The first quarter of the NFL season is in the books, and the pool of rookie players around the NFC North now have four games under their belts. Experience counts for a lot in this league, so the more these rookies get the better and better they should become.
Who from this rookie class has stood out for each of the four teams in the division? What have been some of the surprises?
This week’s NFC North column takes a look at how the rookies are doing at the quarter point of the season.
Last week: Defeated Tampa Bay 48-10
Best rookie so far: LB Roquan Smith
The rookie first-round pick sat out a good portion of camp in a contract dispute, but since hitting the field he’s been pretty much what the Bears thought he’d be when they took him eighth overall. Smith is third on the team with 15 tackles and also has a sack and a pass defended. He’s the third-highest graded outside linebacker right now by Pro Football Focus.
Biggest surprise: Second-round pick James Daniels, the center/guard out of Iowa, has played just 27 snaps in four games. He’s stuck behind veterans Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and Eric Kush along the interior of the Bears’ offensive line. Credit those veterans with playing pretty well and allowing Chicago to take their time with a second-round pick they probably anticipated playing sooner rather than later when they drafted him.
Up next: Bye week
Last week: Defeated Buffalo 22-0
Best rookie so far: CB Jaire Alexander
Alexander grabbed his first interception of the season last week against Buffalo. The physical cornerback out of Louisville is second on the team in tackles with 20. Opposing quarterbacks have a 78.1 passer rating this season throwing at Alexander, which isn’t too bad for a rookie.
Biggest surprise: The fact that Green Bay is getting hefty contributions from Alexander (199 snaps) and second-round cornerback Josh Jackson (167) bodes well for the future, but probably the biggest surprise among the Packers rookies is that their fifth-round punter, JK Scott, is Top 10 in the league in both average (47.4) and net average (41.3). The Lions also hit on a fifth-round punter a few years ago.
Up next: At Detroit (1-3)
Last week: Lost to Los Angeles Rams 38-31
Best rookie so far: CB Mike Hughes
He’s had his ups and downs early on, but he already has a pick-six to his credit (Week 1 vs. 49ers), and has 16 tackles and a forced fumble. Hughes is also making a contribution on special teams, averaging 26.8 yards per kickoff return.
Biggest surprise: The Vikings drafted kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth round out of Auburn, and he won their kicking job out of training camp. But after missing all three of his kicks in the tie vs. Green Bay Week 2, including two in overtime, the Vikings released Carlson and signed veteran Dan Bailey. Carlson was 1-of-4 kicking field goals in two games. Rookie kickers seem to be pretty hit or miss these days.
Up next: At Philadelphia (2-2)
Last week: Lost to Dallas 26-24
Best rookie so far: RB Kerryon Johnson
The second-round pick out of Auburn is second among NFL rookie runners with a 5.7 average per rush, and his 216 rushing yards are fourth most. He’s emerging as Detroit’s best running back with a combination of speed, power and elusiveness.
Biggest surprise: Fourth-round pick Da’Shawn Hand earned himself a starting role along Detroit’s defensive line out of training camp and has been their most consistent performer upfront. He’s a versatile piece that can play inside or outside and has 14 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble to his credit in four games.
Up next: Vs. Green Bay (2-1-1)