3 Rookies That Have Exceeded My Year 1 Expectations

Photo: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

2018 has been a great year for rookies in the NFL. Five were named to the Pro Bowl with Colts LB Darius Leonard and Broncos EDGE Bradley Chubb as notable snubs. It's impressive and exciting to see so many rookies providing immediate production for their respective teams.

With that said, some of those Year 1 contributions have exceeded what I expected entering the season. Let's examine three rookies who are impressing much earlier than I anticipated.

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (Round 1, Pick No. 7)

What I thought he would be in Year 1

Below is my summary of Allen from the scouting report I wrote on him entering the league. Allen was my 90th ranked player in last year's class and received a third-round grade. My process for evaluating prospects is done by examining critical traits that typically define NFL success and scoring them. For Allen, it was easy to identify his rare physical ability but his inconsistent mechanics and accuracy issues as a result of them, poor decision making and a lack of growth at Wyoming made it logical to believe it would take time for Allen to blossom into a starter. Here's that summary:

Allen is among the most physically gifted passers to enter the NFL. Has rare arm talent but lacks consistency in several of the critical areas needed to be a successful NFL starter. While his ceiling is extremely high, considerable development is needed for him to take the reins of an NFL offense. In year one, Allen should be the understudy of his predecessor, and function as a developmental quarterback. By year three, Allen has the talent needed to take him as far as he can develop. If it all comes together, he can be special. With that said, his college tape is marred by erratic ball placement and poor decisions. There was little to no growth over his two seasons as a starter.

What he Proved in Year 1

Allen's first five starts of the season revealed all of my deepest fears about what could limit him as an NFL quarterback. Allen would then miss four games due to an elbow injury and it may have been the best thing that could have happened to his development. In fact, I wrote about seven reasons why Allen could be poised for a late season breakout before his return from injury.

While Allen is still developing, the way he has performed in the four games since returning from injury has been highly encouraging. There has still been plenty of variance in his results as a passer, but the growth is obvious. He's reading coverage more effectively, making better decisions and delivering more consistently accurate passes. His evolution as a dynamic runner - not on designed QB runs but on scrambles - has made him a difficult QB to defend. Plagued by drops and a poor supporting cast that truly limits Allen's production, his results could be even better if he had more help.

In considering my evaluation of Allen, being more mindful of his intangibles is something I should have valued more. Allen was not recruited by any FBS or FCS team out of high school and spent 2014 playing for a junior college. Near the end of the 2014 season, Allen wrote a letter to EVERY FBS head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator looking for an opportunity. From those efforts, Allen received two offers - Wyoming and Eastern Washington.

Going from not being recruited, to developing his frame and athletic ability, to an FBS offer and then to a top-10 draft pick and quickly emerging as the undisputed leader of Buffalo's offense speaks to the intangibles and work ethic Allen brings to the table. He embraces a growth mindset and it's obvious given what he has achieved over the last five years of his life.

I had my doubts, and Allen still has plenty of work to do, but there is no question he's already exceeded what I expected from him at this point in his career. Buffalo should be very comfortable with where its young quarterback is and what he can do as he grows and the infrastructure around him improves.

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos (UDFA)

What I thought he would be in Year 1

So the thing about this question is that I didn't evaluate him. Up until my opportunity with TDN, I was a one man show trying to study an entire nations worth of prospects. While I have evaluated at least 300 prospects per year, the volume of work doesn't make it possible to study every prospect. When considering which prospects to evaluate in hopes of covering as many possible that are drafted by the NFL, Lindsay was easy to overlook.

A 5-foot-7 and 184 pound running back that despite being Colorado's career leader in all-purposed yards, was not one of the 32 running backs invited to the NFL Scouting Combine is pretty good reason to not spend time on his evaluation. Silly me. The fact that Lindsay was UNDRAFTED further speaks to how unlikely Lindsay's immediate success would be.

With TDN having a dedicated an employee for each conference, I don't foresee players like this slipping through the cracks given the familiarity we will have with every team and conference.

What he proved in Year 1

Everyone wrong.

While I can always use the excuse that I didn't evaluate him before the draft, the NFL did and let him go undrafted. Now Lindsay is the first undrafted offensive rookie to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Lindsay is fifth in the NFL in rushing and is just nine yards from surpassing the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie. He has illustrated dynamic burst that combined with exceptional decision making, has led to him being one of the NFL's most dynamic offensive weapons. Lindsay is primed to be the focal point of  Denver's backfield for years to come. What a steal.

Braden Smith, OT, Indianapolis Colts (Round 2, Pick No. 37)

What I thought he would be in Year 1

I liked Smith as a prospect. He was my No. 80 overall prospect and graded as a third-round value.

A three-year starter for Auburn, Smith spent time at both guard and tackle with mixed results playing outside. I believed that playing full-time at guard in the NFL would mask some of his deficiencies and lead to more success. There have also been several Auburn offensive lineman in recent years that have struggled to acclimate to the NFL so there was some caution with my projection of Smith. Here's the summary from my scouting report on Smith that I wrote before the draft:

Smith has the body of an offensive tackle but his best fit comes at guard where his ability to uncoil his hips and uproot defensive lineman is accentuated. Additionally, his propensity to get his weight too far forward and inconsistencies with his footwork are mitigated blocking on the interior. Schematically, Smith is interchangeable between gap-power and zone blocking. Despite an abundance of starting experience in the SEC, Smith has several technical deficiencies to improve upon so his year one projection is that of a reserve. With continued development, Smith has the upside to be a reliable starter by year three.

What he proved in Year 1

Smith has proved that he's a perfectly fine starting NFL right tackle. Smith took over as the the Colts' starter at right tackle in Week 5 and he has the makings of a fixture there for years to come.

Smith has illustrated proficiency as both a run blocker and pass blocker as part of an Indianapolis offensive line that has developed into one of the best in the league. Between Smith and fellow rookie Quenton Nelson plus a healthy Ryan Kelly, the Colts offensive line is suddenly a strength of the roster. That trio represents three strong building blocks to anchor the unit for a long time. The Colts can now turn its attention to adding to the receiving corps and solidifying the defense.

Written By:

Joe Marino

Director of Administration

Director of Administration & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.

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