Isn’t it the best when you are right? There are many good feelings on this green earth, but very little compare to being correct. It doesn’t matter what it is about. It could be the littlest argument or prediction, but as long as you are right, you are on top of the world. Which is why I enjoy evaluating college (football) talent so much. It feels awesome when you pound the table for a player and they end up being successful in the NFL. Especially when the majority overlooks that player, and you were the only one in his corner. With all of this being said, I decided to talk about some rookies that have proven my evaluations right (so far) with their preseason performances.
- Rashaad Penny RB, Seattle Seahawks.
Rashaad Penny, was my 7th ranked running back in the 2018 class. I had a late day 2 grade him, meaning I thought he would be a decent starter in the NFL. The reason I wasn’t as high on him as others is because I thought his physical traits were average. His vision was excellent, but his burst, contact balance, and his ability to elude tacklers were just adequate . Pass protection was his most apparent weakness, so I questioned if he could ever become an every down back.
The Seahawks clearly thought differently because they selected him with the 27th overall pick. He was also the 2nd running back on their board, because every Running Back besides Saquon Barkley was available at 27 (#CouldntBeMyRbRankings). I was very critical of this pick because my evaluation did not match to where he was selected. They also passed up on a lot of Running Backs that I liked a lot more. Lastly, the pick didn’t address a need. They lost a number of their veteran players on defense and their offensive line is terrible. So Penny would have to be extremely productive from the get go to make this selection worth it. I was very interested to see how they would incorporate him into the offense.
Penny was okay in his first preseason game. He didn’t do anything that really impressed me. He also didn’t do anything to discourage me either. With the exception of his problems in pass protection. Russell Wilson almost got destroyed because he whiffed on a block. However, I didn’t include him on this list because he proved me right about his issues with blocking. He made the list because he is not starting. Former 7th round pick Chris Carson, and journeyman Mike Davis got carriers before he did. I thought this was pretty strange, but didn’t think much of it because it’s just the preseason. Until I read reports of Pete Carroll endorsing Chris Carson as the lead back.
Carson has received the majority of the first team reps throughout training camp, and now Penny is supposed to miss the rest of the preseason recovering from finger surgery. I don’t see how he ends up starting week 1, because (from all reports) Carson has been the better back. It doesn’t sound good when your first round pick can’t out right win the job. Especially when running backs usually have the easiest time transitioning from college to the NFL. From how things are unfolding, it seems like I have been right (so far). I thought Penny was be a fine Back. I just didn’t see a star, and the Seahawks drafted him to be a star. I will never root against a player to underperform in order to prove my evaluation right. That doesn’t mean I will shy away from taking credit if I am right.
- Maurice Hurst DT, Raiders.
I knew Mo Hurst was going to be a stud at the next level! I was leading his hype train! Every media scout and NFL scout is stupid and I am a genius! Okay, I am not that conceded, but I did have first round grade on Mo. However, most “draft guys” did, so his awesome preseason performances probably don’t make me look as smart as you might of thought. In all seriousness, Mo has been extremely impressive. Everyone knew he was one of the best players in the class, but he fell because of a heart condition.Which I thought was B.S. because the doctors cleared him to play. Anyway, Mo has put on quite a show in his NFL debut.
His stats won’t jump out at you because he didn’t play much. When he was in the game, he was extremely disruptive. I kept seeing number 73 penetrate through the line of scrimmage. His explosive get off, violent hands, and bull like power captured my attention immediately. 3 down defensive tackles come at a premium, especially in today’s pass heavy NFL. So to get arguably the most disruptive interior pass rusher in the class with the 140th pick is insane. Call me bold, but I have already seen enough to proclaim Mo as the Raider’s best interior defender (they don’t really have anyone else). He should be a day one starter, and a darn good one too.
- John Kelly RB, Los Angeles Ram.
There is another Running Back on the Rams not named Todd Gurley? And he is actually good? Yes folks TG3 might have himself a partner in crime depending if the Rams decide to unleash him. I bought round trip tickets for the John Kelly hype train before the draft. I didn’t have a round one grade on him or anything, but I loved his tape. His ball carrier vision was exceptional, and he just had that natural ability to elude tacklers in open space. My biggest and only concern with him was his size. I mean I am all for supporting the smaller underdogs in sports, but not many 5’9, 205 pound Running Backs make it in the NFL.
Even with his size concerns he had some of the best contact balance in the class. I hate player comparisons, but I couldn’t stop seeing Dion Lewis while watching him. Like Lewis, he ran a lot bigger than his stature would indicate. I was curious to see if he would have that same balance in the NFL. To no surprise the increase in competition hasn’t changed Kelly at all. He brought that same gracefully violent running style to the pros. From his first preseason play, I was enamored. I saw the vision, elusiveness, and balance that he displayed in college.
His stats back me up as well. In his first game, he had 13 carriers for 77 yards and while breaking off a spectacular 40 yard run. The next game he had 56 yards and a touchdown. I don’t know what his future will be in LA because they do have arguably the best Running Back in the league in Todd Gurley. Regardless, Kelly should still have a roll on this team. Sure, he may never be “the feature Back”, but could definitely thrive in Dion Lewis/Jame White type of roll.
- Duke Ejiofor Edge Rusher, Houston Texans
The NFL should just hire me now. Another late rounder that I had a day 2 grade on has been showing out in the preseason? I mean we could start making the argument that I would be the greatest general manager ever. (Sigh) Like Mo Hurst, I would be lying if I told you I was the only person that was on Duke’s bandwagon. A lot of “draft people” liked him just as much as I did. However, he fell in the draft because of a shoulder injury. Duke was a guy who I thought was extremely polished in terms of his technique.
His hands were elite. Always working them at the top of the (pass rush) arc, hand swiping opponents, and keeping his chest clean. He played with good pad level, a high motor, and always had a plan of attack. I questioned his explosiveness, and his flexibility. Which are probably the two traits I value most in edge rushers because either you have those (god given) tools or you don’t. From what I saw on tape, his bend (flexibility) wasn’t terrible by any means, but wasn’t great either. As for his athletic concerns, I thought the combine would be huge for Duke. Unfortunately he couldn’t participate at the combine because of that shoulder injury. Which made me feel even worse about my grade.
Even with all of the off season drama, I stuck with my original grade because I had faith in Duke. So far, he has proven me right. I watched the Chiefs vs.Texans game to analyze Patrick Mahomes, and Duke stole the show. He had a phenomenal performance, where he left Mitch Schwartz (one of the better right tackles in the league) in the dust on three different occasions. He was breathing down Mahomes’s neck play after play. The Chiefs didn’t have an answer for him.
Now he didn’t look as impressive against the 49ers. Which was surprising because he went up against another rookie in Mike McGlinchey (who is also having a stellar preseason). However, he still made some plays. I need to see him get stouter against the run, if he will ever be a full time starter on this loaded Texans’ defense. He can sill contribute right away as a situational pass rusher. Pairing him up with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney on 3rd and long downs could be an absolute nightmare for the rest of the NFL.
Honorable Mentions: Genard Avery, Josh Sweat, Isaac Yiadom, Dallas Goedert, Derrick Nnadi, and James Daniels.
- Vandenberg, Todd. “Yes, Chris Carson Can Win the Seahawks Running Back Competition.” 12th Man Rising, FanSided, 30 July 2018, 12thmanrising.com/2018/07/30/chris-carson-can-win-seahawks-running-back-competition/.
- “NFL Draft Tracker – Picks.” NFL.com, National Football League, http://www.nfl.com/draft/tracker/picks.