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NFL 2017 Top Rookie Performers

Which Rookies Performed the Best?
The Saints Alvin Kamara breaks one against the Dolphins.


Conversations have already begun about the 2018 NFL Draft, but now is a great time to look back at the class of 2017.  Which high draft picks soared and which slumped in their first season in NFL?  Who were the top rookie performers at each position?


Top Drafted: Mitchell Trubisky (2nd overall)

Top Performer: Deshaun Watson (12th overall)

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Quarterback is a tough position to judge after only one season.  Mitchell Trubisky was the top drafted quarterback.  He had his struggles this year, but he also endured an onslaught of injuries to the Bears’ top receivers.  Patrick Mahomes is a favorite of many, but we saw very little of him, as Chiefs’ starter Alex Smith had a career year.  The obvious top performer is Deshaun Watson who instantly changed the Texans’ offense.  Unfortunately his rookie season was cut short by injury.

Running Back

Top Drafted: Leonard Fournette (4th overall) and Christian McCaffrey (8th overall)

Top Performers:  Kareem Hunt (86th overall – 3rd round) and Alvin Kamara (67th overall – 3rd round)

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This was a pretty absurd draft for running backs.  The top drafted players (Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey) were by no means disappointing but were outperformed by a pair of third rounders in Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara.  The Jaguars’ Fournette was second in rushing amongst rookies with 1,327 yards, while scoring 10 touchdowns.  McCaffrey rushed for 435 yards but added another 651 yards through the air for the Panthers.  Hunt was the league’s top rusher (not top rookie rusher; top rusher) with 1,327 yards.  The Chiefs’ offense truly went as he went this season.  Kamara had no trouble getting noticed in a crowded Saints’ backfield.  He rushed for 728 yards and had 81 receptions for 826 yards.

A pair of second round picks in the Bengals’ Joe Mixon and the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook also showed great potential.  Mixon had flashes of greatness despite limited playing time and a weak offensive line.  Cook looked very impressive early but was lost to injury for the majority of his rookie campaign.  This will be an interesting group to follow in their sophomore campaign.

Wide Receiver

Top Drafted: Corey Davis (5th overall), Mike Williams (7th overall), and John Ross (9th overall)

Top Performers:  JuJu Smith-Schuster (62nd overall – second round), Cooper Kupp (69th overall – 3rd round), and Trent Taylor (177th overall – 5th round)

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Three wide receivers were drafted in the first ten picks of the 2017 NFL Draft.  All three struggled with injury.  None of the three recorded a regular season touchdown.  The Bengals’ John Ross even failed to record a reception.  These three all have great potential, but Ross, the Titans’ Corey Davis, and the Chargers’ Mike Williams all got their professional careers off to remarkably slow starts.

On the other hand, the Steelers’ JuJu smith-Shuster started his career off strong, leading all rookies with 917 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns.  The Rams’ Cooper Kupp led rookie receivers in receptions with 62 which netted him 869 yards.  Trent Taylor even got in on the action catching 43 passes for 440 yards for the 49ers.

Tight End

Top Drafted: OJ Howard (19th overall) and Evan Engram (23rd overall) 

Top Performers: Evan Engram (23rd overall)

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Although the Buccaneers’ O.J. Howard and the 49ers’ George Kittle were both very impressive in their rookie campaigns, the Giants’ Evan Engram is the one who stands out as a future star.  Howard and Kittle are good players who contribute as blockers as well as in the pass game, but the modern NFL is all about tight ends like Engram who are matchup nightmares.  Engram had 64 receptions for 722 yards as a rookie and that was in a Giants’ offense that was at best uninspired, and at worst inept.

Offensive Line

Top Drafted: Garett Bolles (20th overall) and Ryan Ramczyk (32nd overall)

Top Performers: Garett Bolles (20th overall), Ryan Ramczyk (32nd overall), Cam Robinson (34th overall – 2nd round) and Pat Elfein (70th overall – 3rd round)

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Garett Bolles was not perfect this season. In fact he was one of the most penalized players in the league, but he definitely gave the Broncos’ coaching staff something to be optimistic about this season.  Ryan Ramczyk solidified the Saints offensive line helping to protect Drew Brees and leading the way for the two-headed monster of a backfield in New Orleans.  Jaguars’ tackle Cam Robinson and Vikings center Pat Elfein played a big role in transforming the offensive line on their respective teams from a weakness to a strength.

Defensive Tackle

Top Drafted: Jonathan Allen (17th overall)

Top Performers: Dalvin Tomlinson (55th overall – 2nd round)

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If you are looking to draft a defensive tackle who can make an immediate impact, look no further than the University of Alabama.  Jonathan Allen was the first defensive tackle off the board in 2017 and looked like he was going to have a pretty good season for the Redskins, but unfortunately it was cut short by injury.  Allen’s college teammate Dalvin Tomlinson was the most impressive rookie defensive tackle of the year.  The second round pick was a week one starter and anchored the Giants’ defensive line.

Defensive End

Top Drafted: Myles Garrett (1st overall) Solomon Thomas (3rd overall), and Derek Barnett (14th overall)

To Performers: Carl Lawson (116th overall – 4th round), Myles Garrett (1st overall), Takk McKinley (26th overall), and Derek Barnett (14th overall)

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Although quarterback sacks are not the only measure of a defensive end, it is certainly an important one and a defensive end who is drafted high is expected to produce in this area.  The top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft was a defensive end and despite battling injury early in the year he did not disappoint in his rookie season.  Number one overall pick Myles Garrett tallied seven sacks for the Browns as a rookie.  This is an impressive feat, but not as impressive as what a rookie from the other team in Ohio accomplished this season.  The Bengals’ Carl Lawson posted 8.5 sacks in his first year in the NFL.  The 49ers’ Thomas Solomon was good, not great as a rookie, notching three sacks.  The Falcons’ first round pick Takk McKinley and the Eagles’ first round pick Derek Barnett were also impressive in their first season, earning six and five sacks respectively.  Lawson was not the only great value pass rusher as the Patriots got four sacks out of Deatrich Wise in his first year in the league.


Top Drafted: Haason Reddick (13th overall)

Top Performers: TJ Watt (30th overall), Jarrad Davis (21st overall), Zach Cunningham (57th overall – 2nd round), and Rueben Foster (31st overall)

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A number of linebackers went in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft with the Cardinals taking Haason Reddick off the board first.  Reddick was okay in his first year, totaling 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks.  Fellow first-rounders Jarrad Davis, TJ Watt, and Rueben Foster were much more impressive.  Davis had 96 tackles for the Lions, while Watt posted six sacks coming off the edge for the Steelers, and Foster had 72 tackles for the 49ers.  The second leading rookie tackler was a second-round pick in the Texans’ Zach Cunningham, who had 90 on the year.  Third rounder Alex Anzalone gets an honorable mention.  He really seemed to be finding his fit in the Saints’ defense, totaling 16 tackles and one sack before injury ended his rookie season in week four.


Top Drafted:  Marshon Lattimore (11th overall), Marlon Humphrey (16th overall), Adoree’ Jackson (18th overall), Gareon Conley (24th overall), and Tre’Davious White (27th overall)

Top Performers: Marshon Lattimore (11th overall), Marlon Humphrey (16th overall), Adoree’ Jackson (18th overall), and Tre’Davious White (27th overall)

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Cornerback would appear to be one position that the NFL is pretty good at evaluating.  With the exception of the Raiders’ Gaeron Conley who was injured most of the season, the first round corner class as a group had an impressive season.  Marshon Lattimore gave the Saints the shutdown corner they’ve been looking for and led rookies with five interceptions.  Marlon Humphrey was impressive and made an immediate impact in the Ravens’ secondary.  Adoree’ Jackson played very well on both defense and as a returner for the Titans.  The Bills’ Tre’Davious White had a great season in Buffalo contributing four interceptions.


Top Drafted: Jamal Adams (6th overall), Malik Hooker (15th overall), and Jabrill Peppers (25th overall)

Top Performers: Jamal Adams (6th overall), Marcus Williams (42nd overall – 2nd round), Malik Hooker (15th overall), and Justin Evans (50th overall – 2nd round)

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A lot of rookie safeties were impressive in 2017.  The top drafted player at the position was Jamal Adams who had 83 tackles for the Jets, while his teammate Marcus Maye had 79.  Malik Hooker played well in the Colts’ secondary and had three interceptions on the year.  Despite an unfortunate play to end the season, Marcus Williams played very well establishing himself with four interceptions for the Saints.  The Buccaneers’ Justin Evans impressed as well, collecting three interceptions in his rookie season.  The Rams’ John Johnson, Desmond King from the Chargers, and the Bears’ Eddie Jackson also made an immediate impact for their respective teams.

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