2020 rookie class storms the NFL
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert got a haircut this week. The rookie had previously sported long hair, and the strength and conditioning coach at the Chargers facility intervened to cut it. Cue every member of the football media sharing before and after pictures of teenage haircuts on social media. With this haircut, the narrative goes, Herbert could pass for a middle schooler. A distinct departure from the look sported by the outstanding rookie quarterback we’ve seen this season.
In the Rookie of the Year award stakes, he’s leading the field. Not bad for a polarizing player branded by scouts leading up the NFL draft as “quiet and shy” for a quarterback. This seems to have been because he is academically very intelligent. Quite an outdated, stereotypical verdict from the scouts. And unlike the other first round draft picks, Herbert did not have pro talent around him when he played college football at Oregon. His touch, accuracy and tremendous arm strength stood out pre-draft. Since he began as a starter in the NFL, he’s proven he can take care of the football and make explosive plays down the field. Adapting to a bigger, faster, stronger league is a challenge every rookie out of college must face. Allied with the transition for rookies on the field, pro football is an adjustment in terms of wealth, status, and scrutiny.
On the defensive side of the ball, Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker Patrick Queen and Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn, have also enjoyed standout rookie seasons. Queen is an effective blitzer and leads the Ravens in tackles. He is always near the ball. Chinn has superb speed, is capable of making sideline to sideline plays, and brings real energy to the Carolina Panthers defense. Queen was picked on by Bill Belichick and the Patriots running game last week. Chinn had a humbling experience against Tampa Bay the same day. College is producing better NFL-ready prospects than ever before, but behind the corner on any given Sunday, a better scheme or coaching mastermind may lurk to halt the progress or deliver a lesson. Game of the Week: Kansas City Chiefs @ Las Vegas Raiders The Kansas City Chiefs marched down the field on a game winning drive with time running out, to edge a superb AFC West divisional game 35-30 over the Las Vegas Raiders. Patrick Mahomes extends plays like no one else. In a heartbeat, the Chiefs quarterback oversaw a flurry of first downs, before drawing in a Raiders defender and nailing the touchdown pass to a wide open Travis Kelce. In truth, the result never felt in doubt when Mahomes got the ball with under two minutes to go. We’ve seen this movie too many times. The Raiders won the previous encounter this season, inflicting the Chiefs only defeat, and they went tit for tat with Kansas City all game. They will be distraught to have lost at the death. Mahomes had too much time left and the Raiders defense couldn’t stop a frustrated toddler. The Chiefs had 36 first downs, a club record. The quality of quarterback play was top notch. Derek Carr has elevated his game. A limited quarterback for long periods in his Raiders tenure, he’s responded positively to head coach Jon Gruden’s vote of confidence in him - bringing in Marcus Mariota - and turned his career around. This talented offense with a balanced passing and running goes through him. Gruden’s play calling was mostly excellent. The Raiders are going to be a tough team to face in the playoffs. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid goes to 19-3 in his career coming off a bye. The Raiders bus did a victory lap around Arrowhead Stadium when they won earlier in the season. I'm sure Kansas City is all business and is focused on thwarting the Pittsburgh Steelers pursuit of number one seed in the AFC. Week 11 Highlights
Cincinnati Joe: Joe Burrow tore his ACL in a catastrophic day for the Cincinnati Bengals. The injury came as the pocket collapsed around him, and a group of bodies crashed on his legs. CBS chose not to show a replay on the broadcast. Burrow was enjoying a game in which he completed 21 passes in the first half, which is the most this season by any QB in a first half. I’ve loved watching him compete since September. He’ll be a major loss to pro football.
Quote of the Week: “Thanks for all the love. Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year”, tweeted Joe Burrow. We will miss you, Joey. Get well soon. Stat of the Week: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees went on injured reserve, after suffering 11 rib fractures and a collapsed lung. Taysom Hill stood in yesterday and led the Saints to victory. MVP of the Week: Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, missing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, schemed his way to a 20-0 victory over the Detroit Lions. Rhule’s flaky defense played its best game of the season, and the young team led by backup quarterback P.J. Walker showed promising signs in a rebuilding season.
Hot butts: Conventional wisdom says Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and Detroit's Lions head coach Matt Patricia will be fired soon. Second year Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor might be looking over his shoulder anxiously, as the team drifts into the sleepy abyss without Joe Burrow. NFC West: Seattle beat Arizona to reclaim first place in the west. The 49ers are on bye. The Rams play tonight. Brady Watch: Tom Brady faces Aaron Donald and the L.A. Rams tonight.
The real McCoy
Justin Herbert is poised in the pocket and has played beautifully since he got the Chargers starting job. His teams’ record (3-7) is poor, but he looks every bit the franchise quarterback, and the man the Chargers will build around for the long term.
Rookies have limited time to impress, and a strong first season showing does not guarantee a long contract. Sam Darnold, who played well in his first year with the New York Jets and is now on his way out at end of his third year, is a cautionary tale.
Herbert is off to a great start. I started talking about his new haircut. I can confirm the Chargers are now 1-0 with Herbert and his new buzz cut under center.