Whether from a coach, general manager or player, you’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s not where you get drafted or how you got here, it’s what you do with the opportunity.” The statement is true and every year we see guys out-perform the expectations of where they are drafted.
First-round draft picks usually come with an expectation to earn starting jobs right away and produce. Day 2 prospects initially provide depth and are groomed for first-team duties in time. Don’t tell that to these five players who were drafted on Day 2 but are rewarding their respective teams with first round production already in their rookie seasons.
DB Justin Reid, Houston Texans (Round 3, No. 68 overall)
Can’t say I’m surprised by this one. My No.22 overall prospect in last year’s class, Reid carried a first-round grade from me and he’s playing like it. Now the Texans’ starting free safety, Reid has been a standout tackler and becoming reliable in a variety of coverage techniques.
In 8 games (4 starts), Reid has 39 tackles, 5 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. Since becoming a starter, Reid’s ball production has picked up and Houston is riding a 5-game winning streak after dropping its first 3 games of the season.
Because of the trade up for QB Deshaun Watson, Houston was without an actual first-round pick in 2018 but Reid represented that type of value in the third-round and is producing like he deserved to be a much higher selection.
RB Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Round 2, No. 43 overall)
After a legendary QB retires, some teams spend years searching for their successor but that’s not usually the case at running back. But leave it to the Lions to take 20 years to find an exciting option to replace Barry Sanders at running back. With Johnson in the fray, the search can end!
Johnson has ignited the Detroit offense and became the Lions first 100-yard rusher since 2013 in the Lions’ win over New England. Despite not becoming the starter until Week 6, Johnson is already 10th in the entire NFL in rushing yards while averaging a ridiculous 6.4 yards per attempt on 69 carries. He’s now caught 15 passes on the season and offers a multifaceted weapon for Detroit. His blend of size, burst, power and vision makes him a dynamic option.
In Detroit’s 3 wins this season, Johnson averages 16 carries for 110 yards. In the Lion’s 3 losses, Johnson averages 7 carries for 38 yards.
LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts (Round 2, No. 36 overall)
Many questioned Indy drafting a LB from South Carolina so high in the Draft but nobody is thinking twice about it now. An early standout, Leonard’s 79 tackles leads the NFL and he’s racking up splash plays with 4 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Leonard seems to get better every week, playing faster and with more confidence. Inheriting a roster in shambles, Leonard is emerging as one of the pillars and building blocks on the defense for GM Chris Ballard moving forward.
OG Will Hernandez, New York Giants (Round 2, No. 34 overall)
The Giants offensive line has suffered its share of struggles but Hernandez was been more than a bright spot. While he had his challenges (like any rookie offensive lineman) against Carolina and Atlanta, Hernandez has lived up to his billing as a plug-and-play blocker and looks like he will be a fixture for years to come.
A balanced blocker, Hernandez has illustrated dominant moments in both the run game and pass protection. He’s also not be flagged for a single penalty in 7 starts.
It’s rare to see offensive lineman step in right away and be as productive as Hernandez has and it’s exciting to consider the direction he is headed considering his acclimation from Conference USA.
DB Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals (Round 2, No. 54 overall)
Starting every game this season and performing at a high level, Bates has quickly made Bengals fans forget about longtime starter Georgia Illoka who was released during the preseason.
Among the best rookies in the NFL so far this season, Bates is quietly starring for Cincinnati in a traditional free safety role.
Bates’ range, processing skills, awareness and ball skills have popped as a rookie and he’s tackled extremely well given it was noted as a weakness of his coming out of college. Bates is playing under control, showcasing excellent spatial awareness and reacting swiftly and properly to what his keys tell him.
With so many exciting young safeties in the league, don’t forget about Bates who is playing like a first-round talent already for the Bengals.