NFL Midseason All-Rookie Team: Mac Jones, Creed Humphrey, Micah Parsons and Nate Hobbs lead first-year standouts

So often, we spent an entire year, if not multiple years, scouting players as they prepare to enter the NFL. Then, we seem to lose track of them unless they are quarterbacks or top-tier performers. I know I am very guilty of this.

This year, I wanted to take a little extra time to appreciate the rookies who have performed well out of the gate. I know we are a bit past the midseason point, but there is still a lot of football left to be played, so this team is bound to look very different by the time we reach early January.

Here is my all-rookie team through 10 weeks of NFL action.

QB – Mac Jones, Patriots
This is a no-brainer. Jones has unquestionably been the best rookie quarterback of the bunch so far. Through 10 games, he has over 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence has the second-most touchdown passes with eight. Jones’ completion percentage is significantly higher than all other rookie passers as well. He is in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

RB – Elijah Mitchell, 49ers
While Najee Harris has the gaudy usage numbers, Elijah Mitchell has been much more efficient this year. Perhaps that is because he has a much better line, but Mitchell has been one of the fun surprises from this draft class. He is averaging 90 yards from scrimmage per game on a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. Mitchell is in line for a solid second half.

RB – Najee Harris, Steelers
While Harris has had some ugly games this year, evidenced by his 3.7 yards per carry on the season, he is a workhorse for the Steelers. He leads all rookies in rushing yards and actually ranks second in receptions, trailing only Jaylen Waddle. It would be nice to see him be a bit more efficient as a runner, but much of that comes to running behind a poor offensive line.

WR – Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals
Chase has lit up the NFL so far. He ranks fourth in receiving yards per game and tied fifth for touchdown receptions this season among all receivers. He also has 229 more yards than the next rookie in this class. His big-play ability is unrivaled so far and he has to be the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

WR – Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
While he has not been the deep threat that Chase has proven to be so far, Waddle is the main fixture in Miami’s offense. He has 60 receptions this season, by far the most of any rookie and sixth-most for any player in the league this year. If the Dolphins have some more consistent quarterback play in the second half, Waddle should see some of those yardage totals increase.

TE – Kyle Pitts, Falcons
While the scoring plays have not been there, Pitts is still making a large impact. He trails only Ja’Marr Chase for the most receiving yards among rookies. He has unquestionably benefited from increased volume with Calvin Ridley out for the Falcons. It is only a matter of time before Pitts starts to figure things out in the red zone and adds to his one touchdown on the season.

OT – Rashawn Slater, Chargers
Physically dominant barely begins to describe Slater this season. He is the third-highest rated rookie by PFF, posting a dominant 82.2 grade. He has only allowed two sacks this season and continues to shine as a run blocker. He honestly deserves some rookie of the year consideration.

G – Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jets
In the midst of a rough season for the Jets, Vera-Tucker has been a bright light. He has only allowed one sack in 617 snaps this season. He is a bit uneven as a run blocker, but has shown flashes of truly dominant play. The upside he has displayed with his movement skills and instincts is impressive.

C – Creed Humphrey, Chiefs
One of my favorite offensive linemen in this past draft, Humphrey has slotted in nicely as a Day 1 starter for the Chiefs. He honestly deserves some consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is PFF’s top-ranked center through 10 weeks of play. That’s every center in the NFL, not just rookies. Bradley Bozeman is the only center in the league with a higher pass-block win rate at this point. It is obviously early, but it looks like Kansas City landed a steal. 

G – Trey Smith, Chiefs
If Creed Humphrey was a home run, I don’t even know what that makes Smith. A fifth-round pick out of Tennessee, he has taken the league by storm. Ranking sixth in both pass-block and run-block win rate, Smith is proving that he has what it takes to compete in the NFL at a high level. PFF credits him with four sacks allowed, so there is clearly still room for improvement, but he is off to a hot start.

OT – Penei Sewell, Lions
Finding another tackle across from Slater proved to actually be difficult. Had Samuel Cosmi stayed healthy, this likely would have been his spot. Instead, I will go with Sewell. He has been fine so far, definitely a bit uneven in his play, but that should be expected from one of the youngest prospects in the draft. He has now started on both sides of the line with Taylor Decker returning to action, dominating in his first start at right tackle. Sewell is showing the versatility needed to thrive in the NFL.

DL – Osa Odighizuwa, Cowboys
While Micah Parsons has, deservedly, gotten most of the press clippings this year, Odigizuwa has had a solid start to his NFL career. He is providing some interior pass rushing for the Cowboys on a defense that desperately lacked it. With nine QB hits and a pair of sacks so far this season, he is making his presence known. However, he definitely still has room for improvement as a tackler.

DL – Christian Barmore, Patriots
While it is clear Barmore is still finding his footing, there is no question he has been one of the most impactful interior rookie linemen so far this year. He is tough to move and shows the occasional flash of pass rushing prowess. Putting it all together on a more consistent basis is key, but Barmore seems to be getting better as the year rolls on.

DL – Kwity Paye, Colts
If you haven’t watched Paye play much this year and just look at the one sack he has recorded, you might question his inclusion. But if you have watched his explosive play off the edge, particularly in recent weeks, it is clear to see he is going to be a problem in the league. He is clearly still trying to figure out how to excel as a pass rusher at this level, but his physical tools have been on full display and he should continue to be disruptive.

LB – Azeez Ojulari, Giants
In what proved to be a very weak class for edge rushers, it is hard to find too many players that have stood out. While it has been a little bit of feast or famine for Ojulari, he is second in the draft class with 5.5 sacks so far this season. What’s more is he is getting on the field, a lot. He has played at least 50 percent of New York’s defensive snaps in every game this season.

LB – Micah Parsons, Cowboys
The top dog in the race to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, Parsons has done a little bit of everything this year. He has earned the most plaudits for his scary ability as a pass rusher. He leads all rookies with six sacks on the season. What makes Parsons a lock for this list though is his versatility. He can play on the edge with his hand in the dirt, or he can drop back and play as an off-ball linebacker. That makes it really difficult to account for his whereabouts on a play-to-play basis.

LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Browns
A surprising slide on draft day saw Owusu-Koramoah slip into the second round. The Browns have greatly benefited from his fall. JOK was ramping up into a large role within Cleveland’s defense before missing a pair of games. Now, it seems the coaching staff wants to work him back in slowly, make no mistake though, when he is on the field, he is a difference maker. 

LB – Odafe Oweh, Ravens
You knew this was going to happen. The supremely athletic edge rusher that everyone knocked for his lack of college production has flourished with the Ravens. He has four sacks already in his rookie season, trailing only Parsons and Ojulari among first-year players. Add in 11 quarterback hits and a steady presence on the field, and you have one of the top rookies in the league.

CB – Nate Hobbs, Raiders
Most of the players on this list are first- or second-round picks that I was very familiar with by draft day. Even Trey Smith and Elijah Mitchell were more widely known because of their participation in the Senior Bowl. Hobbs was notably left off the Senior Bowl roster, and yet has been one of the top cover corners in the league this season. He came back down to Earth a bit when Patrick Mahomes picked on him in Week 10, but has been one of the league’s stingiest corners on a yards allowed per completion basis.

S – Jevon Holland, Dolphins
I remember a time where Jevon Holland was regarded as a lock to be a first-round pick. It is looking more and more like that should have been the case. I know, I know, it is way too early to make those conclusions, but Holland has been one of the most dynamic rookies on the defensive side of the ball this year. He is excellent as a pass rusher and has no problem laying the wood. There is unquestionably room for improvement in coverage, but he is best used down in the box, wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. 

S – Trevon Moehrig, Raiders
Man, the Raiders really hit it out of the park with defensive backs in 2021. Early returns from Moehrig might not be quite on the same level as Hobbs, but he has been a valuable member of Las Vegas’ defensive backfield. He is the opposite of Holland, excelling in coverage, especially as a deep centerfielder. He has only missed a few snaps this whole season and even has an interception to his name.

CB – Patrick Surtain II, Broncos
While he hasn’t quite reached lockdown corner status yet, Surtain is off to a strong start to his career. Opposing teams have gone after him a few times, but Surtain has largely held his own. The three touchdowns given up aren’t great, but he is one of just seven starting corners to allow fewer than 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. What’s more is he has seen the eighth-most targets of any defensive player this year. He is under fire a lot, but he has won more than he has lost this season.

2021 NFL Award Predictions: Najee Harris, Patrick Mahomes in line for some hardware

The NFL is back! Before the season gets underway in full on Sunday, I wanted to go on record with my predictions for who will win the major awards handed out at the end of the regular season. I am so glad that football finally here again!

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Harris scored 30 touchdowns in his senior year at Alabama.

Winner: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
I am incredibly way of the Steelers’ offensive line, but this is going to be about volume. No one else in Pittsburgh’s running back room has proven themselves in the NFL. Harris is going to be in line for a 350-touch season. The team seems committed to running the ball and relying on its defense to win games. That sets up a great situation for the former Alabama star to shine and take home the award.

Runner Up: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots
Some of this is about Jones’ situation and some of it is due to his talent. He might have been the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Now, he will play with a revamped Patriots offense behind a good offensive line. He also feels like a great fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense. His ability to make plays from the pocket and take care of the football bodes well for him having an impressive 2021 season. I think there might be too many hiccups for him to win the award. Quarterbacks tend to be dissected more intensely than any other position. I think it is too much to expect him to match Justin Herbert’s numbers from a year ago. He will be in the conversation, but I believe he will ultimately come up short.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Winner: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos
It only took one preseason game for Surtain to flash the potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft. He raced back a 30-yard pick-six against the Vikings in the Broncos’ preseason opener. Now, it was just the preseason, but that is the type of playmaking ability that will win Rookie of the Year. Without an elite edge rusher in this draft class, at least right out of the gate, there is a good chance we see either a corner or linebacker take home the award this year. I’m backing Surtain, who was my top corner prospect in 2021.

Runner Up: Jamin Davis, LB, Washington
Davis flew up draft boards with his speed and instinctive playmaking style. He has the intangibles to become a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at the next level. Washington also has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, which means Davis should have plenty of clear sight lines to the quarterback and ballcarriers. That front four eating up blocks will free up Davis to diagnose and go make plays. There will be a decent amount of competition for the award this year with Jaelan Phillips and Zaven Collins poised for big roles early in their careers, but I like Davis to stand out.

Offensive Player of the Year

Jones ran for a career-high 1,104 yards in 14 games in 2020.

Winner: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
Jamal Williams and his 70 receptions over the past two season are in Detroit. A.J. Dillon might still be there, but he is definitely a change of pace back. He will get carries, but I think Jones is in for a monster season. This offensive line will get better when David Bahktiari returns. Until then, Jones can run behind Elgton Jenkins. He will also continue to be involved in the passing game, where he has seen 131 targets over the past two years. This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league again and I expect Jones to be a huge part of that.

Runner Up: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
It helps to play with Patrick Mahomes, but Hill is a special talent. After a 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage, 17-total-touchdown season, Hill had a legitimate claim to win the award in 2020. Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, so there is potential for Hill’s target share to even increase in 2021. With an improved offensive line, Mahomes will have even more time to drop dimes to Hill deep downfield.

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: T.J. Watt, LB, Steelers
Well part of this was an assumption that Watt would ball out in a contract year, but I still think he is in line for a special season. He has had at least 13 sacks in each of the past three seasons, including his league-leading 15 a season ago. He plays in a dynamic defense with tons of talent around him. Opposing teams will not be able to zero in on him in pass protection, at least not on every down. In addition to leading the league in sacks, Watt also tallied a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He is a disruptive force on a team that will be led by its defense.

Runner Up: Aaron Donald, DL, Rams
Six straight First-Team All-Pros, seven straight Pro Bowls, four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. It would unwise to predict anything but another stellar season by Donald. He is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best ever. He is going to have plenty of pass rushing opportunities as well with the Rams seemingly poised to score a decent number of points on offense. Opposing teams will definitely need to be playing catch up. I think he will come close to securing another Defensive Player of the Year award.

Coach of the Year

The Bills are 23-9 over the past two seasons.

Winner: Sean McDermott, Bills
Expectations are understandably high for the Bills. Following a return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen led a high-powered Buffalo offense that won the AFC East, however, the defense took a major step back. The front office invested in some young defensive players over the past few drafts. If the Bills can become a more complete team and McDermott gets this defense back to its 2019 form en route to a 13- or 14-win season, I think he will be more than deserving of the award.

Runner Up: Brandon Staley, Chargers
A rookie head coach winning Coach of the Year? I think it could happen. The Chargers retooled their offensive line, get back some major contributors from injury on defense and have a talented, young quarterback to lead the way. Los Angeles likely won’t win the AFC West, that’s the downside to playing in the same division as the Chiefs, but the Chargers are definitely in contention for a wild card spot. I think if L.A. gets to 11 wins this season, which feels attainable given their talent and schedule, Staley should be in consideration for the award.

Comeback Player of the Year

Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
I had Prescott picked well before I saw his season-opening performance against the Buccaneers. He plays in an offense loaded with weapons and was on a legitimate MVP pace in 2020 prior to his injury. I expect we will see a 5,000-yard season from him, especially with the extra regular season game. After coming off a serious ankle injury, it will be great to see Prescott get back to full strength.

Runner Up: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers|
If his brief appearances in 2020 were any indication, McCaffrey is still the best running back in the NFL. He is such a difference-maker in Carolina’s offense with his ability as a runner and as a pass catcher. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new Panthers quarterback, but I think his usage and productivity sets him up well to be in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year.

MVP

Mahomes has thrown 114 touchdowns since taking over the starting job in 2018.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
What if I told you the most talented quarterback in the NFL is going to play behind the best offensive line he has ever had in 2021? Well that is exactly what is going to happen in Kansas City. Mahomes was in the mix for MVP in 2020, but his production slowed a little bit down the stretch. With more time to pick apart opposing defenses a bevy of talented weapons to throw to, I think 50 touchdowns is within reach for Mahomes again. If he plays in all 17 games, I could definitely see him averaging three scores per game.

Runner Up: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
I’m not totally sold on the Seahawks in 2021, but I still believe in Wilson. He has two reliable receivers on the outside in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I think new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will help this offense avoid the second-half fallout it had in 2020. Through the first half of the year, no one could touch Wilson. He was tearing apart secondaries and toss touchdowns like it was no one’s business. Despite a major slowdown in his final eight games, Wilson still tossed 40 touchdowns. I think he can match that total while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw to truly challenge for MVP.

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All photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.