6-Pack Thursday: Updated NFL Predictions, Rookie QB Context and Trends

Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thursday! A new week of the NFL season is upon us.

Hopefully you are enjoying Jon, Kyle and Trevor's updated Top-75 Big Boards. I get in on the fun tomorrow so stay tuned and be sure to check in on how the 2019 NFL Draft landscape is shifting with over a month's worth of games having been played.

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!

RB Receptions

In order be an effective prospect evaluator, it's critical to keep up with what the NFL is doing and how players are being used. One trend that truly pops is the increased utilization of running backs as receivers. It's always been popular to get backs involved in the passing game, but the recent uptick has been noticeable.

In 2015 and 2016, only a combined three running backs in the NFL produced 80 or more receptions. In 2017, three backs caught 80 or more passes and we are currently on pace for 7 in 2018 with several more in striking distance. Obviously, the rest of the season needs to play out and several variables could affect the final outcome, but being able to win as a receiver for running backs matters. Not only for guys who project as feature backs that can win on every down, but for the players who specialize in that area.

There are NFL roles for guys like Nyheim Hines, Chris Thompson, Theo Riddick and Jalen Richard. With a slew of elusive but undersized backs projected to be part of the 2018 crop, don't underestimate their value to the NFL in a complementary role.

Rookie QB Discussion Context

It's been so fun watching and reacting to 4 different rookie QBs drafted in the top-10 starting NFL games so far this season. The inevitable highs and lows have lead to wide-ranging responses, not just on a game-by-game basis but snap-by-snap.

You will always hear me side with prospects deserving an opportunity to develop. They are nowhere near finished products and its super early still in this season.

It seems like so many of my tweets on the QBs are met with, "It's only been 3 games for Josh Allen." "Rosen has only started 1 game". "Baker has only started 1 game." "Darnold is only 4 games in to his career." All of those are valid statements that are important for context.

WITH THAT SAID, let's not act like this small sample size is all we have to go off of. When I'm commenting on these players, those takes come withe me having studied nearly every throw these guys have made since 2016. I have carefully evaluated all them and understand their strengths and weaknesses. There is a strong baseline from where my opinions evolve. Most of what we've seen from all 4 QBs - good and bad - is consistent with what their respective college tape revealed to us about them as players.

Updated NFL Predictions

We are officially through the first quarter of the season and with that, comes an updated set of predictions from me. If I had to guess today...

AFC Division Winners:  Patriots, Ravens, Jaguars, Chiefs

AFC Wild Cards:  Bengals, Chargers

AFC Championship Game:  Patriots over Chiefs

NFC Division Winners:  Eagles, Packers, Saints, Rams

NFC Wild Cards:  Panthers, Redskins

NFC Championship Game:  Rams over Saints

Super Bowl:  Rams over Patriots

NFL MVP:  Jared Goff

NFL OPOY:  Patrick Mahomes

NFL DPOY:  Khalil Mack

OROY:  Baker Mayfield

DROY:  Derwin James

Chubb, Jones and Johnson Deserve More Carries

The running back by committee approach is the new trend in the NFL, with very few true feature backs employed. With that said, committee members Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones and Kerryon Johnson deserve expanded roles.

Chubb logged his first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week against the Raiders... on three carries. For the season, Chubb has only 10 carries and produced 146 yards with 2 TDs. While he isn't going to averaged 14.6 yards per carry for his career and lead-back Carlos Hyde has performed well, it's time for Chubb to push for 10-15 touches per game.

Jones served a two-game suspension to start the season which puts him a tad behind, but it's become quite clear that he's most potent Packers' runner. Splitting carries with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery, Jones has 17 caries for 107 yards and TD over Green Bay's last two games. In terms of burst, vision and balance, Jones' skill set is unmatched by the Packers other options. He should be the feature back that averages 15-20 touches per game. It appears Mike McCarthy wants to ride the hot hand when it comes to RB timeshare and Jones is averaging nearly 2 yards per carry more than Montgomery and 3 more than Williams. Get him the ball.

In the Lions' Week 3 win over New England, Johnson provided the Lions with its first 100-yard rusher since 2013. So far he’s received 5, 8, 16 and 9 carries in Week’s 1-4 and despite such a modest carry total, he’s 13th in the entire NFL in rushing yards.

He’s caught 11 passes on the season and offers a multifaceted weapon for Detroit. It’s time for his workload to increase significantly and 15-20 touches per game should be the norm for Johnson. His blend of size, burst, power and vision makes him a dynamic option that's capable of carrying the load.

This Weekend's Scouting Trip:  Missouri vs South Carolina

There's nothing quite like taking in games live so I try to get to as many as I can. After talking in Virginia vs NC State last week, I'm heading to Columbia, SC this weekend for Missouri vs South Carolina. Here's who I am focusing on:

  • Drew Lock, QB, Missouri - Toolsy QB that could be in the first round conversation.
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri - Big, athletic TE with seam-busting upside.
  • Terry Beckner, DT, Missouri - A five-star recruit with explosive penetrating ability.
  • Damarea Crockett, RB, Missouri - Thick, elusive back that lacks natural running skills from my looks at him over the summer. Looking to see his growth.
  • Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina - He is a nuanced route runner that knows how to separate from coverage while also able to win above-the-rim in contested situations. His hands and ball skills are top notch while he’s also prolific after the catch.
  • Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina - Size, physicality, route running and ball skills are present but his explosiveness is something I will be monitoring live.
  • TJ Brunson, LB, South Carolina - Good movement, range and urgency but processing skills are underdeveloped.
  • Rashad Fenton, CB, South Carolina - Small but physical corner with less-than-ideal quicks and fluidity for his size.
  • Jake Bentley, QB, South Carolina - Big and athletic passer with a live arm. Severely underdeveloped with processing, pocket presence and accuracy.

Best Football Player I Saw This Week: Jared Goff

Dude's good. Real good.

Goff went 26-of-33 for 465 yards with 5 touchdowns in the Rams' 38-31 win over Minnesota last Thursday Night. His production isn't a fluke; Goff is a supremely talented passer that's blossoming into one of the best passers in the NFL right before our eyes.

While working with the innovative Sean McVay has certainly aided in his development, Goff isn't simply a product of a system. The traits that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 have been cultivated by McVay and his staff to build an offensive juggernaut in LA. He's surrounded by a carefully selected group of weapons to build the best offense in the NFL.

Get used to a whole lot of production and points being the norm in LA. I still can't stop watching this throw:



Written By:

Joe Marino

Chief Administrative Officer

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