Week 16 in the NFL represents rookies playing longer into a season than they ever have before. We’ve all heard about the fabled “rookie wall” for years, but how much of that is real, and how much of that is just a media talking point? If this week was any indication, the NFL rookie wall is, in fact, a very real thing.
For the first time this season, we have more NFL rookies trending in the wrong direction. With the season coming to a close, that’s not a great sign. However, I would caution anyone against putting too much stock into that. Much like the actual stock market, NFL rookie stocks are constantly in flux on a week-to-week basis. However, for the most part, all of these rookies are solid in their positions with the team and will be focal points moving forward.
They’ll be relied upon to be a big part of their team’s offense/defense as they enter year two in the NFL. They’ll be looked at to mentor the next class of NFL rookies and get them ready to be professionals. Not a whole lot that happens these last two weeks is going to impact the long-term forecast for these rookies. That said, you always want to finish on a high note, and for a number of NFL rookies, the odds of that are looking bleak with one week to go.
Week 16 was a good week for NFL rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Typically, these pieces highlight one rookie defensive standout, but this week we have two. First on the list is Los Angeles Chargers rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill. Tranquill has quietly been putting up quite an impressive rookie season thus far. But in Week 16, this NFL rookie burst onto the scene in impressive fashion.
Tranquill was all over the field for the Chargers as they squared off against the Oakland — soon to be Las Vegas — Raiders. He finished the game with five tackles, adding to a total that has put him in the top 10 among all NFL rookies in tackles, as well as adding an assist. With one game to go, I expect him to stay there. More importantly, Tranquill’s performance in Week 16 shows that this NFL rookie can be a driving force moving forward in the Chargers’ linebacker corps.
If you polled most NFL fans this season, I don’t think there would be much argument that the New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, and Miami Dolphins have been three of the worst teams in the league. Each team has struggled mightily in scoring, and have also struggled to keep their opponents from putting up points on the board. So what happens when two of those teams square off against each other?
Fireworks, naturally! The Week 16 match-up between the Bengals and Dolphins was the wildest game on the slate this week, and possibly the entire season. Miami came out on top, but not for a lack of effort on the part of Bengals’ linebacker Germaine Pratt. Week 16 saw this NFL rookie mirror the aforementioned Tranquill and dominate all over the field. Pratt has been largely lost in the shuffle in Cincinnati, but not this week, as he put up five tackles of his own, adding to his own top-10 rookie tackles total.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has been one of the most discussed NFL rookies all season, and Week 16 was no exception. Unfortunately for Murray, the discussion around him after this week is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Murray had an impressive effort, as the Cardinals surprised the Seattle Seahawks. Murray completed over 60% of his passes for over 100 yards and a touchdown. As has been the case with Murray all season, his production was not limited to the air, as Murray also added 40 yards on the ground on six attempts.
That’s the good. But Week 16 also brought some bad for this rookie. With just one game left in his inaugural season, Murray suffered a minor hamstring injury that forced him to leave the game early. With the Cardinals’ season effectively over, it’ll be interesting to see if they keep Murray on the sidelines next week and avoid further injury. Murray is the face of the franchise moving forward, and I don’t think anyone would blame them for not wanting to risk compromising any portion of next season.
Duck Hodges & Will Grier
While two NFL rookies had a good Week 16 at the quarterback position before injuries knocked them out, things weren’t so good for another pair. Neither Devlin “Duck” Hodges nor Will Grier were supposed to see the field this season. But the NFL is a fickle beast, and injuries thrusted both into the starting lineup.
For Duck, this season wasn’t his first rodeo. Hodges has started multiple games in his rookie season, to mixed results. Week 16, however, was the worst of them all for this rookie. Hodges has been erratic all season, but none more so than he was against the New York Jets. Like Murray and Dwayne Haskins, Hodges would not finish Week 16. But unlike them, Hodges was pulled from the game after throwing two interceptions and being generally ineffective.
On the other hand, this was the first start for Carolina’s rookie QB Kyle Allen. Allen has been the starting quarterback in the absence of Cam Newton, but with the Panthers’ season over, it was time to see what they had in Will Grier. If the sole determination is Week 16, it doesn’t look good for this former West Virginia standout. Grier’s Panthers got blasted by the Indianapolis Colts, as he threw three interceptions in his debut.
In last week’s Stock Report, I talked a lot about NFL rookies sending a message to their respective teams. With the sun setting on Frank Gore’s career, Buffalo Bills rookie running back Devin Singletary sent the message that he’s ready to carry the torch. Singletary has been one of the league’s best rookie running backs this season, second only to the Raiders Josh Jacobs in terms of both yards and yards per game.
For all of Singletary’s accomplishments this season, Week 16 was a struggle, and then some! The Bills had a chance in Week 16 to come out and send a message of their own with a late-season game against the New England Patriots. With a win over the Pats, the Bills would have surely gained some much-deserved respect across the league. However, it was not to be, as the offense struggled to move the ball all game. Singletary carried the ball 15 times, gaining only 46 yards and adding one reception for two yards.
The Baltimore Ravens have been the story of the year in the NFL. Lamar Jackson has been taking the NFL world by storm this season, running and passing all over opponents on a weekly basis. A major beneficiary of Jackson’s passing ability this season has been rookie wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Brown has eclipsed 500 yards receiving in his rookie campaign and is second among rookies with 7 receiving touchdowns.
With the Ravens sitting at 13-2 on the season and looking at a match-up with the struggling Cleveland Browns, you would think this bodes well for Hollywood. You would be wrong. This NFL rookie came out of Week 16 with his worst performance to date. Brown was only targeted twice all game, coming down with a lone reception for all of six yards, a far cry from the electric Brown we’ve seen for the majority of the season.