By Steve Silverman
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We haven’t even reached the quarter pole of the NFL season, yet it’s fairly obvious there are some excellent rookies in the league who are already having a huge impact.
Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Kareem Hunt and Tarik Cohen have already started to make names for themselves, and the best of the bunch may be a player who has not even played a down yet. His name is Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick from the Cleveland Browns, who absolutely killed it in the preseason before suffering a high ankle sprain.
When the defensive end comes back either this week against Cincinnati or the following week against the Jets, he is going to raise the level of the Browns dramatically. He will make Cleveland’s weak defense better, and the long-suffering team will gain respect.
We are talking about unlimited potential with Garrett. Meanwhile, some other rookies have already started to produce.
Hunt has had the biggest impact through the first three weeks, and he has been a big-play machine for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The running back had a 75-yard touchdown reception in the first game of the season against the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, and he has made spectacular plays in each of the Chiefs’ first three games. Hunt has had a run of at least 53 yards in each of those contests.
The most fascinating thing about Hunt is that scouts looked at him as more of a power back than a speed back when he was drafted in the spring.
Hunt does have plenty of power, but he has speed and quickness at the most important moments. He makes tacklers miss and then runs away from them. As good as he has been, even more is coming.
Hunt and teammate Tyreek Hill have helped turn the Chiefs into the most explosive team in the league.
Watson was the right pick for the Houston Texans when they made the No. 12 selection. He was the best quarterback in the draft by a wide margin as he had faced every scenario imaginable during his college career at Clemson and had performed at an extremely high level.
The only questions about Watson had to do with the 32 interceptions he threw over the whole of his college career. He threw 1,207 passes during his career with the Tigers, and at least half of those picks came on passes that his receivers could have caught. That means 16 of those picks were his fault.
That’s a number that he easily rectified because Watson threw 90 TD passes and added 26 more touchdowns as a runner.
Watson had greater understanding and experience at the position than any other rookie, and he simply knew what he was doing throughout training camp. Texans coach Bill O’Brien gave Tom Savage the start in Houston’s opener, but Savage was yanked in that game and Watson took over the No. 1 position in Week 2.
Watson led the Texans to a win over the Bengals and nearly led his team to victory in Week 3 against the Patriots. He is clearly a tremendous leader who is on his way to an excellent career.
Kizer did not have the kind of memorable college experience that Watson had. While he came to Notre Dame as one of the top QB prospects in the nation, he did not flourish under Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly’s watch.
That was not a good thing because, if Kelly does not fall in love with a player, he tends to get buried. However, scouts know this about the Notre Dame coach, so they kept an open mind about Kizer.
Kelly questioned Kizer’s decision to go to the NFL, saying, “He should still be in college. … He needs more time to grow in so many areas, not just on the field but off the field.” Those comments may have hurt the quarterback’s draft outcome.
However, the Browns realized Kelly was just covering his own asset, and they selected Kizer in the second round with the No. 52 pick. He is not the finished product that Watson is, but he has a wonderful arm, can put the ball on the money and sees the field well. He earned the starting position with the Browns in training camp and completed 20 of 30 passes vs. the Steelers in Week 1.
Kizer has a long way to go as he has thrown three TD passes and been intercepted seven times, but he should grow from this point forward.
Cohen may be the most exciting of these rookies. He is a spectacular athlete who can change directions at full speed. He is a weapon for the Chicago Bears because of his ability to make big plays as a runner or a receiver.
At 5-foot-6, 179 pounds, Cohen is a tiny man who was drafted in the fourth round out of North Carolina A&T, but he is completely fearless. He has the ability to avoid full contact, and he has carried the ball 30 times for 181 yards and caught 24 passes for 150 yards.
The only thing holding him back is playing with sluggish quarterback Mike Glennon while under the tutelage of coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. If the Bears make a quarterback change and go with highly touted rookie Mitchell Trubisky, it will make Cohen even more dangerous.
Running backs Dalvin Cook (288 yards, 4.7 yards per carry) of the Minnesota Vikings, Christian McCaffrey (73 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards) of the Carolina Panthers and Leonard Fournette (199 yards, three TDs) of the Jacksonville Jaguars are also on their way to excellence, and so is Pittsburgh rookie linebacker T.J. Watt (eight tackles, two sacks, one interception). Detroit wideout Kenny Golladay (7-102-2) also deserves a mention.
The 2017 season may turn out to be the year of the rookie, and just wait until Garret gets a chance to strut his stuff.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy