I love tracking NFL rookies and I believe it’s an important piece of prospect evaluation. Learning about which players are making an immediate impact gives us clues about who from the rising draft class is primed to do the same.
In my never-ending review of rookie performers, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of offensive linemen and wide receivers selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft are emerging as key pieces for their respective teams. This week’s 6-Pack details those players.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open.
Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos
A Day One starter for the Broncos, Risner claimed the right guard job and has been outstanding. Yet to allow a sack so far through nine games, the pass blocking skills he showcased as a college right tackle have shown up blocking on the interior in the NFL. While the other starters along Denver’s offensive line has been shaky, Risner has been a standout in pass protection. His run blocking hasn’t quite reached the levels we saw at Kansas State but he has every trait to be successful in that area as well. Risner may be a 24-year-old rookie, but he’s executing like a veteran and looks like a long-term fixture up front for Denver.
Elgton Jenkins, Green Bay Packers
The depth of Green Bay’s offensive line has been stressed in recent years, and injury was the reason Jenkins initially earned a starting gig for the Packers. Replacing an injured Lane Taylor, Jenkins became the starter at left guard and is performing like someone who won’t be relinquishing that job for a long time. Jenkins has yet to allow a sack or hit on the quarterback and has performed adequately in the run game. He does need to reduce the amount of penalties he commits, but Jenkins has already proven to be a second round steal for Green Bay.
Erik McCoy, New Orleans Saints
When Max Unger retired last offseason, New Orleans was left with an important hole to fill and McCoy has been a godsend. Arguably the best rookie offensive linemen so far in 2019, McCoy has stepped in admirably to replace Unger and is playing like he’s the long-term answer at center for the Saints. Yet to allow a sack and only one quarterback hit, McCoy has kept the pocket clean for New Orleans while also impressing in the run game. McCoy was sensational in 2018 for Texas A&M and his transition to the Saints offense has been remarkable.
Offensive Line Honorable Mention: Jawaan Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars/Max Scharping, Houston Texans
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
What a fit Metcalf has been in Seattle. After many got bent out of shape because Metcalf doesn’t run routes like Antonio Brown, Seattle understood the skill set he does have, how valuable it is and just how difficult it is to defend. Consider me not surprised in the least that Metcalf leads all rookies receptions (35), yards (595) and touchdowns (5) while averaging 17 yards per catch. He’s a size/speed/power mismatch for Russell Wilson and that should be a special connection for years to come.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Hardman to the Chiefs was a match made in Heaven. Blessed with a rare blend of elite speed and exceptional ball skills, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are the perfect coach and quarterback combination to get the most out of Hardman, especially given the other offensive talent on the roster. An explosive playmaker, Hardman has five receiving touchdowns on the season while racking up 437 yards and averaging a league-leading 20.8 yards per reception. He’s also handling kick and punt return duties for the Chiefs.
AJ Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown was the go-to guy at Ole Miss and he’s emerging as that type of player for the Titans. Hauling in 27 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns, Brown leads Tennessee in both receiving and receiving touchdowns. Just like in college, Brown has been effective working after the catch averaging over six yards in additional yards gained post-catch. 19 of his 27 receptions have resulted in first downs and Brown’s playing has increased nearly every week so far in his career. Logging a season-high 94 percent of the offensive snaps last Sunday, Brown is primed to stay on the field and claim even more production in the passing game for Tennessee.