Rookies Shine Bright in NFL Debuts

By Connor Pignatello

Football is back!

With the start of the new school year comes the beginning of the NFL season, and 15 exciting games were on tap for week one.

Sports help us gain perspective, and the cancellation of Sunday’s Buccaneers Dolphins game due to Hurricane Irma showed that there are more important things in life than football. Sports can also bring out the best in us, and I was astounded by J.J. Watt’s $32 million fundraising campaign for Hurricane Harvey relief. My thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, houses, or livelihoods due to the hurricane.

If you’re upset because of the recent disasters that have hit our country, I hope that reading this will brighten up your day.

Here are some great performances by rookies this week.

Thursday Night

Chiefs surprise the Patriots 42-27

Rookie of the Game:
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Kareem Hunt: 17 rushes for 148 yards, 5 catches for 98 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 fumble

Hunt had the best performance of any player this week, let alone a rookie, and it was his first career game! He had quite the inauspicious start — he fumbled on his first professional carry — but he rebounded magnificently.

Hunt concluded the first half by hauling in a 3 yard score. In the second half, the rookie was wide open streaking down the field, and scored a 75 yard TD. Hunt found holes in the defense all game long, culminating in a 58-yard rush to ice the game with four minutes left.

The future looks bright for the young running back.

Sunday Afternoon

Falcons outlast the Bears 23-17

Rookie of the Game:
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Tarik Cohen: 5 rushes for 66 yards. 8 catches for 47 yards, 1 touchdown

Tarik Cohen, a fourth-round pick last spring, surprised everyone in his debut. He led the Bears in rushing yards, targets, catches, and receiving yards while also scoring a touchdown. The 5’6” Cohen showcased his excellent speed and elusiveness as he juked past defenders left and right. He captivated the crowd in the second quarter when he took a play designed to go to the left, and cut it back to the right, gaining 46 yards.

The Bears are nearly devoid of offensive weapons thanks to season-ending injuries to their top two receivers, meaning they need Cohen to perform well the rest of the year.

Steelers overcome the Browns 21-18

Rookie of the Game:
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T.J. Watt: 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception

T.J. Watt seemed to be everywhere at the same time, leaping for interceptions, diving for tackles, and wrapping up sacks. Watt justified his place in the starting lineup by harassing Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer all day long.

If Watt can come close to matching this kind of play in the weeks to come, he will grow into one of the centerpieces of the Steelers’ exciting young defensive core.

Lions overwhelm the Cardinals 35-23

Rookie of the Game:
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Kenny Golladay: 4 catches for 69 yards, 2 touchdowns

Kenny Golladay was outstanding for the Lions on Sunday, and his two touchdown grabs led Detroit to a win over the Cardinals. Thanks to his performance on Sunday, it appears that the 6’4” rookie has secured a spot as the Lions third receiver.

Golladay’s first TD came in the fourth quarter, when he leaped over Justin Bethel to catch a ten-yard lob from Matthew Stafford.

The rookie’s second touchdown was possibly the catch of the week. At full extension, he reached out and snagged a 45-yard bomb from Stafford to give the Lions a two-possession lead with just four minutes remaining.

Golladay has exceeded expectations so far this year, and Matt Stafford will be very glad to have another weapon to fight with in the tough NFC North.

Jaguars thrash the Texans 29-7

Rookie of the Game:
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Leonard Fournette: 26 rushes for 100 yards, 3 catches for 24 yards, 1 touchdown

Leonard Fournette was just as good if not better than advertised in his NFL debut. He played spectacularly, running through, around, and under defenders en route to a 100-yard rushing performance.

What makes Fournette such a lethal option is that he can beat defenders in so many different ways.

Here, Fournette burrows his way into the endzone from one yard out, with impressive strength.

Fournette also showcases his ability to run straight through defenders and extend runs.

On this play, the rookie jukes Kevin Johnson into the turf and sprints down the field for a first down and more.

On Sunday Fournette was able to beat his opponents with power, speed, brute force, or finesse. In Fournette, Jacksonville may finally have the franchise star that they have been searching for since Maurice Jones-Drew left the team in 2013.

Lots of rookies outperformed expectations this week, no matter if they were selected fourth overall (Fournette), or in the fourth round (Cohen). These young stars have bright futures ahead, and the rest of the NFL should be on watch.

Stats via Pro-Football Reference, videos via NFL on Youtube, and GIFs via GIPHY.

Green Bay Packers picture credit: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Aaron Rodgers, CC BY-SA 2.0,