The opening week of the NFL is full of excitement and anxiety for fans. Revamped rosters are on display, prayers for a lack of injuries are sent and most importantly, rookies get the chance to make their long-awaited debuts on the big stage. In this week’s edition of the DC Sports roundtable, our writers share the rookies who impressed them the most in Week 1.
Conner Gilson, Campus Correspondent
The rookie with the best and most surprising performance in Week 1 was Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay was an undrafted rookie that hardly anyone, including myself, even knew before his Week 1 game. But he stepped up big time against an always solid Seahawks defense and actually put up better numbers than his highly-touted rookie teammate Royce Freeman. Lindsay totaled 71 rushing yards on 15 carries which was good enough for a highly efficient 4.7 yards per carry. He also added two receptions for 31 yards, including a 29 yard touchdown on a catch and run. He looked efficient and will likely continue to play on passing downs in favor of Royce Freeman, so his Week 1 stats might not end up being as shocking in a few weeks. He was the biggest surprise of Week 1 and had the best game out of any rookie, tallying over 100 scrimmage yards in his first game. This is something not a lot of rookies can say, let alone undrafted rookies.
Jorge Eckardt, Campus Correspondent
Sam Darnold was easily the most impressive rookie, and it’s not just because I’m a Jets fan. Think about someone going out there with all the expectations he had and then throwing a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt. Jets fans were calling for his head. NFL fans everywhere were already calling him a bust. Then, he proceeds to go 16-20 for 198 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the game, absolutely crushing it. The ability for the 21-year-old to keep his composure after his huge blunder on the first play of his career is extraordinary. Sure, his yardage and touchdown totals are not inherently impressive, but Darnold rarely threw the ball towards the backend of the game due to the Jets already having a sizeable lead. The fact is, Darnold was not supposed to do this well in his first NFL start. Rookie QBs rarely do. The last QB to lead their team to a 31-point victory in his first career start was Tom Brady, and that was all the way back in 2001.
Amir Clato-Day, Campus Correspondent
There were several impressive rookie performances in Week 1, but Denzel Ward stands out among all. Ward not only played very well but was the only rookie who actually had a dominating performance. He finished the game with two interceptions and three pass break-ups against a receiving corps that includes Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. Pro Football Focus rewarded Ward with an overall grade of 85.6 which is about 18 points higher than that of Sam Darnold and about 22 points higher than that of Saquon Barkley. The Browns’ No. 1 overall selection, Baker Mayfield, has been in the spotlight so far in Cleveland, but based on Week 1, it seems that another rookie should be in it.
Matt Barresi, Staff Writer
Ja’Whaun Bentley. Who? Exactly. Most impressive to me means something different. Folks, Sam Darnold was supposed to be good. Same with Saquon. Bentley is a nobody, a fifth rounder that, unless you were intimately following Patriots training camp and/or preseason, you were unaware of. And there are many a training camp darling that do nothing. I remember when Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld were the future of the Patriots passing game. But Bentley was strong. Seven tackles, a tackle for loss and looking like an anchor as a rookie on an intricate defense against a high caliber offense. He came from nowhere to look a like a bona fide contributor.
Neil Simmons, Campus Correspondent
I was very impressed with Patriots rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. A fifth-round pick out of Purdue, Bentley generated a lot of buzz in training camp and earned his spot on the 53-man roster after a few standout performances in the preseason. He was thrown right into the fire in Week 1, playing 51 snaps for what was previously a subpar defense against a Texans offense that has potential to be one of the best in the league. Bentley contributed to a few key defensive plays in the second half, more than once stopping Lamar Miller on third down, and played an important part toward rejuvenating a weak pass rush. If the Pats defense returns to the top half of the league, Bentley could be a big reason why.
Matt Severino, Campus Correspondent
Since being drafted second overall, Saquon Barkley has had an enormous amount of pressure put on his shoulders. He is expected to rejuvenate what was a lackluster offense for the Giants last season. What impressed me most about his performance was that it didn’t start out as well as people would have hoped. It wasn’t a single mistake like in Darnold’s case, but the first three quarters of the game he was held in check. It would have been easy for the rookie to go into a shell and let his lack of productivity determine what he would do the rest of the game. He broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run, giving New York a legitimate chance to win the game. It will take time for everything to fall into place, but I expect Barkley’s impact to be a major reason why the Giants have a bounce back season.
Dakota Melvin, Campus Correspondent
People will talk endlessly of the great performances of Darnold and Barkley. While well deserved, a name I am astonished to not see mentioned is Denzel Ward. The Browns corner and 4th overall pick in the draft put up quite a performance against the Steelers. He recorded six tackles and two interceptions in the Week 1 tie. These stats aren’t against some pushover team either. Big Ben is a future hall of famer and the Steelers receiving core, featuring Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, is one of the league's best. Look for the former Ohio State Buckeye to continue to put up big numbers in the future.
Danny Barletta,Campus Correspondent
I have to go with Denzel Ward, the rookie cornerback for the Cleveland Browns. In case you missed it, the Browns actually didn’t lose on Sunday! That being said, they didn’t win either. But they’re taking baby steps. The main reason they didn’t lose to a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team is because of the phenomenal defense, which was led by Ward. He had two interceptions, three passes defended and six total tackles in his NFL debut. You can’t do much better than that, especially when you are primarily covering the best wide receiver in football, Antonio Brown. Ward had the most impressive rookie performance in Week 1 in my opinion.
Kevin Arnold,Campus Correspondent
While I was really impressed with the way Denzel Ward played, for the sake of being different I did a little research and found that 49ers rookie linebacker Fred Warner had himself a day. The third round pick out of BYU had 12 tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble all while he called out the defensive signals and played all 71 defensive snaps. This impressive debut was the bright spot in a tough Niners loss, but once Reuben Foster returns from his two-game suspension, the 49ers will have a very impressive and young linebacker core.
Noam Watt, Campus Correspondent
Hands down, Sam Darnold was the rookie of the week. A narrative seen far too many times by a USC fan, Darnold’s first play of the game was disastrous, but not unexpected. An abysmal play call, to have Darnold roll right and throw all the way across the field. The kid has ball security issues. Whose idea was it to have him throw across the teeth of a charged up defense on his first ever NFL play? But he quickly settled down, turning in a vintage Darnold performance. His ability to escape pressure, make throws on the move to his left and right and connect time and time again in crucial situations is the reason he had the success he did in college. He’s a playmaker. He throws well on the move. He doesn’t lose his composure, or become the victim of highs or lows. The kid is a winner. At one point, he was 5-5 passing on third down, converting each one. Take away the pick, which I blame not only on Darnold, but the coaching staff, and he has himself a debut where he goes 15-20, with 198 yards, two TDs, a passer rating through the roof and, most importantly, a W, something Jets fans aren’t used to.