NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

CFP National Championship Preview

So it’s all come down to this, a bona fide SEC championship game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide to decide the best team in college football. Let’s see how all my picks did leading up to this moment.

Regular Season Record: 86-34

Conference Championship Record: 8-0

Army-Navy: 0-1

Bowl Record: 16-23

Yikes, I figured I wouldn’t be great for the bowl games, but I didn’t think I’d miss that many. I mean, I wrote a blog for two days to put up those numbers? Inexcusable. Goes to show you really can never guess what’s going to happen this time of year. Put all these games together and I went 110-58, which suggests theres a 65% chance I get this pick right, no big deal. For this I’m going to go position group by position group and compare each team. Let’s take a look at what both Georgia and Alabama bring to the table.

Quarterback:

Georgia: Jake Fromm

Alabama: Jalen Hurts

Advantage: Alabama

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This was difficult because it’s like comparing apples and oranges with these two quarterbacks. With Fromm, you get a traditional passer in the mold of Alex Smith, as he only threw 5 interceptions as opposed to 23 touchdowns while throwing for an acceptable 2383 yards. Hurts, on the other hand, is pretty much a pure running quarterback who will throw on occasion and most likely to Calvin Ridley. However the thing that puts Hurts over the top for me is his experience in this atmosphere. He was a true freshman when he nearly led Alabama to the National Championship against Clemson before Deshaun Watson’s heroics stole the day. He’s back with a year of maturing under his belt and I think he will be the better quarterback on the field in this game.

Runningback:

Georgia: Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift

Alabama: Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Najee Harris

Advantage: Georgia

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At the beginning of the season, I would’ve called this a very difficult decision. But after the play of the Georgia backfield, which practically kept pace with Baker Mayfield all by itself, and the decline in play of Bo Scarbrough, this was an easy decision. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are a dominant 1-2 punch by themselves but throw in D’Andre Swift, who is also a capable pass catcher, and it’s just downright domination by the Georgia backfield.

Pass Catchers:

Georgia: Javon Wims, Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman, Isaac Nauta (TE)

Alabama: Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III

Advantage: Georgia

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Yes, the best receiver on the field is by far Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, however he’s the only receiver that poses any sort of threat on the Crimson Tide offense. He recorded 935 receiving yards on 59 catches. Next best? Jerry Jeudy, who had 244 yards on just 13 catches (averaging 1 catch per game). That’s really bad and basically screams to the opposing defense who’s getting the ball when Hurts drops back to pass. Georgia’s stable of receivers isn’t great, but each guy is pretty solid and they spread the ball out pretty well. Wims, Godwin, and Hardman all had at least 20 catches and 300 yards receiving, with Wims leading the way in both categories at 44 catches for 704 yards.

Offensive Line:

Georgia: Isaiah Wynn, Kendall Baker, Lamont Gaillard, Ben Cleveland, Andrew Thomas

Alabama: Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher, Bradley Bozeman, Lester Cotton, Matt Womack

Advantage: Alabama

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This is a hard decision mainly due to the success of both ground games. However I’m giving the edge to Alabama as they have more NFL-caliber talent and it’s pretty hard to block, typically, when the defense can pretty much just decide between a run or a pass to Calvin Ridley on every play. For Georgia, Isaiah Wynn is the only real NFL talent on that offensive line at the moment whereas Alabama’s entire offensive line could find themselves on NFL rosters in the near future.

Defensive Line:

Georgia: Trenton Thompson, John Atkins, Jonathan Ledbetter

Alabama: Da’Shawn Hand, Da’Ron Payne, Raekwon Davis

Advantage: Alabama

at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Alabama wins a nail-biter and the deciding factor was probably recency bias for me, as Da’Ron Payne and Raekwon Jones in particular were absolutely DOMINANT against Clemson while Georgia’s defensive line had problems against Oklahoma’s offensive line. This group is extremely hard to run on and will be critical to Alabama’s success, which I’ll delve into a bit more as to why that is in the linebacker position group.

Linebacker:

Georgia: Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Reggie Carter

Alabama: Rashaan Evans, Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson, Jamey Mosley

Advantage: Georgia

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Georgia gets a major advantage in this category for one main reason: health. With everyone healthy, this would likely end up being a draw, as these may be the two absolute best linebacking corps in the nation. However, Alabama has lost Shaun Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses for the season due to injuries and will have to count on the less talented Mack Wilson and Jamey Mosley. Rashaan Evans might be the most important player in this game, as much of the onus is on him to stop the Georgia ground attack, though a lot of pressure could be taken off if the defensive line gets a good push. As for Georgia, their linebackers struggled in the first half against Oklahoma, Roquan Smith in particular, but they really stepped up big in the second half, imposing their will on a previously dominant Oklahoma offense. They looked like their old selves and if they can do what they typically did all year against Alabama, then the Crimson Tide will have a hard time running the ball.

Defensive Back:

Georgia: Malkom Parrish, DeAndre Baker, Tyrique McGhee, Dominick Sanders, JR Reed

Alabama: Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison

Advantage: Alabama

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No knock against Georgia’s secondary, as those guys are a part of one of the better units in the country. But they don’t hold a candle to Alabama’s secondary. They have three guys who could potentially be first round picks in the NFL Draft, Fitzpatrick, Harrison, and Averett, and you’ll basically need a dominant receiver to beat these guys, which Georgia lacks. I think this group is going to have a big game in this one.

Specialists:

Georgia: Rodrigo Blankenship, Cameron Nizeliak, Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin

Alabama: Andy Pappanastos, JK Scott, Trevon Diggs, Xavien Marks

Advantage: Georgia

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The main deciding factor in this is Georgia’s kicker. First of all, just look at him in all his glory. The other reason is his name. Blankenship. There was an amazing TV show from the early 2000’s called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC) where they showed footage of a Japanese game show but with English dubs and the dubs were hilarious. One of the commentators was named Kenny Blankenship in the dub and he would make lots of hilarious remarks, whether that be in regards to potentially critical injuries (“let’s hear the bones crack!”) or perverted analysis (using slow motion replay to look up a female competitor’s skirt). That show was so funny to me I just have to pick Georgia for this category thanks to Blankenship.

Head Coach:

Georgia: Kirby Smart

Alabama: Nick Saban

Advantage: Alabama

at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.

In my humblest of opinions, Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach of all time. It’s harder to win now than it’s ever been and Saban’s Crimson Tide is consistently in the discussion for the nation’s best in every season. They’re the only team to make the playoff all 4 years of its existence and he will be coaching his third straight national championship game, 7th overall (he carries a 5-1 record in Natty’s, 4-1 as Alabama head coach). He has also never lost to a former assistant, which Georgia coach Kirby Smart is. Smart hasn’t been a head coach long enough to even be in the same discussion as Saban, but he’s on the right track if his first couple years are any indication.

Score: Alabama-5 Georgia-4

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Congratulations on your national championship, Alabama. Don’t worry about playing the game Monday Night, I’ve already made the decision. Let me know what you think of my championship game comparisons in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.