson all played in this year’s playoffs. Jackson for the third year in a row. The Browns, Bills and Ravens pinned their success to these quarterbacks, and it is paying off. Sam Darnold is a starter on a talentless team that is under new management. Josh Rosen did not even play in 2020. Mason Rudolph had one season to prove himself a starter and came up short. So far, he is no more than a back-up and the first round “grade” that some pundits placed on him proven unmerited. While it is impossible to predict the future, Rudolph will wither on the vine unless a dramatic change in circumstances occur.
Receiving stats for the 2019 regular season:
|Name||G||Snaps D/ST||Tgts||RECs||Yds||Y/C||Y/G||Catch %||TDs|
stats via Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each listed wide receiver for the 2019 season:
James Washington (2nd60th overall): Six of eight receivers in this group drafted ahead of James Washington. Still, he lags all but one of his contemporaries in receptions, receiving yards, receiving yards per game, and touchdowns. His 51.7% catch rate on 174 targets is dead last. He’s dropped 11 passes in three seasons for a 6.3% drop rate. The average depth of passes targeted him has dropped from 16.8 yards his rookie season to 12.3 yards in 2020. In 2020, he ranked sixth on the team in receptions and fifth on receiving yards.
DJ Moore (1st/24th overall): The Carolina Panthers picked Moore ahead of the rest the receivers in this group. In three seasons, he has the most targets and second most receptions. He’s tops in receiving yards and averages 68.6 yards receiving per game which is second. He’s dropped 14 passes in three seasons for a 3.9% drop rate. The average depth of passes targeted him increased from 9.0 yards his rookie season to 13.1 yards in 2020. The PFWA named him to their 2018 all-rookie team. In 2020, his 18.1 yards per receptions was third highest in the NFL. He led the Panthers in receiving yards and was third in receptions.
Calvin Ridley (1st/26th overall): The Atlanta Falcons selected Ridley two picks after Moore. He leads this group in receptions, receiving yards per game, catch percentage and blows the group away with 26 touchdowns. That’s double the scores of the next closest receivers in the group. He’s dropped 19 passes in three seasons for a 5.8% drop rate. The average depth of passes targeted him increased from 10.2 yards his rookie season to 14.3 yards in 2020. The PFWA named him to their 2018 all-rookie team. He placed in the top ten in the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2018 and 2020. His 91.6 receiving yards per game was fourth in the NFL in 2020 and the AP placed him on their second team all-pro team. He ranks first in receptions and receiving yards among his teammates this season.
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. In 2019, Denver was comfortable enough with their receiver depth to trade Emmanuel Sanders away. Sutton improved his catches per target from 50% to 58.1%. and made the 2019 Pro Bowl. Sutton worked himself in position to be the Broncos number one receiver. He’s dropped 13 passes for a 6.1% drop rate and leads the group with 16.1 yards per reception. Unfortunately, he tore an ACL playing against the Steelers and lost for the season after playing in just one game in 2020.
Dante Pettis (2nd/44th overall): Pettis injured his knee on a punt return in week four resulting in three missed games and the season finale during his rookie season. He finished the season strong with 20 catches for 359 yards and 4 TD’s in his last 5 games. In 2019, 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. He started out with the 49ers in 2020 but Kyle Shanahan questioned his effort during training camp. He appeared in five games before the 49ers waived him. The New York Giants picked him up and he played two games late in the season.
Christian Kirk (2nd/47th overall): The Cardinals picked Kirk as the fifth receiver in the 2018 draft. He broke his foot and the Cardinals placed him on injured reserve in week 13 of his rookie season. 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. He played 14 games in 2020. He has capable hands. He is second in the group with 62.4% catch rate. He’s dropped 10 passes in three seasons for a 3.9% drop rate among the lowest in the group. He made the PFWA all-rookie team as a punt returner. But averages just 6.7 yards on his 50 punt returns over three seasons. His average depth of target increased from 9.6 yards his rookie season to 11.8 yards this year. He ranks fourth in receptions but second in receiving yards among his teammates this season.
Anthony Miller (2nd/51st overall): Miller played all but one game over the past three seasons. He has scored two touchdowns in each of the past two seasons after scoring seven his rookie year. His 11 drops give him a 5.1% drop rate while his average depth of target dropped from 11.7 in his rookie year to 9.7 yards this year. His 11.1 yards per catch average is the lowest in the group. He ranks fifth in receptions but third in receiving yards among his teammates this season. Officials ejected him from the Bears wildcard game versus the New Orleans Saints for hitting a Saints defensive back.
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. In 2019, Gardner Minshew and Nick Foles threw to him. In 2020 Minshew plus Mike Glennon and Jake Luton passed to him. Chark shined in 2019 gaining over 1000 receiving yards with eight touchdowns that led to a Pro Bowl berth. His average depth of target has grown steadily from 9.8 his rookie year to 14.0 yards in 2020. In three seasons, Chark dropped eight passes for a low 3.3% drop rate. This year he ranked third in receptions and tops in receiving yards among his teammates. 13 touchdowns places Chark in a tie for second among this group of receivers.
Michael Gallup (3rd/81st overall): The Dallas Cowboys did not use Michael Gallup too much in his rookie year. In 2019 he doubled his receptions and receiving yardage going over 1000 for the year. His 79.1 receiving yards per game led this group of receivers and was sixth in the NFL in 2019. His 55.2% catch per target rate is substantial improvement from 48.5% his rookie year. He’s dropped 22 passes for a 7.7% drop rate. While he is not topping any statistic among this group, he compares favorably as a third rounder especially the 13 touchdowns scored that tied for second in the group. This year he ranked fourth in receptions and third in receiving yards among his teammates.
Wide Receiver Summary
Calvin Ridley is tops in this group. His 26 touchdowns eclipse the rest of the field. DJ Chark and Courtland Sutton were Pro Bowlers in 2019. However, Sutton hurt early this season. James Washington ranks near the bottom based on his production. He’s ahead of Dante Pettis who has just 42 receptions in three seasons. Washington may be on par with Anthony Miller. He will have a challenging time gaining ground since he is no more than a number three receiver while the others are higher on their respective depth charts.
Defensive stats for the 2019 regular season:
|Jessie Bates III||48||3223/105||9||31||2/1||320||11.8||143||86||60.1|
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 and 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. In 2019 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 131.6 passer rating when throwing to receivers he covered. Edmunds missed 11 tackles but had the lowest missed tackle percentage at 9.5%. This past season, his 68 tackles was third on the team. His coverage improved with quarterbacks limited to 70.8 passer rating when targeting receivers Edmunds covered. Over three seasons he leads the group in missed tackles with an 8.1% rate with 22 misses.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st/11th overall): The Steelers gambled and traded a first-round draft pick for Fitzpatrick just after the 2019 season started. He is a two-time first team All-Pro and Pro Bowler as a Steeler. In his three seasons Fitzpatrick scored four defensive touchdowns including three wearing the Black and Gold. He leads this group with 11 interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. His 56.7% completion per target is the lowest in the group. In 2020 quarterbacks managed just a 65.7 passer rating when throwing balls in his direction lowest among this group. He led the Steelers defense with 79 total tackles in 2020.
Derwin James (1st/17th overall): Derwin James made 111 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 pass breakups and 3 interceptions his rookie season. That performance resulted in the AP selecting him first team All-Pro team, Pro Bowl slot and PFWA All-Rookie honors his rookie season. Unfortunately, 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 2019 season. He missed the 2020 season due to a meniscus tear. Hopefully, he recovers from his knee and foot injuries and gets his career back on track.
Jessie Bates III (2nd/54th overall): Jessie Bates led the group with 111 total tackles his rookie season. He also intercepted three passes including a pick-six. The PFWA placed him on their 2018 All-Rookie team. Bates started all 16 Cincinnati Bengals games in each of his three NFL seasons. Bates leads the group with 31 passes defensed and 320 tackles. His nine interceptions and 60.1% completion per target is second best in the group. In 2020, quarterbacks who targeted him achieved a 70.7 passer rating that is second lowest among the group.
Justin Reid (3rd/68th overall): In 2018, Justin Reid 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. He played his sophomore year with a torn labrum which was repaired in the off season. Over three seasons, Reid allowed 65.4% completed passes targeting a receiver he was defending. He leads the group with nine tackles for a loss and six quarterback hits. In 2020, quarterbacks who targeted him achieved a 110.2 passer rating which was highest in this group. He played in three playoff games in 2018 and 2019. The Texans placed Reid on injured reserve due to a hand injury forcing him to miss the last three games.
Ronnie Harrison (3rd/93rd overall): Ronnie Harrison started eight of 14 games but often rotated out in 2018. In 2019, Harrison started all 14 games he played in. He defended nine passes to go with his two interceptions. He recovered a fumble and recorded two sacks. 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 in 2019. The Jaguars traded Harrison to the Cleveland browns for a fifth-round draft choice at the start of the 2020 season. He scored his first touchdown with a pick-six against the Colts. The Browns placed him on injured reserve after a shoulder injury on December 1. But he returned to play against the Steelers in their season finale and both the Browns playoff games.
This is a talented group though injuries stymie a few. Derwin James missed 11 games in 2019 and all of 2020 after an All-Pro rookie season. Justin Reid and Ronnie Harrison missed multiple games late this season. Minkah Fitzpatrick is at the top of this group wears the Black and Gold with Terrell Edmunds who is improving. Jessie Bates who the Bengals picked in the second round is very solid as is Justin Reid. Ronnie Harrison is now on a Browns team with a strong defense.
REST OF DRAFT CLASS
The Steelers drafted four other players in rounds three to seven in 2018. The Steelers drafted Chuks Okorafor in the third round. He played 13 games his rookie year starting his first game at right tackle after injuries to Marcus Gilbert and Matt Feiler. He had two other starts as a tackle-eligible receiver. In 2019, he started one game due to an injury to Ramon Foster. This year he stepped in when Zach Banner hurt his knee and started 15 games at right tackle. He will be competing to hold his starting position in 2021.
Fifth round pick Marcus Allen played just 18 defensive and 19 special team snaps in his first two seasons. This year, he played 206 defensive and 196 special team snaps. The Steelers worked him into the defense as a hybrid linebacker after Devin Bush placed on injured reserve. He totaled 30 tackles, but his five misses resulted in a 14.3% missed tackle rate. Allen gained a footing in his third year.
Jaylen Samuels, another fifth rounder, played 711 offensive and 394 special team snaps. The Steelers used him as a third down back and he’s rushed for 459 yards and caught 82 of 100 passing targets. However, he played the least amount of offensive of snaps in 2020 with just 121. Samuels career trajectory moving in the wrong direction.
Seventh round pick Joshua Frazier never made the Steelers roster. The Detroit Lions added the defensive tackle to their practice squad in December 2018 but released him less than a month later. He played briefly for the short-lived Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football league. Frazier was out of football in 2020.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to include some music. Regardless of the circumstances, rookies must keep their confidence either on the field or their post career endeavors. Here is Hold Your Head Up by Argent.